Last week for Thanksgiving, Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, head of the National Organization For Marriage‘s Ruth Institute, recorded a video attacking gay college RA’s. Most colleges and universities have RA’s, resident assistants or resident advisors, who help students and act as ombudsmen.
Dr. Morse saw fit to warn parents about gay RA’s — who apparently are everywhere, even at “a Christian college” — and supposedly are pressuring students in a “punitive” manner. Dr. Morse warned parents to have conversations with their children, and seemed to warn parents to be careful their children were not friendly with or even exposed to gay people, who might somehow, without their knowledge, be pressuring young college students, even at “a Christian college.”
Pressuring them about what, and how? Dr. Morse didn’t elaborate.
We invited one former RA from a Christian college, Brandon Habron, who is gay and a New Civil Rights Movement reader, to write Dr. Roback Morse in response, after he expressed his upset about Dr. Roback Morse’s comments via our Facebook page.
We’d like to offer Dr. Roback Morse the opportunity to respond on these pages. We doubt she’ll have the same courage as Brandon Habron, but we hope she will.
An Open Letter To NOM’s Jennifer Roback Morse:
Dear Dr. Roback Morse,
Greetings to you and those at the Ruth Institute. I have been watching your video posted on November 20, 2012 entitled “A Thanksgiving Message from Dr J” over and over again. I’ve shared the video with my friends and Facebook followers. I felt quite hurt by your words, but instead of attacking you like others may, I wanted to explain why I felt attacked.
I am a 23 year old, first generation college graduate residing in Harrisonburg, VA where I attended a small liberal arts Mennonite university. At this school, I served as a resident advisor (RA) during my sophomore, junior, and senior years. I began the arduous process of coming out as a gay man in my sophomore year. It is my understanding that most of the students in the school knew I was gay before the end of my sophomore year, this includes the residents whom I served and would serve as RA. I received a mixed reaction from the student body and faculty, but was met with primarily open arms. I graduated in April of this year receiving the highest honor awarded to any graduate of the school, the Cords of Distinction, in recognition of my bravery, tenacity, and drive to succeed in creating what my school believed in most—community.
In your video, you recount a story of an interaction you had with a young lady at a state school who was pressured into participating in a building activity that you termed as a drag party. While I agree with you that pressuring anyone into anything they do not feel comfortable with is unacceptable; I felt that your afterthoughts were quite discouraging. Actions such as these do not create community. However, neither does villainizing an entire group of people based on their sexual orientation.
As an RA, I was responsible for creating safe and enriched community. I planned activities that were fun that also fit within my university’s Community Lifestyle Commitment which restricted the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco on campus. I made the choice to attend a school that had such beliefs because they aligned with my own, including the spiritual foundation of said beliefs. My sexual orientation never created an issue when it came to doing my job to the best of my abilities. I never pushed a liberal or gay agenda to students who felt similar to the way that you do.
In your video, I watched as you villainized me by saying that gay RAs are pressuring students, “hanging out with students.” You make gay RAs out to be some sort of dark force of energy attacking “your young people.” Dr. Roback Morse, they are our young people. They were and are my best friends, classmates, and residents. I was responsible for them, and I did my best to create a home for them where we all felt welcomed regardless of beliefs or sexual orientation. I am one of those young people.
My mission in creating this home sprouts from a knowledge of how diverse our upbringings are, and our personal struggles to find acceptance, love, and one day — home. I used my own marginalization as a tool to reach out to students struggling with their own sexual orientation or another problem such as self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse, misuse of drugs or alcohol or any other difficulty faced by modern college students. I encouraged them to seek professional help from trained counselors, and embrace who they are as a way to find greater healing. For it is only when we embrace our true selves, scars and all, that we can create community.
We are not a threat, Dr. Roback Morse. We help create a diverse community, not threaten people’s convictions. I want equality in this country, which is nothing more than what you have, no threat to your current situation. I am asking you to recant your statements because they are harmful. I am not a villain. You do not know me, yet you make such assumptions about me and the other thousands of gay RAs in the world. If you knew me I would like to believe that you would never have made such statements. I want to live in community together with you and others like you striving to work together for a common good. Community is about finding a commonality, growing, learning, excelling together. We cannot have community until we have ubuntu, an African ethic, defined by Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist, as “I am what I am because of who we all are”. We all must be tolerant and caring of everyone, if we ever hope to have that feeling ourselves.
I am not asking you to doctor your opinions or for a vote or even for acceptance. I just ask that you not attack me and others for living our lives fully as who we are. Please recant your statements, or I worry RAs may lose their jobs, and their ability to serve openly. Do not create a war against us because I would never create a war against you.
Brandon Habron is from Harrisonburg, Virrginia. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite University with a major in Liberal Arts, with a concentration in Theatre and Sociology. His aspirations are to pursue a Masters in Sociology, with a focus on sexuality to eventually teach young people. Currently he is a library supervisor, and does speaking engagements throughout the Shenandoah Valley, telling his coming out story, empowering both gay people and allies to stand up for what’s right.
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