The Unsilent

The LORD said, “I have surely seen the oppression of my people in Egypt.  I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers.  Yes I am aware of their suffering.”-Exodus 3:7
I remember when I first started to tell my most trusted friends that I had accepted the opportunity to go to Atlanta for a year of Quaker Voluntary Service.  I was nervous of course, but also really excited to try something new, and to push myself outside of my comfort zone and into an adventure.  However, one thing that was very much on the forefront of my mind, was that the year would provide me the ability to have a fresh start.

To unpack that a bit, while I was was still extremely passionate about the work I was doing for LGBTQ students at George Fox University and at Christian colleges all over the country, some parts of the work were weighing on me.  At Fox, most people were aware of me, and I’m not saying that to toot my own horn at all, but just to communicate how odd of an experience it could be.  Either to have people who haven’t really ever spent time with you judge you harshly, or to think you are some amazing person…its just not something that I think anyone gets used to.  
In Atlanta I could have a year where none of my accomplishments, or my failures, would be what people thought about when they saw me.  I’d just be the non-intimidating 5 foot 4 inch person that I am, a quiet guy who loves coffee and Star Trek. Not a hero, Not a villain.  It was entirely up to me how much of my past I would bring up to all the people I would encounter in ATL…and that idea intoxicated me.  Its funny…being outside of you're own context for a time makes you very aware of what is true about you and what sticks no matter where you find yourself…and I was surprised.  

Atlanta skyline
In all of the friendships that I made there, and the men that I dated, eventually our conversations would arrive on George Fox University somehow.  I couldn’t untie my present self from the past, because it informed so much of who I am.  When I tried to avoid approaching the subject, I felt sad…or just really fake.  

The idea to write this blog and tell this story is because I was reminded of it when I started the new job that I am at now.  I work with a wonderful and accepting office, and this new group too doesn’t know anything about my past except for what I choose to share…but not too long after the job started, I was sent this picture.
Common Ground class of 2014-15
This is a picture of the first meeting of Common Ground at GFU this year; a tiny attic room in a coffee shop that is full to bursting with queer students and allies.  This picture is another reminder, I still can’t pretend that the past didn't happen.  I feel like I’m in the middle of this incredible tension, torn between wanting to bury the past hurt and never remember it again, and to bear witness to it in order to heal myself and bring healing to others.  

For my friends who are reading this blog…I’d be grateful if you would ask me questions about what happened privately.  Usually when I start talking about it I get extremely emotional, either sad or angry, and I stumble over my words and get flustered.  I’d appreciate being able to be in that space with those close to me, and to be told that it is alright to be that way.  Many of you already do this for me, and I’m terrible about thanking you for it because you may not even know that it is something I need, but truly…it helps me.  
Here is part of the story that needs to be told.  
In 2009 as I was about to arrive at Fox I knew good and well what the lifestyle contract said about homosexuality on paper, what I had no appreciation of at the time, was what that would look like in the campus culture.  Would it be loosely enforced? Would there be LGBTQ students dialoguing about it?  Would there be exchanges about why this position was held to?

A high priority in the early months of my freshman year was to find LGBTQ people...or at least find our allies.  I figured I'd search the most obvious places first....aaaaand thats how I ended up for a brief moment in time the president of the GFU College Democrats.

(Quick the time I wasn't even a Democrat, and am still independent, but no one wanted the position and my weird sense of morality felt like it would be a sham if the school only had a College Republicans.)

I recall specifically one of the first meetings I went to, and it was a pretty low key and friendly time, but the most vivid part was what happened after.  It was dark by the time the meeting was over and we were all leaving Lemmons Hall, and the group was making small talk as we made our way out onto the main quad.  I decided to be brave and test the waters.

"So I'm thinking about starting a GSA on campus."

No one....said a word.  Not an affirmative "yeah totally! Go for it!!!" and not a "I don't think you should do that at a Christian school"...just...nothing.

Some uncomfortable and quick goodbyes were said, and people peeled off onto different paths, and I was left alone on the dark quad wondering what the hell just happened there.  Weren't these supposed to be the politically liberal people on campus?  My enthusiasm to continue doing anything with College Democrats quickly extinguished, I'd have to go elsewhere.  
Slowly, I began to sense how far this silence extended.  This was a topic that could not be talked about here, not in any kind of a way that felt honest and safe.  If you were to talk about it at all, it would only be in the context of "struggling with same-sex" attraction.  There was not a single openly LGBTQ person on campus...

Let me say that again, because I want it to sink in.

There was not a single openly LGBTQ person on campus. 

To borrow the words of Charlie Chaplain, we all want to help each other. Human beings are like that.  However, this silence was one that could even override that most basic aspect of a social creature.

