Baylor to host discussion LGBTQ Christian author Justin Lee

Waco Tribune | Rhiannon Saegert | September 16, 2019

A leading proponent of building bridges between churches and LGBTQ Christians will speak Tuesday at Baylor University, where debates over sexuality and faith have come to the forefront.

The Baylor School of Social Work is hosting a discussion with Justin Lee, a nationally known author and founder of the Gay Christian Network.

Lee will speak at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on the fifth floor of the Cashion Academic Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Lee, author of “Torn” and “Talking Across the Divide,” has been writing about his experiences as a gay Christian since the late ‘90s. He founded the Gay Christian Network, now called the Q Christian Fellowship, in 2001, later parting with the organization in 2017. In his Baylor appearance he aims to discuss the way the Christian churches have handled LGBTQ issues in the past and how to better address them in the present.

“I’m not coming to give a theological talk on same-sex marriage or anything like that,” Lee said in an interview Monday. “My goal is to be able to speak to Christians on all sides of the theological disagreements and just focus on how we take care of people who are, right now, not always being cared for.”

He said debates about theology can often turn abstract, but he wants to focus more on students’ tangible experiences.

“We have to stop and say ‘What does this mean for the person sitting in the pews, for the student who is here at Baylor who is LGBTQ or who is wrestling with questions?’ “ Lee said. “What does all this mean for that person, realistically? What does it mean for Christian institutions and individuals in terms of how we treat people better?”

Lee said in his experience, it’s important for LGBTQ students to have ample opportunity to discuss their lives the way anyone would. Lee said after growing up Southern Baptist, speaking with other LGBTQ students in college and realizing he wasn’t the only one was crucial to him.

“For many LGBTQ students coming from conservative Christian homes, they’re already bringing a lot of cultural baggage and loneliness from growing up in the church,” Lee said. “It can be very difficult to work through all of that in a place like Baylor.”

Lee said there’s been rapid culture shifts in the way people think about and understand gender and sexuality within the last decade.

“It’s made people realize there’s a lot of people going through things they never knew they were going through who haven’t been well-served by the church in these areas,” Lee said. “That has really set off a lot of questions for Christians and Christian institutions that we haven’t really been focusing on for much of the church’s history.”

He said in his experience, Christian institutions can best navigate those questions when LGBTQ people whose lives will be impacted are involved in every level of the discussion.

“Those are not easy questions to work through, but I think it’s going to be really important that we not treat this as an issue to be resolved in the absence of human beings, but that we recognize that all of these conversations are ultimately about the lives of these LGBTQ students,” Lee said.

Lee’s appearance is part of Baylor’s 2019-2020 Conversation Series, which focuses on civil conversation about difficult topics. Diana R. Garland School of Social Work Dean Jon Singletary said Lee is not the first LGBTQ speaker at Baylor, but he may be the first to speak in an open venue rather than as part of a single class’ curriculum.

“This is the first time we’ve had someone with his profile at an event that is university-wide and really community-wide to promote a much larger conversation about our understandings of sexuality and as a way of wrestling with how to support our LGBTQ students,” Singletary said.

Singletary said the invitation was partially in recognition of LGBTQ students’ needs, which have been the subject of ongoing discussion since an open letter this spring calling for official recognition of Baylor’s unofficial LGBTQ student group, Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY. The petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures, including those of Baylor alumni, donors and professors.

“It’s all part of how we talk about difficult issues, whether it’s part of our policy where there’s disagreement or part of the larger church conversation that it’s connected to, or values differences,” Singletary said.

Singletary said officials the School of Social Work have been encouraged by the support they’ve received. He said bringing in a speaker like Lee fits the school’s goal of educating future social workers who can work with people whose experiences may differ from their own.

“The university has been largely supportive of it,” Singletary said. “Now we know there’s a number of people who wouldn’t want us to be doing this, and disagreement, and we feel like there are conversations that will come about as a result of this.”

GAY Outreach Chair Hayden Evans said his group is barred from inviting speakers themselves as an unofficial student group.

“I’m hopeful that with Justin Lee coming to campus … that his talk will spur more action for others to gain a better understanding of the dynamic between Christianity and LGBTQ+ persons and understand that they’re not separate, they can be integrated and then hopefully people will be more supportive in our discussions and in our push for the university to recognize the need, in terms of safety and in terms of community, for LGBTQ + persons on campus,” he said.

Evans said the group’s charter was officially rejected by the Department of Student Life earlier this month, as it has been several times in recent years. A Baylor spokesperson confirmed that the charter had been rejected.

After Charter Denial, Baylor LGBTQ Group Pushes Forward

Dallas Observer | SILAS ALLEN | SEPTEMBER 16, 2019

For the last eight years, a group of Baylor University students has been trying to persuade the school to allow them to form an LGBTQ student group.

Earlier this month, the group got an official answer from the university. It wasn't the one they'd hoped for.

Baylor officials notified members of the student group Gamma Alpha Upsilon — or GAY — on Sept. 6 that the university was denying the group's request for a charter. A charter represents official recognition from the university, which would give the group access to student activity funds, allow them to reserve space on campus for meetings and allow them to advertise events on campus.

That notification came just days after Baylor President Linda Livingstone released a statement on human sexuality on the university's website. In it, Livingstone wrote that the university "affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God."

"Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm," Livingstone wrote. "Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching."

Despite that denial, the group will continue trying to pressure the university to give it official recognition, said Anna Conner, a Baylor senior and Gamma Alpha Upsilon president. Conner, a Houston native, thinks the university is trying to wait the group out. Most of the group's leaders will be graduating in the next year or two, and she suspects university officials hope the matter will die once those students leave campus.

"It doesn't seem like they plan on making any action, at least not while I'm here," Conner said.

In an Aug. 27 email to students, faculty and staff, Livingstone said that, although the university's policy on human sexuality remains unchanged, the university can do more to support its LGBTQ students. Livingstone said university officials began holding conversations in the summer of 2018 about how the university could better support underrepresented groups, including LGBT students.

Out of those conversations came a number of themes, she said: the need for better training on how to support LGBTQ students; the need for opportunities for civil discussions about LGBTQ issues; and the need to establish trust with LGBTQ students so that they feel comfortable seeking out the resources the university offers.

"Meanwhile, as we begin the fall semester, we pledge to continue these ongoing conversations with faculty, students, staff, alumni and members of our LGBTQ community and to provide support for all of our students in keeping with Baylor’s Christian mission," Livingstone wrote. "We are all part of the Baylor Family and are called by Christ to love one another."

Gamma Alpha Upsilon was founded in 2011 under the name Sexual Identity Forum. Since then, its leaders have been seeking official recognition from the university. But for eight years, the university has denied the group a charter.

Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university, was founded by the Dallas-based Baptist General Convention of Texas. For decades, the university's student code of conduct banned "homosexual acts," calling them "a misuse of God's gift." Then, in 2015, the Baylor Board of Regents quietly lifted that ban. LGBTQ rights advocates celebrated the change, calling it a step in the right direction.

A flyer for a campus speech by conservative commentator Matt Walsh featured an LGBTQ flag with a hammer and sickle superimposed over it.

But Conner, 21, said unequal treatment of LGBTQ students has persisted since then. In April, Baylor Young Americans for Freedom, a university-approved conservative student group, hosted a lecture by Matt Walsh, a commentator for the conservative website The Daily Wire. Walsh's speech was titled "Why the Left Has Set Out to Redefine Life, Gender and Marriage." The group posted promotional flyers on campus bearing the LGBTQ rainbow flag with a hammer and sickle superimposed over it.

Last week, the group announced it will host a guest lecture from Daily Wire editor in chief Ben Shapiro in November. An opponent of LGBTQ rights, Shapiro has warned that “the gay marriage caucus” is “utilizing the law as a baton to club wrong-thinking religious people into acceptance of homosexuality." He is especially hostile to transgender people, who he says are suffering from mental illness.

Conner said the group doesn't object in principle to people like Shapiro and Walsh being able to speak on campus. But if those views are allowed an audience at Baylor, she thinks Gamma Alpha Upsilon deserves equal treatment and an equal platform.

"It seems reasonable, but apparently it's not," she said.

Lori Fogleman, a Baylor spokeswoman, noted that the university is hosting a conversation series during the fall semester focusing on civil discourse. On Tuesday, Christian LGBTQ author Justin Lee will give a speech at Baylor's Cashion Academic Center titled "Christianity and LGBTQ+ Persons."

Last April, more than 3,000 people signed a petition asking the university to recognize Gamma Alpha Upsilon. Among the signatories were current students, alumni and current and former faculty members. Conner said most of the faculty, including religion professors, have been openly supportive of the organization. A few university officials whose positions precluded them from signing the petition contacted members of the group to offer their support, she said.

But there's also an outspoken minority on campus that's hostile to the organization, she said. Mostly those people just shout ugly slurs, she said. But some of the group's members have been threatened on campus and told not to go to group meetings, she said. In one case, one of the group's members was walking to her car after finishing a late-night shift at a campus job when she noticed someone was following her, Conner said.

Incidents like those are examples of why an LGBTQ group is needed at Baylor, Conner said. The university can be an uncomfortable place for LGBTQ students, she said. Many of them feel isolated and alone, nervous about having come to Baylor in the first place. Having a recognized student group that can make those students know they're welcome would help allay some of those feelings.

Although the group still doesn't have the official recognition it had hoped for, Conner said it's been encouraging to see the support LGBTQ students have received on campus — even if that support hasn't come from the university's administration.

"For the most part," she said, "Baylor is very welcoming."

New semester, same frustrations for LGBTQ students at Baylor

Houston Chronicle | Brittany Britto | September 5, 2019

It may be the start of a new semester, but frustrations largely remain the same for many LGBTQ students at Baylor University.

After months of putting pressure on Baylor administration and its Board of Regents to meet with and formally recognize its LGBTQ student group, Gamma Alpha Upsilon, the students finally received a response from University President Linda Livingstone, but it wasn’t the one that they had hoped for, according to Hayden Evans, a second-year graduate student, outreach chair and treasurer for the group.

In a letter addressed to the university community on Aug. 27, Livingstone stated that “Baylor is committed to providing a loving and caring community for all students — including our LGBTQ students.”

But Livingstone pointed to the university’s newly launched webpage, which includes its human sexuality statement and sexual conduct policy in the hope of conveying the “university’s values and expectations.”

On HoustonChronicle.com: More than 3,000 petition for Baylor to recognize LGBTQ student group

The statement notes that “the university affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God” and that “Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm.” Its sexual conduct policy also states that it is “expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching,” which include “heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior.”

Livingstone further emphasized that the university is in compliance with Title IX as well as state and federal regulations in terms of the services and support it provides for LGBTQ students.

She also pointed to multiple resources provided for LGBTQ students through school organizations, including the Title IX office, the Chaplain’s Office and Spiritual Life, and its Counseling Center, which Livingstone noted does not practice or condone conversion therapy. The president also noted that students are not disciplined or expelled for same-sex attraction.

“With this said, we understand that we must do more to demonstrate love and support for our students who identify as LGBTQ,” Livingstone wrote, adding that it has been suggested that the university provide “more robust and more specific training” for students, faculty and staff in regard to LGBTQ students, and more opportunities for civil dialogue.

“And, perhaps most importantly,” she wrote, “we need to establish trust with our LGBTQ students so that, among other things, they might seek out the resources provided by Baylor — all of which must be done as a faithful expression of our Christian mission.”

Despite the lengthy letter, many LGBTQ students and alumni said they found Livingstone’s statement disingenuous.

