It’s not every day that Hope College sees a queer, non-binary Reverend speak on campus; however, it was with great pleasure that the faculty and students from Prism, Women and Gender Studies, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Emmaus Scholars Program, as well as Hope Church, were able to welcome Reverend M Barclay as a guest speaker to Hope College on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Reverend M Barclay (they/them) is a queer and non-binary co-founder of the nonprofit enfleshed that “facilitates spiritual resources for collective liberation through prayer, liturgies, art, meditations, teaching and other resources” as stated by their website. They are an inclusive, liberation-focused community that aims to welcome and uplift everyone.
While the event was held online for anyone to attend, a group of students, those who identify in the community as well as allies, gathered in Keppel House to watch the live stream together. Liam Diephuis (’23) (he/him), an ally, stated, “I care about making this an inclusive space […], the topic of this talk is something that I’m passionate about.” The topic of the talk was: how Hope College can better work to create an inclusive and affirming atmosphere for queer and trans students. Barclay defined the word “affirmation” as a “weighty and significant yes or perhaps a hearty Amen” in which Hope has been lacking.
Although the Statement on Human Sexuality (which condemned student groups promoting or engaging positively with homosexuality) was removed in the Summer of 2019, there are still culture wars being fought for the right to exist as LGBTQ+ students on this campus here today. These clashes are often seen as a conflict with the faith community. Erynn Dickerson (’23), the president of Prism, stated, “This event was a starting point to talk about LGBTQ+ people in the church because it’s not really talked about at Hope.” According to Prism and its supporters, bringing Rev. Barclay to campus was a huge step in the process of saying “yes” to LGBTQ+ students and for an outside source to examine the ways in which Hope can do better.
Dickerson asserted that Barclay certainly “did their research” into what Hope College is all about. In their talk, Barclay outlined the ways in which the college can work towards affirmation in a unique manner by going through the “Five Virtues for Public Discourse,” a document that can be found on Hope College’s website. Hitting right at the core values of the college, Barclay gave suggestions for how to change these theoretical practices into actions that continually say “yes” to LGBTQ+ spaces and students. For example, they outlined the first virtue, Humility to Listen, as a way that the campus listen to queer and trans students, learn from them, and learn from queer scholars. Barclay challenged Hope to look into the course curriculums and to “practice humility to learn from queer communities and histories.” Listening can come in many forms and Barclay urges the educational community to embed content from queer authors and scholars into classroom spaces in order to learn directly from the source.
With the emphasis on listening, Barclay also talks about the ability to highlight what one doesn’t understand. It is an admirable trait to be able to say you don’t know something and to work to find the information you are looking for. If Hope College doesn’t know what an affirming space looks like for queer and trans students, or any group of students for that matter, Barclay asserts that they should have the courage to ask about it. You can’t create a hospitable space without knowing what the needs are of the community you are designing the space for. Prism holds space in Keppel House from 7-10 pm every Monday night where general members gather in community. This is a space where LGBTQ+ students and allies can come together to simply be in fellowship together and to exist in a safe space. However, Rev. Barclay’s event raised the question: is this enough?
One of the main purposes of the event for the organizers was to bring up the conversation of LGBTQ+ issues in the church. There are many queer and trans people on this campus, and in the world, who identify as Christian but who have avoided church spaces due to the fact that they have experienced hurt based on their queer or trans identities. Dickerson explains, “[this event] was to give queer students that space to feel like they belong in a church.” The LGBTQ+ community has historically felt hurt and betrayal by the church and some might say that not much is different here at Hope. This is the conversation that the sponsors of this event wish to start in order to allow queer and trans people back into faith-based spaces where they can be affirmed for who they are and make spiritual connections they wish to strengthen with other believers.
This is just the beginning of a series of affirming speakers who will continue to challenge Hope to more fully say “yes” to queer and trans students and faculty. Dickerson asserts that overall Prism and other organizations want to create “the kind of campus that is not only ready to accept queer students but willing and able.” Be on the lookout for more affirming speakers coming to campus in the future!