During that year the Ugandan parliament began its initial debate regarding the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009", which at the time prescribed the death sentence to any repeat offenders of "aggravated homosexuality" as well as first time offenders who were HIV positive.  The justifications were the most outrageous I'd ever heard, and all of them were being pushed by an ravenous group of Christians in the country.  Evangelized and trained by Christians from America, the kind that occupied my nightmares.  When I was a child I was sure that someday the laws would get worse, and that my door would be kicked in one night and I would be hauled away with other gay people to be killed.  What seems outrageous and unthinkable in the U.S. now, was happening half a world away.  

Now if there was one topic at Fox that people looooooved to talk about, it was about the new directions in which the Church might be going, and how it would be relevant in our lifetimes.  News on what was happening in Uganda was not hard to find, and I was absolutely positive that at the very least this would warrant an appearance in those conversations.  What could be more relevant to the future of Christianity than an impending massacre being spearheaded by Christians?  I mean...Fox was sending mission teams to Africa all the time! 

Again, the silence was deafening.  I never heard a word about it as it was happening in any conversations, even amongst my peers who had wet dreams about traveling to Africa themselves to evangelize someday.  Nothing. 

I was frightened.  I was frightened that the date for the passage of the law was getting closer and closer, and no one was speaking out.  I made my way to the office of Spiritual Life, maybe they would have more of a way of moving this conversation along, as surely they would agree that it needed to be had.  

When that meeting began, I found out that I was the first person to bring this to their attention, and was at least a little satisfied to see that there were looks of shock.  In that meeting, I asked if it could be brought up in chapel, and was told that the chapel schedules were already set, and that would probably not be the best space for that kind of announcement anyway....

Ummm...ok? We can talk about sex trafficking in chapel but this is pushing it? I didn't quite understand that...but I moved on to a secondary ask.  

Could I maybe have a sort of information table in the student union? Maybe start some sort of a petition? I didn't quite have a vision in mind of what it would look like.  I was told that maybe something like that could happen, but it would have to be done delicately.  

Ummm....delicately?!? Am I even hearing this right?!?  I'm not trying to have an info table debating the morality of homosexuality! I'm wanting to have something that lets people know that people are about to be killed for Christs sake!  Why is this not a cut and dry thing that these people who are claiming to love their neighbors as themselves are moved to action about?  Why the hell should I need to tiptoe around this news?!?

Well...delicately translated into silence.  I became frantic in my desperation to do something. On a rainy grey day in Fall, I made my way downstairs into the lobby of Sutton Hall, my dormitory that year.

My freshman dorm

I started calling the State Department, my U.S. House Representative, and both of my U.S. Senators asking for them to speak out in some way.  I was assured by low level staff people that my concerns would be passed along, and that was that.  

I ended the last call and closed the phone in trembling hands. My head fell, and my tears matched the raindrops that were slowly trickling down the great glass wall.

By some miracle, the law in that original form was tabled. 

The "Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009" was not spoken about institutionally at Fox in any capacity whatsoever until 2013.  
Oh my god…where am I? 
Am I the only gay person here? 
Those two toxic questions started playing in my head on repeat, and I grew desperate. 

I searched google for anything I could think of that might give me a clue "George Fox LGBTQ", "Gay at George Fox", "George Fox University+Gay".  Those searches, except for a couple articles about a Soulforce visit in 2007, turned up nothing at all.  
I started scratching out anonymous notes on a piece of paper to post on the prayer chapel, venting, asking for friends, and signed them as "a gay student".  I'd often come back to find them missing or defaced.  Sometimes a note would be tacked up next to them explaining to me why homosexuality was sinful.  The best I got were some small notes written on mine, smiley faces or a simple "sending good thoughts your way". I took a small comfort in those, like a drop of water placed on your tongue in the middle of a desert.  
I even started posting craigslist ads...which is embarrassing to admit now but its where I was back then, asking for any LGBTQ person at Fox who saw them to contact me.  
Those ads only succeeded in catching the eye of admins and some less than supportive professors...I even recall a long email string where someone accused me of being an admin spy, and shamed me for trying to trick gay people into trusting me just so I could turn them in.

Oh my god…where am I? 
Am I the only gay person here? 
When I felt like I was beginning to break down, I finally summoned the courage to go ask the administration if I could start a GSA (even if it meant going up there by myself and not being able to claim to have any other support or interest from students).  Maybe....just maybe...I hoped that an office of educated people, who again, are claiming to love their neighbors as they love themselves, would maybe see the benefit of queer people having at least one small safe space on campus.  

As one part of preparing for that conversation, I decided to have a meeting with my Act Six advisor (the liaison for the scholarship program I was in) to reflect ideas off of.  She looked a little enthusiastic when I brought it up, and said "why don't we just go talk to the VP now?".

