Don’t judge me by my sexual orientation
By Jessica Cohea
Senior Brett Carmouché, 21, was threatened with excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for being gay. In response, he transferred to Olivet from Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution in Idaho, after his freshman year. Even though he was aware of Olivet’s religious roots in the Church of the Nazarene, Carmouché thought the student body, faculty, staff and administration would be more accepting of his homosexuality than BYU.
He was wrong.
Within the first days at Olivet, Carmouché started to believe that he was alone.
“No one understood [me]. No one wanted to understand.”
The Church of the Nazarene views homosexuality as a sin and as a form of perversion. Its doctrine says, however, that Nazarenes “believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome the practice of homosexuality.” Gay people are allowed to attend ONU, says Woody Webb, VP for Student Development, if they agree to abide by University policy to refrain from acting on homosexual behavior.
It is not Carmouché’s goal to change the Nazarene views, because he says those views are what make schools like Olivet run and function. He and other gay people on campus just want to be treated like everyone else is. They want to be socially accepted.
Carmouché came out to the Olivet community officially in an article in the GlimmerGlass on Feb. 27, 2009.
“Those who know me intimately know that I … struggle with homosexuality,” he wrote – choosing his words carefully to appease the University and protect himself from ridicule. He was not ready to be completely open.
Nonetheless, Carmouché recalls being approached by several people who severely disapproved of his sexual orientation after the article appeared. Many people he thought were friends abandoned him at that crucial point in his life. He cried frequently and took his anger out on those around him. He even threatened self-injury.
He remembered telling his parents, “I need help or I’m not going to make it.”
“I frequently thought about killing myself because it was so miserable here [at Olivet], and my parents wouldn’t let me transfer again,” he says.
With time, however, Carmouché found a group of people he could connect with. He learned that other people at Olivet are gay, too, and he gained support from several of his professors as well.
Time went on and the new Olivetian started to become comfortable at ONU. He studied on campus for two semesters, then decided to study abroad for the fall 2009 semester. Before heading to China, however, he signed up to share an apartment in Olde Oak with three other men. He had confidence in his spring housing situation, so he left and moved on with his semester.
After returning from China, Carmouché recalls receiving a phone call during Winter Break from one of his roommates a few days before New Year’s Day 2010. The essential message, he says, was:
“Here are a few options: either you get it together or I’ll move out, or we will have you kicked out.”
His roommates initially thought that his homosexuality was an issue that he was overcoming. The three men found out later that Carmouché had made peace with his sexual orientation.
“I was under the impression that Brett struggled in the past and was trying to change. I didn’t think he was still actively gay,” said one such roommate, senior Brian Kosek, 22.
Distraught, Carmouché emailed his Resident Director. The two met when Carmouché returned to Olivet’s campus later that month for the start of the spring semester.
Carmouché says he was told that he could not share an apartment with those men as planned because they were not comfortable knowing he is gay.
He packed his bags and was sent to Hills.
“[The Olde Oak RD] said, ‘Here’s the key to the guest room. You’re going to be here for a week. We need to pray. We need to talk about it,’” Carmouché recalls. “It was essentially me being quarantined for a week.”
If a student is removed from the apartments and is sent back to inner-campus housing, it can be seen as a sign of punishment. Carmouché felt like he was being punished for his sexual orientation.
Carmouché says he was told if he could find someone “to deal with him” he would not have to stay in Hills. He did, and shared a room with that friend for the duration of the semester. He says he was not permitted to live in any apartments the following school year, though.
Although he may be the only gay person that has received this “punishment,” he is not the only gay person on campus.
There is a “decent sized underground gay community” on campus, according to a gay rights advocate within the Olivet community who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. A handful of homosexual people are open about their sexual orientation. But they do not enjoy the same rights heterosexual students have. This has led Carmouché and a group of fellow Olivetians – gay and straight – to start fighting for the acceptance of homosexual people at Olivet.
Junior Aubrey Sarna is part of this group. Telling her friends at Olivet that she is gay was “really scary.” She never expected to ever tell anyone, she says. Not a single soul. Not until she was dying.
“I had visions of being on my death bed and telling one person before I died.”
Revealing her true identity meant freedom, though. “This is only one part of who I am. I am a lot of other things, too,” Sarna says.
However, neither Sarna nor Carmouché or any other gay student on campus feels that the Olivet community sees past their homosexuality.
Gay students are treated differently. For example, if a student needs counseling and indicates that he or she is gay on the application – like Sarna did, Olivet counselors are not permitted to counsel them according to University policy.
