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When Jamie Lord found out that she had received a major scholarship to attend Regent University School of Law, she knew she couldn’t turn it down. But Jamie wasn’t raised in a religious household – and as a lesbian, she worried how she might be treated at Regent, a renowned Christian college.
She was relieved when an official from Regent told her not to worry – she didn’t need to share Regent’s religious beliefs in order to attend the school and there would be no problem with her being a lesbian. Regent, the official said, embraced diversity.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
In her first week of classes, Jamie quickly discovered that if she told people she is a lesbian, she would be treated differently. And in numerous classes – while her professors and peers characterized LGBTQ people as pedophiles, child molestors, undeserving of marriage and destined for hell – Jamie was terrified, as she had never witnessed such a hostile anti-LGBTQ environment before.
During her second year, a professor harassed her specifically because of her sexual orientation. At a breaking point, she met with her Dean, who suggested that Jamie talk to the professor – who he described as a loving and caring person she could talk to.
But the professor quickly explained his belief that being gay is a sin and that he did not accept LGBTQ people, including his gay brother. “A teacher told me I would go to hell for being a lesbian and that if I prayed hard enough, God would save me from my sinful ways, ” Jamie recalls.
This same professor then went on to regularly insult LGBTQ people in front of the entire class, ranting that gay people are pedophiles, that you can act straight if you try hard enough, gay marriage should not be called marriage, and gay people should not be able to adopt children. He even referred to LGBTQ people as “the gays” despite Jamie’s repeated requests that he stop.
It soon became clear that this professor wasn’t an isolated problem – but instead, representative of Regent as an institution. Jamie’s reports to administration about the anti-LGBTQ abuse she was facing went unresponded to. In fact, some administrators even reminded her that she could be kicked out of the school if she were to even bring her girlfriend to campus – citing a portion of the student handbook that prohibits dating between people of the same-sex.
Eventually, Jamie couldn’t take it anymore. Her amazing scholarship wasn’t enough to justify routinely hearing from her professors and peers that LGBTQ people like her were going to hell and that her identity was shameful. She became depressed – and felt further from God than she had ever felt.
Now, Jamie is ready to hold Regent accountable – as one of 40 plaintiffs in REAP’s lawsuit demanding that the U.S. Department of Education stops granting religious exemptions to religious schools like Regent that use federal taxpayer dollars to discriminate against and torment their LGBTQ students.
“I hope that future LGBTQ law students at Regent will be spared the abuse and terrors I faced.”
In 2001, Justin enrolled in Baylor University at just 17-years-old. As he grappled with his own sexual identity, he was all too aware of Baylor’s history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination – and the specific policies in the school’s sexual misconduct policy that listed “homosexual acts” as an offense alongside sexual abuse, incest and adultery.
Justin’s introduction to Baylor was marked by a constant state of dread and anxiety.
“Would I be disciplined if I went on a date? Held another man’s hand? Shared a kiss? What if someone reported me for doing so off campus or out of town? Would I be expelled? How would I explain that to my parents? Would I be disowned?”
He recalls vividly a Baylor professor erasing a message of support for LGBTQIA+ students, a simple “God loves you” with a rainbow, from the sidewalk by scrubbing it off with his foot. He internalized the message: We will erase you.
Justin was so worried about being outed that, at the encouragement of fellow Baylor students and alumni from his church, he even enrolled himself in a conversion therapy program popular with the church, hoping that it would spare him Baylor’s disciplinary procedures should he ever “get caught” or “mess up.”
His fear and anxieties were confirmed and made worse when the director of the conversion therapy program he attended introduced him a Baylor regent who pastors the church that hosts and funds the program, joking that he'd have to have the regent "keep an eye on him."
He had watched as a gay graduate student was outed and had his scholarship revoked and had spoken with other Baylor alumni who report being subjected to exorcisms by other students, shunned, told they were mentally ill or demonically possessed for being LGBTQIA.
Some of Justin’s friends at Baylor didn’t report sexual harassment and assault because they feared that instead of holding their abusers accountable, Baylor would instead punish them for having been assaulted by someone of the same sex.
Justin continues to feel sadness, anger and pain, not only for his own experiences at Baylor, but in knowing that Baylor continues to harm its LGBTQ+ students and to shape generations of graduates who go into the world thinking it is their right to discriminate against and ridicule LGBTQ people.
