Anonymous Harding University students relaunch LGBTQ publication, campus security removes copies | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 23, 2018

Anonymous Harding University students relaunch LGBTQ publication, campus security removes copies

Posted By on Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 10:09 AM

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A group of anonymous Harding University students on Friday published an "HU Queer Press 2.0" zine, covering issues of gay rights at the private, Church of Christ-affiliated campus in Searcy. A similar publication, "The State of the Gay at Harding University," set off a firestorm of controversy at Harding seven years ago.

The new group launched a website, HU Queer Press 2.0, on Friday, and distributed copies of the 16-page zine. According to the group's website, "We aim to be a safe space to broadcast queer voices and encourage our fellow students. We seek to educate those who are confused by what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community, while fostering relationships between the University's queer and straight members."

You might find a student publication like that on any number of campuses across the country, but at Harding its release counts as a radical act. The school holds to Church of Christ teachings strongly disapproving of homosexuality. From the student handbook:

Harding University holds to the biblical principle that God instituted marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman and that gender identity is given by God and revealed in one’s birth sex. Students are prohibited from being married to or dating a person of the same sex. Neither may students engage in behavior suggesting a romantic relationship with a person of the same sex. The University further holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage and immoral. Sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the University.
(Sex is a major focus in the handbook; the word "sex" or "sexual" comes up 29 times.)

Shortly after the publication was distributed onto car windshields and elsewhere on campus, HU Queer Press 2.0's Twitter account began reporting that campus security officers were gathering the copies of the zine and throwing them in the trash.

The Bison, the school's campus newspaper, reported that "pamphlets were removed from campus because the distributors disregarded the university policy of approval before release." The student handbook requires that literature or other materials distributed on campus must secure university approval through the Office of Student Life.

Director of Public Safety Craig Russell told the Bison:
This morning, when I became aware of printed materials being left on the windshields of vehicles around campus, I instructed Public Safety officers to remove whatever materials they found, and, if they could locate the individuals distributing those materials, to politely inform them of the university policy and direct them to the Office of Student Life. Our officers were unable to locate any of the individuals distributing the printed materials.
The HU Queer Press 2.0 Twitter account offered this cheeky response to campus security trashing their publication: "I love how we politely asked everyone to recycle our zine but instead they threw them in the trash. Even public safety did that. If Harding isn’t going to listen to the LGBTQ+ community then they could at least be environmentally friendly." And another tweet: "It would be very wise for the university to read our zine before they throw it away. We are not asking them to agree with it. We just want you to see that we mean no harm. We come in peace. Please. Listen."

The new publication aims to continue a movement and discussion started by a group of anonymous Harding students seven years ago, and features an interview with the original group (the social media account from that original group has become active again this week, offering support to the new group). When "The State of the Gay at Harding University" was published in 2011, Harding's then president (now chancellor) David Burks addressed it at chapel service, calling it "offensive and degrading." The original publication can be read here; video of the 2011 Burks address here. The controversy drew national coverage, including in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Advocate, and elsewhere.

In addition to being printed and distributed, the 2011 zine was made available in PDF form online, and the university responded by quickly blocking access to it on the campus wifi. A statement from university officials at the time said that because of its mission and rules on sexual morality, "university administrators felt that having this website available on campus goes against said mission and policies." University officials also stated that the website was an online version of the pamphlet and therefore violated rules about requiring prior approval before distributing materials on campus. Thus far, according to HU Queer Press 2.0, the university has not blocked the new publication from campus wifi access. 

Regarding the new publication, Jana Rucker, Harding's vice president of communications and marketing, told the Bison, “The university’s position on sex and sexuality has not changed."

"We continue to affirm that our position on this topic is based in scripture and that sex is the creation of God and is only permissible in the context of marriage between a man and a woman,” Rucker said.

In a response to the Bison article, the publication's editor wrote in a statement on the group's website that in addition to the need to protect their anonymity for fear of retribution from the administration, the group did not go to the Office of Student Life first because the school would not have approved an LGBTQ publication:
There would have been NO way this would have gotten through Student Life. Even with the loving, respectful, and tame articles it included, it would have been stopped at the door. There is no doubt in my mind. This is not something Harding wants out, not because it’s obscene, but because it shows an opinion that differs from theirs. Their actions say that they are comfortable letting the queer students suffer in oppressive, and sometimes deadly, silence, rather than changing their attitudes toward queer students and in turn, losing donors.
The editor continued, "We are NOT asking the University to change its stances on their interpretation of the Bible, we are asking them to change their ATTITUDES. I was absolutely exasperated reading The Bison article, because it seems as if those higher up have not done the most important thing that we asked them to do: listen to us.":

Here’s the thing, when oppressed and hurting queer students speak out and say, “Let us exist, acknowledge us, and protect us,” and the University’s response was, “Well you can’t have sex (which goes for everyone) and you can’t have romantic relationships (which only goes for queer students),” that response is devaluing us to the point where you think that’s what the ACTUAL problem is.

