I’m queer at Trinity Western University. What will it take for my university to listen to me? 

The university’s homophobia runs deep—students are speaking up and calling for change

When I first came to B.C. Christian university Trinity Western University (TWU) in Fall 2018, the school had recently lost its Supreme Court case to keep its contentious community covenant, which forbids sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage. I was not required to sign the covenant as the university had just made the covenant non-mandatory for students. The community covenant remained mandatory, however, for faculty, staff and student leaders

Coming to TWU, I wholeheartedly agreed with the school’s mission and vision, and followed its Student Code of Conduct to a T. 

Now, as I look back on my time at TWU in my fifth year at the school, I realize how much I’ve changed since I first enrolled. My views on life, love and religion have changed drastically over the years––as anyone can expect as they grow up. I’m about to graduate with a BA Honours in English and Gender Studies and I wish I could leave TWU better than I found it for queer students, but that doesn’t seem likely.

TWU’s decision in 2018 to make the covenant non-mandatory for students also did not magically change the discriminatory treatment of queer people. After TWU’s 2018 Supreme Court loss, many folks, including myself, had hoped that TWU would finally demonstrate that it can be rooted in faith, yet also be radically loving and welcoming. Instead, TWU has doubled down on its social conservatism, at the expense of queer students like myself. 

The school is especially antagonistic toward those who affiliate or organize with One TWU, the independent coalition of LGBTQ2S+ students, alumni and allies of TWU, of which I am co-leader.

For instance, TWU recently decided to close its theatre department, a long-held queer safe haven at the school, without meaningfully addressing faculty input. The current president, Mark Husbands, has refused to engage respectfully with One TWU, and even interfered with a 2019 One TWU event in order to advocate for celibacy when it came to “homoerotic inclinations.” Since Husbands’s 2019 arrival, One TWU has not been allowed to put up posters advertising our support services for queer students on campus. To say to fellow queer students, “We’re here, you’re not the only one like you, and we want to support you,” is apparently too radical for my university. 

TWU has yet to reconcile with its past alignment with conversion therapy, particularly its history of bringing in chapel speakers who either believe sexual orientation may be changeable, or directly encourage students to seek out reparative therapy, as one alum alleges. In December, the TWU administration denied the request to host our annual One TWU Stories Night, where queer students and alumni share their lived experiences, on-campus. We’d been able to host the event on-campus up until then.


Additionally, TWU has yet to address the recent allegations of how the current administration is pushing out queer-allied faculty like Dean of Education Allyson Jule. Shortly after her November 2019 appearance at a UBC event, “Faith and Family: Navigating SOGI Inclusion in Schools,” Jule was told by the former provost that it would not be best to continue as dean. SOGI (pronounced so-jee) stands for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Despite the controversy in Christian circles, SOGI-123 at its core is, according to the B.C. Ministry of Education, “a resource that supports educators in addressing [gender identity and sexual orientation] topics in the provincial curriculum.

The university, Jule claims, interpreted her participation in the event and self-identified allyship to LGBTQ2S+ people as misrepresenting TWU’s unfavourable position on same-sex marriage. In the process of renewing her deanship in April 2021, Jule was (again) advised to resign by TWU senior leadership as “[her] desire to show care to all persons, including LGBTQ2S+ persons, appears to make it difficult [for her] to model an institutional perspective as dean.”

I was the campus newspaper’s managing editor at the time, and my colleagues and I took a huge risk publishing the investigation into the circumstances of Jule’s departure. Considering the climate TWU has created toward those who vocalize any disagreement with the school’s attitudes and decisions––we had ample reason to prepare for major blowback from the university administration. But we were confident in our reporting and its value to the school. 

Evidently there was interest—the article went viral within the TWU community and beyond. I knew the piece would cause a shitstorm in the TWU world, but I wasn’t prepared for the extent of it. 

A day after its release, the former president of the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), Teri Mooring, who has worked closely with Jule, retweeted the article, calling TWU’s actions “sickening” and making known her respect for Jule’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. 

But publishing the story has had lasting consequences.

