The Renegade Rip

Coming out in Bakersfield

Seth Nidever

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Editor’s note: This is the first story in a two-part series.

Ask him point-blank, and Jason Medlock will tell you he’s gay.

Then again, he doesn’t go around parading the fact. Like other Bakersfield College students, the 29-year-old liberal studies major carries a backpack crammed with books, worries about getting enough sleep and works part-time to help pay for school.

Look at his face, though, and you can see he’s been through some hard times.

Since coming out in 1993, Medlock’s life has been anything but average.

Out of the closet

Ten years ago, he was active in Canyon Hills Assembly of God Church as a member of the worship team. Like his Pentecostal parents, the church taught that homosexuality was wrong and practicing gays were going to hell. As a depressed teenager who didn’t want to lose his support network, Medlock got the message. He kept his orientation secret.

“I knew I was gay since I was a kid,” he said. “I didn’t come to terms with it until I was 19.”

Tired of putting on a front, he made the decision to embrace his homosexual tendencies. That meant a rejection of church teachings and the biblical passages they were based on.

“I don’t think being gay is a choice,” he said, “because why would I choose to be something that people spit on? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Medlock says he left the worship team voluntarily after a conversation with worship leader Duff Rowden in which Rowden said something to the effect that stepping down was a good idea.

He and his parents left the church shortly thereafter.

Rowden said he didn’t have any recollection of that conversation. He said that if Medlock believed the church was personally rejecting him, that belief was a misunderstanding of the church’s position.

“Sometimes people who have a propensity to feel (rejected) interpret the situation as a confirmation of their rejected status,” he said.

Reversals of fortune

After spending the 1994-1995 academic year enrolled in theater and music classes at BC, Medlock successfully auditioned for a music scholarship at Bethany College, a small Assembly of God school near Santa Cruz. In the fall of 1995, he packed his bags and headed north.

He said the scholarship was the only reason he decided to go.

“The only reason I went up there is because I went and auditioned for a music scholarship and they gave me a nice scholarship,” he said.

He hadn’t told school officials he was gay when they accepted him. When word of his orientation reached the administration, the dean called him into the office and confronted him. Medlock said that he was allowed to stay after he assured the dean he wasn’t an active homosexual.

Premarital sex, adultery and homosexual behavior are among the prohibited behaviors listed in the student handbook.

Then-Dean of Students Marla Campbell couldn’t be reached for comment, but current dean Marty Harris reiterated the student handbook prohibitions and added that the school doesn’t have a policy of either prying into students’ private lives or singling out homosexual behavior for disciplinary action.

Medlock said that although he was unaware of the school’s behavioral prohibitions when he enrolled, he wasn’t about to let the rules dictate his behavior. He also said he felt unfairly singled out.

“There were lots of other things going on, and they didn’t do anything about it,” he said.

He dropped out and returned to Bakersfield in 1997, where he found work at State Farm Insurance as a policy administrative assistant.

Two years later, life seemed good. His position at State Farm was solidifying into a career, he had a supportive network of friends, his mother was starting to come around, and he had just begun a promising relationship with a lover.

He was about to experience the toughest years of his life.

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