It changed everything.
I loved where I was at in life.
By 2015, I was a junior in college at a private biblical institution located in Southern California. I was one of the first in my family to graduate high school and the first to attend a four year university. Although my family couldn’t afford further education, my grit didn’t see that as an obstacle. I believed I was worth more than the poverty I grew up in. At age seventeen, I identified Jesus Christ as my LORD and Savior. That same year, my mother was sentenced to 2 years in prison. I needed hope and believed Jesus was the hope I was looking for. His 2000 year old teachings changed my life and I slowly went from being an at risk teen to the brother my younger siblings could be proud of.
I chose the theology school for many reasons; it was affordable, it promoted a “spirit filled” campus, and it had a great psychology program. Like most Christian schools, a “Code of Conduct” needed to be signed to prove that you agree to be a part of the community’s way of living. This specific community asked students to stay away from things like drinking and smoking. Also on their list was a rule that felt as if it was created specifically for me: I agree not to engage in homosexuality. I knew I was gay, but when I signed the paper I felt like I had to keep that a secret.
Throughout my time at the school, I worked two jobs on campus and was heavily involved in student leadership. As an RA, I would serve as a peer counselor and helped facilitate an “alive” campus within the resident life program. As the Admissions Department’s Recruitment Coordinator, I would help with the advancement of enrollment by managing the student rep team.
What I allowed people to see, they liked. I was honest, real and kind. I had my flaws, but didn’t consider having a boyfriend to be one of them. I felt convicted for essentially breaking my contract, but convinced myself that this secret was ok, because I needed to hide it in order to survive.
Survive? Why would I feel like I need to survive?
The school prohibited students from ENGAGING in homosexuality. So, the braver of our community decided to attend as “out of the closet” gays and resist their sexual behavior well enough until it satisfied the general student body. Even then, I heard them talk negatively. Their whispers were like sirens to me. I didn’t want to be seen as a leper in their eyes. I didn’t want to be “that gay kid”. I just want to be the guy I already was to them; I wanted to remain “righteous”.
I find it important to mention that during those three years, I witnessed 6 out of 7 openly LBGT members leave the school before their sophomore year, which I found a bit disturbing.
On February 9th 2015, my boss, the Vice President of Academic Enrollment, called me into her office. This wasn’t unusual, typically every Monday I would step foot into her office and give my report on that weekend’s event.
She was like fire to me. Her passion was infectious and her warmth reminded me of home. A future that looked like hers would have been considered success to me. She was a brilliant leader and I loved working for her.
This day, however, work was not what she wanted to talk about.
When I walked into her office I could feel that something was different. She sat up from her chair, frowned her face and asked that I close the door behind me. I instantly thought I was getting fired. As we walked our way to her lounging area, I could feel anxiety running through my veins. She stared at me for a second and then she softly blurted out, “I found your boyfriend’s Instagram.”
I was stunned.
She began to try and explain how she stumbled across his profile but it didn’t matter to me. The fact that this woman, out of all people, after being so close to graduation, discovered the identity of my biggest secret, and I became paralyzed. It felt like I was being stripped before mankind. When sound regained its consciousness, I caught that it was my turn to speak…but I couldn’t.
I just wept.
To my surprise, my boss joined me in my tears. I’d like to believe that in that moment, she connected with something within herself in order to feel empathy for me. Maybe she remembered what it was like to feel lonely and afraid. Even though I promised her that I would never tell anyone the words that were shared between us that day, I can say that I left her office feeling relieved.
Unfortunately that feeling didn’t last long. Within 24 hours, I was pushed to disenrollment. I had three separate meetings with three separate school officials that all demanded I read addition literature focused on “denying the flesh,” I must break up with my boyfriend, and I must dedicate my life to either celibacy, chastity, or force myself to marry a women. I was to also quit one of my jobs. My secret would remain private but only if I agreed to these terms.
I couldn’t do it. What they were really asking me to do was to “go back in the closet and to stay there until you graduated. Yet, while you’re here, be quiet and do as we say.” It was belittling.
Like the man-child I am, I ran to my car and I called my mother. All I knew was that I needed help and had to tell the whole truth in order to get it. At the end of my spiel all my mom said was¸ “Matthew, I didn’t raise a whipping boy. You take a stand and stay true to who you are. I will always have your back.” I found Jesus in her voice. In that moment the only identity that existed was that I was her son. She remained faithful to me and stood by my side when I needed her most.
My life changed that day…
That day, I didn’t agree to their terms. I didn’t leave angry, nor do I choose to hold their actions against them. I believe the administration team tried their best with the little knowledge they had, and that they didn’t mean to offend me. But it still hurt.
My hope is that through this experience, the next kid who walks in my headline is understood. I pray they will be seen and treated with the kindness they deserve. I pray that one day they will experience the same freedom I stand in today.