It’s why he joined REAP’s lawsuit – alongside his husband Daniel, who face discrimination at Lee University – to finally hold Baylor accountable and stand up for the next generation of LGBTQ students who are facing discrimination and abuse at religious colleges nationwide.
Daniel Christopher Tidwell-Davis
For most of his time as a student at Lee University from 2002-2007, Daniel was closeted.
Lee University policy specifically sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ students and Daniel had heard of far too many terrifying examples of what might happen to him should he be outed as gay. His fear ran so deep that he even joined an on-campus conversion therapy club in hopes that he wouldn’t suffer the same consequences.
“I knew a student who was expelled for having a DVD of the feature film Latter Days, a gay themed movie, in his room. I knew of another student who was expelled for having been seen on a date with another man over the summer when he was at home in another state. I realized that other students were being expelled because they were LGBTQ, and that my participation in the conversion therapy group was a way to keep that from happening to me.”
In his job as a resident assistant, Daniel was forced to search students’ rooms for LGBTQ materials and watch for any indications that students might be in same-sex relationships.
But it wasn’t long before Daniel was a target of harassment himself from the students who were under his watch. During one extreme incident of harassment, Daniel was awakened in the middle of the night by students throwing pool balls at his bedroom door. Daniel laid in bed, crying, hoping they would leave.
After the students persisted, and relentlessly pounded on his door with their fists, he was forced to open his door to confront them. He was met by the ringleader of the group, completely naked, doing a handstand in his doorway with his genitals inches from Daniel’s face, while 8-10 young men stood behind him howling with laughter.
In that moment, Daniel didn’t know if he was going to be assaulted, or if he reported it, if he would be expelled for being gay. He cried himself to sleep that night.
Daniel knew of many LGBTQ and straight victims of sexual assault at Lee who did not report it for fear of being expelled.
Even if he did report it, he knew that the religious exemption granted by the U.S. Department of Education to Lee University meant that the University could legally expel him for being gay. And if he were expelled, he would lose his scholarship and be forced to come out to his hostile family.
Now, Daniel is joining REAP’s lawsuit – alongside his husband, Justin Tidwell-Davis, who faced anti-LGBTQ discrimination at Baylor University - to hold schools like Lee University accountable and ensure that no LGBTQ student ever again has to live in silence, particularly if they have faced sexual assault on campus.
When Mortimer Halligan started applying for colleges as a first-generation student, they admittedly weren’t totally sure what they should be looking for.
So they applied to Indiana Wesleyan University – remembering that their church youth group had previously staged an event on campus – they were thrilled to learn they had been accepted.
Once on campus, Mortimer began embracing their queer identity and started working with other LGBTQ students to start a student organization for LGBTQ students at IWU.
But their efforts have been met with resistance from the beginning.
IWU is one of 200+ religious colleges that have been granted a religious exemption from the U.S. Department of Education, meaning that IWU can openly discriminate against its queer and transgender students while still receiving federal taxpayer dollars.
University policy specifically prohibits students from dating someone of the same sex or dressing outside of their supposed gender norms – a violation of which could lead to disciplinary procedures or even expulsion.
Because IWU refuses to recognize their group, Mortimer’s student LGBTQ group is ineligible to receive or even raise their own funds. Their efforts to organize have been met with rampant harassment and scorn from other students and alumni, who have harassed queer students on social media and destructed the group’s promotional materials on campus.
For their safety, the LGBTQ group at IWU meets secretly off-campus. And despite numerous complaints from LGBTQ students about the harassment they have faced, IWU’s administration refuses to take action.
Mortimer’s experiences at IWU have led them to join alongside 39 other LGBTQ students and alumni as a plaintiff in REAP’s lawsuit – calling on the U.S. Department of Education to stop granting religious exemptions to schools like IWU that use federal taxpayer dollars to discriminate against LGBTQ students.
Mortimer’s demand for IWU is simple: “I would like to feel safe on campus.”
Consolta Bryant lives in Colleyville, TX. She is the parent of plaintiff Devin Bryant, who attended Covenant Christian Academy.
“I wanted Devin to attend a Christian school and receive a solid education,” she said. “I expected the school to teach my children about honesty, love and kindness.” But when the school learned that Devin is gay, they expelled him. In a phone call, the Headmaster told Consolata that Devin had chosen an evil path and that he was not welcome. The Headmaster later sent a statement to the entire school publicly shaming Devin and his sexual orientation.