“I’m appreciative of her that she made the statement at all and so publicly,” Evans said. Livingstone’s letter, he said, has allowed people to see some of the fight Gamma Alpha Upsilon has gone through to be recognized and included as a group on campus since its inception in 2011 as the Sexuality Identity Forum.

“But,” Evans added, “I also think it’s a hollow response.”

Justin Davis from Washington state graduated from Baylor in 2009 and agreed with Evans. He said little has changed from his time at the university a decade ago.

“To me, it indicates when these policies become more targeted, but less specific, they’re basically meant to discourage dissent, protest or advocacy,” Davis said.

“I think they’re soft-pedaling this ‘loving and caring community’ thing without taking actual steps.”

On HoustonChronicle.com: Baylor drops longstanding ban on ‘homosexual acts’

The private Baptist university’s refusal to recognize Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or “GAY” in Greek letters, as an official student group has prevented them from receiving certain privileges, including the opportunity to advertise events on campus, reserve university spaces for meetings, and to receive funding through the student government.

In May, more than 3,000 Baylor University alumni, students, staff and former faculty signed a petition addressed to university officials supporting the group’s fight to be recognized. Since then, Gamma Alpha Upsilon has requested to meet with the university’s Board of Regents — the entity that Livingstone said established its human sexuality policy. That request was declined.

Rumors of the school’s alleged loose ties to conversion therapy — treatments that are supposed to turn gay people straight — have also floated around among Baylor’s LGBTQ community. They involve links between Dennis Wiles, a member of the university’s Board of Regents, vice chair of the student life committee, and pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington, and his partner church Living Hope Ministries.

Living Hope Ministries, described on its website as “a Christ-centered, Biblical world-view of sexual expression rooted in one man and one woman in a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage for life.” hosts a 20-week “intensive, discipleship program” designed to “assist those who have sexual and relational struggles of any kind in their life.”

Late last year, Apple pulled a Living Hope Ministries app from its online store, NBC News reported at the time. And in March, Google shut down a Living Hope Ministries app that promoted conversion therapy, according to reports by Business Insider.

But Jason Cook, a spokesman at Baylor, said “Dr. Wiles has indicated Living Hope Ministries does not do conversion therapy,” adding that the church is a “discipleship, peer-based ministry.”

Cook also emphasized that although Wiles, one of 41 members of Baylor’s Board of Regents, is vice chair of the university’s student life division, Wiles still has to consult and work with the rest of the board to make decisions.

“It’s unfair to cherry-pick an alleged belief of motive, and then ascribe them to the entire board,” Cook said, adding that there are many diverse-points of views on the board, some of which are LGBTQ-affirming.

“There’s a lot of misinformation that is intentionally being spread regarding this issue. We’re trying to be very clear and keep this on a factual-based discussion,” Cook said. “We’re trying to provide clarity regarding the university’s practices and we have demonstrated that we are willing to discuss the issues that our LGBTQ students face. That’s significant progress.”

Evans, the outreach chair and treasurer of the campus group, countered that saying Baylor’s administration is “doing minimal, if any, changes here at the university.”

In July, Evans attempted to “(go) up the chain of commands” by emailing the Big 12 and NCAA organizations in hopes that they could push Baylor to be more inclusive and have a conversation, but Evans said both organizations have said that the university is in compliance with their standards. A spokesman for the Big 12 conference declined to comment in response to Houston Chronicle’s requests, and the NCAA never responded to inquiries.

Since then, there have been some new developments.

Evans said that an open discussion — likely the first to ever take place between university administration and Gamma Alpha Upsilon — will happen soon. And on Sept. 17, Justin Lee, an author and founder of a Christian LGBTQ organization, will speak at the university’s Cashion Academic Center — in an event hosted by the university’s School of Social Work.

Still, Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore, and Tracy Teaff, the Baylor alumni who authored the letter that received 3,000 signatures calling for Baylor’s inclusion of LGBTQ students, said in a statement that though dialogue is a part of academic life and can be useful, “this is an effort about real people who are in the Baylor family living their lives as dialogue about their civil rights is happening around them.”

“Until all members of the Baylor family, including LGBTQ+ people, are afforded equal opportunities to participate fully in campus life, our work is not done,” the alumni group told the Chronicle.

“We and thousands of others look forward to helping Baylor move forward and urge it to adopt policies that are in line with its academic and athletic peers.”

Baylor president's statement on LGBTQ issues stops short of student demands

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone announced this week that the university will take steps to better support LGBTQ students, but recognizing unofficial LGBTQ student groups is not part of the plan. 

In an email Tuesday to students, faculty and staff, Livingstone stated Baylor students will not face disciplinary action for their sexual identity, and said that Baylor counselors do not practice or condone so-called conversion or reparative therapy to change their orientation.

Baylor officials have faced pressure in recent months from students and alumni who have petitioned them to recognize LGBTQ student organizations, and Baylor regents discussed related issues at a retreat this summer.

“During the course of these conversations, it has become evident to us that there are many misperceptions regarding Baylor’s stance on human sexuality and that there is more we can do to support our LGBTQ students,” Livingstone said in the statement Tuesday.

Baylor’s website now contains a page stating the university's LGBTQ resources are  compliant with Title IX, the federal law that bars gender discrimination on campus. The page states that students are not expelled or disciplined for same-sex attraction. In a frequently asked questions section, the site reiterates Baylor's official statement on human sexuality, which reads:

“The University affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God. Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm.” 

The page also states LGBTQ students seeking community support can find it through Baylor's counseling center, Baylor's Bias Response Team or the Department of Spiritual Life. 

“With this said, we understand that we must do more to demonstrate love and support for our students who identify as LGBTQ,” Livingstone's statement continues. “A common theme emerging from all of the aforementioned conversations is the need for us to provide more robust and more specific training for students, faculty and staff in loving, caring for and supporting our LGBTQ students.”

The unofficial student group Gamma Alpha Upsilon, formerly known as SIF, said in a statement that their members appreciate the university's efforts, but that Baylor still has not addressed issues they raised during the previous semester.

"We wish to point out that they have continued to ignore our requests and refuse to talk with us about the issues we face as LGBTQ+ students," they stated. "We have clearly outlined what issues we have found, in the petition written in April, that we wish to be addressed. In the email, the president has expressed interest in continuing the conversation and we would greatly appreciate the ability to establish this dialogue with her and other Baylor administration."

Kyle Desrosiers, a Baylor student who wrote about the issue in a Tribune-Herald guest column, called the statement a “callous lack of action.”

“Though President Livingstone and the Baylor administration think that current resources, which most LGBTQ students don't currently trust to meet their needs, are enough, LGBTQ students are constantly faced with harassment and hatred at Baylor in many ways small and great,” Desrosiers said. “Additionally, LGBTQ persons cannot and have never been able to participate in the Baylor community as fully as straight students.”

BU Bears for All founders Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore, and Tracy Teaff, who authored an open letter calling for recognition of Baylor’s unofficial LGBT student groups that gained more than 3,000 signatures, released a statement in response.

“Dialogue is part of academic life and can be useful," they stated. "At the end of the day, this is an effort about real people who are in the Baylor family living their lives as dialogue about their civil rights is happening around them.

“Until all members of the Baylor family, including LGBTQ+ people, are afforded equal opportunities to participate fully in campus life, our work is not done. We and thousands of others look forward to helping Baylor move forward and urge it to adopt policies that are in line with its academic and athletic peers.”

Baylor president releases 'human sexuality statement' ahead of fall semester

KCEN TV | Paris Jones | August 27, 2019

The statement cites an unchanged Baylor policy calling "homosexual behavior" and sex outside of heterosexual marriage "temptations to deviate" from biblical norms.

Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone released a statement on human sexuality on the university website Tuesday, months after a campus LGBTQ group put in a charter request to give the organization official university recognition.

Livingstone began her statement emphasizing Baylor's commitment to all students.

"Let me be crystal clear: Baylor is committed to providing a loving and caring community for all students – including our LGBTQ students," Livingstone wrote.

She then announced the launch of Baylor's Human Sexuality Statement web page, which includes the university's unchanged statement on sexuality under the sexuality policy. 

The statement calls both "homosexual behavior" and sex outside of heterosexual marriage "temptations to deviate" from the biblical norms of "purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman."

The statement also says Baylor students will not be part of groups promoting ideas that go against those norms.

"It is expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching," the statement reads.

Livingstone said the university remains in compliance with anti-discrimination laws.

"In order to provide additional clarity, I would like to set forth a few facts: 

  • Baylor is in compliance with Title IX and other federal and state regulations regarding the services and the support we provide to our LGBTQ students.

  • Students are not disciplined or expelled from Baylor for same-sex attraction.

  • In addition to the ongoing presence of many caring, trusted faculty and staff members, Baylor provides resources for LGBTQ students through the Title IX Office, Bias Response Team, Chaplain’s Office and Spiritual Life, and the Counseling Center.

  • Baylor counselors do not practice or condone conversion or reparative therapy."

The Human Sexuality Statement encourages students "struggling with these issues" to call the university's Spiritual Life Office or the Baylor University Counseling Center.

Livingstone closed her statement with the promise of conversation going into the fall semester.

"As we begin the fall semester, we pledge to continue these ongoing conversations with faculty, students, staff, alumni and members of our LGBTQ community and to provide support for all of our students in keeping with Baylor’s Christian mission," Livingstone wrote.

BU president: ‘We need to establish trust with our LGBTQ students’

KWTX | August 27, 2019

While Baylor’s policy affirming “singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm” remains unchanged, the school “is committed to providing a loving and caring community for all students – including our LGBTQ students," university President Dr. Linda Livingstone said in a letter to students and faculty and staff Tuesday.

The letter comes as the unofficial LBGTQ group, Gamma Alpha Upsilon, tries again to win an official charter, which the student newspaper, The Baylor Lariat, reports, would allow the organization to rent Student Union Building rooms for meetings and to advertise on campus.

“Beginning in summer 2018, the University initiated conversations about how we could better support all under-represented students on our campus, including those who identify as LGBTQ,” Livingstone said in the letter.

“During the course of these conversations, it has become evident to us that there are many misperceptions regarding Baylor’s stance on human sexuality and that there is more we can do to support our LGBTQ students,” she wrote.

“Additionally, we have found, as you might imagine, that this extremely complex issue evokes a wide range of strong emotions and interpretations both within and beyond the Christian community.”

The university unveiled a webpage on Tuesday that includes the university’s Statement on Human Sexuality as well as the school’s sexual conduct policy.

The university does not discipline or expel students for same-sex attraction, but does provide resources for LGBTZ students through the Title IX Office, Bias Response Team, Chaplain’s Office and Spiritual Life and the Counseling Center, Livingstone said in the letter.

Counselors don’t practice or condone conversion therapy, she said.

“With this said, we understand that we must do more to demonstrate love and support for our students who identify as LGBTQ,” Livingstone said.

“A common theme emerging from all of the aforementioned conversations is the need for us to provide more robust and more specific training for students, faculty and staff in loving, caring for and supporting our LGBTQ students,” she said.

“It also became clear that we need to provide additional opportunities for our University community to listen to each other and discuss such matters in a civil, academic and supportive environment, as they are important to our faith and society. And, perhaps most importantly, we need to establish trust with our LGBTQ students so that, among other things, they might seek out the resources provided by Baylor, all of which must be done as a faithful expression of our Christian mission.”

New web page affirms university stance on sexuality

Baylor Lariat | Matthew Muir | August 27, 2019

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone voiced Baylor’s support for LGBTQ students but left university policy unchanged in a statement reaffirming the university’s views on human sexuality on Tuesday.

