UPDATED: February 20, 2018 at 7:56 p.m.
Last Friday, Harvard College Faith and Action brought hip-hop artist and self-proclaimed ex-gay Christian activist Jackie Hill-Perry to campus for a half-hour-long sermon, in which she talked about the evils of homosexuality. During the event, Hill-Perry argued that queer people must make a choice between living a selfish life of sin or suppressing our desires and following the word of God. The event was billed by HCFA as “a respectful dialogue about sexual ethics for Christians in the spirit of love and kindness.” In reality, the event was the furthest thing possible from “respectful.”
By hosting the event—in spite of numerous calls and petitions for it to be cancelled—HCFA was complicit in promoting dangerous homophobic rhetoric that threatened the emotional and physical safety of LGBT people here on campus. No matter how many seats were reserved for protestors, no matter how much the student leaders attempted to qualify their message as loving and inclusive, HCFA still gave this woman a platform to preach a dangerous homophobic sermon for over half an hour.
Last Friday, I listened to a woman with no formal divinity education declare that a person’s sexual orientation is merely a clustering of immoral “attractions,” urges, and desires that are shameful and must be suppressed. For half an hour, I watched a woman preach in the same room as my Government 1510: “American Constitutional Law” lecture that living a life of homosexuality is an obnoxious act of defiance towards God—one that will make me dead and put me in hell. But even more horrifying than this woman’s rhetoric was seeing a room full of my fellow classmates nod their heads and snap their fingers in agreement to numerous parts of her sermon. I watched as kids I know from section, midterm review groups, or the dining hall scream “Amen!” as Hill-Perry described gay people as “broken.”
Queer people at Harvard have always known that this school is not perfect when it comes to fully welcoming LGBT students on campus. In 1920, Dean of the College Chester N. Greenough ’98 formed a “secret court” to investigate, try, and expel College students accused of being homosexual. To this day, we have a freshman dormitory named in his honor.
I’ve sat in section while a straight man explained to me that if I spoke with a lower-pitched voice it would help with my upcoming in-class presentation grade as more people would take me seriously. I’ve walked along Mt. Auburn Street on countless late nights and watched as boys in tuxedos laughingly call each other faggots. And last Friday, after leaving the event, I comforted a freshman crying on the steps of Emerson Hall who was distraught at having to choose between their religion and coming out publicly.
This is not the Harvard I signed up for. To HCFA: What was the point of bringing a speaker that emotionally traumatized your fellow classmates? Do you consider students crying in the Yard a successful outcome of your “respectful dialogue”?
To those in that room snapping your fingers in agreement with Hill-Perry’s sermon: Will you look me in the eyes and tell me that I am perverted and “broken”? That my identity—one that is so crucial to who I am—is merely just a grouping of immoral desires that I need to “deny” for the rest of my life?
To non-LGBT Harvard students: What are you doing to call out dangerous trans- and homophobic rhetoric when you see or hear it on campus? We are your friends, your classmates, and your peers. This is so much more than pushing back on a problematic comment in section—we need you to show up.
One recent morning, I woke up to an email from the Admissions Office asking me to call accepted LGBT students in the Class of 2022 and encourage them to enroll. I want to be able to do that to make that sell, to say this school is a safe and welcoming space for queer people. But there is so much more work to be done before I would pick up that phone.
Matthew J. Keating ’20 is a Government concentrator in Leverett House.
CORRECTION: January 23, 2018
A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that Hill-Perry spoke for over an hour. In fact, she spoke for just over half an hour.
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