About 100 people attended OneWheaton's second annual homecoming celebration at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn Oct. 5. The event featured a talent showcase and a panel discussion with current and former Wheaton College students.
OneWheaton's homecoming celebration weekend is an alternative for LGBTQ students, alumni and allies to gather and celebrate in a welcoming space. Wheaton College doesn't officially recognize the group and will not allow members to gather on campus.
The evening began with a talent showcase featuring performances by Wheaton College alumni. The headliner for the night was musician and singer Steve Slagg, also known as Youngest Son. Adam Hibma introduced each act and also performed two songs. Jackie Harris-Stone, Cathy Kuna and straight allies Jen Harding, Kate Johnson-Metcalf and Ryan Metcalf all performed instrumental pieces. Straight ally Sara Elliot read three poems and Jessica Friessen performed a spoken-word piece.
OneWheaton Co-Chair Jose Vilanova shared his coming-out story, his passion for music and his love of the Episcopal church. Mitch Rodriguez also shared his coming out story stating that after a positive conversation with a female professor during his college years, "I never had to sympathize with my captors anymore."
A panel discussion took place after the talent showcase with Keiko Feldman, OneWheaton's press/media chairperson, serving as the moderator. Panelists included current student and straight ally Danny Aguilar, who is studying sociology and pre law and works with community diversity at the college; Holly Braun, who has provided advocacy and pastoral care to Chicano gang members in Washington state for the past five years; the Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, who is an Episcopal priest, religious activist, lecturer and author; John Michael, who works for the Pride for Youths Empowerment Project in the New York City area providing outreach to queer men of color; Mark Siemens, who was a lawyer for 20 years and is now serving as the administrative director of an opera company in New York City; and Lora Wiens, who is a clinical psychologist in a private practice.
Panelists were asked their reasons for attending Wheaton College, religious interpretations of the LGBT community, and what it is like to come out as a Wheaton alumni to LGBT friends, among other questions.
At the end of the night, a Wheaton College faculty member and ally to the LGBT community told the crowd that if any current student who is LGBT needed someone to talk to, his door would always be open. He assured the audience that he wouldn't report a student who came out to him and reveal a relationship. Wheaton College forbids any LGBT student from having a same-sex relationship while enrolled at the school.
Since the formation of OneWheaton last year, approximately 50 other Christian colleges and universities across the United States have formed LGBTQ alumni groups under the Safety Net umbrella. Some examples include OneTable (Fuller Seminary in Calif.), OneGeorgeFox (George Fox University in Ore.), OneEastern (Eastern University in Pa.), OneCorban (Corban University in Ore.), OneWestmont (Westmont College in Calif.), OneNU (Northwest University in Wash.), Reach OUT (Pepperdine University in Calif.), SAFE Samford (Samford University in Ala.) and BJUNITY (Bob Jones University in S.C).
See www.onewheaton.com for more information.