"You are not tragic," reads a letter from the LGBTQ group OneWheaton to students of Wheaton College. "Your desire for companionship, intimacy and love is not shameful."
The letter was written in response to a chapel message delivered at the evangelical Christian school by gay alum Wesley Hill April 1. Hill spoke to students about his struggle with his sexuality, telling them that he has chosen lifelong celibacy because being gay is "not something to be affirmed and celebrated, but a sign that we're broken."
OneWheaton, formed this year as a support group for LGBTQ students and alumni of Wheaton College (but not sanctioned by the school), distributed its response letter on campus and posted it on its website.
"We knew that we had to respond and reach out directly to those students," said Kristin Winn, spokesperson for OneWheaton.
Winn recalled her days at Wheaton, saying the chapel messages she remembered made her and other LGBTQ students feel like something was wrong with them, "like you have a dark future ahead."
The group originally formed around the idea of LGBTQ alumni making a video for sex columnist Dan Savage's It Gets Better project, but ended up as a support group for both alumni and students of the school.
Winn said being an LGBTQ student at the school could be a lonely, isolating experience. "You feel like you're the only one," she said.
She added that LGBTQ alumni are left out of the Wheaton community, and aren't even included in the alumni updates in the school's magazine.
The group's goal is to support each other and current Wheaton students and their families. Winn said the response in the past few days "has been completely overwhelming," the group receiving hundreds of emails from all kinds of students, both about coming out themselves or with questions about friends.
In an email sent to students in response to OneWheaton's letter, provided by Winn, the college stated that they "condemn violence and injustice directed towards LGBTQ people," but added that they "seek to prepare our students to maintain fidelity with the historic stance of the church," on sexuality.
Winn said the group plans on having social gatherings in the future and possibly marching in the Pride Parade this year. "We want to make ourselves known," she said. "We exist and we made it."