LGBTQ students

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.”