A weekend conference with a Christian minister with ties to a movement that seeks to reverse homosexual behavior is drawing opposition from students.
Christopher Yuan, an HIV-positive professor and minister who travels to churches and college campuses to speak about sexuality and HIV/AIDS, will arrive at Yale Friday afternoon to participate in three events hosted by the Yale Christian Fellowship and Yale Students for Christ this weekend. His visit has driven several leaders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student leaders to plan demonstrations in response to Yuan’s alleged support of the “ex-gay movement,” which supports the reversal of homosexual behavior in individuals, despite Yuan’s claims that he has no role in the movement.
“When they decided to bring someone like him, it begins to be a concern to our community, especially to people who are both LGBTQ and Christian,” said LGBT Co-op Board Member Amalia Skilton ’13. “And at that point I find it difficult to believe that this event is just for them, because they will be talking about [the LGBTQ community].”
Yuan’s impending arrival was announced in a Wednesday e-mail from Skilton to unspecified “LGBTQ and allied Yalies,” leading some students — even those within the Christian community — to speak out against Yuan’s message. Student activists will attend Yuan’s Friday talk at the Afro-American Cultural Center in protest, and publish an open letter to campus rejecting ex-gay teachings written by Benjamin Crosby ’13 and David Washer ’11.
In an interview, Yuan said he does not wish to be affiliated with any organization, movement or Christian denomination, and is accustomed to people misunderstanding his goals.
“I’ve come to the conclusion I can’t really change people’s perspectives and hope they can listen to me and not the baggage that comes with my associations and their perceptions,” he said.
When asked about his sexual orientation, he refers back to his website, in which he states that he is “not a gay Christian or a straight Christian. I am not a Chinese Christian or a male Christian. I am simply a Christian. This is my main identity.”
Skilton dismissed these claims, adding that Yuan’s assertions that he is not a part of the ex-gay movement are “dishonest,” given his collaboration with one of the world’s biggest Christian ex-gay organizations, Exodus International. Yuan has spoken about his experiences at many Exodus International events. In 2009, he and two top Exodus International officals co-signed a letter discouraging discrimination against homosexuals to the president of Uganda; in their signatures, the three described themselves as “former homosexuals.”
Yuan’s hosts in the YCF and YSC said that the event is an opportunity to begin a conversation about sexuality within the framework of Christianity that is free from the bigotry and disrespect that has characterized some dialogue from the conservative Christian church. YCF staff member Gregory Hendrickson ’03 said he invited Yuan to speak at Yale given his nuanced views on the Christian religion, which he hopes will constructively help shift the way people view issues regarding sexual orientation and identity.
Washer, a member of YCF, said he disagrees with Yuan’s published work, but hopes the event will be a “positive catalyst” for constructive discussion between Christian and LGBTQ communities.
“I feel like often times between Christians and members of the LGBT community, emotions are amplified,” said Yale Students for Christ Staff Director Sang Yun ’93. “I don’t feel like it’s baseless [for the LGBTQA student leaders] to react like they did, but it’s just the facts — the heart behind our event — haven’t been clearly assessed.”
Christian campus leaders — and Yuan himself — asserted that Yuan is not an advocate of ex-gay ideals, and that his visit is meant to be an intimate discussion with Christian groups. In fact, due to the potential negative reaction to Yuan’s visit and the personal tenor of the events, Hendrickson said, publicity for the gatherings this weekend had been limited to the Yale Christian groups.
The student reaction to Friday’s event has raised some concern among Christian leaders, Yun said, adding that the presence of many divergent points of view could shatter the intended intimacy of the talk.
Yuan will speak Friday at the Af-Am House Gallery at 7:15 pm about his Christian faith and its impact upon his personal identity. He will discuss biblical interpretations of homosexuality Saturday at 9:30 am at the Dwight Hall Library.