Megan Jespersen is one of the students telling about her experiences at Trinity Western University.

Gay TWU alumni say school atmosphere not welcoming

Gay alumni of Trinity Western University open up about attending a Christian university.

  • Nov. 29, 2016 1:00 p.m.

Bethany Lindsay/Special to the Langley Advance

Just before Ashlee Davison helped bring home Trinity Western’s first Canadian university championship in women’s soccer, she received an email informing her she was under investigation for having a relationship with another woman.

Davison would graduate from the evangelical Christian university in 2006 as the team’s top goal scorer, but her memories of TWU are forever tainted by that email and its aftermath. For breaking the school’s community covenant agreement, which forbids all sex outside of heterosexual marriage, she lost her scholarship, went on behavioural probation and was temporarily barred from the soccer pitch.

“I was allowed back on the team, but it was a much different experience this time around. I felt like I was being watched,” she said. “I can’t remember the early days of being there and feeling like I was just a normal, regular part of the team.”

The TWU covenant is at the centre of an ongoing dispute over the school’s plans to open a law school. The Law Society of B.C. tried to deny accreditation to the school because the covenant doesn’t recognize legal same-sex marriages, but the province’s highest court recently found that stance infringed on the school’s freedom of religion.

The uproar has prompted heated discussion among students, alumni and staff about the reality of life for LGBTQ students at Trinity Western. Davison and several other queer alumni wrote about their experiences in the school newspaper, Mars’ Hill, and some have called on the university to change the covenant, as it has on other issues like alcohol.

“I don’t think it’s an accurate portrait of how Christians on a whole feel about homosexuality,” said Alexandra Moore, who spent seven years in the closet at TWU. “I think this is an administrative attempt to have a controlling narrative and to have a fairly old school perspective on an issue that we’re starting to realize is harming people more than helping.”

Four queer alumni who shared their stories with Postmedia News described TWU as a place where homosexuality is spoken of in whispers but implicitly understood to be immoral. They remember university years filled with humiliation and depression over desires they couldn’t control.

Megan Jespersen had her first kiss with a woman on her 20th birthday, and it turned into a secret relationship that lasted three years. Someone from the school eventually outed her to her family, long before she was ready.

The hardest part, though, was the constant feelings of shame and fear that she was going to hell.

“I’m talking shame so deep that you don’t want to be here anymore – like, living. You can’t fully describe that shame to people who have not experienced it,” said Jespersen, who graduated in 2005 and now counsels LGBTQ people who have experienced trauma related to religion.

She describes the prevalent attitude towards homosexuality at TWU in grammatical terms: Gay is a verb, not a noun or an adjective. In other words, queerness is not a fixed identity, but an action that can be controlled.

After Davison was disciplined for her relationship, the understanding was not just that she would stop breaking the covenant. “The assumption was that I had figured out that the right way to be was with a guy. That made it very uncomfortable,” she remembers.

Megan Huizing, who graduated from the nursing program in 2010 after four deeply closeted years, remembers listening to a chapel speaker who spoke on the subject.

“The message was very much about repressing your feelings or living a life of celibacy,” she said.

But Huizing and her fellow alumni are adamant that this isn’t a problem specific to TWU, and they all spoke of friends and faculty there who brightened their lives.

“There’s no lack of caring and kind people at Trinity,” Huizing said. “The problem lies within the culture itself, the culture that permeates evangelical circles at large. … The culture of self-righteous superiority that causes persons to focus on the speck in another’s eye instead of the plank in their own.”

The covenant is just a reflection of that culture, alumni argue. School officials say it’s supported by the Bible, and defenders assert that anyone who doesn’t like it can simply choose a different school.

But the women interviewed for this story were all raised in conservative Christians homes, and none of them were fully conscious of their sexuality when they signed the agreement.

“I was only struggling under the surface,” said Huizing. “I knew I had feelings for girls but I had deeply internalized the messages from the Christian community, from my church, from my family, and that was that being gay was a sin.”

For her part, Davison resents the implication that someone like her doesn’t belong at Trinity Western.

“If they’re going to claim to be a diverse university, which they have several times in their postings online … then let’s work to make the campus more inclusive,” she said.

TWU spokeswoman Amy Robertson acknowledged that recent events show more needs to be done to make the school a welcoming place for everyone.

“President Bob Kuhn and TWU administration are taking recent stories from LGBTQ alumni very seriously, and are committed to listening. President Kuhn has been prioritizing meeting with students who wish to share their stories,” Robertson said in a written statement.

She added that Kuhn will be holding a Q&A session on the matter soon, and student groups are planning a “listening and reconciliation” event.

– Bethany Lindsay is a Vancouver Sun reporter.

For more from the Vancouver Sun, click HERE

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Director of the Janda Group, Sonny Janda. (Aldergrove Star files)
COVID-19 stalls Janda Group’s development of proposed Aldergrove Town Centre

A marketing representative said construction will commence when building permits are issued

A person described as a member of the ‘Langley Fundamental Elementary school community’ has tested positive for the coronavirus (undated Google street view image)
COVID-19 case reported at Langley Fundamental Elementary school

Person is self-isolating at home, contact tracing is underway

Aldergrove’s Shirley Sawatsky and her porch witch wish fellow Langleyites a safe and happy Halloween. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
SHARE: Witchy wishes for a safe and happy Halloween

Send us your photo showing how you view Langley, and it could be featured in a future edition

It’s no longer 80th Avenue. With the opening the 216th overpass, the road to TWU has been renamed University Drive. (Special to Langley Advance Times)
LETTER: What’s the real motive behind renaming Langley road?

University District erases historic names of several areas

The Village, a secure dementia facility, opened in Brookswood a few years back. It was the subject of a recent COVID outbreak, which was declared over on Oct. 30, 2020. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
COVID outbreaks declared over in Langley care homes

Brookswood and Fort Langley seniors facilities given all clear by B.C.’s top doctor

Under special lights, youngsters such as Lucas, bowled pumpkins to knock over glow in the dark bowling pins at the South Ridge Church Pumpkin Fest. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Langley church offers families socially distanced drive through autumn fair

Lots of kids dressed in costume for the South Ridge Church Pumpkin Patch Friday evening

This Halloween display by a Maple Ridge family, seen here Oct. 31 in the 23600 block of 119 Avenue, has been the target of social media complaints that it is racially insensitive. (Black Press Media)
Halloween gallows display by B.C. family slammed as racially insensitive by social media critics

Refers to medieval times, not Black lynchings, says man responsible

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

The Excelsior 4 are set to make their second court appearance in Abbotsford on Monday (Nov. 2). (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
‘Excelsior 4’: Animal activists set to enter not guilty plea in Abbotsford hog farm case

Animal rights activists expected to plead not guilty to charges, protest for Vancouver scheduled

Most Read