“I am participating in this lawsuit because my child was discriminated against by his school for his sexual orientation,” Consolata said. “I do not want this to continue happening to other students or any other person. All schools, which are given responsibility for children, should not harm or discriminate against them on the basis of race, sexual orientation or anything else that makes them a unique child of God.”
She is raising her voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at Covenant Christian Academy and religiously affiliated colleges across the country.
Devin Bryant lives in Colleyville, TX. He identifies as queer. He has been a very engaged student, participating at school as an athlete in cross county and track, playing basketball, and performing in school musicals.
Devin attended Covenant Christian Academy as a pre-K student and continued until August 2020, when he was expelled. After coming out as queer during his junior year, he met with school administrators repeatedly, who said it was their priority to keep him in school. They asked him to not disclose his sexual orientation publicly and to refrain from dating in and out of school. When a new Headmaster joined before Devin’s senior year, he reversed the decision of the Head of the high school and Dean of Students and expelled Devin.
Following the expulsion the Headmaster sent a letter to the entire Covenant Christian Academy community detailing what happened to Devin and saying, “CCA has a duty to all current parents and children of our community as well as any alumni, alumni parents and future families seeking a solid Christian education. That includes any other young people who are choosing to align themselves with Scripture while struggling with same sex-attraction and especially our elementary age children who have been impacted.” Devin viewed this as a way to humiliate and shame him, and threaten other LGBTQ+ students.
Devin is raising his voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at religiously affiliated schools across the country.
Saren Craig grew up on a cattle farm in Cassville, Missouri in a very religious, conservative home – where their parents made clear that they believed homosexuality and being transgender or gender non-binary were sinful.
When it came time for Saren to attend college, there wasn’t much discussion. Saren's parents expected them to attend College of the Ozarks (C of O), the same conservative Christian school that Saren's father had attended, which was just one hour away from the family home.
When Saren arrived on campus in 2001, it wasn’t long before they developed close feelings for a female friend - which sent Saren into a spiral of anxiety and depression.
College of the Ozarks is renowned as a hostile environment for LGBTQ students – with strict policies that deem LGBTQ identities as inappropriate and sinful and acting on one’s queer identity as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal from the school.
In one high-profile tragedy, a gay student killed himself in a C of O dean’s garage after receiving messages of rejection from his campus community. More recently, C of O has been granted a religious exemption by the U.S. Department of Education that allows the school to discriminate against LGBTQ students while still receiving taxpayer funding. C of O was also a plaintiff in a recent lawsuit challenging regulations aimed at protecting transgender students at college campuses nationwide.
It was under this context that Saren grappled with their queer identity. One day, a school counselor told students that if there was something in their past they would like to discuss, they could talk with her. But when Saren took her up on the offer, the result was traumatizing.
“A campus counselor told me that my sexuality and gender orientation were pathological and because of my history of abuse,” Saren recalls. This painful moment only compounded the depression they were already enduring – forcing Saren to eventually leave C of O.
Saren eventually joined the Air Force and after completing service, finished their undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2014. Saren completed their master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance – Mental Health in 2018, also from University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Now, Saren lives in Portland, OR and has devoted their career to supporting LGBTQIA people as they come to terms with their identities. Saren joined as a plaintiff in REAP’s lawsuit to ensure that no student at C of O – or any religious college nationwide – experiences the discrimination and abuse that they did.
Louis James is a pseudonym for a student at Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). He worries about dismissal, discrimination, or academic harm if his identity is discovered. He is a gay man.
IWU outlines rules of behavior for students and includes several specific anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including regulation of romantic and sexual relationships between people of the same sex. The university also states, “We believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome the practice of such activity and the perversion leading to its practice.”
Louis frequently worries that IWU will discover that he is gay and kick him out of school. He has seen social media posts about former students at IWU who were dismissed when they came out as gay. The fear has prompted Louis to experience anxiety while walking around campus that has made it hard for him to eat and sleep.
He is raising his voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at Indiana Wesleyan University and religiously affiliated colleges across the country.
Jaycen Montgomery identifies as transgender with an open sexuality.
He attended George Fox University from 2012 until March 2016, when he left without graduating.
George Fox’s student handbook outlines rules of behavior for students and includes several specific anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including regulation of romantic and sexual relationships between people of the same sex. The policy and general climate at George Fox made Jaycen feel excluded and not seen for who he is, prompting him to feel anxiety and depression.
