All students raised in the church come to college with questions about how they will practice their faith in a new place, questions about their beliefs and questions about themselves. Most LQBTQ+ students come to college with questions about how they will express their identities and form community in their new homes. For those of us lucky enough to attend large public or private universities with nondiscrimination policies, it’s easy to find an LGBTQ+ resource center and become part of a community through it. At Virginia Tech it was much harder for me to find information about affirming churches and campus ministries and about queer-affirming theologies.
I wasn’t ready to throw out my chance to be part of a United Methodist faith community, so I spent a whole year of school attending a UMC and the Wesley Foundation without mentioning my queerness to anyone there. So much of my energy before I came out went to feeling different and worrying about my place in the church. Once I began speaking about my whole identity at Wesley, the space of that worry was largely taken up by productive teaching conversations and building relationships. My ministry in the church was strengthened when I started integrating my whole self into that work. My queerness was able to be something that allowed me to connect with others and with God – part of my spiritual practice.
Since Wesley at Virginia Tech became intentional about welcoming LGBTQ+ students, queer folks have come to Wesley who were forced out of other campus ministries, who had never heard of welcoming churches, and who never doubted that they were loved by their parents, their church home and their creator. Our visible presence at Tech has allowed the LGBTQ+ small group at Wesley to be a resource to queer students here in Blacksburg without a faith community and to our straight and cis Christian siblings who don’t know about the needs of LGBTQ+ community members.
As queer Christians, we bring a lot to the table of the UMC in terms of queer theology and our lives. How our being disrupts the dualistic patterns of human society as Christ does. Our experiences of loving those who persecute us. Our healthy pride and self-worth in the knowledge that God creates us and calls us good. Our passion for justice and inclusion, to make space for disciples of all nations, all peoples. These are important voices for all students and churchgoers to hear and connect with, voices that can be lost or silenced when LGBTQ+ folks are rejected from full participation in the life of the church.
Not everyone can say they have a close connection to campus ministry in their area, but LGBTQ+ youth in the UMC are even more in need of support and affirmation than most college students. Most students in college have a choice of where and how they worship and access to more diverse theological resources that youth living with their parents often don’t have and are afraid to seek out. Using knowledgeable and inclusive language in your church and youth ministry can mean the difference between a young person coming out to you with their questions and fears and that same person feeling isolated and unwanted in your ministry. Our work for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church saves lives and helps to protect the wellbeing of children in a country where LGBTQ+ youth rejected by their families are disproportionately homeless and where LGB and especially trans youth who are rejected by their families consider and attempt suicide at much higher rates than their affirmed queer peers.
Alexis Gillmore (They/Them/Theirs) just graduated from Virginia Tech and will be attending the University of Tennessee for graduate school in the fall. They were Wesley at Virginia Tech’s Student Campus Minister for two years as they transformed the community through their leadership. Alexis also attended Fieldstone UMC throughout their time at Tech.