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.
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."