Wingate University is known for its religious affiliation and, according to Niche, is rated the fifth most conservative university in North Carolina. However, overall treatment and views of LGBTQ+ people are more positive than one might think. Dr. Eddie Case (he/they) is an openly LGBTQ+ professor who has had nothing but good experiences on campus regarding his identity.
Case has been a Science Education Professor at Wingate for 12 years. He identifies as gay/queer and nonbinary. Being from North Carolina where LGBTQ+ people are heavily looked down upon, he did not know he was LGBTQ+ for a long time. He had some inklings but there was a major lack of representation in media so being gay was only portrayed as flamboyant and feminine, which he was not. “I saw Will from Will and Grace and that was what I thought you had to be like to be gay,” said Case.
Case did not fully come into his identity until he was 40 years old, after he had already had two children, and was married for 16 years – to a woman. He assumed nobody knew, but somehow his (now ex) wife found out and denied him access to their two young children the day before father’s day. “I contacted my attorney and had to go to court, which was– you know, but my parents wanted to come support me,” said Case. This was an issue as he had not yet told his parents exactly why he was not allowed to see his kids. “I kept telling them they didn’t have to come but they kept insisting,” he recalled.
He was worried about coming out to his parents as they were very religious. The court date was approaching quickly and he did not want them to find out from anyone but himself. The night before the court date, he told them. “My dad accepted me right away and my mom said she suspected and came to accept me,” Case said.
This all happened in 2009. 13 years later he says, “You never stop coming out. It’s an ongoing thing that you have to do every day.”
Dr. Case stayed in North Carolina despite the region’s stigma against LGBTQ+ people. After all, he had lived here for 40 years already and all of his family was here. He came to Wingate University after a higher-up at Western Carolina made a rude comment regarding his research, which was LGBTQ+ related.
Case knew that there may be some negativity at Wingate due to the baptist affiliation but opted to come here anyway. Part of the hiring process is to present your research, his being on LGBTQ+ students. “The people hiring me all had a really positive reaction,” said Case. “I mean, it was only two people but they liked it!” He remembers one of the two people, an elderly woman, saying that she was “sure there are probably a few LGBTQ+ students here.” He laughs about this memory, “She meant well.”
His involvement in making Wingate a more LGBTQ+ friendly campus started two years after he was hired. He implemented the “Safe Zone” stickers you may see on some professors’ office doors. These stickers signify that LGBTQ+ students can come to them without fear of judgment. The Safe Zone Project states that sometimes it is a signal to LGBTQ+ students that the professor is also LGBTQ+, but it is often used just to signify that they are an ally.
Four years into his career at Wingate, Case invited Delighted ToBeHere, to perform on campus. Delighted ToBeHere is a New York City-based drag queen who is originally from the Carolinas. She now performs at Wingate annually.
Case said it took him six years to be sure it was safe to come out at Wingate. He did so by sneaking it into a speech on the day after Donald Trump was elected president. “I was more open with grad students, so one year I had a 62-year-old student come tell me that he was gay and he admired my openness. Another student came to my office and wanted advice on how to be a gay Christian,” said Case, who shared these experiences with the crowd of his fellow professors, who all got the hint. “Several of them came up to me after and were very supportive. If anyone has been rude it hasn’t been to my face,” he states. He cannot recall a single incident on Wingate’s campus where he felt singled out, unsafe, or belittled due to his sexuality. “I receive more pushback on teaching evolution,” he laughed.
Case plans on continuing to make LGBTQ+ students feel safe and accepted. “I’d like to have an LGBTQ+ faculty group, but it always falls apart,” he said. Right now, he and the school are focusing on racism, trying to make the university as safe as possible for students of color, “We want to make this a good place for all minorities, but right now we’re focusing mainly on students of color and Muslim students. Racism is a problem here.”
As universities get more progressive, more LGBTQ+ professors are telling the world who they are, making it easier for students to do the same. “Wingate is a good place,” said Case, “Almost 13 years later and I still love working here.”