We are beings of love, fully deserving of receiving and loving others. If we took a step back, saw the bigger picture, we could see how much love really dictates our lives and, at the same time, see how little voice it gets in our harsh world. But even in our darkest and saddest moments, those feelings only prove how much we really love and how much love deserves to be heard.
Voices of Love is an LGBTQ-based group on the PLNU campus that aims to create a place where students can feel safe both within themselves and among others. Open to all students, this is a place to share thoughts and feelings of all kinds. Students today feel immense pressure to perform at levels that, at times, seem unreachable. Mistakes that use to motivate us, bring students to a breaking point and inducing feelings of shame. Now is the time to come together in love, acceptance and freedom.
“This group is for people who are out, loud and proud.” said Sean Verbitsky, LGBTQIA+ group leader and history major with a theater minor. “It’s for people who want to participate in the discussions. This club is for everyone and anyone. We are Christians and we want to create a place where people can be open with who they are.”
Voices of Love operated as a book club last year, mainly focusing on Torn by Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network. In the book, Lee discusses his challenges growing up knowing that his calling was evangelical Christian ministry, all while hiding the fact he was gay. His coming out and research done on the Bible are still discussed in Voices of Love meetings today.
“Some people here are all about Jesus but we all have different perspectives,” said Delany O’Keefe, a group leader and child development major. “We are not here to tell you how to feel. We are here to have tough conversations. Mainly, I just want people to know that if anyone needs people to talk to, we are here. We want everyone to feel open and loved.”
In a group meeting just a few weeks ago, each member in attendance was asked to fill out a questionnaire anonymously. This featured 12 “yes or no” questions, ranging from “Have you ever heard LGBTQIA+ hate speech from another student at PLNU?” to “Do you identify as a Christian?” After each person filled out the sheet, they were passed around randomly. People took turns asking the questions again, this time aloud. If they answered with a “yes,” they stood. If they answered with a “no,” they remained seated.
Holding someone else’s paper, the raw emotion was evident, like they had left every drop of themselves within the answer circles. The responses were honest, they were brutal, but most of all, they were loving. When the question was purposed, “Have you ever used slurs or derogatory language towards LGBTQIA+ on PLNU’s campus,” and a few people stood up. Sarah Wise-Leach, group leader and international studies major, made the effort to thank those people, recognizing that honesty is the first step towards freedom and change.
“We are trying to break the traditional narrative and we are trying to be an empathetic, loving group that is able to work within the community as well,” said Wise-Leach. “We just want people to know that we exist. When people feel they have no support and nobody to talk to, we are here.”
One of the more powerful moments of that night’s meeting came with a more personal question. “Have you ever experienced anxiety?” Often, some people feel obligated to suppress these feelings, in fear of how others will react. But that night, the vast majority stood up in a “yes” response.
In that moment there was a feeling of unity. Unity in that gender, sexual orientation and religious status are irrelevant. It was pain that brought these students up and love that pulled them together. Even the paper itself became irrelevant. No longer in hiding, the laughs became roars and weary smiles turned to full-toothed ecstasy.
We all deserve love, not because of our lifestyles and achievements, but because we exist. To deny someone of love is denying them of God’s greatest gift, the modern-day miracle. Voices of Love gives this miracle back to those who feared it forever lost and gives a home to the wandering heart, anxious for peace.