Patrick Henry College’s Nonexistent Gay Students

Remember how I wrote last week about the LGBT group, Queer PHC, recently formed by graduates of uber-conservative Patrick Henry College? Remember how Michael Farris, PHC’s chancellor, threatened to sue the group? Well now he’s saying they don’t exist.

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.

“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.”

The Queer PHC blog probably had the best response to that:

Quick! Clap if you believe in fairies!

But let’s stop and consider, though, because Farris’s response is extremely important. I’ll start by quoting once again from Queer PHC:

There’s a stark difference in the definition of our terms. In the eyes of those like Farris, homosexuality is just a sexual action or sexual lifestyle. For us, it’s an orientation, a marker of personal identity. Is it possible that there are no students having gay sex while enrolled at PHC? Entirely possible. But that doesn’t erase the existence of LGBTQ students at the school.

In a student body where there are so many virgins, why is it difficult to believe in the existence of a gay virgin?

It’s difficult if you believe homosexuality is completely synonymous with having gay sex.

That, right there, is critical.

Michael Farris believes that it is living a “gay lifestyle” that makes someone gay. And as Farris points out, the honor code students sign when they attend PHC includes a pledge of sexual purity – meaning, of course, abstinence until marriage. In other words, every student attending PHC pledges to remain a virgin. Farris, therefore, argues that because no one at PHC is having sex (or at least, they’ve promised not to), then it’s literally impossible for anyone there to be gay, because he sees homosexuality as synonymous with gay sex. Perhaps this helps explain his fondness for the Supreme Court’s 1986 decision upholding states’ ability to ban sodomy in Bowers v. Hardwick. If you ban sodomy, Farris believes, you eliminate homosexuality.

I am reminded of an image I saw recently:

[Text: We believe that those involved in homosexuality are created in the image of God and, because of that, deserve respect. However, their actions are damaging both to themselves and to society as a whole. Just like smoking or drug addiction, this behavior should not be encouraged or promoted by our government. We believe that those involved in homosexuality are complete personalities who should not be confined to a label because of a sexual act. To do so is as superficial as labeling an adulteress wife or husband for life because of a sexual act. These actions are seeking the same love, validation, and acceptance that all of us seek, yet an answer will not be found in repeated unhealthy interactions or societal or government approval of these actions. We believe this deep hunger can and will only be satisfied in a personal relationship with Jesus.]

Like Farris, the Liberty Council, the author of this statement, views homosexuality as an “action,” something someone becomes “involved in.” And like Farris, they compare homosexuality to things like drug addiction and adultery. They see homosexuality as an action, a lifestyle, not an orientation, or a characteristic like sex or race. And because the honor code means pledging to be sexually pure, and therefore necessarily requires a person to not be living a “homosexual lifestyle,” Farris can assert that there are no gay people at Patrick Henry College.

There was a time when Farris’s view was the dominant one. There was a time when homosexual contact was seen in very much the same light as visiting prostitutes, or having an affair. It was a sexual indiscretion, and a scandalous one at that, but not an orientation. (For a look at the history of homosexuality in the United States, and especially issues of indiscretion and orientation, read Chauncey’s Gay New York and Canaday’s Straight State.) But Farris’s view is dominant no longer, and his side is fast losing its grip on the narrative.

I would finish by asking a question. If Farris is so sure that gay students don’t exist at PHC, why is he so scared of Queer PHC?

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.

You’d think that if there aren’t any gay people at PHC, and if the honor code makes it so gay students can’t exist at PHC, Farris wouldn’t have to worry about Queer PHC being all that subversive or appealing to the student body. So why block it?

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Yet More Tired Arguments against Marriage Equality
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Lana

    guess unmarried heterosexual people don’t exist either, LOL

    • perfectnumber628

      Hahaha. :)

  • John Small Berries

    You’d think that if there aren’t any gay people at PHC, and if the honor code makes it so gay students can’t exist at PHC, Farris wouldn’t have to worry about Queer PHC being all that subversive or appealing to the student body. So why block it?

    I’m guessing that he probably believes that Queer PHC is intended to deliberately tempt his students into committing “[homo]sexual acts”, as though sexual orientation is something that can be influenced by marketing.

    • E

      Exactly. The only thing keeping straights at PHC from turning into raging homos is their firm resolve in Jesus Christ, and the hard line of censorship drawn by their Fearless Leader.

  • Amethyst

    I suppose it’s theoretically possible that no one at PCH is engaging in sex acts of any kind because they all signed pieces of paper saying they wouldn’t, but I find it extremely unlikely.

    • Kate

      Yeah, kind of like when student athletes sign a pledge that they won’t drink or do drugs, lol.

    • Lina

      Having gone to a school where we all had to sign such a pledge……..yeah, no.

    • Carys Birch

      I actually went to such a school and it was the EXTREME exception rather than the rule when people were having sex. I wasn’t surprised at the time because I was a puritybot too, but now that I look back on it it’s totally shocking to me that a whole campus full of college students existed, for the most part, sexlessly.