Oh wow...ok wasn't planning on doing this so soon...but shoot going in there with some support will be really nice! I said yes and we made our way across the Student Life department to the VP's office.  

*knock knock*

"Hey do you have a minute to talk with me and A.J.?"

"Sure thing!"

We went in, and I was given the floor to say my not-well-thought-out but simple proposal...with hands folded in front of him he looked at me and nodded when I talked about my experience with GSA in high school, and how it might be good to have one at GFU.

After I was done...he started.

"Well of course we want all of our students to feel safe here, but we also have lots of students who struggle with same-sex attraction on campus.  We wouldn't want to make them feel unsafe.  If not done in the right way, a GSA could do that.  And we also could not have any club that is seen as violating the lifestyle contract."

In other  No way in Hell.  

My Act Six advisor chimed in with a bubbly, "I am kind of thinking about it like being on a baseball team, and everyone agrees at the beginning to play by the same rules. What do you think A.J.?"

Oh...I see what this is now...I have no support at all, bringing me over to this office was just a way of nipping that idea in the bud before it even got started.

Crestfallen, I left the office, knowing that I had just been given a four year sentence of silence.

...oh dear reader...this feels like it was yesterday in a lot of ways, and at the same time feels like a different lifetime.  If you've read pieces of my blog from earlier, you know that I did not serve the full four years of that sentence.  

You want to know what I think now?

I think that Jesus was sitting with me when I was talking to the administrators in that office. 

I believe that Jesus was crying with me in the lobby of Sutton Hall.

I believe that Jesus embraced me after I pinned up my desperate notes on the prayer chapel bulletin board.  

You want to know what else I think?
The thing about these imposed silences, is that they will break.  

These silences that seem so impossibly dark, that leave trail spanning decades of mangled people in their wake, will break.

There is a God who sees the hurting, sees the oppressed everywhere, and whose heart breaks with their hearts.  The Light is a liberator. 
All silences such as these will break.  The picture I was sent of Common Ground reminds me of that, and why in my heart of hearts, I don't want a fresh start that will make that truth seem any less true.  


  1. I see you. I love you. I feel your anguish, and grieve at what you have suffered at the hands of those who are called to love you and charged to protect you. Thank you for continuing to share your story. You are a hero.

    1. Thanks so much for the understanding Darleen. I always have a moment of hesitation before I open up about a part of my story I haven't shared before, but have never regretted it after doing it : )

  2. Oh AJ, I feel so blessed that you have shared these intimate details of your story with us all and I ache for all the pain and suffering you felt when you were alone. And I am so glad that GFU students are now not alone and silenced into dark corners. But God... the scars.. the wounds you endured. May it continue to get better.

    1. Thanks a lot Crystal, sharing is the thing that helps me the most...but there's still a lot left to work through.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks so much for reading Larkin, you are an important part of my story!

  4. Thank you for sharing a piece of your soul to us A.J. I love you so much. Can we have coffee sometime soon my dear and beautiful friend?

    Karina Ramirez

    1. Thanks so much for reading Karina <3 love you so much! And yes : ) I would really really like us to do that soon!

  5. Hello AJ. I read your piece with interest. I wonder whether you are willing to share why you enrolled at GFU given you are a people who has sexual relations with the same gender, especially in context of GFU's lifestyle contract? I'm wondering about the thought process behind entering into such a contract (an oath taking if you will), an aspect of which, you knew you could not or would not fulfill, uphold, or honor?

    Keith F. Saylor

    1. Hello Keith,

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I enrolled because I wanted to get an education, and because they offered me a scholarship. I don't recall once talking about my sexual relations with anyone in my blog, but thanks for taking an interest.

      See, I am of the opinion, that unjust laws have no authority. I'm fine if you think that they do, or if you think a person can in fact sign away fundamental rights, but I disagree.

    2. AJ, Thank you for your response. I'm trying to understand and hope you will help me further. Thank you for correcting me my assumption.

      Are you a person who is sexually intimate with a person or people of the same gender?

      Are you suggesting institutions or gathered groups of individuals are unjust if they do not share your conscience and do not embrace a lifestyle their conscience speaks against?

      Was GFU your only option? Could you have received a scholarship from other educational institutions more in line with your conscience?

    3. Keith, again while I appreciate you're wanting to understand more and curiosity, I don't feel like talking about my sexual behavior is a great topic in polite company. I don't ask specifics about you're sexual appetites or partners, because it isn't really my business. All I will say, is that I am attracted to men, and that I don't believe gay sex in an appropriate context to be sinful.

