Note: This post was written by Saren Craig (they/them), who lives in Portland, OR.
I am a queer, non-binary, trans person who was born on a cattle farm in Missouri, an hour away from College of Ozarks (C of O) – the same Christian school that my dad attended and that my very conservative family always expected I would attend, too.
In January 2001, I began attending C of O – a school renowned for its history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and abuse. Immediately, I met a girl and developed feelings for her, which sent me into a spiral of anxiety.
One day, a school counselor spoke to my class and told us if there was something in our past we would like to discuss, we could talk to her.
Finally, I thought. This is someone I could confide in about the sexual and physical abuse I faced in my own family. But when I took her up on her offer, I came to realize that this counselor was practicing conversion therapy – hoping to force queer students like me to “turn straight.”
College of the Ozarks wasn’t a safe place for me in 2001 – and even 20 years later, it’s still a dangerous environment for queer students. That’s why I am now one of 40 plaintiffs who are joining REAP in fighting anti-LGBTQ discrimination at religious schools nationwide. Get to know me and my fellow plaintiffs here.
I eventually left College of the Ozarks – although it took me years to realize that the depression, anxiety, shame, and worthlessness inflicted upon me in that environment was not mine to carry.
When trusted authority figures like pastors, counselors and administrators spew harmful lies, good people can be severely misled. No institution should abuse its power and authority to inflict psychological and spiritual abuse upon innocent students – especially while receiving federal, taxpayer funding.
I’m so honored to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my 39 fellow plaintiffs – each of whom have both a heartbreaking story of discrimination and an unwavering determination to protect the next generation of queer students at religious colleges. You can meet all the plaintiffs in REAP’s historic lawsuit here.
Thankfully, my story gets better: I served six years in the military, finished my undergrad, and went on to get a Masters in Counseling. Now, I live in Portland, Oregon as a proud and open queer person – offering services to LGBTQ youth who are grappling with their identities.
I’m grateful to be a part of this lawsuit – and so grateful for the thousands of supporters like you who have stepped up to show that you have our backs.
P.S. I wrote about my experience at C of O in the Springfield News-Leader – the largest local newspaper in the Ozarks. With REAP’s help, we’re working to ensure that the local community can no longer turn a blind eye to C of O’s anti-LGBTQ practices. Click here to read the full piece.