Experiences of Sexual Minority Students at Trinity Western University
Mackenzie Cameron (Class of 2017, Valedictorian) shares with us the resulting themes from her interviews with sexual minority students at TWU. We hope to share her thesis in the future, as part of Mackenzie's BA (Honours) Psychology. Publications like this are important because they not only give voice to the silenced, but substantiate a lot of what we say, as One TWU, demonstrating our dedication to the truth.
Emergent themes from interviews with 10 sexual minority students from TWU:
1. Acceptance and Empowerment from Students
One of the most prevalent and pervasive themes throughout the participants’ stories was their experience of acceptance and empowerment from their fellow students. The participants felt connected and supported by their peers, particularly in the close friendships that they made over the course of their education. Multiple participants described positive experiences with students who affirmed them in their sexual orientation, thus enabling a sense of validation and strength in their identity. Participants also spoke to the influence of peer relations in strengthening their faith and offering support in the form of the gay-straight alliance group, One TWU.
2. Supportive Professors
The other most pervasive and prevalent theme to emerge from the data was the experience of support from the professors. Across the board the participants felt supported by their professors, whether that was through the open-minded interactions they experienced, the sensitivity their professors displayed, or the encouragement they received.
3. Immobility of Being Closeted
Nine out of ten of the participants described being closeted as a negative experience, largely impactful through its immobilizing grip. Participants experienced this sense of immobility through their fear of exposure, negative mental health outcomes, fear of rejection and disconnect, self-denial, self-rejection, lack of support, isolation, and lack of safety in specific housing situations.
4. Exclusion and Discrimination from Student Life
Responsible for student ministries (discipleship groups, chapel programs, etc.), community life (resident and commuter programs), student leadership programs, student success center, and the wellness center, eight participants cited experiences of exclusion and discrimination from Student Life. This manifested itself in the form of discrimination, fear of discrimination and rejection, discouragement in applying for leadership positions, conditional safety in leadership roles, and a lack of a response to initiated conversations. Conversations surrounded Student Life’s chapel program will be reserved for another thematic section.
5. Spiritual Growth
Eight participants experienced spiritual growth while at TWU. This growth manifested through the solidifying of a faith identity, spiritual stimulation, community engagement, the co-existence of sexuality and faith, and theological exploration.
6. Freedom and Fulfillment in Coming Out
Eight participants described their coming out experiences as enabling a sense of freedom and mobility. This experience was highly fulfilling for the majority of our participants, whether they are fully out to friends and family or are only partially out to a select group of individuals. This sense of freedom and fulfillment was found in the affirmation, acceptance, and support they received from the individuals they came out. It was also found in the relief and liberation that followed coming out, as well as through the spiritual and emotional growths they experienced.
7. Perceived Inferiority of Spiritual Lives of Sexual Minorities
When it comes to the spiritual lives of sexual minorities, seven participants identified ways in which they were made to feel inferior while at TWU. This inferiority was blatant at times in the form of overt religious judgment and condemnation. At other times it was the felt lack of space for sexual minorities to engage in the same spiritual outlets available to other students (i.e. discipleship groups, chapel, etc.). Several participants experienced an invasion on their spiritual lives when others provided uninvited advice and information on the way they ought to live or debated the morality of same-sex relationships.
8. Negative Mental and Emotional Health Outcomes
Eight participants experienced negative mental and emotional health outcomes during their time at TWU. Loneliness and isolation were commonly cited amongst participants, as was emotional repression, depression, and heightened stress due to being closeted. In identifying negative mental and emotional health outcomes, participants also described experiences of internal conflict, guilt, shame, anxiety, and exhaustion.
9. Exclusion and Judgment from Students
Seven participants experienced exclusion and judgment from fellow students while at TWU. This exclusion and judgment was manifested through the loss of friendship, homophobia, unsafe situations, and conditional acceptance.
10. Institutional Disregard for Sexual Minority Students
Eight participants spoke to an institutional disregard for sexual minority students. This manifested through discriminatory statements from administration, lack of action despite talk of acceptance from administration, lack of response from expressed concerns, fear and discomfort, anti-LGBTQ bias from chapel speakers, the burden to educate fellow students on LGBTQ topics, and a lack of resources on campus for sexual minority students. This institutional disregard was described as stemming mainly from administration and Student Life.