“I couldn’t get a roommate,” said Hank Chen, Wheaton College class of 2006. “Being gay was the worst sin,” said Deb Twigg, Wheaton College class of 1979.
These are just the few of the memories Wheaton College alumni shared in the film “Queers in the Kingdom: Let Your Light Shine” that was screened in Robinson Teaching Theatre on Thursday. The film, which is by Markie Hancock, documents the college careers of several Wheaton alumni who experienced persecution, oppression sometimes resulting in suicide, simply because they were gay.
“I didn’t know anyone on campus that could have possibly identified as LGBTQ,” Hancock, who graduated from Wheaton in 1981, said. “It just wasn’t possible back then.”
Many of the students featured in the documentary had no idea that being homosexual was a possibility, and simply thought they were imagining their feelings, or that something was wrong with them.
What the students experienced was felt “in [their] head, by [themselves],” said one documentary participant, and the lack of a support system was detrimental.
However, through the power of social media, many Wheaton alumni and current students who identified as LGBTQ and allies united to form a Facebook group called OneWheaton.
“I was absolutely astounded to see this whole growing collective,” Hancock said.
This Facebook group, and the desire for this story to “transcend Wheaton,” Hancock said, proved to be the catalyst for the conception of “Queers in the Kingdom.” Hancock is not new to the LGBTQ documentary genre. Her previous film, “Born Again”, looks at the struggle of being born evangelical and coming out as a lesbian, Hancock said.
Hancock spent time both at Wheaton and Princeton Seminary before travelling to Europe for several years.
“I was very lost and had no idea what to do,” Hancock said. She began frequently attending the Berlin Film Festival, and decided to pursue filmmaking.
In the midst of her confusion, a former professor at Wheaton asked her what she really wanted to do.
“I’d really like to make movies, so I enrolled at Columbia College that semester, right away,” Hancock said.
“You’re always looking for interesting projects and you’re always looking for ways to fund them,” Hancock said about being an independent documentary filmmaker. “It’s a very up and down business.”
“Queers in the Kingdom” has done very well so far, and is currently playing at several prestigious film festivals, most of which are mainstream and not strictly LGBTQ. It is being shown at the St. Louis International Film Festival, the Austin LGBT Film Festival and the Kansas International Film Festival, where it is up for a Social Justice Award, Hancock said.
So far, Whitworth is the first and only Christian college to screen “Queers in the Kingdom” on campus, which is “an impressive sign of progress and openness,” Hancock said.
The Robinson Teaching Theatre was full during the showing and most students stayed for the question and answer session following the event. Many students discussed with Hancock ways to make Whitworth a more accepting community.
“My views that equality is necessary and that everybody should be treated equal have been strengthened,” freshman Ryan Karpenko said, as he described the impact that watching “Queers in the Kingdom” and participating in the following discussion had on him.
To promote equality as a community, we must start conversations with each other and work through issues together, Karpenko said.
“My big hope was that the film would transcend Wheaton,” Hancock said. “It’s something so much bigger that impacts so many young people and students at colleges.”
This is a story that could be told through so many colleges, and she is glad the film has reached as far as it has, Hancock said.