Ryan's Story

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I was a passionate, active, nerdy, Christian teen. I fell in love with Abilene Christian University because in it I found a school that loved justice and faith. I found a school that sends its students on Spring Break missions to serve instead of to party. I found a school that supports student-initiated justice projects like the Red Thread Movement and hosts campus-wide events like Social Justice Week.

I chose to attend ACU because of the faculty, staff, and students who facilitate difficult conversations on racism, sexism, poverty, and multiculturalism. I started school expecting to thrive and grow, which I did in many ways. But something else happened too.

During my freshman year moments and signs had been building, indicating I was much more interested in the guys than the women. I ignored it, denied it, and did mental and emotional gymnastics to explain away emotions and thoughts that kept coming to me.

Finally, one spring night the leaky dam I had been desperately trying to hold together burst. On a walk by myself through campus late at night, I admitted a truth that felt like it tore apart everything about who I was. I am not emotionally or sexually attracted to women. I am attracted to men. I am gay.

I cried.

Over the next few years as I rebuilt my understanding of self I realized there were many things about me that weren’t impacted or changed by my sexual orientation. I was still (moderately) funny. I had the same interests and hobbies. I was still a nerd. I still loved justice and faith.

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Friends, faculty, mentors, and the ACU Counseling Center all did a wonderful job helping me become whole, love myself, and become stronger than ever in my identity. I slowly admitted to my friends what I had finally admitted to myself. It took about a year and a half before I could do it without crying, but I got there.

As I grew and learned to love myself and be unconditionally loved by my friends and faculty, I learned exactly what it means to be queer in a straight man’s (yes, man’s) world. I constantly tried to pass as straight. I did linguistic backflips to talk about dating in a way that was (somewhat) honest but that didn’t give me away. I evaluated everyone and every place: will I be hated if they knew I was gay? It was mentally and emotionally exhausting trying to make sure I didn’t lose friends or career opportunities just because I was gay.  

Until the last semester of my senior year.

I felt called to go into ministry and was applying to seminaries to earn a Master of Divinity. Every application required a pastor letter of recommendation. I asked both my pastor from my hometown and from the church I attend in Abilene to write a letter on my behalf. Both knew I was gay and both refused to write the letter.

I was crushed. All that work of navigating, negotiating, and trying to pass as acceptable to the world meant nothing in the end. I was being told I couldn’t go to the school of my choice and pursue a career I felt called to because there wasn’t a pastor in my life who would write a damn letter.

The situation lit a spark in me. The time for passing as “acceptable” was over. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right.

I decided to start advocating for myself and others as a member of the LGBTQ community.

My first opportunity to stop “passing” and start standing up for myself occurred when I was asked to give a speech at the ACU Honors Graduation Dinner. As I worked on the speech I included a quick reference to being gay on a conservative Christian campus in a list of challenges I faced as a student. It was a small step, but it was the first time I would be publicly outing myself.

As was standard policy, I submitted the draft of my speech to an Honors College. And then I received an email asking me to meet with an administrator. In our meeting, the administrator discouraged me from mentioning the fact that I was gay and the fact that being gay at ACU was challenging. Still burning from my denial of a letter of recommendation to seminary I said I would not be removing the reference. I left the meeting and then received another email, asking me to attend a follow-up meeting.

I don’t remember much from that meeting, but I do remember being angry. I remember being told to remove the reference or not give the speech. I remember that I caved. And I remember how caving made me feel.

I am not that student any more. I will not cave on the things that I believe in. I found a pastor to write a letter of recommendation and I am now finishing my Master of Divinity at Drew Theological School. I’ve stepped into leadership roles both in church and in my community. I’ve become an advocate and an organizer thanks to the education and experience I gained at Drew Theological School.

And I am confident in my identity as a gay Christian leader working for the Kingdom of God.

StoriesRyan Clements