Gay on God's Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities

Gay on God's Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities

Gay on God's Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities

Gay on God's Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities


Although the LGBT movement has made rapid gains in the United States, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in faith communities. In this book, sociologist Jonathan S. Coley documents why and how student activists mobilize for greater inclusion at Christian colleges and universities. Drawing on interviews with student activists at a range of Christian institutions of higher learning, Coley shows that students, initially drawn to activism because of their own political, religious, or LGBT identities, are forming direct action groups that transform university policies, educational groups that open up campus dialogue, and solidarity groups that facilitate their members' personal growth. He also shows how these LGBT activists apply their skills and values after graduation in subsequent political campaigns, careers, and family lives, potentially serving as change agents in their faith communities for years to come. Coley's findings shed light on a new frontier of LGBT activism and challenge prevailing wisdom about the characteristics of activists, the purpose of activist groups, and ultimately the nature of activism itself. For more information about this project's research methodology and theoretical grounding, please visit


What do an anarchist, a former fundamentalist Christian, and a relatively apolitical and nonreligious student have in common? Conventional explanations of activist group participation, and perhaps human sociality more generally, would suggest very little. Common sense might suggest that these three people would occupy different social spheres and advocate for different causes—if they advocated for certain causes at all. But in a fledgling lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organization at the Catholic University of America, a conservative religious university in Washington, D.C., these students represented three of the most passionate people banding together to promote lgbt equality at their school.

Neil, the anarchist in this account, was one of the most politicized students at his university. An atheist, Neil came to Catholic University not because of the school’s religious identity but because of his desire to be at the center of political action in the nation’s capital. For most of his college career, he spent very little time at the university itself, instead involving himself in an antiwar organization off campus.

Yet a startling incident on campus made Neil realize that some of the change he needed to work for was on Catholic University’s campus itself. Walking through the parking lot at his school one night, Neil encountered several people slashing the tires of his car and spray-painting the word “faggot” on it. Although he approached school administrators about the incident, he alleges that the leaders were more interested in brushing the hate crime under the rug than in broaching difficult conversations about sexual identity on campus. Thus, his initial desire to become involved in lgbt activism at his school was sparked.

Ashley, a graduate student studying religion, had a very different background than Neil, having enrolled at Catholic University because of its religious identity and her desire to study at one of the most high-profile Catholic theology programs in the United States. Indeed, Ashley had a conservative Catholic upbringing, telling me that she had come to identify as a “fundamentalist Christian” when she was nineteen and that she remained in that mind-set for the next eight years. “I think if I had been anything” during those years, she says, “I would have been someone . . .

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