Baylor’s official stance affirms the school’s biblical view on human sexuality, including the view of both “heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior” as deviations from the norm. In the statement sent via email to students, faculty and staff yesterday, Livingstone responded to “an increased number of questions” regarding Baylor’s positions on sexuality and LGBTQ issues with a new web page on the Baylor website answering frequently-asked questions.

In her statement, Livingstone also said Baylor “must do more to demonstrate love and support for our students who identify as LGBTQ,” though no policy changes were announced.

Among the Baylor LGBTQ community, reactions were mixed. Hayden Evans, a Master’s student from Searcy, Ark. said he saw the statement as a sign of progress.

“I’m very thankful for Dr. Livingstone, for at least [contributing] to this conversation and sending this email,” Evans said. “[The administration seems] very willing to continue the conversation.”

Evans also said a conversation alone wasn’t enough and called for real change.

“You can only say that you’re loving and caring so many times,” Evans said. “You’re still not allowing equal representation or equal voice or equal platform at the university.”

Others disagreed with Baylor’s biblical reasoning for its stance on sexuality. Plano senior Elizabeth Benton, president of the unofficial LGBTQ group Gamma Alpha Upsilon, said Baylor’s Baptist faith and acceptance of LGBTQ students should not be mutually exclusive.

“I grew up in the Baptist church, and I still consider myself a Baptist. But I also consider myself a part of the LGBTQ community, and I have never felt more in-tune with my faith,” Benton said.

For more information, view Baylor’s web page on the topic.

LGBTQ group sets sights on official charter

Baylor Lariat | Carson Lewis | August 23, 2019

The group is composed of Baylor students, has a president and officer positions and meets weekly for group activities. It functions in the same way as many Baylor clubs with activities like discussions and bowling nights. But this group of students can’t claim to have what other organizations have: an official charter from the university. That’s what they want to change.

Gamma Alpha Upsilon (ΓAY), an unofficial LGBTQ group on campus, is looking to the new semester with hopes of becoming an official chartered organization. Formerly known as SIF (Sexual Identity Forum), Gamma has functioned on campus since 2011 as an independent group with the purpose of giving a home to LGBTQ Baylor students and allies.

Members in the group expressed their appreciation and surprise last year from the support given to a letter sent by three Baylor alumni to administration which proposed acceptance for LGBTQ groups on campus.

“We ask that the university reconsider its exclusion of student organizations that are designed to provide a community for individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (“LGBTQ”) and allied community,” part of the letter read. The letter accumulated over 3,200 signatures from Baylor students, faculty, alumni and supporters who agreed with the message.

Plano senior Elizabeth Benton, president of Gamma, described the group’s positive reaction to the news last semester.

“It’s nice to know that even people outside of Baylor support us… I honestly didn’t think anybody would care about this, really, besides LGBT people,” Benton said. “It’s so gratifying to hear people talk about that and to meet alumni that were LGBT at Baylor and want to help out. It’s absolutely amazing.”

The group used to meet weekly at 8 p.m. Thursdays at Bill Daniel Student Union Building but will meet away from their usual spot this semester, choosing instead Seventh and James Baptist Church.

Despite having a functional home for the group in the SUB next to Common Grounds, several members of Gamma said they’ve found reasons to move their meetings off campus while the group is unchartered.

Searcy, Ark., grad student Hayden Evans, Gamma’s treasurer, described some of the problems that the group had with the location.

“It’s very, very loud. They typically play music, and of course there’s tons of students all around talking and going about their day. It’s very distracting for us the whole meeting, especially when we invite people from outside the university to speak,” Evans said. “Also, people are uncertain about how they will be perceived… some people don’t come because they are afraid of the repercussions of them being seen there. We’re trying to move to a more private area.”

Benton echoed the statement made by Evans, saying that some prospective members of Gamma felt that the location wasn’t as private as they would have liked.

“I’ve talked to some people who have been threatened if they go to Gamma meetings,” Benton said. “There are people I know, people I talked to, who would come to our meetings and they just stopped coming. I asked, ‘Why don’t you come anymore?’ [They] would be threatened. They seemed scared. This happens a lot actually.”

As an official chartered organization at Baylor, Gamma would be able to rent rooms from the SUB for their meetings and events and advertise on campus to prospective members during events like fall semester’s Late Night.

Houston senior Anna Conner, vice president of Gamma, and other group members insist that being official would greatly help them in their mission to provide a safe space for members of the LGBTQ community on Baylor’s campus.

“People have a perception of what we’re trying to do. They think that we’re trying to go in and rip up this tradition that Baylor has and say, ‘No, we’re no longer a Christian university, you have to accept us because it’s 2019 and everyone needs to change,’” Conner said. “What we’re trying to do is create a space where people can have a conversation, maybe learn a few things and meet new people that have different viewpoints. The biggest challenge [this year] will be to get people to understand that.”

In a July 24 Office of the President email, Jerry K. Clements, chair of the Board of Regents, and president Dr. Linda Livingstone expressed that the board seeks to continue discussion about how to best include and provide support for LGBTQ students.

“The Board continued discussions that began at last summer’s retreat about providing a loving and caring community for all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ,” the email read. “This is an issue with which many faith-based colleges and universities – and our churches – struggle. We believe that Baylor is in a unique position to meet the needs of our LGBTQ students because of our Christian mission and the significant campus-wide support we already provide all students.”

Students ask Big 12, NCAA to examine Baylor's LGBT policies

Waco Tribune | Rhiannon Saegert | August 2, 2019

Baylor students have written letters to both the Big 12 Conference and the NCAA, asking the organizations to evaluate the university’s treatment of LGBTQ students.

“We write to you as current LGBTQ+ and allied Baylor University students and recent graduates who have been engaged in efforts to ensure that Baylor University’s campus is safe, secure, and hospitable to LGBTQ+ students,” both letters begin.

The authors of the letters include members of Gamma Alpha Upsilon, an unofficial student group that has been seeking recognition from the university since last year, as well as other current students and recent graduates.

“In recent months, LGBTQ+ students have faced particular targeting and harassment on Baylor’s campus, leading thousands of people with connections to Baylor University — alumni, students, parents, current and former faculty members, former trustees, ministers, and faith leaders — to ask that the university reverse its course of discrimination against LGBTQ+ students,” the letters state.

Both letters request that the entities assess Baylor for Title IX compliance in reference to LGBTQ students and closely examine Baylor’s treatment of them as a whole. A Baylor spokesperson said the university is fully compliant with Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of sex.

“Baylor is committed to providing a loving and caring community for all students, including those who identify as LGBTQ,” the spokesperson said. “We believe that Baylor is in a unique position to meet the needs of our LGBTQ students because of our Christian mission and the significant campuswide support we already provide to all students.”

The letters come just on the heels of Baylor’s Board of Regents’ meeting with psychologist Janet B. Dean on the subject of LGBTQ students. During a press conference after the meeting, university President Linda Livingstone said Dean was picked because she has spoken at Baylor before and has studied the experiences of LGBTQ students on Christian college campuses for years.

Dean did not respond to requests for comment for this article. “Listening to Sexual Minorities,” a book Dean co-authored, summarizes years of research on the topic and personal accounts from gay, lesbian and bisexual students at Christian colleges.

The book discusses three frameworks for examining the topic: an “integrity” model focused on changing sexual orientation, a “disability” model treating LGBTQ identities as a condition to be managed, or an affirming “diversity” framework. The book does not directly mention so-called conversion therapy, which has been discredited, but makes repeated references to “healing” sexual orientation through prayer.

“Perhaps Christian Communities would do well to reflect on ways to integrate the best of each of these three lenses for healthy, holistic identity development,” the book states. “We haven’t yet seen too many examples of such an integration of frameworks, but we see the need.”

Kyle Desrosiers, a senior in Baylor’s Honors College, wrote Regent Chairwoman Jerry Clements and Livingstone a letter criticizing the decision to bring in Dean two days before the meeting she attended. By chance, he had attended a presentation she gave at Baylor earlier this year and said he found Dean’s perspective disturbing.

“Her anecdotal evidence was stories about people who were queer on Christian campuses, but because of pressure from the church or what they call Christianity, had chosen to give up their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Desrosiers said. “It was very disturbing, because that was the only time I’d heard of any kind of LGBTQ event at Baylor.”

In the meantime, conversations continue far from Baylor campus. BU Bears For All, an organization formed by the authors of an open letter pushing for recognition of LGBTQ student groups at Baylor, is seeking nonprofit status with the goal of pursuing policy changes at Baylor.

The authors of the open letter, Baylor alumni Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff, said to end discrimination on campus, the university would have to make tangible policy changes.

“It means encouraging (as opposed to discouraging) faculty and others on campus to be vocal in their support of LGBTQ+ students,” they said in a statement. “It means allowing LGBTQ+ students to organize officially and to participate in the life of the campus in all ways that other students are permitted to and to ensure that no student is deprived of any opportunity as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Emerging Voices | Baylor Loves LGBTQ+ Students – To a Point

Ethics Daily | Madeline Sneed | July 11, 2019

The Baylor University community is divided over inclusion for LGBTQ+ students on campus.

Two petitions have come out of the conflict: one favors preserving Baylor’s nonaffirming stance of LGBTQ student groups with 110 signatures; the other asks Baylor to recognize LGBTQ student groups and to allow them to meet on campus with more than 3,200 signatures.

In response to the outpouring of support from the Baylor community for LGBTQ students, the Texas Tribune reported that Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media and public relations, said “the 3,200 signatures represent about 2% of the school’s students, faculty, staff and living alumni.”

The 110 signatures were given neither a percentage nor a dismissive comment.

KWTX-TV reported that Baylor issued an official statement regarding Baylor’s nonaffirming policies for LGBTQ+ students, which said Baylor is “focused on how we love and care for all our students so they have a healthy, safe and nurturing learning environment” and that they “believe this can be done both inside and outside of officially recognized student organizations.”

Baylor’s Statement on Human Sexuality reads, in part, “Temptations to deviate from this [biblical] norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

Essentially, Baylor believes they can support and love LGBTQ+ students while separating them from student life.

With this response, Baylor is saying to their queer students, “We love you – to a point. We would love you more if you could clone yourselves to be like us, think like us, love like us. We will love you as long as you don’t seek community. We will love you from a distance. We will love you if we cannot see you.”

As I interpret it, the love of Christ does not have conditions. As it stands now, Baylor is presenting love to their queer students with an asterisk.

In a personal essay I published with The Salve, I detailed how harmful the nonaffirming policies were for me as a closeted lesbian at Baylor.

The most damaging part of such policies? They made me feel like I was incapable of loving and being loved.

The most important commandments of Christ – to love God and love others – seemed fundamentally impossible to me because institutions like Baylor made me feel like I was broken. Like I was undeserving. Like I could never be enough.

Their commitment to tradition, to being perceived as righteous, made me feel like everything in me was wrong.

I’ve grown a lot since I left Baylor. I’ve had to learn to be brave, to be vulnerable, to stop hiding a fundamental part of who I am.

Yet, in so many ways, I learned how to love at Baylor. So much of who I am is because of the community at the university: the people, the classes, the place.

But a key part of me, the part wired for romantic love, could never come out of hiding there. The policies in place instilled in me a deep sense of shame for how I was born. For how I was created to love.

When I look back at my memories of Baylor, they are tinted with a perpetual shadow of shame, anger and darkness knowing that I wasn’t allowed to be fully myself. That, in the name of Jesus, I was not fully loved because I was different.

To hear Baylor say they want to love their LGBTQ+ students while preventing them from creating their own student groups is almost laughable. Love cannot live alongside such rejection.