To say that is to assume that’s all we are, sexual deviants who want nothing more than to have an “exception” to the rules, when there is nothing further from the truth. Most queer students I know are single and are in accordance with Harding’s rules and regulations. We are MORE than sex, we are people, and you debasing our voices because you don’t agree with them is sickening. We said, “Let us exist,” and you heard, “Let us have sex.” I will say this, probably not for the last time: let us exist, let us have a voice, and protect us. You want to know how to help us? Reach out to us. We don’t have any “demands,” this isn’t a hostage situation. We’re students who are hurting, extending the first olive branch to make things better.
Much more in the editor's response to the Bison article.

The 2.0 publication features personal testimonies and essays, poll data on attitudes about LGBTQ attitudes on campus, reports on the dangers that LGBTQ students face in hostile environments, and the horrors of "conversion" or "re-orientation" therapy. The consistent theme is an attempt to educate the campus that LGBTQ students exist, and a call for the campus to allow them to exist openly without fear of reprisal or punishment.

"We’re not asking for the school to start hosting Pride parades or to start flying a rainbow flag on the front lawn," the editor stated. "We simply want the right to be here." The editor makes a request that the campus "acknowledge us in a non-negative light. The only times I have ever heard the word 'homosexual' in any of my classes is when professors talk negatively about it. ... One of the most isolating feelings is the feeling when you find out that even your professors, the people who are supposed to educate you, wouldn’t be there for you if you needed them because of your sexuality. Be there for us, please."

It's worth noting that for all of their criticisms of the Harding administration, the students continually express a connection, loyalty, and love for the school. "We want the University to be a more loving and accepting place," the editor wrote.

In response to a 2006 Harding graduate who advised them to "leave that hateful place ASAP and don't look back," the group replied, "I am sorry you feel that way about Harding. We at HUQP 2.0 however, love Harding. We just wanted HU to know that things are just rough for us sometimes."

An excerpt from the editor's personal testimony:

I first came out my senior year to a few close friends, all of them very accepting and loving (some of them were even in the closet themselves). At this point, I had already decided on Harding, and I honestly did not think that my sexuality would really be a source of tension between myself and others. It was my own little secret, who could it hurt?

I soon learned that it would hurt someone. Myself. Not because it was a part of me, but because others were so vehemently opposed to that part of me. Professors I respected and friends I made would make harsh jokes, or express their disgust at the "homosexual lifestyle" or the “homosexual agenda”, not even considering that one of those “homosexuals” was in their presence. I would laugh along with them, or maybe nod solemnly in agreement, but what I really wanted to do was to be anywhere else but there.

As the semesters passed, I began to become aware of other queer students on campus. I found friendship and community. I also started realizing that the more I became at peace with who I was, the harder it was for me to hold my tongue at the ignorant and harsh remarks that would often come out of our mentors’ and classmates’ mouths. Blanket statements about “the homosexuals” rang in my ears and echoed down to my heart, from teachers who couldn’t imagine that they could be insulting the very students in front of them. I was becoming bitter; I felt helpless and trapped with this secret that only few around me knew.
One note from the acknowledgments that caught my eye, and probably the eye of the university minders too:
Thank you, faculty, staff, administrators, and board members who have taken this zine seriously and are willing to strive for change alongside us.
At least one instructor, English professor Nathan Henton, has publicly offered support for the group:


Here's more from the editor's response to the Bison article:

The danger, isolation, and fear queer students feel is not due to isolated events, but by the environment the University is perpetuating by their attitudes and policies about the LGBTQ+ community.

Why do you think we didn’t go to Student Life? We aren’t afraid of Dean Neal, or any of the other deans. We’re afraid of the institution.

Your professors spew ignorant hate speech.

You blatantly ignore and silence queer voices.

You send healthy individuals to be “counseled” because of their sexual attraction.

You refuse to have healthy and open dialogue about queer rights.

You refuse to listen.

You refuse to change.

You refuse to love.

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