On Monday, Nov. 5, members of the Wheaton community gathered in Coray Alumni Gymnasium for Know Your Neighbor, a conversation about how to “[walk] with our same-sex attracted and/or gender questioning neighbors.”
Many students, like sophomore Lydia Thomas, consider conversations like these important because “it’s definitely something that people are curious about and aren’t having enough [opportunities] to talk about.”
The event was hosted by the chaplain’s and student development offices. For the first hour, student chaplain Caroline Lauber and Ministry Associate for Care and Counseling Rebecca Meyer guided a panel discussion with questions for two alumni, Tyler Streckert and Katie Melone, and two of their friends, Andrew Sedlacek and Annie Rose.
According to Melone, this is the fourth official year of Know Your Neighbor, but the conversation has happened in less organized forms for at least six years. The conversation focused on how students can better love their neighbors who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. During the panel discussion, Melone (‘17) said, “I think everyone who’s not straight in the church goes through some sort of trauma.”
She encouraged students to view the term “coming out” as “letting [others] in.” To her, being let in is a gift that suggests “you are viewed as trusted and safe and that someone wants to allow you to see them a little bit better.”
Melone remembers Rose telling her, “I’m not worried about you.” Melone said that this was the best thing her friend ever said to her. She praised both her friends for having “such a strong and high view of God’s power and what he can do and the work that he’s doing in everyone’s lives.”
Melone said both women demonstrate the much-needed belief that all a person can do is love others well and have faith that God is in control. The event concluded with individual table discussions among students in attendance.
Each group had at least one leader to guide the conversation. Thomas said her group of students discussed how they thought the experience of coming out might have unfolded if they were in Streckert or Melone’s shoes. Her group also discussed ways to apply what had been learned that night, such as if someone were to come out to them. “Providing a basis of love for the conversation helps the rest of it go smoother,” she said. Thomas said that she hoped that the event would both “make [people] aware that these are safe conversations to have,” and ensure that students “could all take an attitude of love … instead of [attacking] now [and asking] questions later.”