After the spring semester of 2022 ended, I found out that the longtime student media advisor of our newspaper had been dismissed from her role. Our article—and reaction to it—highlighted that it is not only queer students who are mistreated and discriminated against by the current TWU administration, but it is also the people who try to look after us––including the former student media advisor, who believed in the power of speaking truth to power. Quality journalism is not always about keeping the peace, especially in the face of injustice. Critical thinking should not be squashed at a university that espouses academic freedom. 

I also have been chastised by the current TWU administration for my writing. In a private meeting with the executive director of TWU Student Life, Johannah Wetzel, and the vice president of Inclusive Excellence, Jennifer Adkins, about LGBTQ2S+ inclusion, which was meant to be about how to make the university a better place for queer students, I was told that I should essentially cool it on my criticism of the university or I would be personally risking TWU’s accreditation in its upcoming reviews, specifically its nursing and education schools. 

Maintaining accreditation as an educational institution is vital for TWU’s credibility, so any journalism that brings to light the administration’s discriminatory behaviour is a bad omen for them. TWU doesn’t want to lose its precious accreditation, so it is determined to stamp out potential bad press, however possible, instead of stamping out the discriminatory behaviour.

Moreover, I was informed that I am viewed by the wider TWU administration as a “social justice warrior” whom they struggle to take seriously. Expressing discomfort with my public criticisms of the university, Adkins patronized my writing style and knowledge of journalistic standards. Additionally, I was told that my article covering Jule’s forced resignation for being an ally did not uplift women, but, rather, “damaged women.” 

TWU proudly advertises itself as a university equipping graduates who can “Face the World,” as demonstrated in their recent advertising campaign, yet it cannot face its own homophobia or the concerns of its queer students.

After trans student Bekett Noble died by suicide in November 2022 at Redeemer University in Ontario, a very similar university to TWU, I promised myself that I would speak honestly about my experience as an out queer student at TWU. Queer lives are everywhere, and at my school, they are literally at stake. 

For years, Noble had been writing to staff and faculty about the daily microaggressions targeting queer students at Redeemer University. They engaged in meetings with staff, raising the issues and desperately asking for help. They even established Genesis, a group strikingly similar to One TWU, with the purpose to provide support for queer students. Noble even participated in a committee for LGBTQ2S+ relations with faculty and student senate members, yet, after meeting with their school’s administration regularly about increasing concerns for queer safety and well-being, there were no promising signs of effecting change at the university. 

Noble’s death was completely preventable. Through their official policies, institutions like TWU and Redeemer implicitly give permission to anti-LGBTQ2S+ attitudes in their campus cultures. They have blood on their hands. 

Noble’s story means a lot to me because I can see myself in them: I know what it’s like to boldly stand up to an administration for its discriminatory behaviour. I know what it’s like to put myself on the line for LGBTQ2S+ inclusion. I know what it’s like to have people tell me I don’t belong in faith communities. Noble’s story also resonates with many others in Christian institutions across North America as more are calling for change. As of February 24, the City of Hamilton is looking into its contracts with Redeemer University in the wake of Noble’s death.

TWU’s concept of radical Christian hospitality does not extend in any meaningful way to queer students––especially those who choose to speak up about its discriminatory behaviour, which it claims in God’s name. 

When I speak to older queer alumni of the university, I am honestly astonished at how little things have changed from their time at TWU to now. Unsafe housing issues for queer and trans students. Unmoderated classroom discussions about queer and trans “issues.” Debating our right to exist in faith spaces. Anti-queer policies. Unchecked bullying. 

Despite all this, members of administration continue to say in private meetings that they have “a heart for queer students” and that they “hope TWU to be a positive experience for any LGBTQ2S+ students that attend.” But I call bullshit. 

One question people frequently ask me––and other queer students––is “why choose to study at TWU as a queer person?” This question is commonplace for queer students at any Christian university: people from both sides of the aisle ask it. The biggest reason I chose to attend TWU was because I wasn’t out yet when I first enrolled. In fact, I was actively suppressing my queer identity. 

