Millions were moved by Macklemore’s performance of “Same Love” at the VMAs, and Stephen Lovegrove, a 20-year-old college student, reached out to MTV Act after watching the performance. “My school fired me and took away my financial aid purely because of my sexual orientation, so I understand what it's like to face discrimination,” he wrote.
Stephen had a GPA of 3.8 at Charleston Southern University, a Baptist college, where he was majoring in religion. However, after he began posting videos about being both Christian and gay, he lost his federally funded job at the school, was removed from leadership roles and was banned from being on stage.
Photo: Stephen with his grandfather, John Lovegrove. (Stephen Lovegrove)
A petition asking CSU to protect students of all sexual orientations is circulating, and my calls to CSU for comment have remained unanswered. After receiving Stephen’s touching email, I interviewed him about his situation, what people can do about it and how we can all support LGBTQ rights at our workplaces and schools.
ACT: How did you lose your job and your financial aid?
STEPHEN: I am an individual who identifies as both gay and Christian. The whole time I was at CSU, I spoke openly about my faith and my sexuality. All my family, friends, co-workers, and supervisors knew that I was a gay Christian. Over the summer, I knew the time was right for me to share my story with the world. I posted a series of videos talking about my story and explaining what it was like growing up as a gay Christian in the conservative South. The next week, my boss called me in and told me that I had been fired from my job as an RA and banned from being on stage publicly at my school and from leadership in campus ministries.
ACT: Have you spoken to anyone at the school since then?
STEPHEN: For a long time after the meeting, the school did not contact me at all. A couple weeks later, after I had made the decision to transfer and had already moved off campus, a representative for the school emailed me to ask for a meeting. Unfortunately, I was traveling across the country and unable to attend. I have not heard anything since from the administration. Students have been unbelievably supportive! I have had so many friends encouraging me, rooting for me and praying for me! There are so many people at CSU whom I love dearly and miss tremendously. I want people to know that I had a great experience at CSU right up until the end, and I still care about the school so much.
Photo: Stephen with Dr. Jairy C. Hunter Jr., president of CSU. (Stephen Lovegrove)
ACT: What inspired you to start a petition? How has the response been?
STEPHEN: I had been in contact with a group of students at CSU who fight for equality as well as with GLAAD. As we all talked about the situation, we realized that we all had one common goal. We love the school and want to see it become a safe and healthy environment for all students. Obviously, none of us is in charge of the school, so we don't have the power to make any decisions. But we refuse to believe that our voices don't matter, and we wanted to do something to have an impact. Our goal is to see CSU put a policy in place that protects all of its students against discrimination. The petition is our attempt to at least get the administration to listen and hopefully change.
ACT: You're Christian and gay, which some people might see as contradictory. Can you talk about this a bit more?
STEPHEN: Absolutely! I would consider myself to be a follower of Jesus. A lot of people won't understand or relate to this experience, and that's OK. But for most of my life, I was spiritually dead. Something on the inside was broken, and I had absolutely no way to fix it within myself, but then a belief in Jesus really made me feel new inside and out. Because of this experience, my spirituality is a huge part of my life.
At the same time, when I was 12 years old, I realized that I was inherently attracted to boys — not just sexually, but physically and romantically as well. This attraction is just a part of me that I did not choose and cannot change. I just choose to be honest about the fact that I follow Jesus and do my best to love him and love others, and I also happen to be a gay individual. While a lot of people view that as a paradox, it has always been my life. I am going to continue to spread the message of Jesus' love and be honest about my sexuality.
ACT: Do you have any advice for anyone in a situation like yours? Potentially fired from a job because of their sexual orientation?
STEPHEN: I would urge people to stand tall and talk about it. This kind of discrimination is happening all over the country all the time, but I don't think the majority of Americans are even aware of what is going on. Tell people your story. Show people that you are a human being with dreams and hopes and fears just like them. Choose to be the bigger person and love even when you are the victim of hate. A movement is rising, and our culture is changing. We have to lead the way by telling our stories and choosing to love.
ACT: How can people stand up for LGBTQ rights in the workforce and at school?
STEPHEN: It really is as simple as the choice to love all people. This isn't complicated. Just treat people equally, regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe God doesn't limit his love based on gender, sexual orientation, race or any other criteria, and neither should we. When you make the choice to love everyone, you hold those around you to a higher standard as well. If someone in your life is not loving all people, be willing to confront them about it, and explain to them lovingly why equality matters to you.