Sanger High alum says Christian college expelled him for being gay

The Fresno BeeMay 30, 2014 

Anthony Villarreal rose from the Sanger High track and field program to become the top distance runner for William Jessup University, only to be kicked out, he says, because he is gay.

But the private Christian college east of Sacramento disputed that Friday and stated it has a nondiscrimination policy, even when it comes to sexual orientation.

Villarreal, after revealing his story in a first-person account on outsports.com, detailed in a Friday interview with The Bee his frustrations over an abrupt dismissal that cost him his senior year.

"My motivation for writing this was to let others know that they shouldn't have to feel suppressed -- not only by a Christian university, but by friends, by family, by people," said Villarreal, 23. "To get more awareness out there of the struggles homosexuals go through.

"I got dismissed because I was a homosexual at William Jessup University. I was opening up to people. They knew that if I had enough power, I'd encourage others to open up about being homosexual. They didn't want that."

Messages left for cross country/track and field coach Parker Daniells and Athletic Director Mitch Pleis were not returned Friday. Instead, Eric Hogue, the university's chief development officer, read from a prepared statement.

"While university policy prohibits us from discussing private student matters, we do not discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation," Hogue said. "However, student participation in WJU is a voluntary association governed by a biblically based code of conduct for every student enrolled at the university."

Through letters that Villarreal said he received from the university, and that he included with his online post, it appears the school learned of Villarreal's sexual orientation and his live-in arrangement with boyfriend Chris Wright about a month after the runner was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence on July 9, 2013.

The arrest stemmed from what Villarreal said was only a loud argument when both he and Wright were dealing with other serious issues. Misdemeanor battery and vandalism charges were dismissed, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office.

The university, however, placed Villarreal on a 60-day probation, first citing the sexual misconduct/cohabitation policy and later for violent behavior toward another.

Villarreal was advised to seek new living arrangements, regularly meet with a school counselor and his coach, and sit out at least the first cross country meet of the season.

The university discourages all pre-marital living arrangements and sexual activity.

"Students who engage in unmarried heterosexual cohabitation or any homosexual/bisexual activity will be subject to judicial action," the school's student handbook states. "WJU seeks to support an environment of sexual purity based upon biblical standards that define appropriate sexual relationships as occurring within the context of a monogamous heterosexual marriage relationship."

Villarreal said he was attending all the required meetings and classes, though he continued to live with his boyfriend as he appealed the probation.

About a month after he received his first probationary letter, Villarreal received another on Sept. 9 that notified him of his dismissal "based on your behavior in violation of University expectations in regards to fighting or violent behavior and the subsequent violation of your student conduct contract dated Aug. 16, 2013."

"I signed that contract at the time in duress," Villarreal said Friday. "Plus, the university already knew I had been arrested when they placed me on probation in the first place. Why would they bring it up now?

"They first wanted to address my living situation. But after they realized they probably couldn't go after me because of my sexual orientation and they had no proof we weren't anything more than just roommates, they bring back up my arrest. Even though those charges were dropped."

Villarreal lost an appeal of his dismissal.

"It didn't matter I had proof that the charges had been dropped or that I submitted a statement from my boyfriend that said I never hit him -- they kicked me out and took away everything I'd been working for the past four years," Villarreal said. "My heart just sank. Looking back, maybe I should've kept my homosexuality in the closet. It's something I've struggled with my whole life.

"Just when I started feeling comfortable with who I was and told a few close friends, the arrest happened, the school pulled it out of me that I was gay. And then they cut all ties that I had."

He had little recourse beyond his appeals to the school. As a private university, William Jessup doesn't have to follow the same equal-protection rules that apply to public institutions such as Fresno State.

Villarreal's coming out tracks a recent trend of gay athletes revealing their sexual orientation -- among them Missouri defensive end Michael Sam and NBA veteran Jason Collins. Much of the mainstream feedback to those announcements was supportive, including from Missouri.

"Athletes coming out advances the same-sex marriage movement across the country as well as increases the overall support of equality," said Jason Scott, president of Gay Fresno. "One of the last hurdles we're facing are athletes coming out, because heterosexuality is so strong in sports.

"But I think it's a natural progression. It's good because it's going to move this issue forward, hopefully to a point where it's not a big deal anymore and homosexuality is freely accepted."

Villarreal qualified for last's year's NAIA national championship in the marathon. The 2009 Sanger graduate called finishing 26th in 2:40:49.60 the "individual highlight of my career."

But Villarreal said he hasn't been running much since his dismissal, instead working 70 hours a week across three jobs until he went on disability following an April car accident.

Villarreal said he still lives with his boyfriend, in a happy relationship. He hopes to transfer to Sacramento State or UC Davis next fall, though Villarreal is worried about how many of his units will transfer.

The last letter Villarreal received from William Jessup, on Sept. 11, 2013, stated he could apply for re-admission. Villarreal said he won't go back.

"I'm not going to waste my time applying," Villarreal said. "I know what they're going to say.

"Things happen for a reason. I would like to see the student body rise up over the university and stop letting the university control them. I hope being gay becomes more socially accepted in all of society."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6362, bjanteola@fresnobee.com or @Banteola_TheBee on Twitter.

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