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LGBTQ+ Research & Advocacy

By Crystal Chainani

Seaver College Psychology professor and an advisor for Crossroads GSA, Steve Rouse, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in Personality Research. (Photo from Faculty Section of Pepperdine Seaver College Website.)

The intersection between the LGBTQ+ community and Christians is a complex issue that often creates conflicts and misunderstandings.

Steve Rouse, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in Personality Research, is a Seaver College Psychology professor and an adviser for Crossroads Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), has conducted several studies that shed light on the attitudes of these groups toward each other.

As a bisexual man, Rouse said he has struggled with the difficulty of existing as a member of the LGBTQ+ community within the Christian Church, which is where his passion for this topic alludes from.

“It was challenging for me to figure out how I still live my life as a person who wants to maintain my faith as a Christian while also recognizing that the way the Churches approach the LGBTQ+ population isn’t loving or healthy or reflective of what I believe the way God wants us to treat people,” Rouse said. “So that’s kind of where my interest came from and to see if there is a way that we can objectively and empirically study topics that are also personally meaningful to me.”

Rouse’s Research

In one study, Rouse and a past student of his conducted research on how different people respond to church websites with affirming or traditional imagery toward LGBTQ+ people.

The study found that queer Christians were more likely to feel welcomed at the church with affirming imagery, while straight Christians did not show a statistically significant difference in their responses. However, even straight Christians showed a leaning towards feeling more accepted at the affirming church compared to the traditional church.

“So what that tells us is that even the straight Christians do not get turned off by, on average, the affirming imagery,” Rouse said. “But they are even leaning toward more feelings of acceptance at the inclusive church than the traditional Church.”

Rouse and the student he did this research with are in the process of getting this study published. Once it is published they plan on sending this research to various churches so they can make their space a more welcoming place.

In another study, Rouse and a colleague created a test to measure Christian fundamentalism, specifically by asking Christians which Bible passages are most relevant to their faith.

The study found that those who identified with more fundamentalist passages tended to have more negative attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community. Conversely, those who identified with non-fundamentalist passages tended to have more positive and accepting views.

“These are two very different studies but it shows my interest in researching how fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist Christians tend to relate to the LGBTQ+ community.”

Rouse also has research about the LGBTQ+ community that queer people of all religious affiliations can relate to.

“I did a study that was really just about LGBTQ+ communities,” Rouse said. “I was able to gather together 151 coming out stories by LGBTQ+ adults. There’s a saying that, ‘It gets better.’ We wanted to see whether or not it really did get better for people as they came out to friends and family members. “

This study analyzed the stories for three redemptive themes: increased agency, enhanced communion, and ultimate concerns. Rouse found that 80% of the stories had one or more of these themes, with enhanced communion being the most common.

Two-thirds of the people said their relationships were stronger after coming out, and many also reported feeling like a stronger person due to the experience. The least common theme was ultimate concerns, with only a little less than a tenth of the people reporting a greater sense of purpose or connection with deity.

Data on the three redemptive themes: enhanced agency, enhanced communion, and ultimate concerns were being analyzed in theIt Gets Better: Themes of Redemption in the coming out Narratives of LGBTQ+ Adults research.

“This data shows that for the majority of people as they look back on their coming out experiences even though it was painful at the time it resulted in really positive changes in their lives,” Rouse said.

Rouse said this particular study on the “Coming Out Narrative” has been helpful to several of his students.

“I've had some students who have really been concerned about coming out and this was valuable for me to actually have real data,” Rouse said. “They felt really reassured by it because sometimes when people are in the midst of the coming out experience and are still dealing with family or friends who are rejecting them, it can kind of be helpful to find out that things actually do get better in some ways.”

Rouse’s Impact on Students

Pepperdine’s Student Code of Conduct says, “Pepperdine University affirms that sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife,”. The lack of acceptance towards the LGBTQ+ community has caused many students to feel unwelcome.

Senior Psychology and Art major, and PGM staff artist, Hee Joo Roh, says as a freshman he was scared to come into Pepperdine being queer because of the “blatantly homophobic” contracts he had to sign.

However, Rouse’s extensive research on LGBTQ+ communities, his involvement with Crossroads GSA, and his openness about his sexuality have helped create a more inclusive environment for students.

“Dr. Rouse is just so understanding,” said Roh, who is also a Diversity/Inclusion and Marketing officer for Crossroads GSA. “He just lets me like rant about my experiences and when our E-board runs into trouble he’s there to give us guidance on how to move forward as a club that supports students.”

“I can't sing his praises enough,” said Danica Christy, a senior Psychology major and co-president of Crossroads GSA. “I have interacted with him in a lot of different ways between Crossroads and having him as a professor and an advisor. I am not sure where I would be at Pepperdine without him.”

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