It’s impossible to love someone when you’re not listening to them. And Baylor LGBTQ+ students are speaking very clearly: They want to be seen, to be given official community status on their campus.

But Baylor isn’t listening. When they say that LGBTQ+ students can have their own separate committees and groups outside of campus life, they are isolating those students.

It is a “separate but equal” policy – an expressed equal love for all students that keeps LGBTQ+ groups separate through lack of recognition – grounded in discrimination.

How can Baylor hope to break through to that next plane of achievement, the one that is so dependent upon their students growing, discovering and prospering at their university, if they don’t allow all of their students to be seen and loved and supported?

Baylor may insist on moving forward with their “separate but equal” stance when it comes to their LGBTQ+ students.

If they do, they are sending a clear message: It is more important to be traditional than it is to be loving. To protect policies instead of people. To promote conformity instead of accepting individuality.

I cannot think of anything less in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ, who listened to, wept with and healed those on the outskirts of society.

His message has always been about love, compassion, softness, listening; changing when it’s easier to stay the same, abandoning wealth when it feels necessary to maintain funding, and waking up when it’s so much more comfortable to stay sleeping.

If Baylor loses sight of this calling, they have lost sight of Christ.


Pressuring Christian Universities to Be Affirming

Baylor students are trying to secure the LGBTQ support I wish I had when I was a student there

The Salve | Madeline Kay Sneed | July 1, 2019

I’m not sure what to say when people ask me about God.

It’s not a common conversation, especially on the East Coast, where I now live. The subject rarely comes up. When some people find out I went to Baylor University, the largest Baptist university in the world, they make their assumptions about my faith. When they find out I’m a lesbian, their assumptions are undone and replaced with another about my absence of faith.

To be from Texas, to be a lesbian, to be a Christian; it’s too contradictory, too confusing. The Baptist schools I went to never made an effort to question this notion of contradiction. If you’re a Christian, you’re saved. If you’re queer, you’re damned.

Recently, more than 3,000 Baylor University alumni, students, and faculty signed a petition in support of Gamma Alpha Upsilon, an LGBTQ+ student group at the university. The university has consistently denied the group official recognition because of Baylor’s human sexuality statement, which says, in part, that “Temptations to deviate from this [biblical] norm include both heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

The petition was launched in response to a university-approved event held by the Baylor Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), who hosted Matt Walsh on campus. Walsh is an online political blogger for Daily Wire who regularly argues against left-leaning ideologies and policies. He often uses his platform to diminish and mock the experiences of LGBTQ communities. For example, on Dec. 5, 2017, he tweeted, “By the way, ‘LGBT rights’ aren’t a thing. It means nothing. You don’t have any special rights due to your sexual proclivities. Religious rights, on the other hand, are real and fundamental to our foundation as a country.”

The Baylor petition in question does not seek to “stop Mr. Walsh from visiting Baylor’s campus” and it is not requesting “[to] remove Baylor YAF as an official student organization.” Instead, the petition aims to “illustrate the fundamental unfairness of the University’s treatment of other student groups, particularly those seeking to provide community to students who identify as LGBTQ allies.”

Essentially, the petition is asking Baylor President Dr. Linda Livingstone and the Board of Regents to stop rejecting the requests of groups like Gamma Alpha Upsilon to become official student groups on campus. Without an official student group status, queer students and allies cannot receive funding from the student government, cannot meet in an official capacity, and are not recognized as legitimate by their institution.

They can meet unofficially, of course, but Baylor will not acknowledge them. They are allowed to stay in the darkness, but they can never come into the light. In the name of Jesus, the school is saying, “You aren’t good enough to be seen. We do not want you. You do not fit in here. There is no seat at the table for you.”

This is not an issue unique to Baylor. According to the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, there are more than 150 Christian-affiliated colleges in the United States and Canada. Many of these schools have human sexuality statements, similar to Baylor’s, that reject LGBTQ student activity on campus. Institutions affiliated with Christianity often prioritize policies that will protect their funding from affluent alumni and conservative organizations over policies that will project light and love.

Fear, exclusion, shame; these values are at the heart of rejection. Empathy, love, listening; these values are at the heart of Jesus.

I know how harmful it can be when the values of rejection dictate institutions’ policies and decision-making

I know how harmful it can be when the values of rejection dictate institutions’ policies and decision-making. I know what it’s like to have an institution de-value a component of who you are, to let you know, in no uncertain terms, that you do not deserve to be seen. It happened to me, for many years, at Baylor and other institutions like it.

Growing up as a closeted lesbian in Baptist institutions, I learned to become numb, to disconnect from my desires. I never hated myself, but I did refuse to see myself. I ignored my instincts, my crushes, my feelings; I lied to everyone around me, including myself; I poured my attention into other people’s lives, never letting anyone get too close.

I saw myself as more of a brain than a body.

The repression for me was rooted in a lack of definition. I wouldn’t acknowledge the feelings I had or the attractions I felt. The purity culture of evangelical communities — save sex for marriage — allowed me to easily hide my apparent lack of sexual interest. No one around me was having sex, talking about sex, and if they were thinking about sex, never let any of us know. When I felt a distinct twist in my stomach when a pretty girl hugged me, I reasoned I was just happy to see her. My feelings of attraction were attached to nothing. I saw myself as more of a brain than a body.

At my Christian high school, we had to attend chapel services every week. I always felt claustrophobic during them. The uniform was formal: starched white oxford blouses, school-approved length navy skirts, mandatory navy knee socks. We assembled in the freezing, freshly renovated chapel that still smelled vaguely of sawdust. There were huge windows on either side of a wooden cross that hung above the stage, where speakers (almost always men) delivered various sermons that were amplified by wireless headset microphones.

My high school did not mince words during any of their themed chapels: not during the ones on alcohol, not during the ones on sex before marriage, and especially not during the ones on the sins that were truly abominable, like masturbation and atheism and homosexuality.

During the service on homosexuality my junior year, a pastor from a megachurch in Houston delivered the message. He talked about the dangers of homosexuals. That you could love them from a distance, but know that loving them will always break your heart because they will never be saved and cannot spend eternity in paradise.

During the course of his sermon, I sat shivering, listening with rapt attention, internalizing every word, thinking, Homosexuality equals hell, and you’re a Christian, and Christians don’t go to hell, so what you’re feeling is not homosexuality, you are better than that, you are stronger than that, you can beat this, bury everything as far down as you can so no one can ever find it and know who you really, truly are, all the while trying desperately not to think about the strange, out-of-place feelings I’d had for women since I turned 13.

At dinner that night, my family talked about the chapel service.

“Well, that’s a little dramatic,” my mom said. I had just retold the pastor’s last story about someone in his family who died of AIDS. He said, it broke my heart to see him go, but I was even more devastated by this simple knowledge: I would never see him again. He never repented of his sins. He would live in hell, for forever, for the life and love he lived out. “And there is absolutely all judgment and no love in that. Which is ridiculous. But still. You know, if you or Hayden ended up gay — ”

“God, Mom!” Hayden, my brother, choked on his chicken and coughed dramatically. “Don’t even say that. It’s not going to happen.”

“I know,” my mom handed him some water to help with the coughing. “But ifeither one of you were. Or decided to be. Or whatever it is. I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to sound casual, cool, and inevitably failing to do both.

“Well,” my mom narrowed her eyes at me, like she could read my thoughts (my own fear projected), then moved past it. “Well, it just makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like it. And imagine what my friends would say. I want you guys to have what your dad and I found. You know, before I met David…”

It always came back to this. My parents wanted my brother and I to be happy in the specific way that they were. It was their only real reference for love.

“I don’t want y’all to be hurt,” my mom continued. “I want you to find love. True love, not just desire or sex or whatever it is that they have. I want you to experience this kind of marriage. And it takes a man and a woman for that to happen.”

After dinner, I helped clean up the kitchen, asked if I could be excused, and sprinted upstairs to run a bath. The water was scalding and steam rose up from it, blowing away from me with the ventilation fan roaring like white noise.

I slipped into the tub and dunked my head under water. When I came up for air, I whispered,

“Father, keep me safe.”

What I really meant: Protect my friends from my desires.

Another dunk, another whisper.

“Father, forgive me for neglecting your truth.”

Help me bury this feeling forever.

It was a homemade baptism: desperate, driven by guilt and shame.

“Make me more like you.”

Keep me straight, keep me straight, please, God, keep me straight.

Brené Brown, the research professor and storyteller known for her TED Talk on vulnerability, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

This shame was at the heart of my baptisms. I did them for years. Drowning myself, my desires, trying to come up clean and pure and good enough to love.

I came out when I was 24. Afterward, my best friend told me that for the past 14 years, she had resolved herself to the fact that there was a wall within me that she could never break down. I was someone you could never get to know. I was so afraid of that, of letting someone truly know me, because I didn’t believe I was deserving of love. All of my life, I had been told by Baylor and other places like it that my desires were perverse, deserving of punishment, and impossible to love.

Shame lives in the dark. It thrives in it. For years, I walked around blind. I couldn’t see myself. I couldn’t let others see me. I was lost. I parroted verses from the Bible about grace and love and light. But the very institutions that tried so desperately to get me to conform to their ideologies were preventing me from understanding the foundational truth of Christianity: love God and love others. But I was afraid of love. Fear, exclusion, shame; rejection ruled my whole life. I had enveloped myself in a cloud of darkness and convinced myself I was seeing the sun.

1 John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

Why do the institutions that claim to perpetuate this perfect love cultivate so much fear in those who don’t conform? Those who are different? The outsiders?

The late Rachel Held Evans, a Christian writer and fierce ally for LGBTQ+ folks, published a six-part series on her blog discussing Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian. In the final installment, she writes:

It is time we accept the reality God has not created a rigid, one-dimensional world when it comes to gender and sexuality…Matthew addresses the incredible damage done by Christians who teach LGBT people to hate their sexuality, which cannot so easily be separated from their very selves. “When we tell people that their every desire for intimate, sexual bonding is shameful and disordered,” he writes, “we encourage them to hate a core part of who they are.”

It wasn’t until much later, after I had left Texas and moved to Boston, that I discovered other Christians, like Rachel Held Evans, who received queer people with gentle kindness, acceptance, celebration, and love. Through Twitter, I’ve seen that many of my acquaintances at Baylor feel this same way. It fills me with so much hope to know that there are Christians who practice with compassion the Gospel of Love, embodied by Jesus’ mandate in Matthew 22 to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

I was only able to overcome my shame once I understood love. And I could only understand love when I was able to accept the truth of who I was. Some of my closest friends came from the Baptist institutions I was a part of. I associated those institutions’ intolerance for homosexuality with their individual incapacity to accept me as a gay woman.

I was only able to overcome my shame once I understood love.

When I came out to those friends, though, they loved me well. It wasn’t easy. But I suddenly found I had a community. A real, actual, valid community to whom I finally opened up. When I fell in love with a girl for the first time, my friends from Baylor were there listening. When that girl didn’t love me back, they came together and helped me make a collaborative “moving on” playlist on Spotify. It seems simple, but there was no higher form of love and support to me in that moment than sending me music meant to heal.

Coming out to my family is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life. It wasn’t easy. It still isn’t. But when it happened, my mom quoted Shakespeare to me, holding my hand and saying, “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, nor bends with the remover to remove, oh no! It is an ever fixed mark.”

An ever fixed mark. Love that moves with people, not policies. But, the human sexuality statement at Baylor is the governing principle behind their decisions to exclude queer people from campus life. It promotes exclusion, and it prevents visibility.

