Livingstone

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 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.”