“The [Olivet] counselor told me that it would be the same as if you were a drug addict and you were coming to counseling because you want your family to accept the fact that you’re a drug addict,” she says.
Student Body President and student advocate for gay rights, Evan Karg says, “I went and talked to the administration. They said that [the counselors] don’t accept students that embrace [homosexuality]. They are supposed to defer them.”
Sarna did receive a list of outside counselors, but was told that they may not support her either. It has been more than a month already but she still has not found a professional willing to listen. “So where I am supposed to go now?” she wonders.
According to the advocate, gay people cannot socialize on campus. “They can’t get together. They can’t sit down in a room and really identify themselves … and that’s sad.”
Although acceptance and equality for this minority are the ultimate goals, Karg at least wants gay students to know they are safe.
“Jesus spent time with the lowliest of the low. The thing is that the students who are upright, upstanding citizens, who are strong Christians in faith, but homosexual, are told they are going to hell and that’s why people are committing suicide,” he says. “I want students to know that God is a lot bigger than a homosexual hell.”
Frustrated, Sarna explains that Jesus does not care if the person she loves is male or female. He cares about what is in her heart. She strongly believes that. She does not want people to judge her by her preference either.
“Jesus loves me anyway. I am a homosexual. It’s not something I struggle with … I want respect and equality.”
A bisexual student on campus, senior Dominic “Niko” Clark, says that people tend to limit God by placing denominational views on him.
“I think that especially when you adhere to a certain doctrine concerning your denomination you are painting God into a box,” he says.
Carmouché says he has taken the fall for homosexuals on campus and has no regrets. He stayed at Olivet because of a deep conviction to help.
“I have been the target and I still will be. That’s OK. I want gay students to be able to say, ‘Yes, I am gay’ … I want what little I have done to affect someone here even if I don’t know them. They need to know they are beautiful.”
A-Team stands by what they believe
By Jessica Cohea
People in the Olivet community are divided on the issue of homosexuality. Some believe it is a lifestyle choice that is the right and responsibility of an individual. Others see it as a complete disregard of biblical texts. But no matter what the viewpoint, Olivet Nazarene University has strict policies in place for its students, even a policy concerning a homosexual way of life.
ONU is affiliated with the Church of the Nazarene and therefore follows its doctrinal and ethical principles. The University has centered its campus regulations on those principles, according to the University Life Handbook.
Olivet’s stance and policy are clear on the issue of homosexuality, said Woody Webb, VP for Student Development. “We affirm the biblical teaching that sexual intimacies are to be shared as God’s gift within the context of a committed marriage relationship between a man and woman, and that any form of sexual promiscuity, including homosexual acts, contradicts both Scripture and God’s plan for us.”
Olivet is firm in its beliefs, as is the Evangelical Church as a whole.
Junior Cathy Schutt, 21, shared an apartment with a gay female fall semester 2009. She was shocked at the news of her roommate’s sexual orientation, but with the advice from a mentor, she decided to give the housing arrangement a shot anyway.
Schutt agrees with Olivet’s opinion that homosexuality goes against Scripture and referenced Matthew 19, which says: “‘Haven’t you read … that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” ’”
Schutt feels that acting on homosexual feelings is wrong, but “you aren’t condemned to hell if you are tempted in that way.” A person is only wrong in the eyes of God if he or she pursues the same sex attraction.
There are students on campus that are not sure of their sexual orientation. There are also some people that struggle with the idea that they have those same sex attractions and feel that they need help.
If a student is struggling with the idea of homosexuality, the University will work with them, Webb said, but will not if a student has accepted the idea of his or her homosexuality. “I want students who struggle with this issue to know that they can talk with their RD, our chaplain or our counseling staff without fear of judgment or consequences,” Webb said.
On the other hand, “if a student is asking us to help them embrace their homosexuality and help them find a way to talk about it to their family, because that’s contrary to our position and what we believe, we are going to refer them off campus. We will give them a number of referrals and let the student decide who they want to see.”
The administration and counselors are not trying to get away from the conversation about homosexuality. They are rather helping a student find someone that is willing to counsel them about their sexual orientation when Olivet’s counselors are instructed not to.
In fact, the Church is more open to discussion now about the topic than in the past.
Webb said the Evangelical Church as a whole is more willing today to debate the issue than in previous years, but he does not see the Church changing its view on homosexuality.
“We want to talk about this issue with students, and we want them to feel safe doing so. If they come to us and want help understanding their same sex attractions, our offices are open. While we won’t help a student accept [his or her] same sex attraction and enter a gay lifestyle, if they realize that their same sex attraction is contrary to God’s will for them, we will walk with them on their journey.”