BJU Survivors: Creating New Families, Showing New Solidarity

Mari Elise Duvall, a survivor of Bob Jones University and a member of BJUnity, is a friend on Facebook. She posted a brief, heartfelt message recently about her reaction to the FB page, “Wipe Out Homophobia.”  I asked her if she would write a bit more about it so that I could share it with my readers, and she said yes.

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This past week has been very difficult for me and many of my friends and loved ones.  I have been constantly reminded that because of my sexual orientation, I am in a minority, a minority which many people marginalize, harass, bully, taunt, hold in contempt, slander, and just plain hate.  The hate and fear has been almost palpable recently.

Perhaps I am just very sensitive to this negativity; but I fully realize that I am lucky, fortunate, and blessed to live in a country where I as an adult am legally free to have a relationship with whom I wish.  I will not be prosecuted or jailed for same-sex attraction.  I am lucky, fortunate, and blessed that my parents only considered cutting me out of their lives–for the sake of protecting the children, of course.

With these things on my heart, I went online hoping my friends would cheer me up, only to find a heart-breaking letter posted, a letter from a father to son, disowning his son for coming out.

The next post I saw was from a group called ‘Wipe Out Homophoba’ (click here).

I hoped I would find something to help me smile.  I found an album of 200 vintage, black-and-white photos of happy, beautiful, same-sex couples.  I had never seen anything like this before.  I saw photos of couples kissing, holding hands, smiling at each other, staring down the camera, military, many skin colors, many women, many men, and all the variations of these, from the American Civil War times to post-WWII era.  Their love and committment was clear, even in the style curious to us now of ‘poker’ faces. They were happy.  They were together, and brave enough to commit for posterity their faces and loves.  In times that could only have been more difficult, more homophobic, more hateful than ours, these wonderful people found love important enough to risk everything for an expression of it.

The tears started rolling down my face, I could not stop them for a while.  When something innate in our human nature is targeted as unnatural, evil, perverted, wrong, regardless of how slanderous or ridiculous those messages might be, we internalize at least the realization that for some, we are very different or completely unnaceptable, and sometimes not worth treating with common decency.  We are for all practical purposes not even human to some — they deny us civil rights and condemn us to eternal damnation.  And sometimes, whether we accept those messages or not, the hatred expressed sinks into our minds and burns us with its searing reality, and we begin to feel that same hatred for ourselves.

I want to believe there is an antidote for hate, and I think if there is it is love.  I wish I could know some of these people, meet them and tell them how I saw their faces, their love, and how I knew their love was something precious, how each one of them was and is important, no matter how life treated them otherwise, no matter how fate might have toyed with them.  I want to tell them their photos, subversive as undoubtedly some might say, have helped make possible a world in which people everywhere are more able to live transparently and without shame.  I want to hug each one of them and tell them it gets better, and that because they found a way to love bravely even in the face of hate, maybe so can I.

When I marched in NYC PRIDE with BJUnity in June, well really that whole week, I healed so much, I found I had met a family that loved me and accepted me as I was, I was refreshed, and I have needed every bit of that over the last few weeks.  But I will do everything in my power to spread the message that life does get better, one person, one act of bravery at a time, which is what I recognized when I saw all those faces in that album.

Mari Elise holding BJUnity banner (far left) at NY Pride March

Bill Ballantyne, another BJU survivor, shared this reminiscence with Mari Elise when she originally posted:

I can’t help but think of my maternal uncle when I see this. I never met him, he died of a heart attack in his mid-thirties, a couple years before I came along. My mom said he never married, and always remarks about he dressed well, had gorgeous wavy hair, and hung out with his friends. They grew up in the middle of West Virginia during the depression. Men got married and worked in the coal mines. He didn’t. When I was little, I didn’t think anything of it, but now, off course, I have to wonder. If he was gay, it couldn’t have been easy for him. Maybe it was the stress that ultimately did him in.