Visibility. Being seen. Is there anything more important at a Christian institution? There shouldn’t be. What Jesus did so radically was see those who were on the outskirts of society. Those that the Pharisees and Sadducees (the religious powers) tried to keep in the periphery. When gentiles came up to Jesus, asking to be healed, did he turn them away because they weren’t Jewish, as the Pharisees may have done? No. They asked for help and they received it.

You can’t tell someone they aren’t good enough, aren’t godly enough, and call that love. You can’t allow a group of students to invite a hateful speaker on to campus, a speaker who is specifically hateful to a group of people you refuse to give official community status to, and call that love. You can’t prioritize your politics over your compassion, your funding over your empathy, your rules over their needs, and call that love.

Without love, Christianity is meaningless.

BAYLOR LGBTQ GROUP SUPPORTERS SAY OFFICIAL STATUS COULD HELP ALL STUDENTS GROW IN THEIR FAITH

Newsweek | Jenni Fink | June 26, 2019

Students and alumni at Baylor University are fighting for recognition of a student-run LGBTQ+ organization, which they argue would provide opportunities to challenge world views in an academic space and therefore strengthen students' individual beliefs.

Located in Waco, Texas, the private Christian college aims to provide students with an elite academic and religious education. In 2011, students founded the "official unofficial gay club," now called Gamma Alpha Upsilon, and for years, their charter requests were denied. The rejections haven't squelched the group's mission, though. Now, students, alumni and faculty are once again pursuing official status with vigor.

Baylor isn't the only campus to see students forming united fronts to enact changes to the status quo of their institutions. Students at Brigham Young University, a private school in Utah founded by the Mormon Church, spoke out earlier this year about their negative experiences with the institution's Honor Code Office and advocated for reforms.

"There's been a big change, in that people aren't just gonna blindly follow whatever they learned growing up, or whatever their pastor says in sermon, these days," Anna Conner, vice president of Gamma Alpha Upsilon, told Newsweek.

Instead, Conner said college students are looking at what they've been taught through the lens of historical critiques, and are mindful of discrepancies between scriptures. In her view, taking a deeper dive into the historical and social circumstances surrounding traditional views on LGBTQ+ issues is crucial to a more thorough understanding of the issue.

"We're not abandoning our faith, we're just trying to make sense of something that's very big, very convoluted and has a very long history," she said.

Conner, a senior at Baylor, said she chose the university due to her desire for a quality education coupled with a Christian ethos. She joined Gamma during her freshman year and explained that without official recognition, the group can't pass out fliers or hold events on campus.

If their charter request was approved, she said the group could hold discussions about sexuality and the Bible, which could be beneficial to all students, regardless of the opinion they hold.

"When you're faced with something like being gay and coming from a Christian background, you really have to take a step back and learn about the actual religion you grew up in," Conner explained. "I learned so much about Christianity that I never would have known if I hadn't had to do all this research. It's important to have your world views challenged, so you can learn more about the things you believe in."

Paige Hardy, who graduated from Baylor in May, wasn't a member of Gamma, but sponsored two bills last year advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQ students on campus as a student senator. She agreed with Conner, noting the value of intellectual debate. Without someone on campus to challenge an opinion that being gay is wrong, Hardy said students holding that belief won't be equipped to defend their views when they enter the real world.

"At Baylor, we're really doing an injustice both to those who have opinions contrary to supporting the LGBT+ community and those who are in that community," Hardy told Newsweek.

Not everyone on campus sees the inclusion of Gamma as a positive, though, and a recent petition to keep Gamma unrecognized gathered more than 100 signatures.

Stefan Fitting, the chairman of Baylor's chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, told Newsweek official status wasn't necessary for these kinds of discussion to occur. He said it's a conversation that's already being conducted in classrooms and political clubs.

"Baylor has an obligation to provide a quality education and an authentic Christian atmosphere," Fitting said. "This does include exposing their students to different viewpoints, but that doesn't mean Baylor is required to delegate student [organization] funding to clubs with views counter to the University's principles."

Baylor's statement on human sexuality affirms the "biblical norm" of "purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman." However, a group of more 3,000 alumni, faculty members, donors, ministers and other members of the Baylor community claimed the statement espoused viewpoints that are "hotly contested within Christian and Baptist traditions."

The letter was first sent in April to Linda Livingstone, Baylor's president, and Kevin Jackson, Baylor's vice president for student life, and advocated for official recognition for Gamma. Baylor alumni Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff, who penned the letter, explained that it tapped into a "grave need" and "put a voice to a movement."

"Alumni are Baylor's footprint in the larger world," they told Newsweek. "Alumni have historically played a critical role in pressing the university to move forward on issues of civil rights and to ensure that all are treated with equal dignity and respect."

Hardy said alumni have "really helped this entire process beyond words" and Conner noted change will likely come only when alumni withhold donations that affect the bottom line. While Hardy's time at the school has ended and Conner only has one year left, both women said other students will pick up the torch to continue the fight.

"Baylor thinks if they ignore the problem, that it's going to go away. But that's not the generation that we live in anymore," Hardy said.

A Baylor spokesperson told Newsweek the university appreciated feedback on the topic and valued the "robust discussion" surrounding it. They said the school's focus was on loving and caring for all students, thereby enabling them to be successful at Baylor.

"We believe this can be done both inside and outside of officially recognized student organizations," the spokesperson said. "We will continue to work with students as we make decisions consistent with our mission and existing policies."

Decisions about charter applications, Hardy said, generally take 200 days. Gamma has about 100 days left to receive a response. But recognition goes beyond just being an official university organization, Conner pointed out. It's to increase Gamma's ability to connect with students who are struggling with their identity and may be at risk of hurting themselves.

"I'm advocating because I'm trying desperately to reach out to these people that I can't get to," Conner said. "I do this with a sense of urgency, because I'm worried about the people that we haven't gotten to yet."

Rejection of LGBTQ student group leads to a fight at "unambiguously Christian" Baylor

The Texas Tribune | Shannon Najmabadi | June 26, 2019

The Baptist university has denied a charter to Gamma Alpha Upsilon for eight years, members say.

Gay and lesbian students were hopeful a 2015 policy change could pave their way to more rights at Baylor University, one of the country’s most prominent Baptist colleges.

But four years later, LGBTQ students at the Waco school say they’re still waiting for that recognition to arrive.

Although Baylor eliminated language from its conduct code that characterized “homosexual acts” as “misuses of God’s gift,” LGBTQ students say they remain marginalized — unable to form student groups and barred from accessing student activity funds or reserving campus space for meetings. Baylor has denied a charter to one LGBTQ organization — now called Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY in Greek letters — for eight years, according to the group’s members.

The rejections have prompted an outcry at Baylor, highlighting the tension between the university’s heritage as a traditional Baptist school and its ambitions to be a major player in the world of college research and athletics. It has also pitted openly gay students and their allies against those who believe revisiting the issue could upend the university’s religious convictions and redefine its identity.
A recent petition, signed by about 110 people, argued the LGBTQ student group should not be chartered because it could threaten Baylor’s religious affiliation and donor relationships. An opposing letter, carrying more than 3,200 signatures, says it’s an issue of “fundamental fairness and equity” and that Baylor has, on other issues, remained “overly rigid in the face of basic social change.”

A Baylor spokeswoman, Lori Fogleman, said the 3,200 signatures represent about 2% of the school’s students, faculty, staff and living alumni.

Tensions could flare next month when the university’s governing board is scheduled to meet. Students in the LGBTQ group have asked the regents, up to a quarter of whom are selected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, to revise the school’s policies, arguing that Baylor’s “exclusionary” stance sets it apart from leading academic institutions.

Of the country’s elite athletic and research institutions, including Christian universities like Notre Dame and Boston College, Baylor is alone in withholding recognition from LGBTQ groups, according to the letter sent to regents.

Greta Hays, a spokeswoman for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, said all private higher education institutions “have the right and ability to ensure that officially recognized student groups are consistent with” their missions.

“For religious colleges and universities, this includes the institution’s religious convictions and beliefs,” she said.

Similar debates have played out on Christian campuses across the country.

Baylor issued a written statement saying, “There is robust discussion about this topic, which is what universities are about, and we acknowledge and appreciate the feedback.”

“We are focused on how we love and care for all our students so they have a healthy, safe and nurturing learning environment in which to be successful at Baylor,” the statement said. “We believe this can be done both inside and outside of officially recognized student organizations. We will continue to work with students as we make decisions consistent with our mission and existing policies.”

To apply for a charter, students must meet with staff in the Department of Student Activities and provide administrators with a packet of materials, including a constitution laying out their mission. There are multiple opportunities to charter an organization each year, but Fogleman said there is no specific timeframe in which officials render a decision.

The university gives “every request a full review,” seeking “input and feedback throughout the process in a thoughtful and meaningful way,” she said. An administrator overseeing student life serves as the final arbiter in deciding which organizations are approved.

Fogleman declined to answer questions about the LGBTQ group’s charter application, saying the process is ongoing. But members of the group said they have been denied recognition in the past because school officials said they were an advocacy organization or at odds with Baylor’s Christian standards.

One rejection message, obtained by The Texas Tribune, simply said “the proposal was not advanced in the charter process.”

“Please know the university remains committed to being a place of support and connection to resources for all students,” the message said, recommending that the student life division “continue to explore ways of facilitating the aforementioned aims of the group.”

The group submitted a new application to be chartered in February, its members said. They liken their organization to a support network and say they’ve deliberately tried to avoid holding parades or undertaking activities that could be deemed advocacy.

Anna Conner, the group’s vice president, said its members were meeting weekly in a public activities center on campus but might relocate to a nearby church next fall.

LGBTQ students “don’t want to be targeted,” says Anna Conner, vice president of Gamma Alpha Upsilon. Juan Figueroa for The Texas Tribune

LGBTQ students “don't want to walk around on campus and someone goes, ‘Oh, that's that person that went to that meeting.’ They don’t want to be targeted,” she said. “It became a game for a period of time when we put up the rainbow flag to see how quickly it would get others to leave the room.”

Baylor declined to make the school’s president, Linda Livingstone, or the vice president for student life available for interviews.

Fogleman said Baylor will be looking into alternate ways to support LGBTQ students, separate from chartering their organization, over the summer. The school takes a similar approach with other students unaffiliated with official groups, she said.

“Two worlds together”

Like many religious colleges, Baylor adheres to a conservative policy when it comes to matters of sexuality.

Before 2015, the university’s misconduct policy referenced “homosexual acts” alongside incest and abuse, offenses subject to disciplinary procedures guided by “constructive forgiveness.” The current code cites a doctrinal Baptist document from 1963 and says students, faculty and staff are expected to behave in a manner consistent with the “biblical understanding” that “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.”

A separate “human sexuality” statement strongly discourages students from participating in “advocacy groups” that promote a contrary understanding of sexuality, including homosexuality.

Livingstone, the school’s president, said the university would uphold its policies in response to a recent request from alumni to recognize the group. The governing board of regents has not yet acted, and it declined to meet with the LGBTQ student group, saying it was not typical for outside organizations to address the regents.

The alumni who made the request, Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff, said in a joint statement that other Christian universities don’t view granting “full equality” to LGBTQ students as a transgression of religious ideals and that Baylor officials seem afraid of angering a “small but often vocal” subset of stakeholders.

Not everyone at Baylor is in favor of officially recognizing the LGBTQ student group.

The petition against chartering the organization argues doing so could threaten Baylor’s religious affiliation, sour donor relationships and lead to a fundamental redefinition of what the university is.

