My hometown isn't very famous. One time they used it for that Reese Witherspoon masterpiece Sweet Home Alabama, and it's like two hours away from where Dakota Fanning grew up, so there's that. It's a really lovely town full of really good people, but in the past couple of weeks, it's gotten a little bit famous for some really crazy stuff.
A local private university named Shorter University, which has been a staple of the community for over 100 years, is demanding that their employees sign a "personal lifestyle pledge" declaring that they reject homosexuality, premarital sex, adultery, and drinking in public.
Shorter University is located right around the corner from the street I grew up on. When I was super young, my mom took me to see a play about beauty pageants in their black box theater, and I was immediately obsessed with everything about the place.
When I got a little older, the theater teacher invited a couple of kids from the community to be in the college production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I didn't have any lines, but I got to roll around in front of a fog machine wearing teal lycra, so clearly it was the highlight of my first 10 years on Earth. I was so impressed and amazed by all the students, 20-year-olds from all over the Southeast who'd found their tribe, their people, and were blossoming into their true selves, doing what they were born to do. It was also the first time I'd heard people talk about being gay as something other than a thing you get called on the playground for knowing all the words to Falsettoland.
As I got older, I continued to be involved in the Shorter theater department. Professors would invite me to sit in on classes, directors would cast me in kid parts in plays, and these 20-something theater kids became my idols.
After a brief attempt at going to drama school at North Carolina University for the Arts, I dropped out and moved back home with my parents. I was incredibly depressed and felt too embarrassed to call anyone I knew from back home, as I was wrestling with a major sense of failure. I was a college freshman who'd just recklessly dropped out of school and moved back home with no plan and no social life, but just like when I was a little boy with a love for musicals, the theater kids at Shorter University became my link to a world outside Rome, Ga. They became my peers, people to hang out with, and people who gave a crap about the stuff I gave a crap about.
For a super-awkward weirdo kid growing up in Rome, Ga., Shorter University served as a beacon of hope, a reminder that I wasn't a freak and that I wasn't alone in the world, and that all the things I dreamed of doing were in fact very possible. Perhaps today this might seem like the school's worst nightmare, but to this happily out and proud gay man, Shorter University once served as a place of open-mindedness, intelligence, and love.
Shorter is a Baptist college, so I understand that certain "lifestyle choices" might not be within their ideas and beliefs, but what I don't understand is taking what used to be a really wonderful place full of smart, open-minded, creative, inspiring people and turning it into a place of such hostile judgment and fear. I cannot imagine a worse learning environment.
I hope Shorter finds some of the sense they used to have and rejects this outlandishly backward, despicable, disgusting, and in no way Christ-like idea and remembers who they used to be and who they still can be. That is my hope for the sake of those wonderful theater kids who came before and the ones who are there now, and for kids like me growing up down the street.
The students of Shorter University, the alumni, the staff, my hometown, and the world deserve better than this type of recklessness, and I sincerely hope they get it.
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