Reminiscing is a part of life we often take for granted.  Family photo albums, going to parades, family reunions, the relative you never heard much about.  Having to create your own family is nothing new.  Exiles, orphans, black sheep, converts, ex-pats–all sorts of individuals have had to create their own families.

Because of their experiences, Outsiders are often wiser than people who fit seamlessly into their environment.  They know to question what they’re told.  Critical thinking can be easier for them. But that doesn’t mitigate the pain Outsiders often experience.  Eventually we have to move on.  Create your new family and move forward.

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Click here for more LGBT testimonies.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Christian Colleges, Christianity, Family, Gay Christians, Homosexuality, Lesbians, Religion, Testimony. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to BJU Survivors: Creating New Families, Showing New Solidarity

  1. Tim Kelly says:

    Excellent post, I did the “hate myself” thing for a long time. I don’t think we always realize we hate ourselves, but when we don’t move on and create our new families, if we have to, we are not being kind to ourselves. It’s not easy, but through several blogs, including this one, and places like Wipe Out Homophobia we know we are not alone and with God’s help it does indeed get better. I came across the pictures, referenced above, several weeks ago and they made me smile and happy to know those people found love.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Tim, what blogs would you recommend for people going through this process of self-acceptance?

      Anyone else have blogs to recommend?


      • Tim Kelly says:

        Other than Bible Thumping Liberal, I also read Nazarene Ally, Todd Clayton, Skipping to the Piccolo, Rachel Heald Evans, Canyon Walker Connection, John Shore and Crumbs from the Communion Table. All have a little different perspective and origin, but I do go back and read again blogs from the past and always learn something new.

        Bible Thumping Liberal: Ron has an excellent viewpoint from the father of a gay man.
        Todd Andrew Clayton: A young gay man who came out at a Christian college.
        Nazarene Ally: Of specific interest to me as I grew up in the Nazarene church and “Neal” is a Nazarene pastor currently in the process of coming out to his friends and his denomination.

        I recommend all of these blogs and there are more that I will post when I think of them.

        The important thing to remember is God loves us. I do not dwell on the negative comments from any of the blog posts as it just puts me back to square one.

        I also recommend that you find a good family of friends who have your best interest at heart, don’t fall “in love” with your straight friends it will never work and you will be even more miserable. Finally, when you do start dating be sure to go out to a restaurant with them, if they treat the wait staff horribly…RUN…RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!!!


      • Tim Kelly says:

        Just remembered that Coming Out Christian is also an excellent blog.


      • TY says:

        In 2013, I’ll be re-tracing my steps of my coming-out journey in 2012. All the posts I didn’t get to publish at Nazarene Ally.

        Thanks guys!


  2. Duncan Beach says:

    What a sick man, to disown his child over something like this… How touching the letter to you was. As I’ve said before, I’m a heterosexual (yes, my wife was lovely, I loved her very much), but to get more to the point, how courageous of this writer to share her life experiences with us, and how kind of you to post it for her, so that her voice could be heard, Pastor.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      When I saw how deeply moved Mari Elise was by the photographs of gay and lesbian couples, I wanted to hear more from her. Glad you liked what she had to write, Duncan.


  3. thayes9217 says:

    Ms. Duvall, thank you for sharing. I remember the 1930s and 1940s when Bob Jones College was located in Clevelend, TN, the town in SE Tennessee where my parents met and married in the early 1920s. My maternal grandparents were God-fearing members of the Methodist Church and told us grandkids about the extreme narrowness of the people associated with Bob Jones College.

    You may have heard the song lyrics that state about New York City, “. . . if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. . .” Perhaps those lyrics can be parodied in this manner, “. . . if you can survive Bob Jones University, you can survive any adversity. . .” I hope you can use that to love yourself and move on.

    After I came out in the 1970s I happened across a quote from the late Harry Emerson Fosdick, former pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC. I have tried to live by it as a motto. “Be yourself. Never mind if someone else is wiser, greater, more useful. That is not your affair. Dare to get out of yourself the best that’s there.”

    I wish you love and peace.

    Ted Hayes


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