“Baylor's a religious school. It's affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. It claims to be unapologetically Christian, and so it makes absolutely no sense for them to do things that are clearly against” its credo, said Zachary Miller, a Baylor student who signed the petition.

He said freely associating with Baylor means agreeing to abide by its rules. “I don’t quite understand the argument for, ‘Hey, I came to this school that is clearly a Baptist school that says that it is Baptist and I want you to then stop being Baptist for me.'”

But students and alumni in favor of the group say the university has fostered an environment that alienates LGBTQ people, some of whom don’t realize their sexual orientation until college.

It’s a sensitive topic on campus. Some faculty members sympathetic to the LGBTQ students’ plight were afraid to discuss the situation on the record, telling the Tribune privately that they feared reprisal. One former law professor at Baylor, Mark Osler, said he felt compelled to speak out because he thought current faculty “feel constrained from speaking publicly.”

“Being at that intersection of policy and faith is what Baylor is supposed to be — it’s supposed to be the place where those discussions happen, where those conversations, even the dangerous ones, occur,” said Osler, now a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota. “If you're going to be Baptist and a university, you’re going to be bringing those two worlds together.”

A school policy says student organizations cannot use Baylor’s name, resources, facilities or technology services to “engage in activities contrary to or in support of causes that conflict” with its mission and values. Non-Christian groups have also been denied recognition.

“Tough things to navigate”

Attention to the LGBTQ student experience at Baylor heightened in April, when a chartered student group promoted a visit from Matt Walsh, a controversial commentator on the religious right, using a flyer that superimposed a hammer and sickle on a rainbow flag.

Miller, who leads the group Baylor Young Americans for Freedom, said the flyer art was a poor choice and did not convey its intended message. The group — which went through a lengthy application process to receive a charter, he said — removed the flyers to appease the offended students and signify that it had not set out to attack them.

But Christian academic institutions have wrestled for years with the question of how or whether to adapt faith-based conduct codes to changing social mores, including the mainstream acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Just last week, a Jesuit preparatory school in Indiana lost the right to call itself Catholic after refusing to fire a married gay teacher.

Navigating new norms goes beyond reconciling religious beliefs, the dictates of tradition and the wishes of alumni, donors and students. School officials also must contend with legal and financial risks posed by their conduct codes, where the violation of nondiscrimination statutes could mean being excluded from athletic conferences or cut off from federal funds.

Brad Harper, an assistant dean of Multnomah University's School of Biblical and Theological Studies, said that if the federal government stopped recognizing religious exemptions to the gender equity law Title IX, the effect on many Christian colleges could be financially catastrophic.

“It is virtually impossible for colleges to operate if students cannot receive student loans from the government,” Harper said. “Trying to figure out how we navigate being true to our convictions while at the same time realizing that we want to care for all students and … stay in business — those are tough things to navigate, and that's a bunch of what colleges are going through right now.”

Fogleman declined to comment on “hypotheticals” related to federal policy.

Established in 1845, Baylor is among more than 140 campuses across the country that are affiliated with Christian organizations. Its religious identity is strong; the university’s website identifies its “unambiguously Christian educational environment” as a core pillar, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas has provided a small amount of its annual funding.

At the same time, the university has shown a willingness to adapt throughout its history, another school webpage says. The institution is now in “exciting times” as it strives to fulfill the mission laid out by its founding religious leaders and remain “a relevant institution of higher learning for the coming years,” it says.

While the recent petitions about the LGBTQ group have shone a spotlight on the gay student experience at Baylor, some alumni say the topic has long been stigmatized.

John-Paul Hayworth, a Baylor alumnus who is gay, said that when he was student between 1997 and 2001, “homosexuality could be punished by expulsion.”

Although Hayworth made friendships at Baylor that persisted years after he graduated, a sense of isolation pervaded his time there. There was no student group, and he recalls there being only one gay bar in Waco, which patrons heard was patrolled by police officers.

There was a “deep sense of self-hatred and fear that I was forced to maintain because of my sexuality,” said Hayworth, who is now executive director of the District of Columbia State Board of Education. “I was alone, even though surrounded by friends, in large part because of Baylor’s official policies towards the LGBTQ community.”

Justin Davis, who attended Baylor in the 2000s, said the school did not feel like a safe place to be openly gay. He said the conduct policies were rigid and vaguely worded, leaving students to wonder if going on a date or holding hands might lead to punishment.

“For me, at least, the new ambiguous language created a broader scope under which Baylor could discipline students and greatly increased my fear and anxiety,” said Davis, who recalled that one student was disciplined for organizing an off-campus gay rights rally. “The message I internalized was that there wasn't anyone on Baylor's faculty or in the administration that I could or should safely talk to about what I was feeling.”

Fogleman, the Baylor spokeswoman, said she could not confirm or deny the school’s disciplinary actions due to student privacy guidelines. She did not specify what would be a breach of the sexual conduct policies.

Baylor LGBTQ student group seeks to address regents as alumni advocates organize

Rhiannon Saegert | Waco Tribune| June 22, 2019

Though it is summer and the Baylor University campus is quiet, conversations about inclusion continue.

Gamma Alpha Upsilon, an unaffiliated student group that has applied for a charter as an official Baylor student organization, recently wrote a letter to the Baylor Board of Regents asking it to step in on the group’s behalf. Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said the requests of the regents are still being considered, and the university has no statement at this time.

Hayden Evans, an officer with the group, wrote the letter.

“We ask that the Baylor Board of Regents adopt policies to ensure that LGBTQ+ students can organize and assemble as official student organizations, like the more than 350 other student organizations that are presently recognized on campus,” the letter states. “We also ask that the Regents empower Baylor President Linda Livingstone to ensure that these policies are equally and equitably applied.”

The letter goes on to ask that the regents officially prohibit staff and counselors from endorsing any form of conversion therapy, implicitly or explicitly.

The Baylor University Board of Regents declined to hear from an unofficial LGBT student supp…

Evans said the group, formerly known as the Sexual Identity Forum, has tried multiple times to complete the chartering process. Members are now directly asking the regents to either make a new policy, change the university’s statement on human sexuality or agree to meet with the student group at the regents’ next meeting. The group sent a similar letter asking for a meeting with the regents ahead of the board’s June meeting but was denied because it is considered an outside group by the board.

An open letter penned by Baylor alumni Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff in April calls for Baylor to start officially recognizing LGBTQ student groups. The letter went on to receive more than 3,200 signatures from supporters with Baylor ties. The authors of the letter subsequently launched a website, bubearsforall.org, as a way to “ensure that no Baylor student, faculty member, staff member, or alumnus is discriminated against or treated unfairly as a result of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“The response and energy behind this movement is inspiring and remarkable,” the three said in a statement. “We will soon be formalizing ways that the more than 3,200 members who have signed the letter and the many others who have contacted us individually can take additional actions to help achieve justice for all Baylor students.”

They also cited multiple instances of student groups seeking chartered status throughout the years, including Baylor Freedom in the early 2000s.

“Although the decision to approve an organization is generally thought to be an operations decision, it is clear that at Baylor the board of regents is the final authority regarding this particular decision,” according to their statement. “So with great hope the students have now reached out to the board of regents.”

Evans said recent events have shaped the way LGBTQ students and allies see the university. Last semester’s visit by Matt Walsh, a blogger critical of the gay rights movement, was met with outcry and a petition to cancel the event. Baylor President Linda Livingstone defended the decision in a campus wide email April 4.

“As I reflect back over the past several weeks, our campus has struggled with demonstrating Christian hospitality while expressing different viewpoints,” Livingstone wrote. “We know that once our students graduate, they will need to be equipped to handle difficult conversations or to face issues they may not agree with or that challenge our Christian beliefs.”

Evans said the university’s response to a more recent incident differed. Baylor’s spring commencement included a benediction delivered by Dan Freemyer, in which he addressed climate change, privilege and race. The benediction caught criticism from some conservative websites, including The Blaze.

Shortly after the commencement, Baylor President Linda Livingstone released a statement on the benediction.

“Like many of the attendees at one of the May 18, 2019, Commencement ceremonies, I was caught off-guard during the Benediction as this prayer is intended to focus on the graduates as they leave Baylor University and make a mark around the world, not to communicate any kind of political statement,” she wrote. “The prayer was not scripted by anyone within the University, and I am disappointed that it has distracted from a special moment for our graduates and families attending Commencement.”

Evans said his group and other students he has discussed the matter with took issue with the variation in the university’s responses to the two events.

“The university was very, very quick in distancing itself from the benediction,” Evans said. “In the very recent past, they’ve taken no steps … in distancing themselves from the Matt Walsh speech and inviting him to campus.”

He said for the members, the university’s response felt deliberate.

“It sends a message of ‘Are we welcome at Baylor?’ ” Evans said. “They have systematically, in the past and now, silenced voices they disagree with and that disagree with their biblical interpretation.”

Former Baylor regent calls on university to stop discrimination against LGBTQ students

Once again my alma mater, Baylor University, has stepped into administrative and theological quicksand, this time by refusing to recognize a small group of LGBTQ students as a legitimate campus organization.

As a former regent of the university for nine years, I feel personally obligated to call that decision precisely what it is: institutional sexual discrimination, pure and simple, and it must not be allowed to stand.

These lesbian, gay, bi or transgender students have seen more than enough discrimination in their young lives, and they were seeking from Baylor only a sanctioned, safe place on campus to freely assemble, share their experiences and offer support to each other.

What they got from the administration made clear that Baylor, unsurprisingly, would have none of it. President Linda Livingstone quickly rejected their petition with a reminder of the Baylor code of conduct, that the university is "guided by the Biblical understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity."

Aside from the fact that there is more than one Biblical understanding (even among Baptists!) the sexual conduct policy begs the most obvious question: If, in Baylor's words, human sexuality is a gift from God and the defining sexuality of these LGBTQ students is same-sex attraction, is God not also the author of their sexuality?

What is perfectly clear, to use language blunter than the administration's, is that the LGBTQ students were rebuffed because — let's just face it — Baylor believes they are living in sin.

And there we have it. Welcome to the minefield of biblical cherry-picking in which Scripture can be found to support many offensive viewpoints, including such whoppers from the past as God endorsing human slavery, as if that were ever possible, or that racial segregation was God's idea for peaceful coexistence, or that women should accept biblical admonitions to know their place. Livingstone surely understands she has her job today because that kind of Bible talk has been swept into history's dustbin.

I am not alone in decrying this unfair discrimination. More than 3,000 students, alumni, current and former faculty members, friends of Baylor, ministers, parents and former regents signed a letter in support of the LGBTQ petition which got a quick thanks-but-no-thanks from the administration, as did a subsequent effort by some of the students to meet with the regents.

Baylor owes a safe, respectful environment to every student it admits and whose money it takes for as long as those students are in its care and not breaking any laws.

No doubt some of the LGBTQ students are professing Christians who could easily be the children of Baylor staff, faculty or regents. After all, they chose Baylor for their higher education and should not be treated as morally flawed simply because of who they are.

After all the self-doubt and self-examination in coming to terms with their true identities, these students know exactly who they are, just as they also know exhaustive studies have established that you cannot pray the gay away. Fifteen states have already outlawed sexual conversion therapy (five more have similar legislation pending), and two thirds of the country now supports gay marriage, a right secured by the Supreme Court in 2015.

Same-sex attraction gets scant attention in the Bible, mostly in Old Testament passages chockablock full of harsh judgments for multiple behaviors, and in a couple of New Testament letters. Theologians and Bible scholars have danced on the head of this pin for centuries in support of their own views. Jesus would have been aware of same-sex attraction, but his biblical biographers never recorded a critical word from him on the subject.

