Regents

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.”

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.

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.