I was fresh out of a year abroad at Bible school: I was “on fire for God” as a devout charismatic Christian. At the time, I knew that TWU was the right next step for my academic and spiritual formation. Coming to TWU, I had already indoctrinated myself with restrictive conceptions of gender and sexuality. I was an unapologetic theology nerd. In this time of my life, instead of dating, I frequently read ex-gay stories in hopes I could align myself with the “traditional” Christian view of marriage. Instead of gabbing about my crushes with my friends, I learned the best-case scenarios for “same-sex-attracted” Christians in the evangelical church. I lost any hope in a future family: it felt like I was forbidden from normalcy, so I became a Bible scholar in my own time as a coping mechanism. 

I did all this not because I hated myself (or at least I didn’t think that was the reason), but because I so badly loved my faith community––the place where I felt most at home. 

I believed I would only be treated with respect and dignity in the Church if I embraced this single, celibate life––while also conforming to the culture of my assigned gender at birth. Because of the Church’s often hostile attitude toward out and proud gays––God forbid those Pride parades––I quieted my own queerness. 

I believed this all was the life God wanted for me. Studying at TWU undoubtedly helped reinforce this way of thinking. Until it didn’t help. 

Only halfway through my undergrad degree, in the early days of COVID-19 lockdown, did I come to terms with my queer identity. I credit this self-reckoning as a massive achievement for someone as deeply invested in Christian evangelicalism as I was. As I was coming to terms with my identity, I agreed to become a One TWU co-leader. It was a daunting proposition for my parents to digest: they didn’t want their kid to turn into a target for being an openly flamboyant LGBTQ2S+ activist at an institution with less-than-favourable views toward non-conformity. 

During my self-reckoning in quarantine, the least of my concerns was transferring schools. Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, the last thing I wanted to do was work through the ordeal and hassle of transferring. I was also scared stiff of leaving the close-knit TWU community that I had worked so hard to be involved in. So I stayed, for better, and for worse. 

Having been a One TWU co-leader for the past three years, I have struggled to hold out hope that it is possible to bring about positive change at TWU. I have struggled not to scream or cry as university higher-ups have reiterated time and time again that they can “only do so much,” because they are ultimately subordinate to the ultra-conservative board of governors and president who seem to wish queer students and alumni would pipe down, stop being so angry or just not exist. 

But after Noble’s preventable death at Redeemer University, I am even more convinced that TWU needs to do better immediately. 

While there are people at TWU who truly understand and celebrate me for who I am, being queer at the university is quite dehumanizing. I’ve often felt like a topic or a controversy rather than a person imbued with dignity. At a place like TWU, sexuality and gender can be abstracted to the point where the queer person is missed almost entirely. While there are great students and amazing faculty at TWU, the school’s senior leadership and board seem to have little interest in reconciling with making its campus even an iota more hospitable. 

Despite the hostile climate TWU has created, I have been––and continue to be––vocal about TWU’s ongoing discriminatory attitudes against LGBTQ2S+ people.

I wonder what people in my city, my province, this country, would say about a place like TWU––a university that trains teachers and nurses for our wider population—if they knew just how painful my experience as a queer student has been and just how hard TWU works to ensure that our existence as queer people is eradicated. I wonder if people would be comfortable with that. 

I wonder what has happened to Christianity, why we are no longer defined by love, humility and compassion, but instead by our earnestness to erase queer people. 

I believe that TWU has true potential as an institution. Not all strains of Christianity are discriminatory or doomed to toxic leadership. There is a lot I love about TWU. There are truly wonderful students, staff and faculty at TWU. 

But it should not be my job to fight this hard for the bare minimum. To exist and be heard in the campus community. To not be pushed off-campus. To be treated fairly. To be taken seriously in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. To expect basic protections for queer students and due process for grievances involving homophobia. As long as there is injustice at a place that professes its so-called “Christlike love,” I will speak up. 

Carter Sawatzky (they/them) is an English-speaking Greater Vancouver-based writer and queer activist. They were most recently managing editor of Mars’ Hill Newspaper, the independent student-run publication at Trinity Western University. There, they broke the story of how TWU administration is pushing out queer-allied faculty. They are also the current co-director of One TWU, the independent coalition of LGBTQIA2S+ students, alumni and allies at TWU. As a gender studies and english literature graduating student, their work focuses on the intersections of queerness, religion, sexual politics, classism and pop culture.

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