Baylor is, or should be, better than its current behavior suggests. The highest purpose of a true university, especially a self-described Christian university, must be the unfettered pursuit of knowledge, including new knowledge capable of correcting views once thought immutable, including those in ancient

This may be the moment when new knowledge has a word for Baylor. Gay America is here to stay, leaving Baylor once again playing catchup to the broader culture. The broader culture is not always right, but in most matters of social decency it has historically pulled Americans toward the better angels of their nature.

It is well beyond casual irony that just as Baylor gives the back of its hand to LGBTQ students, a young, highly intelligent, devoutly Christian, happily married gay man, mayor of an Indiana city the size of Waco, is gaining wide traction as a presidential candidate. The most troubling thing about him is not his sexual identity but how to pronounce his name. Whether or not Pete Buttigieg succeeds, he has already made clear that being openly gay is not a barrier to seeking the nation's highest office.

Baylor can still redeem itself. The LGBTQ issue is far from settled along the banks of the Brazos, and I am convinced that these students or their successors will ultimately prevail because they already have history — and probably even Jesus — on their side.

Hal Wingo, a Baylor University Regent from 1992 to 2001, is a former editor at Life Magazine and People Weekly. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

LGBTQ-friendly student group, alumni vow to fight for inclusion at Baylor

LGBTQ-friendly student group, alumni vow to fight for inclusion at Baylor

News | Jeff Brumley  |  May 22, 2019

Baylor University undergraduate Anna Conner knows an awful lot about Baptist theology for a 20-year-old Lutheran.

She attributes that partly to all the religion courses she’s taken, and also to a high-profile struggle between the university and the gay-straight student alliance to which she belongs.

Anna Conner

Anna Conner

The group, Gamma Alpha Upsilon, suffered a setback May 17 when the university’s board of regents declined to change Baylor policy banning “advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

For Conner, who is gay and vice president of the group previously called the Sexual Identity Forum, the decision contradicts what she’s learned at Baylor about Baptists’ historic values.

“I spent last year taking all these required Christian classes and learned about Baptists, and yet they (Baylor regents) ignore principles of autonomy by doing these things,” she said.

GAU has been applying for official recognition since 2011, but has consistently been denied because of the policy governing student groups. Such recognition allows clubs to reserve rooms, advertise, apply for student activities funds and invite speakers to campus.

GAU members are not alone in their efforts. A host of other student, faculty and alumni supporters have waged a campaign to bring inclusion to Baylor.

The issue burst forth in April when Baylor’s student chapter of Young Americans for Freedom hosted conservative blogger Matt Walsh for a speech on campus. Walsh is outspoken in his opposition to the “LGBT agenda.”

In response, at least 3,200 students and alumni wrote and signed an online, open letter urging Baylor President Linda Livingstone and Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson to recognize the gay-straight student organization.

The open letter wasn’t a request for a policy change. Nor did it seek to bar the conservative student chapter or the visit by Walsh. Instead, it urged Livingstone to approve the LGBTQ group as a campus life matter, which could be accomplished without involving the board.

Jackie Baugh Moore

Jackie Baugh Moore

“It’s only fair to allow this organization to meet on campus if Baylor YAF can do so – and invite high-profile, controversial speakers to campus,” said Jackie Baugh Moore, a 1986 Baylor graduate and a leader in the campaign to win recognition for GAU.

“You can’t say no to this group and then endorse Matt Walsh in a way,” said Baugh Moore, who is vice president of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation based in San Antonio.

Especially disappointing was taking the matter to the regents instead of handling it as a day-to-day operations request, she said.

“I thought we had moved beyond that. I guess we haven’t.”

In comments published by the Baptist Standard, Livingstone said the subject arose in committee discussions about the need to “love and care for all our students” while also honoring “existing policies” about “student groups.”

Despite the setback, GAU plans to continue its public pressure on the university to grant it status, said Hayden Evans, 22, a Baylor graduate student who handles public relations, fundraising and speaker engagements for the organization.

He said the matter is now back in front of the student activities department, where GAU’s 2019 charter request has yet to be decided. But those requests have been handled consistently.

Hayden Evans

Hayden Evans

“It’s always declined.”

Evans said GAU has never been an advocacy group, as the university has identified them.

“We have never done any advocacy, other than to prove we exist,” he said.

Those students – including about 20 who typically attend weekly meetings in common spaces on campus – won’t be going it alone.

Alumni and others who geared up to support GAU before the recent setback said they are continuing their public push for fairness and equality at Baylor.

“The larger Baylor family is a diverse and welcoming one and it will not be silent as some of its members are treated unfairly,” Baugh Moore and fellow alumni Skye Perryman and Tracy Teaff said in a statement provided to Baptist News Global.

The three women also led the online letter campaign and on May 15 launched a website called BU Bears for All, which seeks inclusion for all at the university.

“What started as a letter making a modest request that Baylor recognize LGBTQ+ student organizations has quickly grown into thousands of Baylor family members joining the call for the University to treat people equally,” they said in the statement. “The letter seemed to tap into a grave need and put voice to a movement.”

The voices also are emanating from Baylor and many of its George W. Truett Seminary graduates around the country.

“Sitting here in Kentucky and growing up in Texas, this is just another manifestation of how Baptists aren’t being good Baptists,” said Erica Whitaker, a Truett graduate and the senior pastor of Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville.

Erica Whitaker

Erica Whitaker

The fear of losing money should not prevail over the responsibility of providing a safe space for everyone, she said.

“This is just a bunch of baloney to me. It’s Baptist baloney and it’s alienating large groups from our Baptist communities.”

Being granted a charter is in fact about safe space, Conner said, adding that many potential members of the organization shy away because the meetings are held in public spaces where some feel unsafe.

The result leaves some students feeling isolated – which contradicts university rhetoric, Evans said.

“One of their major selling points is ‘find your community at Baylor’ or ‘there’s a community for you at Baylor.’ Baylor doesn’t allow my community to be recognized.”

Baylor Committed to Applying Current LGBTQ Policy

Ken Camp | The Baptist Standard | May 17, 2019

WACO—While some Baylor University donors and alumni publicly have urged the school to recognize an LGBTQ student organization, the university’s board of regents took no action regarding a policy change.

Gamma Alpha Upsilon—formerly the Sexual Identity Forum—applied to be chartered as an official student group at Baylor. The university’s statement on human sexuality includes the expectation that Baylor students will not participate in “advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

‘Love and care’ for all students

In response to a question at a news conference immediately following the regents’ May 17 meeting, President Linda Livingstone emphasized Baylor’s desire to “love and care” for all students, while at the same time continuing to “to make decisions consistent with our vision and our existing policies.”

“It came up in a couple of our committee meetings as we talked—particularly student life, because this is really a student life issue in terms of how we support and care for our students, and certainly our students in the LGBTQ community,” Livingstone said.

“In the context of that, we really talked about how we love and care for all our students, to ensure that they have a healthy and safe and nurturing learning environment so they can be successful educationally in that process.”

At the same time, Livingstone noted Baylor has “existing policies in place that continue to be the policies that we apply when we make decisions about student groups.”

“We will continue to apply those (policies) consistently with how we have in the past and in the context of making sure that we really are fulfilling our Christian mission and loving and supporting our students in appropriate ways,” she said.

Baylor’s statement on human sexuality says: “Baylor University welcomes all students into a safe and supportive environment in which to discuss and learn about a variety of issues, including those of human sexuality. The university affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality as a gift from God. Christian churches across the ages and around the world have affirmed purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman as the biblical norm. Temptations to deviate from this norm include both heterosexual acts outside of marriage and homosexual behavior. It is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

The university’s student conduct policy states that Baylor “expects that each Baylor student will conduct himself or herself in accordance with Christian principles as commonly perceived by Texas Baptists.”

Online open letters

About 3,000 individuals signed an online open letter in recent weeks asking Baylor to “reconsider its exclusion of student organizations that are designed to provide a community for individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) and allied community.”

The letter encourages Baylor administrators to make changes so the university will not “look back in a few years and realize that we were on the wrong side of an issue of basic compassion and human dignity.”

Signers include major donors, former regents, retired faculty and current faculty including Jackie Baugh Moore, Barbara ‘Babs’ Baugh, Ray Perryman, Oswin “Os” Chrisman, Robert Baird, Blake Burleson, Robert Darden, Preston Dyer and former Congressman Chet Edwards.

In response, another group posted its own online petition titled “Save Baylor Traditions,” that urges the university to “stand strong and refuse to abdicate the traditional Christian values for which it has historically stood.”

Disagreement noted

George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, wrote an open letter to Livingstone published in the Dallas Morning News, urging Baylor “to take the small yet significant step of granting LGBTQ student groups official status on campus.”

“The step is small, because the school would not be taking an affirming stance on a matter that continues to be contested among Christians of goodwill,” Mason wrote. “It would be significant, because it would signal Baylor’s commitment to welcome and serve all students equally by providing safe space for LGBTQ students to support one another as they pursue their education and discover more about themselves.”

Baylor Provost Emeritus Donald Schmeltekopf sent a letter to the board of regents on May 6 calling on the governing board to “help make Baylor unambiguously Christian in word and deed alike” by retaining its “historic stance on Christian sexuality.”

Schmeltekopf, former provost and vice president for academic affairs, urged the university to maintain a policy “biblically grounded and in full accord with two millennia of clear Christian teaching: We approve no other sexual practices than lifelong celibacy among singles and lifelong fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman.”

It’s no surprise that the issue has generated significant public and private debate, Livingstone noted.

“Obviously, there is going to be a lot of robust discussion around this topic. And that’s what universities are about—it’s bringing people together, talking about issues that really matter and learning from each other,” she said.

“And in the context of this, we have a lot of people who love Baylor and love our students that care deeply about this issue from a variety of perspectives. We will continue to work with them as we continue to make decisions consistent with our vision and our existing policies.”

Regents approve budget, expenditures

During their spring meeting, Baylor’s board of regents approved a $698.4 million operating budget, $4.1 million for the first phase of a planned renovation of the Tidwell Bible Building and $1.815 million for regulatory corrective action along the Brazos Riverwalk near the university’s athletic complex.

The 2019-20 operating budget, which takes effect June 1, includes an additional $13.4 million for both need-based and merit-based scholarships and graduate assistantships.

Baylor University announced a $15 million lead gift from The Sunderland Foundation of Overland Park, Kan., to help renovate and restore the Tidwell Bible Building. (Baylor University Photo)

Funds approved for the Tidwell Bible Building project include design costs for the renovated building and build-out of space on the fourth floor of the Cashion Academic Center, which will house temporary offices for religion and history faculty during the renovation.

Construction on Tidwell—built in 1954—likely will begin in late 2020, with anticipated reopening in 2022. The renovation is made possible by a $15 million lead gift from the Sunderland Foundation.

The board approved funds for regulatory corrective action to improve and prevent future landfill erosion issues on the south bank of the Brazos.

Baylor’s Highers Athletics complex facilities are built within the borders of a closed and capped Waco city landfill that contains wood, brick and glass from buildings destroyed by the 1953 Waco tornado.

Board elect officers, affirms new regents

Regents elected Jerry Clements, an Austin-based attorney, as chair to succeed Joel Allison of Waco, former Baylor Scott & White Health chief executive officer. Clements is a member of First Baptist Church in Spicewood.

Newly elected vice chairs are Mark Hurd of Redwood Shores, Calif.; Melissa Purdy Mines of Austin; and Randy Lee Pullin of Houston.

