In October, his wallet, student ID and room key were stolen.
Then, he said, he received a death threat on Facebook.
A few weeks ago, he found his replacement ID cut into pieces and covered in urine.
Isaiah Thomas, an openly gay student at Messiah College, said he plans to transfer at the end of this term.
“Messiah College has not been the most warming place at all. At all. It’s been very hard,” said Thomas, a 2010 graduate of Harrisburg’s SciTech High on a full scholarship.
Thomas said most students have welcomed him. Others have made him feel unwelcome, singled out and worse.
“I’ve had a professor who actually called me an abomination in class,” Thomas said.
College Provost Randy Bassinger said the college has a robust harassment policy and has followed through on Thomas’ claims, in some cases bringing in police.
“We take harassment very seriously and have a very clear and explicit protocol on all forms of harassment that would include harassment related to sexual orientation,” he said.
Bassinger said he was unable to release information on the findings of the investigations.
Thomas said at the center of his Messiah experience is the school’s Community Covenant, which outlines student behavioral expectations. The document, based on the school’s theological traditions, prohibits “homosexual behavior” and must be signed by all students.
Thomas said he had not been told about the covenant.
“I rather you tell me I can’t come than bring me here and strip me of who I am,” he said. “That’s worse than telling someone they can’t come.”
Bassinger said most colleges have a code of conduct.
“We’re not unique,” he said. “Our covenant is quite clear on the behavioral expectations in a number of areas, one of them being homosexual behavior. We’re very committed to that and very intentional on how we apply that — consistently, as with all our behavioral expectations.”
He said the college welcomed all students.
“We don’t exclude students with same-sex orientation, but we are clear to make a distinction between orientation and behavior,” Bassinger said. “We can be clear on who we are.”
Messiah is the latest evangelical Christian college struggling with gay and lesbian equality issues.
By and large, that struggle has been met with intolerance.
Harding University, a Christian college in Arkansas, recently shut down a webzine by gay and lesbian students.
In March, University of South Carolina professor and political activist Ed Madden, who is gay, wrote a candid piece for ReligionDispatches.org about his lingering sense of shame, lost relationships and thorny faith after attending Harding.
In a similar piece, The New York Times recently spoke to same-sex couples at Christian colleges who worried their assertiveness — including holding hands with a partner — could jeopardize scholarships or risk expulsion.
Just this week, alumni at Wheaton College, the conservative Christian college outside Chicago, announced the formation of an organization to support gay students, the Chicago Tribune reported. The college said it views those who are gay as children of God but condemns homosexual activity.
Messiah’s pastor, the Rev. Eldon Fry, stressed that the college is a faith-based institution that relies on scriptural traditions of the Anabaptist, Pietist and Wesleyan streams.
“There are people who come here with a variety of experiences, theological views and personal applications of those views,” he said.
Fry, who teaches a class on the ethics of love, said class discussions about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues generally generate a wide range of differences of opinion.
“Christ’s last words, his last will and testament if you please, were you should love one another,” he said. “This is really key. I think institutionally there is a strong commitment to loving across our differences. How it gets lived out with individual students and experiences is something that because of our differences are not always the same for everyone.”
After learning of the covenant’s language on homosexuality, Thomas attempted unsuccessfully to amend Messiah’s policy. He said most faculty defend the covenant.
His efforts largely have exacerbated his situation.
He is the secretary of the multicultural council, a member of the black student union and by invitation, vice president of the Middle Eastern Student Association, but he has been labeled “the gay kid,” he said.
“This is a very conservative school,” Thomas said. “Most kids are home-schooled or attended private Christian schools. I’m the only black gay male here probably in the history of the school, and I just don’t take no for an answer.”
Thomas said he has felt so distraught at times that he has sequestered himself in his room.
Bassinger said Messiah had gone out of its way to reach out to Thomas.
“He has been given a lot of importance and attention by the college,” he said.
Louie Marven, director of education and youth services for the LGBT Community Center Coalition of Central PA, has tried unsuccessfully for years to launch an LGBT student organization registration on campus.
Marven, a 2007 Messiah graduate who was not out as a student, described his experience there as positive.
“I think that within Messiah’s peace mission and social justice value you can find pockets of community where asking the question ‘Is it OK to be gay?’ is safe to ask,” he said. “But there are always going to be the conservative, Christian traditional understanding that it’s not OK to be gay or to identify being gay.”
He said he is not surprised by Thomas’ experience.
“But then there was not a presence like him on campus who was unashamed, very out, constantly pushing,” Marven said. “His very existence pushes people to think about tough stuff.”
Marven deals with his own equality issues with Messiah. He said the college won’t include his employment information in its alumni magazine.
Thomas said his experience at Messiah has shaken his faith.
“I don’t consider myself a Christian,” he said. “I consider myself a God-fearing, Jesus-worshipping, Holy Spirit-wielder. I have no ties to religion at all.”