Darren, (not his real name) always has been concerned that administrators or his fellow students at Harding University in Searcy would discover he was gay, but he thought no one suspected. Until a few weeks ago.
Fellow dorm residents began avoiding him in the showers. He got anonymous telephone calls from people demanding to know his sexual orientation. He opened his door one morning to find thumbtacks on the floor outside.
Two of his friends were suspended after their roommates accused them of being gay, although their accusers apparently had never seen the two having sex. Details of their suspensions leaked out, despite the school’s policy of confidentiality concerning student discipline, Darren said, and others in his dormitory knew he was a friend of the two suspendees.
“I have done nothing at this school I should be ashamed of,” Darren said. “I’ve not been involved in any sexual activity at this school.”
Harding's student handbook spells out the school’s policy toward homosexuality: “Harding University holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage. Any form of sexual immorality, including homosexuality, will result in suspension.” Harding is affiliated with the Church of Christ:
(In Arkansas, Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia also forbids homosexuality, which its handbook says is “inconsiderate of the feelings of others and reflects negatively on Ouachita;” a homosexual student “forfeits the right to remain a part of the Ouachita community.” At the other end of the spectrum is Methodist-affiliated Hendrix College in Conway, where dean of students Gary Valen said student romances of all kinds are “their business, as long as it’s a mutual kind of thing.”)
Harding spokesman Paul Crouch said students must be “caught in the act” to be punished, though he did not elaborate when asked who must do the catching, or whether the committee charged with investigating violations takes the accuser’s word for it.
Darren blames the administration for creating a “witch-hunt” atmosphere. He alleged officials urged students to sign a petition being circulated against gay civil rights legislation, a petition that was taken door-to-door in some dorms. Crouch denied the university was responsible.
“Some students put together a petition after Clinton came out with the thing on gays,” Crouch said. “Circulating petitions through the dorms door-to-door is against School policy and we put an end to that when we found out what was happening.... That particular petition would probably be endorsed by the university but it was not a university-sponsored petition.”
A second student-initiated petition about gays in the military was circulated, Crouch added, but it was conducted according to the rules, with a table set up in the student Center.
“The president of the college made a formal announcement about the [first] petition at chapel,” Darren contends. “He’s the one who urged people to sign it.” Chapel is a required daily activity for the school’s approximately 3,000 students.
The plot thickened when an anonymous Harding student appeared recently as a guest on “Queer Frontier,” a weekly radio show on Little Rock radio station KABF-FM sponsored by the Arkansas Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Eric Camp and Shana Saunders are co-hosts.
“I knew throughout the whole interview I had to ask him this one question: Of all the colleges and universities in the world to go to, why in the world would you choose Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas?” Camp said.“ Without blinking, without hesitating, he said, ‘I have morals, I'm a moral person, I have values, I’m a Christian and I’m gay. I want to go to this school.’ That just really surprised me.”
Darren sounded a similar note before the harassment began. Now he wants out, but many of his Harding credits — such as required Bible study courses — likely will not transfer, and money is tight.
Darren said he feels like a net is closing around him.
“I went through my fits of devastation. I went through my fits of rage. Everything in my room that could break that wasn't too valuable got broken. I am so scared. I have never been so scared in all my life ... What am I going to do? Where am I going to go if I have to leave here?”