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Published October 27 2012

Concordia students weigh in on opposing sides of Minnesota gay rights debate with shirts

MOORHEAD - The divide between gay and lesbian supporters and those who disagree with their orientation is playing out on the Concordia College campus – on the T-shirts of students.

Rebecca Julius said it wasn’t enough to simply not buy one of the “love is love” shirts sold each fall by the college’s Straight and Gay Alliance in advance of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.

She designed black T-shirts with the phrase “sin is sin” across the front and Biblical quotes from 1 Corinthians and John on the back, including “love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” and distributed the 22 shirts to fellow Concordia students and off-campus supporters.

“It’s always bothered me that, especially in a Christian college, so many people are supporting it and encouraging it when I believe the Bible clearly says it’s a sin,” she said. “For me, it was a way to kind of put those verses out there and say, ‘Hey, look, this is what the Bible says.’ ”

Colin Sullivan, co-president of the Straight and Gay Alliance, said the group sold 422 of its “love is love” shirts this fall. He said Julius’ response to their message came as a complete surprise.

“I think that I was kind of blissfully unaware that there was any real opposition,” he said. “I hadn’t faced anything personally on this campus. I’d never been confronted about my sexuality and the way that I expressed it.”

Both said the dueling messages – and the statewide attention it has attracted, with several media reports on the conflict – have given the campus an opportunity for more discussion on an issue that otherwise can remain unspoken.

“I’m definitely not out to change people’s minds because I know that some people are not going to change their mind, just like I wouldn’t compromise my beliefs, either,” Julius said. “But it definitely has been a really awesome way to get dialogue started. For people that are maybe struggling with how to talk to somebody else about what they believe about it, this has opened up some of those doors.”

Love, not hate

Sullivan, 20, said he struggled with coming out as a gay man while being raised in a Catholic family in Brainerd, Minn. He told his family the summer after his high school graduation, and said his family has remained largely supportive.

“But the years prior to my coming out were really difficult,” he said. “I think there was a lot of difficulty in terms of me accepting myself, and that’s why I think that I’m such a big advocate now for allowing people to feel comfortable enough in an environment to accept themselves.”

Even if he disagrees with Julius’ message, he said she has every right to wear her shirt – just like he and the other LGBTQ supporters on campus have the right to express their opinions with their shirts. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning.

He and Geneva Nemzek, SAGA’s other co-president, decided early on that it would be best if those who oppose Julius’ viewpoint not use hateful words, which he said would only spread more hate.

“We kind of stand by that ‘love is love’ slogan, regardless of whether you support us or not,” Sullivan said.

Julius, 22, said she, too, wanted to share her beliefs out of love, not hate.

After growing up in Watertown, S.D., she was accepted to the University of Minnesota, her “dream school.” But after two years there, she said she became dissatisfied with the large class sizes.

Julius said she also felt disrespected on the campus, where she said the LGBTQ movement had stifled opposing opinions.

She enrolled at Concordia in 2011, assuming its Christian affiliation would mean her new school would be more conservative – only to find a strong SAGA group and supportive campus.

“It’s kind of a shock to come here and then have it all be thrown in my face again,” Julius said. “That’s why it was such a powerful thing for me to be able to just do something about it.”

Sullivan said the majority at Concordia, including many administrators, support a view of Christianity as being supportive of the LGBTQ community.

“It is more of a minority who believes in the more fundamental interpretation of the Bible and in regards to the rights of gays and lesbian people,” he said.

Concordia’s Student Government Association voted in September to pass an official position encouraging a “no” vote on Minnesota’s marriage amendment, which would define marriage as between a man and a woman in the state’s constitution.

Sullivan said the statement wasn’t meant to say everyone on campus should support gay marriage. Instead, he said defeating the amendment can keep alive the state’s debate about gay marriage, which already is illegal in Minnesota.

Julius said she expected her T-shirts would get a reaction on the campus. But she said she wasn’t prepared for the people who have said her opinion makes her hateful or a bigot when she views it as “the highest love” she could share.

“I believe if somebody is sinning and you’re saying, ‘Oh, go ahead, keep sinning, it’s no big deal, you should be proud of it,’ that’s not love,” she said. “It might not hurt their feelings in the short run, but in the long run, what path are they going down?”

Julius said it’s “almost inevitable” that same-sex couples will eventually gain the right to marry, and said she worries that would challenge her own religious freedom. Still, she said it’s important for everyone to have the right to their own opinion.

“I think both sides have to be willing to give a little bit because we do live in a nation that’s a democracy; it’s not a theocracy,” she said. “There’s not one religion that trumps all.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587