The board elected three new at-large regents—Sarah Gahm, senior vice president of Baylor Scott & White Health and a member of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas; William Mearse, retired Accenture resources group operations officer and member of Second Baptist Church in Houston; and Manny Ruiz, president and senior lending officer of TexStar National Bank and member of First Baptist Church in San Antonio.

The board welcomed David Slover, senior vice president and chief strategy officer of HighGround Advisors in Dallas, to a three-year term as alumni-elected regent.

The board approved Mark Petersen of Arlington as the regent nominated by the Baylor Bear Foundation, Randall Umstead from the Baylor School of Music as faculty regent and Malcolm Foley, a doctoral candidate from Rockville, Md., as student regent.

Regents reappointed by the Baptist General Convention of Texas at its 2018 annual meeting and confirmed by the board of regents are Mark Rountree of Dallas and Randy Lee Pullin of Houston.

The board of regents re-elected to three-year terms Shelly Giglio of Atlanta, Ga.; Larry Heard of Houston; and Julie Hermansen Turner of Dallas.

Baylor regents decline to meet with LGBT student group as alumni advocates step up efforts

The Baylor University Board of Regents declined to hear from an unofficial LGBT student support group during the board’s meeting that started Wednesday, but the group’s president said members will continue to push for recognition.

More than 3,000 Baylor professors, students, alumni and others with connections to the university signed an open letter last month requesting the university recognize LGBT student groups for the first time. The student group, now known as Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY, sent a request to regents May 4 after administrators did not respond to the open letter.

“For decades, we and other LGBTQ+ students at Baylor have sought to prevail upon University decision makers about recognizing a student group to no avail,” the letter states. “Baylor has more than 350 student organizations but not one for LGBTQ+ students.”

Baylor students, faculty, staff and alumni have signed on to supporting official LGBTQ group…

In a response to the group’s request for an audience with regents, board Chairman Joel Allison wrote that the university is still processing Gamma Alpha Upsilon’s application to be chartered as an official student group and that regents do not allow outside groups to address the board directly.

GAY President Anna Conner said after multiple attempts to have the group recognized through the Division of Student Life, the group decided to appeal to the board directly. She said the board’s response felt callous.

“We explained in the first letter that they (Student Life) were the ones who were consistently telling us ‘no,’ ” Conner said. “If you’re referring us back to them, we’re going to get the same response.”

GAY officers have said the group is meant to support LGBT students who are struggling or isolated and that the group’s inability to gain official recognition from the university hurts its efforts to connect with students who do not know about the group.

Conner said the group has no plans to visibly demonstrate or protest the decision. A visible protest could be considered a form of advocacy by the university, a designation that would disqualify them from receiving a charter.

“One of the biggest reasons we’ve not been chartered is Baylor’s ‘Statement on Human Sexuality,’ which specifically says you cannot have LGBT advocacy (groups) on campus,” Conner said. “We’re not an advocacy club, but Student Life has decided that we are.”

Conner said the group was initially optimistic when the open letter garnered signatures from prominent alumni, former administrators and current faculty members.

“There was a little bit of apprehension, like, ‘Is this going to put a target on our backs?,’” Conner said. “They were pretty excited about the potential of being an actual organization on campus.”

Conner said the group will continue to make appeals to the regents next school year.

While the unofficial student group is out of options for the moment, another group has taken a more active role. The open letter’s authors, alumni Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff, recently launched bubearsforall.org.

“What started as a letter making a modest request that Baylor recognize LGBTQ+ student organizations quickly grew into thousands of Baylor family members joining the call for the University to treat people equally,” the trio said in a statement about the new site. “The letter seemed to tap into a grave need and put voice to a movement. There are people who signed who have been disconnected from Baylor because they lost faith in the moral direction of the University over the last two decades. This effort has brought them back to the table realizing they still have a place.”

In addition to the “Statement on Human Sexuality,” Baylor’s sexual conduct policy states “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.” The policy refers to the “Baptist Faith and Message of 1963,” which was amended in 1998 to state “Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”

The Baptist document goes on to state “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

The bubearsforall.org site states the group’s purpose is to “ensure that no Baylor student, faculty member, staff member, or alumnus is discriminated against or treated unfairly as a result of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We seek these things not in spite of Baylor’s religious affiliation, but because of it. Baylor University is a community of Christian scholars informed by our Baptist heritage. As such, it has never been a University organized around a single priest or credo, but is one that affirms the priesthood of all believers and each believer’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This tradition makes room for all at the table, and we are dedicated to a loving embrace of all members of the Baylor family, including LGBTQ+ people.”

GAY has existed as the Sexual Identity Forum since 2011, and other LGBT student groups have sought recognition from Baylor. In 2002, The Baylor Lariat student publication ran a story about Baylor Freedom, a now-defunct LGBT group at Baylor. In another article the same year, a group member identified only as “Josie” discussed the group’s chalk messages being removed from campus. In both articles, the students used pseudonyms.

Baylor alumnus Paul Williams also formed a group now known as BUGLA for LGBT alumni in 2000. The group now has about 200 members. Williams said the group started out on Yahoo, later moved to Facebook, and is closed for privacy reasons.

“If there are other alumni who don’t know about us, I want them to find out,” Williams said.

More than 3,000 petition for Baylor to recognize LGBTQ student group

Brittany Britto
Houston Chronicle

When applying for college, Anna Conner said Baylor University was a top choice for her. She grew up heavily in the church, but as a gay young woman, things proved complicated. The church wasn’t accepting of the LGBTQ community.

“Can I be gay and Christian? Will God love me? Am I going to hell? There’s always those questions,” Conner said.

She began to feel disconnected from her church, she said. But when she saw Baylor’s beautiful campus and the people who worked and attended, she felt hope. “Maybe if I came here, I could find some reconciliation and have my heart there (in the church) again,” she thought.

Conner, from Houston and now a junior at Baylor, joined the club Gamma Alpha Upsilon, formerly known as the “Sexuality Identity Forum,” a LGBTQ student group on campus where she found community and solace. But the same feeling of nonacceptance she felt at her church growing up followed her to Baylor.

The private Baptist university has refused to recognize Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or “GAY” in Greek letters, as an official student group since its inception in 2011.

Baylor’s human sexuality policy states that it is “expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching,” which include “heterosexual sex outside of marriage and homosexual behavior.”

Not being recognized as a student group prevents Gamma Alpha Upsilon from certain privileges, including the opportunity to advertise events on campus, reserve university spaces for meetings, or to receive funding through the student government.

But now Conner, who is vice president of the group, and her counterparts are fighting for recognition with some help.

More than 3,000 Baylor University alumni, students, staff and former faculty signed a growing petition addressed to university officials supporting the group’s fight to be recognized. Some renowned alumni, including Hal Wingo, one of the founding editors of People magazine, and more than 100 ministers have shown their support.

The Rev. Brett Younger, a Baylor alum and minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., who also signed the petition, said “openness and inclusion” are central to being both Baptist and Christian.”

But university President Linda A. Livingstone, said Baylor officials are still debating that idea.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Livingstone said student groups have to go through a process to be considered for approval and adhere to university guidelines.

“The main question for us at Baylor that we’re really focused on is how we can provide a caring community for all of our students and do it so they have a healthy environment, in which they can continue their education and to be successful while ensuring that we see through to our Christian mission and our Baptist heritage,” Livingstone said.

“That’s what we’re focused on and that’s what we’re always thinking to do with our all populations on campus,” she said.

Double standard?

Micki Grimland, a Houston therapist and ’75 Baylor alumna, said the hope is to awaken university officials and regents and to show solidarity with students.

“We are a thorn in [Baylor’s] side,” Grimland, who came out as gay in midlife, said of Baylor’s LGBTQ alumni.

“Please quit pretending that Christian and gay cannot go in the same category,” she said. “There are all sorts of Christians around the world that are gay.”

The alumni petition and outreach to the university was launched after Baylor Young Americans for Freedom, a student group that books conservative speakers on campus, scheduled controversial religious right "Daily Wire" writer Matt Walsh on campus.

The group advertised his appearance with a flyer displaying Walsh’s book title “The Unholy Trinity: Blocking the Left’s Assault on Life, Marriage, and Gender,” a rainbow flag (a popular symbol of the LGBTQ community) and a hammer and sickle, a symbol more recently associated with Marxism, according to Zachary Miller, a sophomore and chairman for Baylor Young Americans for Freedom.

Conner said Gamma Alpha Upsilon members couldn’t fathom how the university approved the official student group’s flyers and speaker.

Miller said the flyers “could have been done better,” and said that the ones that weren’t torn down by offended students, were replaced by new flyers featuring just head shots of Walsh and his book title once the group found out students were offended.

Despite the tension on campus, Livingstone classified the ordeal as a sign that “we’re at a healthy university where people can vigorously discuss issues that they have strong perspective on, particularly in the context of a Christian university.”

But some students say dialogue is happening in spite of Baylor and that many on campus are not as vocal in fear of getting “in trouble” with Baylor.

Alumni have said many current faculty who identify as gay or queer are “closeted” and silent about their sexuality in fear of losing their jobs, and many are scared to speak out.

Mark Osler, a former tenured law professor at Baylor, attested to this.

“I felt ashamed that I hadn’t spoken out when I was working there about this,” Osler said of how Baylor treated its LGBTQ students. “I mean, I should have, but there is a culture of fear of discussing it.”

Equality sought

On May 4, Gamma Alpha Upsilon requested, by letter, to meet with Baylor’s Board of Regents at the board’s May 15-17 meeting to discuss their issues and application. A university spokesperson indicated the letter had been received, but declined to comment further.

In an email obtained by the Houston Chronicle, Joel Allison, chairman of Baylor’s Board of Regents, declined to meet with students, stating that “as a private institution, the board does not allow outside groups to address the Regents in such a manner.”

Allison also said the group’s application is being processed, but advised the students to meet with the Division of Student Life — the same department that has denied them for the past several years and ultimately approved the fliers by the conservative activism group.

Kevin Jackson, the vice president for student life, was unavailable for comment, according to a university spokesperson.

Conner said the university’s response has been discouraging, fearing that it will turn into a vicious cycle that continues to point to the college’s policies.

Clare Kenny, director of youth engagement of GLAAD, a LGBTQ-support organization formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said the type of treatment displayed at Baylor is not uncommon. But “by students advocating for themselves on behalf of community, they’re showing community who they are as leaders and they are really advocating for an accepting campus and university,” she said.

Elizabeth Benton, the president of Gamma Alpha Upsilon at Baylor, said the group wants just one thing.

“We just want equality on campus,” she said. “We just want to be able to exist.”

brittany.britto@chron.com
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Dancing around LGBTQ Issues at Baylor

More than 3,000 Baylor alumni, students, faculty, staff, and others with a connection to the private Christian university have signed onto a letter asking the administration to officially sanction LGBTQ groups on campus.

For years, the Baylor powers-that-be have turned down requests from LGBTQ students to form official student groups, even as the university weathered scandals over its mishandling of sexual assaults. The final straw for the letter-signers was the university’s approval of Baylor Young Americans for Freedom, a student group that then invited Matt Walsh, an anti-gay commentator who also believes men are meant to rule women, to speak on campus.

“To allow groups such as Baylor YAF to organize officially and advertise and host events in Baylor spaces, while depriving LGBTQ groups the opportunity to create community and officially enter Baylor’s marketplace of ideas is manifestly unfair,” the letter states.

I noticed a lot of my gay friends constantly felt unsafe, unwelcome, unwanted at Baylor, and they were some of the most beautiful aspects of Baylor. They were the people who taught me the most about my faith and morality. It really hurt me to see they were hurt in that way.
— Paige Hardy, Baylor senior and a member of student government