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Joni McLeod

(she/her)

Oral Roberts University

At 18-years-old, Joni McLeod enrolled at Oral Roberts University (ORU), an evangelical school in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Growing up in a conservative household, Joni didn’t feel like she had much choice in the matter. And as she began grappling with her sexual orientation, she worried that something was wrong with her – and thought that she might be “cured” while attending ORU.

After graduating from ORU in 2016, Joni took a job as the Assistant to the Vice President of Enrollment. She needed the money and felt like she didn’t have any other options.

It was there that she fell in love with her now wife, Rosalyn. But being in love with another woman while employed at ORU wasn’t easy.

“I experienced the worst anxiety I’ve ever had when I was there,” Joni remembers. “But I wasn’t able to get the help that I needed because if anyone ever found out, I would lose my entire
livelihood. I was in constant fear. I was in fight or flight mode.”

That’s because ORU forces its students and staff to sign a strict honor code, which specifically prohibits same-sex relationships under the penalty of expulsion or firing. The pledge reads, in part:

I will not engage in or attempt to engage in any illicit, unscriptural sexual acts, which include any homosexual activity and sexual intercourse with one who is not my spouse through traditional marriage of one man and one woman.

Joni can recall sitting on a balcony weeping during a mandatory chapel service because she was dating Rosalyn, while closeted – as the crowd cheered during a sermon proclaiming that sex and love was so much better inside heterosexual marriage between a
man and woman.

It wasn’t long before Joni knew she was in love – and both her and her wife quit, “because we would be fired if we came out.”

“Religious trauma syndrome would define my time as a student and employee at ORU,” Joni says, explaining why both she and Rosalyn have joined REAP’s class-action lawsuit demanding that the U.S. Department of Education to stop granting religious exemptions that allow schools like Oral Roberts to ignore laws like Title IX and harm their LGBTQ students while still receiving taxpayer funding.

Joni and her wife Rosalyn now live in New York City, where she works as a mental health professional, researching the intersections between trauma and LGBTQI identities.

“I hope for a future where queer students at ORU know that they are valued, accepted, and loved - not in spite of their affectional and/or gender identities, but because of those identities.”