When Justin Massey entered Wheaton College almost four years ago he never imagined being out as a gay man while on campus much less taking on a leadership role within the college's LGBT community.
Massey, a 21-year-old senior political science major, grew up in Orange County California and attended Dana Hills High School. He was very involved in the evangelical church there and was president of the Christian club at his public high school. When it came time to choose where to go to college, Massey explained that it made sense for him to go to an evangelical college due to his upbringing.
When he was 12, he came out to his youth pastor, however, that was in the context of him struggling with the fact that he was gay. Massey explained that at first he read reparative therapy books and immersed himself in a far right mindset, however, that changed when he arrived at Wheaton College.
He came out to his parents about a year or so after coming out to his youth pastor and then to his friends. Massey noted that at first it was really hard for his parents but they've been dialoguing about it ever since.
"They weren't surprised but it was still shocking and scary for them since they never thought about what it would mean for them to have a child [he is the youngest of four children] who is LGBT," said Massey. "Everyone in my immediate family has been increasingly supportive. My parents are really encouraging and my mom is really interested in what I'm doing."
"Coming to Wheaton, I planned on keeping my sexual orientation under wraps but almost immediately I became very active and started having conversations about the campus bylaws about homosexuality. I got involved with student government and was elected freshman class president. I joined the Student Care Committee and I came out to them within the first couple of months at Wheaton," said Massey. "The following year I co-founded the first LGBT student group on campus, Refuge, with Wesley Davison and Tory Leonard."
Refuge, which currently has 15 members, is an anonymous group whose members have to be LGBT and the meetings aren't publicized anywhere. Although he co-founded Refuge and served as the group's chair, Massey noted that the college has taken away his leadership role within the group.
"I also got kicked out of student government committees due to my involvement with Refuge," said Massey. "There was a lot that was being communicated by the administration that I was a threat to them."
The college has hired Julie Rodgers, a celibate lesbian and Wheaton College's first LGBT staff member, to lead Refuge. Rodgers serves in the Chaplain's office at the college.
Massey noted that OneWheaton's event during his sophomore year really opened him up to the idea that he could be gay and Christian at the same time.
"Just knowing that OneWheaton exists and hearing their stories was encouraging to me," said Massey. "The college asked me if I was an arm of OneWheaton when I was getting Refuge started and I told them it wasn't the case."
Massey said he decided to become more vocal about LGBT equality because he has the ability to speak out while others have to remain in the closet. He wants to make life easier for LGBT people when they arrive on campus. Due to his own experience at Wheaton College, Massey said that he is more aware of the conversations happening on campus about race, gender and other progressive issues.
"My goal doesn't include getting the college to change their policies because there are still fundamental issues that need to be addressed at the college about the way that they value LGBT student's lives. Students by and large can't identify as LGBT on campus. I think if you try to change everything in one fell swoop it won't work. You need to be on the inside so you can participate in the conversations and hopefully change people's perspective and understanding of these issues," said Massey. "When we started Refuge we had to minimize the language and instead of saying the group is for LGBT students it's for students who are experiencing same-sex attraction."
"I know so many LGBT students that are suicidal and/or suffer from depression. I have all these experiences engaging with the college, with my peers and leading discussion including a panel within residence life talking about what it's like being gay on campus," said Massey. "I wanted to speak out on behalf of the students who didn't feel safe coming out and that included writing an article for the student paper where I came out to the entire campus. It was then that I started meeting more LGBT students at Wheaton."
Massey also participated in the "More Than a Single Story" audio documentary last year and he led a demonstration with Jordan-Ashley Barney on campus prior to Rosaria Champaign Butterfield's testimony and address.
Massey spent a semester off-campus at American University in Washington, D.C., as a part of a political science program called Transforming Communities and Public Policy.
"I wanted to get some hands on experience in the political process and learn ways to change communities thinking on issues such as LGBT equality," said Massey.
Recently, Massey attended the Gay Christian Network Conference for the second year in a row.
"I was incredibly inspired by the dialogue/conversations that I had. LGBT people of faith have the ability to come together and wade through tricky conversations," said Massey. "It was great to be in a space where I could be myself and not worry about what people would say about me or how they looked at me. I was so happy to be there with my mom and sister and have them see all of these Christians who are LGBT."
"The speakers were inspiring especially Jeff Chu, who is a married gay pastor. His story really resonated with me," Massey said. "I met Vicky Beeching and she is a really lovely woman. It was disheartening to see her targeted by the Westboro Baptist Church ahead of her keynote address."
Along with working towards LGBT equality, Massey is also a member of Wheaton College's Men's Glee Club. Massey traveled with the glee club to Paris and a few other locations in France during his sophomore year.
"It was amazing to tour in Europe. Besides that we tour churches and perform on campus," said Massey. "The glee club is my breath of fresh air on campus. I'm in charge of the banquet that we hold every year. I couldn't imagine coming here as a freshman and finding out that someone like me is an out gay man and is respected as a member of this club. It would've overwhelmed me."
"I also like to cook so when I go home for visits you'll find me in the kitchen whipping up a meal," said Massey. I'm goofy and I love to have great conversations about a variety of topics. Traveling also interests me."
Massey writes a blog with Nathan Barber, another gay student at Wheaton College, called "The Faithful Within," and he's also very active on twitter. "Both of us see the blog as a place to have important dialogues in a public sphere about LGBT experiences/issues and Christianity without disregarding either perspective. Growing up the only thing most of us hear is either you are LGBT or you are Christian," said Massey. "As for twitter, it's been really great especially as a way to communicate shorter thoughts about what's important to me. I've gotten very little negative feedback about my posts on my blog or via twitter. For the most part, it's been a really positive experience."
As for the future, Massey plans on continuing his LGBT advocacy work with a focus on engaging with faith communities and working towards full LGBT equality nationwide.
To read more of Massey's thoughts, visit www.thefaithfulwithin.wordpress.com and www.twitter.com/justinsmassey.