Earlier this month, Westmont College students filled the auditorium at the First Congregational Church on State Street for the Spectrum Ministries launch party. Founded two years ago by three friends — then sophomores Donald Scherschligt, Maddie Coates, and Brynn Mitchell — in part to make gay friends after Scherschligt came out as the first openly gay student at Westmont, Spectrum Ministries is the first group for queer students at the interdenominational Christian college’s Montecito campus. Originally intended to raise awareness about LGBTQ students at Westmont, to educate the college’s community about LGBTQ issues, and to provide a safe space for students to meet new friends and to come out, Spectrum recently achieved nonprofit status and is looking to integrate itself into the larger Santa Barbara community.
As Coates said, before Spectrum, “Being gay at Westmont was pretty much not talked about.” In Spectrum’s founding days, it was denied club status by the college’s administration for taking no stance on the “morality of homosexual activity,” Scherschligt said. They were only allowed to meet on campus as an “unofficial student group.”
Spectrum continued to meet weekly until last spring, when, according to Coates and Scherschligt, a guest speaker at the school’s tri-weekly, mandatory chapel series gave an aggressively homophobic sermon to Westmont, prompting Spectrum members to start a petition for more diverse sexual orientation and gender diversity among chapel speakers, which was ultimately ignored after gaining more than 150 signatures.
Scherschligt said it was then that Spectrum began compiling #QueerStoriesMatter, a photo series in which students of all sexual orientations share their perspectives on the relationship between sexuality and faith. Members also organized via Gradient, a confidential group for current LGBTQ college students — the group has already grown from having only 6 members to having over 20, Schershligt said.
According to Schershligt, looking forward, Spectrum wants to “create respectful dialogue and loving relationships between the Christian and LGBTQ communities of Santa Barbara and its surrounding areas, as well as partner with local groups already doing this work to help them become better connected to each other and create more safe spaces for LGBTQ people in the community.”
Spectrum embraces its new status as a nonprofit, partnering with local organizations — like the Santa Barbara Transgender Advocacy Network and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays — and continuing to raise discussions about Christianity and queer sexual identities.
Currently, it runs a donation program by which community members may sponsor a student to attend this year’s Gay Christian Network Conference in Houston, Texas.