There are no gay students at Patrick Henry College, the evangelical school in Purcellville, Virginia, popular among families who homeschool and known for its students’ prowess in debate. The tiny religious college (it has around 320 students) cannot have any gay students because, says its chancellor and founder, Dr. Michael Farris, students must sign an honor code and [homosexuals] could not sign our honor code.” The honor code requires that students “be sexually pure,” Farris says in the Loudoun Times.
Accordingly, Farris was none too pleased to learn about Queer at Patrick Henry College, a blog that some former Patrick Henry College students began last summer to provide a “safe online space for closeted students and alumni to share thoughts about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) issues, without the risk of school punishment.”
Yes, Patrick Henry College Has Gay Students
Given the college’s honor code, and the attitude of its chancellor, Patrick Henry College is hardly a place where students seeking to understand their sexuality would feel accepted, let alone comfortable to discuss this openly. The blog’s co-founders write under pseudonyms that refer to gay figures from popular culture (blogger Kate Kane’s name recalls “Katherine Kane,” the name of DC Comics’ LGBT superhero, Batwoman; blogger “Alan Scott” uses the name of another DC Comics gay superhero, the Green Lantern; Captain Jack echoes that of the gay “Jack Harkness” from the BBC’s “Doctor Who”). While the bloggers’ identities are hidden, at least one has proof of being a Patrick Henry College graduate, says the Loudoun Times’ Trevor Baratko; in an interview with ”Kate Kane,” she showed him her Patrick Henry College diploma.
Acknowledging that the college’s environment can be at times “very oppressive,” Scott says that the blog “wants to make sure [students] know they aren’t alone and that it is possible to both accept one’s queerness and continue strongly in one’s faith.” Blogs at other Christian colleges including BJUnity at Bob Jones University in South Carolina inspired Kane and Scott to start Queer at Patrick Henry College.
As for why a student who is LGBT might attend an evangelical Christian college, Kane tells Baratko that “…I know for me, if my parents were going to sign off on a loan for school, it had to be fundamentalist college.” Scott emphasized that he had “learned a lot” at Patrick Henry College and that, even more, the school’s “encouragement to face the tough questions and not be afraid of the answers that actually helped me come to terms with my sexual orientation and reconcile it with my faith.”
Scott is hopeful that the controversy can be the start of students having “mature, open, honest and loving conversation about LGBTQ issues at PHC” and without “fear of reprisal, rejection, or shaming.”
Chancellor Makes Legal Threats and Then Withdraws Them
At first, Farris sought to instill just such fears. On December 1, he sent Queer at Patrick Henry College a message through their Facebook page, stating that
“This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College…. you must remove this page at once. On Monday, we will began (sic) the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In the process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.”
The next day, Farris withdrew his legal threats and — again through Facebook — said that,”While we believe in the inappropriate nature of the use of our trademarked name, we believe that litigation is not appropriate.”
Farris is himself a constitutional lawyer (he ran unsuccessfully to be lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993). As things are turning out, his postings on Facebook have resulted in Queer at Patrick Henry College getting quite a bit of attention, and of a national sort, rather than resting in obscurity, says Tom Jackman in the Washington Post. The Loudoun Times cites an anonymous campus source who says that the blog has become “all anyone [was] talking about” on campus. Queer at Patrick Henry College has also been blocked on the college’s WiFi with far more vigilance than any site ever has.
For all that, Farris says that Queer at Patrick Henry College is a “hoax,” his and his college’s every effort to deny that there are gay students has fueled not only awareness but discussion. Will dissent be next and even a change of Patrick Henry College’s discriminatory policies, to make the school one that stands by its own statement that “all are precious and equal in [God's] sight”?
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