Queer Bloggers Make Homeschooler Christian College President Cranky

Michael Farris, the conservative evangelical head of the Home School Legal Defense Association and the founder and chancellor of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, is very, very unhappy about the existence of a blog called Queer at Patrick Henry College, which is operated by three students and alums who are writing under pseudonyms taken from the names of fictional gay characters.

Farris is the leader of the conservative Christian movement that dominates homeschooling (see Julie Ingersoll’s article here), and is active in religious right politics. He was an ardent supporter of Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential bid. A fascinating article by Trevor Baratko in today’s Loudoun Times-Mirror talks about Farris’ unhinged reaction to the blog—including a legal threat made and withdrawn—and his denial that gay students could possibly exist at his school:   

“It’s simple, really. Homosexuals can’t exist at Patrick Henry College because the students sign an honor code,” Farris claimed.

“[Homosexuals] could not sign our honor code,” Farris said, adding that he considers the actions of gay men and women “sinful.”

“Part of the honor code is to be sexually pure,” he added.

Baratko speaks to a couple of the bloggers, who say they were inspired by other blogs at conservative Christian colleges like Bob Jones University (BJUnity), and he asks about the challenges of coming to terms with one’s sexuality in an intentionally unfriendly environment like Patrick Henry College.

One question naturally comes to mind when considering Patrick Henry College and gay rights and tolerance: “Why would an openly gay, bisexual or transgender person, or someone who’s questioning their sexuality, choose to attend a hard-line Christian institution?”

“It’s a good question,” Kane said. “And there are a few answers… I know for me, if my parents were going to sign off on a loan for school, it had to be fundamentalist college.” (Farris said he does not consider the school to be “fundamentalist.”)

Scott, meanwhile, said he felt going to Patrick Henry College was God’s calling. Despite his opposition to the school’s stance on gay issues, Scott spoke highly of his educational experience at Patrick Henry.

“Even in the areas where it seems the college can be somewhat hypocritical—‘do what we say, not what we do’; ‘encourage us to think critically about things and discuss them, and then say it is not good to do so’—I have still learned a lot,” Scott said, adding that Patrick Henry professors often push students to examine their beliefs and scrutinize them.

“It was that encouragement to face the tough questions and not be afraid of the answers that actually helped me come to terms with my sexual orientation and reconcile it with my faith,” Scott noted.

Blogger Alan Scott (The Green Lantern) is hopeful:

While Farris’ harsh response and lawsuit threat was discouraging for Scott, he remains hopeful the final outcome of the blog and its recent controversy will be positive.

Scott and other sources maintain a surge of conversations about gay issues have come about since word of Farris’ threat spread.

“I remain hopeful for the possibility of more positive interactions with [administration] in the future,” Scott said. “I look forward to when it is possible to have mature, open, honest and loving conversation about LGBTQ issues at PHC without students or alumni experiencing fear of reprisal, rejection, or shaming.”

I hope patience is among Scott’s superpowers.

Update: See Queer at Patrick Hendry College blogger Kate Kane’s response to the Loudoun Times Mirror article.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.