  • Don Gwinn


    This may be trite for people who’ve seen this point of view articulated before and thought about it some, but my first thought was, “Does that mean that there are no heterosexual students at PHC?” Probably not, in his mind. The heterosexual students are defined by all the ways they interact with the opposite sex, not just whether or how they handle sexual intercourse. But that makes no sense, of course.

    Oops, never mind, Lana already said it.

    • Jarred H

      Eh, it could probably stand to be repeated a couple (hundred) more times anyway. ;)

  • Stevarious

    “You’d think that if there aren’t any gay people at PHC, and if the honor code makes it so gay students can’t exist at PHC, Farris wouldn’t have to worry about Queer PHC being all that subversive or appealing to the student body. So why block it?”

    Maybe he’s running for re-election?

  • lucrezaborgia

    The college probably believes, or wants to believe, that this is entirely an outside effort meant to corrupt the current student body.

    • Christine

      The college wants to be able to project an image where this could only happen through an outside effort to corrupt the student body. I’m too cynical enough to think that they actually believe it. But they can make statements like this so that (parents of ) prospective students will see them as a “pure” and “Christian” place to go.

  • smrnda

    Farris’ real problem is he wants to run an indoctrination mill, and is not interested in any perspective other than his own getting a fair hearing. The existence of these students are bad publicity, not in the sense that the demonstrate that there are queer students at PHC, but that the school just wants them to shut up and refuses any sort of dialog.

    I’ve found lots of posts about this where people fault the students for attending a school that doesn’t accept them, or criticizes them for signing an honor code that they don’t really believe in, but to me, that’s pretending that these young people really had a choice.

    • Steve

      I can’t take any of that honor code crap seriously in the first place. No one who signs those pledges truly comprehends what they are getting themselves into.

      • Borealis

        I think it depends on the honor code. We had a very secular, very vague honor code at my college “I pledge to honor myself, my fellow students, and [College Name].” That actually felt meaningful because it didn’t tell us what to do, just that we needed to be respectful and to live up to our own moral standards. It meant we were grown ups now and would be expected to take responsibility for our own choices, that the administration would not go out of their way to make it really hard for people to cheat etc., they would trust us not to. It was as much about the school honoring us as it was about us honoring the school. People took it seriously and, for the most part, lived up to that trust. It was awesome. Also very much the opposite of the purpose an honor code serves at a place like Patrick Henry.

  • Naked anthropologist

    Huh. This points out an interesting subset of values that I see imbedded in conservative Christian culture. There is a positive (heterosexual), a negative (homosexual), but there is no neutral. The government does not “promote” homosexuality – it takes a neutral stance that states that LGBT people are citizens and should have the same rights as everyone else. There is no campaign to make people homosexual or “encourage” it; there are efforts towards equality and acceptance of human diversity. Conservative Christians seem to lack a neutral: it’s either good or bad, but nothing just is.

    • Rosie

      This is so true. And anyone or anything that does not actively promote the conservative Christian agenda is seen as an attack on it.

  • Katherine A.

    Quick! Clap if you believe in fairies!
    A standing ovation for all you.

  • Gigi

    all LGBTQ groups like Queer PHC are obviously not about “gay recruitment”. It’s secret shilling for the toaster industry. The free sample at joining starts a lifetime toaster buying addiction. Duh!

  • Gigi

    but more seriously, the point that a lot of these students didn’t have a choice about going somewhere more inclusive is sadly right on the money. Fundie parents don’t pay for inclusiveness, they pay for sheltering and brainwashing…suggesting a non-Christian university to these parents might as well be accidentally outing yourself in some cases.

  • Saraquill

    No sex at all? Are there no married students? If I remember correctly, the college is in or near a location where same-sex marriage is legal, so the school should recognize those sorts of relationships. My guess is that it doesn’t.

  • Pauline

    I admit I have to wonder about the existence of LGBTQ students at Patrick Henry myself, although for a different reason… why on earth would they attend there? Why would they even apply?

    I guess their parents made them, or something?

    • Jarred H

      Or they are “Side B” Christians. Or they didn’t even acknowledge their sexuality or gender identity until after enrolling in PHC. Or they sufficiently agree with enough of PHC’s other views that they decided it was the best place for them despite PHC’s view on LGBTQ issues.

      Just to name a few possibilities.

    • Amethyst

      When you’re brought up with the idea that *any* sexual attraction, not just homosexual or heterosexual attraction, is something you can and must choose not to feel until you’re married, figuring out your sexuality is an even longer and more complicated process than it is for a normal kid. A lot of people who grew up in the Christian patriarchy subculture, myself included, didn’t figure out that we weren’t straight until college or even later. Some (Libby Anne among them iirc) didn’t come to terms with it until after they’d been married to someone of the opposite sex for years.