One thing that both the right and left tend to agree on is that higher education is vastly more accepting of LGBTQ people than mainstream society overall. We tell young people all the time that their lives will "get better" once they leave for college, where they can start exploring and expressing themselves freely.
There's a reason for the dual narratives that alternately delight the left and terrify the right. Whether we're talking about the LGBTQ youth who goes to college and finds themselves, or the intolerant youth who upon getting to college is exposed to positive interactions/portrayals of LGBTQ people for the first time and ends up becoming an ally, for a huge number of people, one or the other of those two scenarios is exactly what happens.
But for students at conservative and religious colleges, the story is often very different.
Wheaton College in Illinois (not to be confused with the liberal Wheaton College in Massachusetts) is a Christian college that is quite well-regarded for its students' academic achievements. The Princeton Review describes it as "arguably the best school in the nation with a Christ-based worldview."
As an institution, Wheaton unfortunately is noteworthy for its LGBTQ intolerance as well. The school consistently ranks at or near the top of the Princeton Review's list of most homophobic colleges and universities, as Dr. Jillian T. Weiss noted on Bilerico back in August of 2011. "Homosexual behavior" is called out explicitly as being against the school's "community covenant," which all students and faculty are expected to "embrace." And the college president reiterated the school's position on LGBTQ students in 2011, saying "scripture condemns...homosexual behavior."
There is a group of LGBTQ and allied alumni who offer some support, but for the most part the LGBTQ student experience at Wheaton is a silent one.
But now two straight-identified Wheaton students are working to bring the voices of LGBTQ students and alumni out into the conversation with the "More Than a Single Story Project." Jordan-Ashley Barney, one of the project's creators, writes:
"Wheaton College is not accepting of LGBTQ stories. There are arguments, both theological and political, mostly erring on the side of 'against' -- but LGBTQ voices are silenced. Luke Vander Ploeg came to me with the idea of this audio documentary after seeing what me and my friend, Justin Massey, did with the demonstration in front of chapel in February. Luke and I got to work right away compiling stories from the voices of current LGBTQ and SSA students and alumni.
"What came of this is what we call The More Than a Single Story Project, named after the demonstration we had in February. We wanted to create something that would bring this discussion at Wheaton College and other conservative Christian institutions away from political and theological debate and bring it to people, their lives and their voices and their stories. This is of course what this 'issue' is all about.
"Usually the only thing that causes an evangelical Christian to re-examine their beliefs is personal experience -- a friend coming out to them or something similar. We wanted to create that for Wheaton College as a whole. Luke and I both hope this can make some sort of small impact. All we want is for love to win.
What they've created is a touching and well-produced audio documentary on what it's like to be an LGBTQ student at a college that describes itself as "dedicated to the service of "Christ and His [sic] Kingdom."
You'll find the prologue below, and the full two-hour documentary can be heard here.