Sophomore Cody Melin is working toward establishing a lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning and alliance (LGBTQA) support group off campus with the support of several faculty members for the 2015-2016 school year. Melin said he is starting the group because of a lack of support for the community on campus.
“I had the idea of starting up an LGBTQA support group that will meet once a week for people to just share their feelings, emotions, what’s going on in their life and have a safe place to talk openly,” Melin said.
Melin was concerned the university would reject his idea because of their association with The United Bretheren Church.
According to a statement on the United Bretheren Church website under chapter five of their manual of operations, “The biblical view of sex firmly establishes it within the framework of marriage and family life. Therefore, the church cannot condone premarital sex, adultery, or any form of homosexual behavior,.All are clearly contrary to the expressed will of God concerning the union of man and woman together in this most sacred and binding of human relationships.”
During the fall 2011 semester, former student Ben James petitioned to officiate an LGBT support group on campus. However, once his efforts were declined by Ron Coffey, Ph.D., vice president for student life, he left the university. For this reason, Melin said the group will meet off-campus so the school will not have authority to shut it down.
“The university does not have the ability to shut the [off campus] support group down, so we’re not stepping on the university’s toes,” he said. “There’s going to be tension. But at the same time, it’s something that they don’t really have the permission to remove.”
Melin was surprised to discover a few faculty members and students supported his efforts.
Melin, who identifies as an open bisexual, wants there to be a group for “closeted students,” so they have someone to talk to and to trust. Because the university identifies with The United Brethren Church, which maintains that homosexuality is a sin, Melin said the closeted students feel vulnerable.
“I’ve had about two or three students come up to me and say, ‘I’m alone. I have nobody to talk to. I just want to stay in my room and cry. I’m falling into a depression,’” he said. “People are scared to be themselves. I want them to have a good college experience.”
Melin said he has never gone two weeks without being called a derogatory name. Last school year, the name-calling escelated when Melin was threatened with physical violence by another student on his floor because of his orientation.
“They said since I’m such a feminine guy that beating me up woud not be that hard of a task to accomplsih,” he said. “And I actually got chest bumped and a fist raised to my face. But the people on my floor broke it up. I stayed in my room the rest of that day.”
Melin said he wants LGBTQA students to have the chance to speak and defend themselves and that the group could aid in bridging the gap of confusion conservative Christians have toward the community.
“I have had many friends on campus who have lived in a very conservative lifestyle, where they’re told homosexuality is a sin,” he said. “We’ve sat down and had one or two hour conversations where we’ve both broke down crying. And this person has said, ‘I’ve never talked to a bisexual before, but I understand now. I’m more accepting.’”
Del Doughty, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs, said he is an advocate for the LGBTQA support group.
“It’s a pressing social issue.” Doughty said. “And I thought, as an institution of higher education, we should be leading the conversation in these areas.”
After Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in early April, Doughty said this is another reason to encourage open discussion on campus about homosexuality.
“Several colleges in the state made public statements opposing the law when they thought it was discriminatory,” Doughty says. “And several people on our campus contacted me and said, ‘Hey, that [LGBTQA support group] is a good idea!’ We should definitely have this conversation.”
Doughty’s idea was to host an event on campus to discuss the concept of an on-campus support group. He said he hoped the university would be open to the discussion on struggles gay students may be dealing with.
“Where else better to discuss those kinds of things than in a college?” Doughty said. “But those kinds of things are difficult to discuss. You have to be in control of your emotions. You have to be courageous enough to let people with different perspectives have a say. You have to enter those discussions with the possibility that you could be wrong.”
Doughty said political agendas are often attached to these kinds of issues and that the possibility of inciting change can be threatening to some. However, he agreed that steps should be taken toward building a stronger, Christ-like community.
“We have done a lot of hard work in this country understanding the importance of diversity in others,” he said. “And this is the latest frontier on that campaign.”