      Well, to answer you're second question, I would have to say that I am not a moral relativist. I think there are things that have been and always will be right, and thanks that have been and always will be wrong. Institutions, government, interest groups, whatever comes and goes, who may or may not recognize those things, can do whatever they want to. So yes, even "good people" who I'd happily sit down for dinner with can interface and encourage horribly unjust systems. For example, I am guilty of this when I buy clothes made from slave labor; see what I am getting at here?

      As far as what this institution should do, if you are claiming to love you're neighbor as yourself, then it is failing miserably. If an institution claims Christ as its center, there are certain things it should and should not do. You and I can disagree, but believe me I have been working on it and will continue to for a long long time.

      LGBTQ people have always been, and should be at Christian colleges. Because they are part of the body of Christ, period. Any more inquisition into why they should be there is unnecessary beyond that point.

  6. AJ, I am not interested in judging whether your attraction to men is sinful. It is not my place. I only take issue when those who are sexually intimate with the same gender wish and expect their behavior embraced by those who do not share their conscience and go so far as to support the use of outward government to impose a conscience against the conscience of others. I do not share your moral indignation over institutions and individuals who affirm their conscience, in the spirit of Christ, against particular behaviors. If I do not share their conscience, I seek others with a like conscience. A conscience against a particular behavior is not, universally, a judgement on the spiritual nature of others who have a different conscience. When a person or people seek to impose their conscience on others they take the place of Christ's work within the individual. This type of moralism is idolatry. GFU was up front in the lifestyle contract. You knew about the contract and chose not to honor it and then expected GFU to honor you. You sought to impose your conscience. GFU did not force you to enroll. You did so freely. You then went about expressing indignation over a conscience you knew existed before even enrolling.

    I do not share your judgement of GFU. Being part of the body of Christ does not mean all institutions and all individuals should bind themselves to your outward judgement and ideological leanings. Presence is the centering, not outward ideological and institutional forms.

    Your behavior manifests the very lack of openness and hospitality you place upon GFU. You have judged and in turned are judged yourself for the very same.

    1. Frankly Keith, I don't care if you embrace any behavior that I do, especially when it comes to people who I love. Get upset about gay people having sex as much as you want to, and don't have gay sex. I can't force the government to try to convince you to think otherwise, and I have no interest in it. Will I use the government to give me the same rights and protections you enjoy? Absolutely. I'm glad the government made a habit of doing that with interracial marriage, but ya know, there are still people out there who are upset about that and think its sinful, and they are perfectly fine to keep thinking that.

      Now I'm sure that comparison will put you in quite a tizzy, and that you could write comments at length with apologetics about how you aren't homophobic and so on and so forth, so lets spare each other that back and forth.

      Quakers have always been able to function as a "loyal opposition", if you are unfamiliar with the term or historical examples, there is some really good journals from Friends who were put in these situations. If you think holding a minority opinion, and sticking with a group that disagrees, is idolatry, then John Woodman and many maaaaannnny other Quakers are all idolators. If you're comfortable with that kind of judgement, so be it, and I'll happily admit to being one.

      I can stay at GFU and contribute to the life of the community while also disagreeing and working to change parts of it, if this concept is hard to grasp, just sit with it for awhile.

      You keep using these words "openness" and "hospitality"...but I really don't think you understand what they mean. I want this last sentence to be read slowly, so it can be absorbed: When Jesus said, "let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven," he was not talking about creating a school in His name to keep queer people out.

    2. AJ, Your characterizations of me as "upset" and in a "tizzy" are incorrect. I am not either of these. I am truly appreciative of and grateful for our conversation. It has helped me understand you and myself in the light of Christ.

      Thank you so much for taking time to engage with me; even though we are not of the same mind.

      Peace in Christ,

    3. I'm glad to be incorrect about those things, and yes, thank you for taking the time to engage in conversation.


  7. I learned the same lesson just by attending worship at my yearly meeting. I think of it this way, not everybody loves gay people as much as we love being gay, and not everyone hates gay people and is responsible for the crime of homophobia, but some people just don't want to have to sit watch and listen to the LGBT voices rise up so that we may take full notice of them. While it is good to be out and proud it maybe there are others who are not, who feel that the statement requires a response, and is somewhat an interference or even an imposition on their primary intentions of asserting themselves.

    1. Hello Robben : )

      Thanks for reading and leaving a thoughtful comment! Which Yearly Meeting are you from?

  8. I attend the New York City Meeting at 15th Street and Rutheford place. An interesting credit to participation and my sexual orientation is that I volunteered in the shelter for a year and was an observer and participant in the Sunday School. Yet through all of the misperception and misplacement of my role. My gay marriage to a straight spouse somehow, and sometimes is the only arrangement worthy of notice in the meeting



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