With increased national attention on gay rights and gender issues, Bethel too reinforces position
News | Jon Westmark
Photo for The Clarion by Erin Gallagher
If nothing else, the fact that gay marriage was voted on in four states this past November may serve as a barometer for how much the national consciousness is concerned with gay rights and gay marriage. Regardless of belief, it seems to be near the surface.
The divisive topic has worked its way to the fore of public relations strategies of businesses like Chick-fil-A and organizations like the Boy Scouts of America.
The shifting focus has not gone unnoticed by colleges. In recent years schools like Amherst College and the University of Missouri-Kansas City have been outspoken in their posturing and re-posturing toward sexual orientations and identity issues, recently expanding the well-known acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) to include questioning, intersex and ally (QIA).
Churches have not been exempt from facing the shifting social landscape, perhaps evidenced most clearly in November with declaratory signage for and against the Minnesota constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. At Bethel, students and faculty took part in the amendment discussion with everything from formal forums to less formal debates with friends.
But the discussion on campus goes beyond the issue of same-sex marriage. Other policy questions of sexuality and gender arise with the national focus on LGBT topics. At Bethel, though the Covenant for Life Together explicitly bans all homosexual behavior, additional policies and practices are not as clear cut.
Senior Nadalie Poole experienced this firsthand. When she came to campus as Michael Poole in 2009, she was “100 percent in line” with Bethel policies. By the end of her first year, however, her views had changed. After a difficult time of dealing with gender and other issues, she was academically dismissed from Bethel. She spent a semester studying at a community college before returning with plans on transitioning to Nadalie.
“As far as transgender issues go, there was no official transgender policy or theology,” she said. Since then, Poole has been working with Bethel to help develop policies and guidelines for LGBT individuals.
For gays and lesbians, there are policies in place, but often, they aren’t well known. There are “what-ifs” and “what-abouts” that are not laid out in the Covenant.
According to Nathan Freeburg, associate dean for leadership and community development, one example has to do with the policy on students who begin to question their sexual orientation. “A lot of students think they’re the only one dealing with these struggles,” he said. “A lot of them think they’ll be kicked out if they talk to someone about them.”
According to Freeburg, this is not the reality. “For those students who really are struggling, I think it’s a great place to be,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of students who are struggling with this and what to do with those feelings, and there are lots of great free resources here.” He stresses that unlike some Christian organizations, the goal of Counseling Services and Student Life is not to “counsel it out” of the person.
For Poole, professors have also been important for support. “A professor does not have to be accepting to be supportive,” she said. “They are good at understanding that it is really difficult for LGBT individuals. They are loving, and care for the person and want to make sure the individuals are able to make their own choices.”
Myrla Seibold, psychology professor and staff therapist in the Student Counseling Center, hopes students will utilize counseling for this as well. “I wish that more people would use our services as a place of self-exploration and figuring out stuff for yourself, whether that’s dating relationships, self-esteem issues ... or issues of sexuality,” she said.
She also acknowledges that LGBT individuals may be in a difficult position. “Bethel's position is to be supportive of people of all sexual orientations, but how a person acts on that may be viewed as contrary to Bethel's Covenant and lifestyle expectations," she said. This includes gay and lesbian dating.
Poole says that although she would like to be affirmed by being able to date openly, she realizes it is not realistic. Instead, she has been encouraged by the mutual “convicted civility” she has experienced at Bethel. “We see what we can do – if we can reach middle ground, how we can best love and serve each other,” she said.
She has no plans of leaving again. “I stay to teach and learn,” she said. “I can always learn from those who are different from me, and they can learn something from me.”