While a student, Jaycen requested to move from female housing to housing with other men following his transition. Living in a female dorm meant that each day, his first thoughts were about his struggles living in a body that never felt right to him. His request was initially denied by George Fox because he is a transgender man.
Jaycen is raising his voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at George Fox University and religiously affiliated colleges across the country.
Spencer Vigil lives in Seattle, WA. He is a transgender, bisexual man who is also a part of the BIPOC community.
He graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 2019. Seattle Pacific’s Student Standards of Conduct outline rules of behavior for students and includes several specific anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including regulation of romantic and sexual relationships between people of the same sex.
Spencer was afraid to come out as transgender on campus, but after confiding in some trusted friends and faculty, he came out more publicly in 2019. He often endured slurs from classmates and public shaming or teasing from professors. In order to participate in a theater department production, he was made to sign a document saying that he was knowingly breaking SPU’s lifestyle expectations and that he was aware of a list of consequences such as loss of scholarships, inability to graduate on time, or expulsion.
“Thinking back on the situation, I was so emotionally devastated that I had trouble sleeping for months,” Spencer said. “I continue to suffer from anxiety, depression, and insomnia resulting from the campus climate at SPU and discriminatory actions taken against me. Transgender students like me remain vulnerable to harassment and discrimination at SPU.”
He is raising his voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at Seattle Pacific University and religiously affiliated colleges across the country.
Rachel Moulton lives in Riverside, CA, is a member of the LDS Church, and is gay. “I know that I am a child of God,” she said. “And I now know that being gay and being a child of God can both be true.”
Rachel grappled with significant religious trauma for much of her life, unsure how to reconcile feelings of same-sex attraction with her deep faith. She tried to ignore her feelings but concluded that there was nothing she could do to change her sexual orientation.
During her freshman year at Brigham Young University – Idaho, she attempted suicide. She felt abandoned and betrayed by her school and Church, which has long taught that same-sex attraction will disappear in the next life. The school also has many anti-LGBTQ+ provisions in its Honor Code and has a history of requiring LGBTQ+ students to undergo so-called “conversion therapy.”
After recovering, she returned to BYU-Idaho, where she took several required classes that underlined anti-LGBTQ+ views on marriage and family. She sought support from USGA, a support group for queer students at BYU-Idaho that was not allowed to meet on campus. After several years of self-discovery and self-affirmation, she returned to BYU-Idaho in 2020 through online courses, but the discriminatory environment and anti-LGBTQ+ climate had not changed. Rachel is now working as a behavior technician for children with autism and hopes to return to school someday.
She is raising her voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at Brigham Young University – Idaho and religiously affiliated colleges across the country.
Jonathan Jones grew up in Little Rock, AR and attended a nondenominantional church that felt like home. The church was a big part of his life until he came out as a part of the queer community. They identify as a bisexual, non-binary, genderfluid person.
Jonathan plans to graduate in July 2021 from Azusa Pacific University, where he participates in a scholarship program based around social justice and leadership. The scholarship required Jonathan to serve in a student leadership position, and in the summer of 2018 the school reviewed campus policies as part of the orientation for the position. The university was removing its ban on on-campus dating between people of the same sex, which made Jonathan feel affirmed and seen. But after an anti-LGBTQ letter from a professor circulated across the school, Azusa Pacific University reversed the policy and reinstated its ban on same-sex relationships.
“This was a very scary time,” Jonathan said. “I had started to feel safe coming out. Other students had started to feel safe coming out. And now this felt like a trick, a trap. I started hearing from other LGBTQ+ former students at APU who had lost their leadership positions or scholarships because of same-sex relationships.” By the spring of 2019, same-sex dating was not referenced in the handbook, although the school’s opposition to marriage between same-sex couples is listed.
There are other practices that put LGBTQ+ students in danger. APU classifies the LGBTQ+ student group as a ministry, a lesser distinction from a student “club” that results in less control of the group’s finances and programming. When one queer student came out to their roommate, the queer student was removed from the housing assignment, with APU saying the student was “coming on” to the roommate.
Jonathan is raising their voice to protect all LGBTQ+ students at Azusa Pacific University and religiously affiliated colleges across the country. “Future queer Christian students deserve a space to expore their spirituality alongside their sexuality in a faith-based environment without the fear of harassment of discrimination,” they said.