An open letter to LGBTQ friends and allies of Calvin University

The table that appeared on Commons Lawn at Calvin University on Tuesday, March 9.

Beloved LGBTQ friends and allies,

I’m someone who can’t deal with the next big emotional issue until I’ve already dealt with the last; I was too busy processing the anti-LGBTQ sentiments of last week to even start to ask myself what all of the Anti-Asian racism of this week meant. I was forced to confront it this weekend when I told a stranger to pull his mask over his nose. He got agitated and started following me. He called me a bitch, accused me of being in the U.S. illegally, and questioned my ability to speak English. He pointed out my race and asked me what the best blindfold for Asian people was. He laughed when he said “a shoelace.”

I told my friends the tears in my eyes were there because of my wide-eyed disbelief and the freezing wind, not because I was offended. Even though I was shaken, I told myself to brush it off. Just the day before, I processed the anti-Asian racism of this week with my sister, a fellow student body president and Japanese-Dutch woman. We struggled with the expectation to make neutral statements on matters deeply personal to us. We mused about how neither of us had ever experienced racism for being Asian.

My instinct was to move on and forget about it. That’s part of the reason I haven’t said much about the table or anti-Asian racism recently. However, if my sister or a friend were in the same situation, I’d tell her that what she experienced was not okay and that it’s okay to be upset about it. Right after my experience with racism, my friends told me that what I experienced was wrong and that I’m allowed to be mad about it. That was validating. In sharing my thoughts, I hope to give the same feeling to you.

Last week, I chose silence in the name of unity and fought my impulse to say something potentially divisive to the student body but much-needed for LGBTQ students. My “neutral” statement didn’t mention that “those experiencing discomfort” were LGBTQ students, and I failed to condemn (or even include) the word “homophobia.” Without naming what happened, it’s easier to ignore and gaslight LGBTQ students. Instead of offering resources and support, I framed the existence of LGBTQ students as a mere debate, inviting others to join. I tried. I failed. I’m so thankful that I learned.

My saying “Whether you were standing at the table proclaiming your beliefs, or challenging the viewpoints presented- I represent all of you,” was tone-deaf in a moment like this. There is a difference between what is true and what is relevant. It is true that I represent all students. But, to give LGBTQ students and the students at the table equal support when LGBTQ students are so clearly hurting in a moment like this wasn't what they needed.

There have been seven op-eds about this incident in Chimes this week. I appreciated what Lindsay Owens said in her piece, “Tuesday’s Anti-LGBTQ tabling is who Calvin actually is.”

“I’ve watched plenty of straight people at Calvin respond in positive ways in an effort to counter the pain and harm LGBTQ students, staff, and faculty have experienced as a result of Tuesday’s event. And I’ve seen some responses that frame Tuesday’s event as unacceptable and unaligned with who Calvin is. This is unacceptable at Calvin! This event isn’t who we are! This isn’t who Calvin is!”

It’s not just straight people who missed the mark. My response stated, “The Calvin I know is great at having hard conversations and disagreeing; this is not who we are. I’m still proud to go to Calvin.” Just because I’m queer doesn’t mean I’m immune to perpetuating homophobia, transphobia, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, or toxic positivity masquerading as school spirit. I’m susceptible to being corrupted by power and influenced by the institutions within which I work.

I also want to draw attention to the words of Gay Calvin Knight on Medium, which I found incredibly insightful.

“I want to break down a phrase used on the poster, because it is indicative of the kind of casual dehumanization and ostracization we see far too often at Calvin: “LGBTQ is sin.” One common error made when talking about LGBTQ+ people is the exclusion of the word “people.” LGBTQ is not a noun, it is an adjective. It does not describe an activity, it describes identities. Excluding the word “people” excludes the humanity of LGBTQ+ individuals. It is much easier to hate someone when you do not think or refer to them as a person.”

During my term, I haven’t been afraid of talking about controversial topics in offering a “nonpartisan” presentation of the facts. I have, however, been hesitant to offer my personal thoughts on these topics because I don’t want to offend students who value free speech, students who are LGBTQ, my senators, college decision-makers, donors, or professors. Mentors have told me that I’m not for everyone, but it’s hard to reconcile that when my job is to represent everyone.

At the beginning of my term, I was told to ignore the “loud voices,” that extreme opinions on either side should be discarded. During my term, I’ve realized that some of the loudest voices are coming from the people who are the most marginalized. They’re not yelling for fun; they’re yelling because we uphold a system that perpetuates their oppression. We use their tone as an excuse to ignore them, but it’s really their message that makes us uncomfortable.

I’m thankful to have received over 45 messages from people I know as well as many I don’t via text, email, Teams, Messenger, Instagram DM, and handwritten cards last week. I also found 12 wonderfully gay rainbow cupcakes on my doorstep from a student I didn’t even know. But you shouldn’t have to be student body president and have a robust support system to know that people care about you. The version of myself who I was when I was a sophomore needed a word of encouragement way more than my senior year self ever has.

I don’t think anyone would have reached out to me if this incident would have happened my sophomore year. After several failed prayers to be absolved of my romantic and sexual attraction towards women, I was coming to terms with the fact that my bisexuality was here to stay. It’s complicated being bisexual and Christian: at one point, I decided to only acknowledge my feelings for men, but that didn’t make the feelings I had for women or the ability to see myself marrying one disappear. It was difficult to reconcile my Christian faith with my queerness and it was even more difficult to do all of this alone. I wasn’t even out to my therapist.

I thought I had to have my stance on faith and sexuality figured out before coming out, which kept me in the closet for years. I thought it was on my shoulders alone to find an interpretation for those seven Bible verses. I thought I owed an explanation to anyone who asked me for the Biblical justification for my queerness. I wish I would have known that I didn’t need to do any of those things. Coming out does not mean that you need to hold a certain stance on gay marriage. For me, coming out meant giving myself permission to wrestle with what the Bible says knowing it was something that impacted me as a full person, not a hypothetical debate I was having about an abstract policy.

To my beloved allies: there are many students who are right now in the place I was in my sophomore year. They’re on your floor, they sit next to you in class, you see them in the dining hall and say hi to them walking on the path. You never know what internal battles someone might be fighting. This is your reminder to check in with the Asian and LGBTQ people in your life. Preferably people who are not me. Be bold in reaching out to people you might not know and be intentional about loving people a little harder than you think you need to.

To my beloved LGBTQ peers: I see you, I love you, and I know it’s hard to be queer at Calvin. I’m sorry we repeatedly fail to support you, but I’m so glad you’re here. You don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t even have it all figured out.

To my beloved therapist: we have a lot to unpack this week.

With love,

Claire Murashima

Student Body President, Calvin University.