The Guardian

How can you be LGBTQ+ at an evangelical university? In secret

Students at Liberty University have to sign an honor code, which describes accepted and forbidden behavior – and LGBTQ students fear they have to remain in the shadows to graduate
Forbidden: Liberty university doesn’t recognize same-sex relationships. Illustration: Kelsey Wroten/The Guardian

It took one weekend to leave Tessa Russell truly exposed.

On 6 April 2019, her girlfriend Ash Ables traveled to Liberty University in central Virginia to surprise her. They had been dating for four months, but it was her first time visiting Russell on campus.

The two were eating pizza in front of the TV when Russell’s resident adviser (RA) swiped into the room, catching the couple off guard. Because same-sex relationships are effectively verboten at the evangelical Christian school, Russell immediately tried to pass the relationship off as platonic.

Her resident adviser wasn’t buying it, and ordered Ables to leave campus. Russell frantically reached out to her Liberty LGBTQ network, and the couple crashed at a friend’s apartment.

Then Russell’s cellphone rang. Her RA demanded that she return, saying the two “could not be together”. Feeling that she didn’t have a choice, she left Ables and went back to her dorm at 3am, where her adviser was waiting.

“You know, you can get counseling for this kind of thing. These relationships are sinful. I recommend you go to therapy for this,” Russell was told.

“It was just painful because it was so shameful – even though it’s something that should not be – I have a girlfriend who I love. There was nothing wrong with that, but it was just so looked down upon by my peers,”

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