‘Queer at Patrick Henry College’ vexes school’s chancellor
Gay students at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville don’t exist. They can’t exist.
So says Dr. Michael Farris, the college’s founder and chancellor.
It’s simple, really. Homosexuals can’t exist at Patrick Henry College because the students sign an honor code, Farris claimed.
“[Homosexuals] could not sign our honor code,” Farris said, adding that he considers the actions of gay men and women “sinful.”
“Part of the honor code is to be sexually pure,” he added.
So you can imagine the chancellor’s consternation when he learned of Queer at Patrick Henry College, a six-month-old, provocatively-titled blog operated by three pseudonymous writers – all of whom graduated from or have taken classes at the school.
Queer at Patrick Henry College’s intent is to be a “safe online space for closeted students and alumni to share thoughts about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) issues, without the risk of school punishment,” according to one of the blog’s founders, who goes by the nom de plume Kate Kane.
“Currently there are three contributors, though we are in contact with other students and graduates who are LGBTQ or identify as straight allies,” Kane said.
Kane and co-founder Alan Scott told the Times-Mirror the reasons for anonymity range from not yet “coming out” to friends and family to professional connections to the school.
The pseudonyms were not chosen by accident. Katherine Kane is the name of “Batwoman” in DC Comics. Kane’s character has received attention for being arguably the most prominent LGBT superhero. Alan Scott is the fictional name of DC Comics’ Golden Age “Green Lantern,” who was recently reintroduced in the series as a gay superhero. The third regular blogger at Queer at Patrick Henry, Captain Jack, takes the name of Jack Harkness, a character from the BBC’s “Doctor Who” and its spinoff “Torchwood.” Harkness is the first non-heterosexual character in televised “Doctor Who.”
Dr. Farris is not a fan. On Dec. 1 the chancellor sent a message to Queer at Patrick Henry through Facebook.
“This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College,” Farris wrote. “... you must remove this page at once. On Monday, we will began (sic) the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In the process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.”
The next day, Farris withdrew his legal bluff. Again through Facebook, the chancellor and constitutional lawyer stated: “After further consultation, I withdraw my note from yesterday. While we believe in the inappropriate nature of the use of our trademarked name, we believe that litigation is not appropriate.”
But Farris’ correspondence had already put in motion a stirring week on campus, according to people familiar with the situation.
A source close to the college, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Times-Mirror the blog was “all anyone [was] talking about” on campus.
The source reported that Queer at Patrick Henry College had been blocked on the school’s WiFi for several days.
“They’ve never blocked anything the way they’ve blocked this,” the source said.
Even the bloggers were taken aback by the chancellor’s seemingly rash reaction.
Considering Farris’ long career in law and politics – he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993 and has published numerous books on education and the family – it didn’t seem he’d examined the legitimacy of a legal case, Kane said.
“For one, you’d think he’d know that the term is trademark infringement and not copyright. At least this is what a lawyer who is helping us said,” she commented.
Is there a ‘Queer at Patrick Henry?’
Upon launching Queer at Patrick Henry (queerPHC.wordpress.com), Kane and Scott were inspired by blogs at other Christian colleges, namely BJUnity at Bob Jones University in upstate South Carolina. Kane and Scott recalled wishing there was a similar support network and outlet for Patrick Henry College students that felt they had no one to talk with about sexuality and the range of emotions that go with realizing one is gay.
“Since we didn’t see any other PHC students or alumni stepping forward to create such a network, we decided to start QPHC,” Kane said.
Known as a favorite institution for Evangelical parents and their children, Patrick Henry College has an estimated enrollment of 325, many of which were homeschooled in their pre-college years. In addition to the college, Farris is the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which maintains a close connection with the school – the Purcellville campus serves as the HSLDA headquarters.
The small school in western Loudoun County is not a place where coming-of-age adults examining their sexuality, struggling with their identity or striving for acceptance can engage in open and honest conversations on gay equality, according to Scott.
Scott said he knows numerous students who have experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness because of their sexuality. The college can feel “very oppressive at times,” he said, which is why the blog is so essential.
“Queer at Patrick Henry wants to make sure [students] know they aren’t alone and that it is possible to both accept one’s queerness and continue strongly in one’s faith,” Scott said.
In his comments to the Times-Mirror, Farris made clear Patrick Henry College is not a friendly environment for homosexuals.
“We don’t think that there are any such students,” Farris said of gays and lesbians at his college.
Farris said the school’s administration believes Queer at Patrick Henry College is a “hoax.”
His statements don’t seem to hold up. During an interview, Kane showed her diploma from the school, marked with her real name, graduation date and school’s banner.
“It’s hard to believe [Farris] would go straight to, ‘oh, we don’t exist,’ when we can so easily prove who we are,” Kane said.
‘Open, honest and loving conversation’
One question naturally comes to mind when considering Patrick Henry College and gay rights and tolerance: “Why would an openly gay, bisexual or transgender person, or someone who’s questioning their sexuality, choose to attend a hard-line Christian institution?”
“It’s a good question,” Kane said. “And there are a few answers ... I know for me, if my parents were going to sign off on a loan for school, it had to be fundamentalist college.” (Farris said he does not consider the school to be “fundamentalist.”)
Scott, meanwhile, said he felt going to Patrick Henry College was God’s calling. Despite his opposition to the school’s stance on gay issues, Scott spoke highly of his educational experience at Patrick Henry.
“Even in the areas where it seems the college can be somewhat hypocritical – ‘do what we say, not what we do’; ‘encourage us to think critically about things and discuss them, and then say it is not good to do so’ – I have still learned a lot,” Scott said, adding that Patrick Henry professors often push students to examine their beliefs and scrutinize them.
“It was that encouragement to face the tough questions and not be afraid of the answers that actually helped me come to terms with my sexual orientation and reconcile it with my faith,” Scott noted.
Yet the claims of hypocrisy against the school are still blatant. The Patrick Henry student handbook, in which the honor code appears, details the school’s core mission and its views on homosexuality and marriage.
The handbook states: “We hold this truth to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. All human beings are created in God’s image, and all are precious and equal in His sight. Bigotry is a sin again God and man.”
The next bullet point of the handbook states that governments encouraging or condoning homosexual acts is immoral and without authority.
The handbook advocates for students having “exposure to other cultures to evaluate such cultures because all people are God’s creation;” yet the school’s administration fails to support certain cultural aspects of homosexuality.
While Farris’ harsh response and lawsuit threat was discouraging for Scott, he remains hopeful the final outcome of the blog and its recent controversy will be positive.
Scott and other sources maintain a surge of conversations about gay issues have come about since word of Farris’ threat spread.
“I remain hopeful for the possibility of more positive interactions with [administration] in the future,” Scott said. “I look forward to when it is possible to have mature, open, honest and loving conversation about LGBTQ issues at PHC without students or alumni experiencing fear of reprisal, rejection, or shaming.”