Creating and Protecting Safe Space for LGBT Students

To my seventh-grade classmates at my Christian middle school in suburban Michigan, I was a pastor’s kid who played soccer, wore braces, and cheered for the Detroit Tigers even when they were really bad. But behind the scenes, seventh grade also marked the first time I wrote a veiled line in my journal about a “problem” I had discovered.

I wasn’t sure exactly what it was or what it meant for my life, but I knew it was bad news—and it needed to go away. The next day, I wrote the same word in all caps, underlined it, and drew a big star on either side. This continued for several weeks. Clearly, this was an urgent situation. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had stumbled across the first signs of a realization that changed my life: I’m gay.

As I grew up, my parents, a pastor and Christian schoolteacher, made sacrifices year after year for me to get a Christian education. Their sacrifice stuck with me. I also embraced the value of incorporating my faith into my education, choosing to attend Calvin College. There, my academic curiosity became rooted in conviction, and my professional progress rooted in purpose. I channeled my passion for worship into playing piano for our daily chapel services, later going on to serve in top leadership positions on our student newspaper.

My Christian education carried me through some of the most challenging times of my life: a good friend dying after senior year of high school, a move to a brand-new city, and revealing to my friends and family that I’m gay.

As I sit in this Washington coffee shop reflecting on my growing up through Christian education, I have two hopes for what I’m sharing with you. First, I pray that sharing my experience will make clear and tangible the presence of LGBT students in our Christian schools, whether we—or they—fully realize it at the time. Second, I hope my story will prompt you to create and protect space safe for LGBT students like me to ask questions and think deeply on their faith and sexuality.

I know firsthand that some of us may already be wary of this article and this entire issue, thinking that this topic is primarily an intellectual exercise in exegesis, requiring our assertion of biblical truth. For others, the topic hits close to home, prompting pain or confusion for people we care about. And I know this topic may, frankly, just make some of us a little uncomfortable. You’re not alone.

My thoughts in this article are applicable no matter what your view or your institution’s position on whether gay people are called to celibacy or open to relationships. It’s about how to be Christ to the student who goes home from your classroom to mull over a realization that threatens his or her entire way of life.

My coming out journey began long after middle school, when I walked into our college chaplain’s office my sophomore year and forced out the deepest, darkest secret this pastor’s kid had to offer. I remember several late nights leading up to that day spent sitting in my car, clenched fists on the steering wheel, screaming and begging God to let me be attracted to just one girl. Being attracted to guys was never supposed to happen to this pastor’s son who had gotten straight A’s through sixteen years of Christian education. I hoped and hoped that one day the switch would flip: I’d suddenly want a girlfriend and I’d get my 2.5 kids and my white picket fence.

But my attraction to guys, much like any straight attraction, is so much more than the physical. It’s a deep emotional draw, a desire to have a best friend, to know what makes a guy smile, and to know his fears and his dreams—not just what’s under his clothes.

So I spent my first several months coming out to my closest friends in moments of total vulnerability. It sounds silly now, but I had prepared myself in each conversation for the person across the table to stand up, walk away, and never talk to me again. Today I thank God they didn’t.

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Ryan Struyk is a graduate of Cutlerville Christian School, South Christian High School and Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He currently attends the D.C. Christian Reformed Church and works as a political reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C.