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 private Christian universities, 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, so when I signed that contract, I felt like I was agreeing to keep that part of me silent.
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 representative team.
What I allowed people to see, they liked. I was honest, real and kind. I had my flaws, but didn’t consider my secret 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.
The school prohibited students from ENGAGING in homosexuality. So, the braver of our marginalized community decided to attend as “out of the closet” gays who resisted their sexual behavior well enough until it satisfied the general student population. 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. This fact disturbs me.
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.”
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. I felt 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. That moment in her office was special. As much as I wish the meeting ended with everything in my favor, I knew this woman played by the rules.
Within 24 hours I was pushed to disenroll. I had three separate meetings with three separate school officials. All demanded I read additional literature focused on “denying the flesh.” I was required to break up with my boyfriend and I was encouraged to either live a life of celibacy or force myself to marry a women. If that wasn’t enough, I was let go from my two leadership roles. They said that my secret would remain private as long as 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 stay there until you graduated. 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 did not agree to their terms. I did not leave angry nor do I choose to hold their actions against them. I believe the administrative team tried their best with the little knowledge they had. I believe that they did not mean to offend me.
It’s been three years since this event. I’ve learned that living in the light is living in freedom. It is from this freedom that I get to experience the fullness of grace and represent heaven in the midst of chaos.