Baylor University’s LGBTQ+ students have historically struggled to achieve fundamental fairness and equal treatment.
This is most visible in the decade-long denial of a charter for Gamma Alpha Upsilon (GAY), the unofficial organization for LGBTQ+ students at Baylor.
The tenor of this struggle changed when, in April 2019, thousands of people including alumni, parents, ministers, students, donors and faculty publicly petitioned Baylor to provide LGBTQ+ students the same rights to form official student organizations on campus as other students.
The outpouring was fueled by Baylor’s official sanctioning of a student organization’s invitation of conservative firebrand Matt Walsh to the Baylor campus and associated university-approved advertising that derided the LGBTQ+ community.
Thousands of people asked: If Baylor permits such organizations and speech on its campus, why will it not permit LGBTQ+ students to enjoy the same right to form their own student organizations?
Despite this recent momentum and events in the interim, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling this summer recognizing that LGBTQ+ people are entitled to protection under landmark civil rights laws, Baylor’s response continues to be disappointingly noncommittal.
The university continues to express a willingness to offer support to LGBTQ+ students without pursuing concrete changes to institutional policies directly responsible for their marginalization.
However, last month the Baylor Student Senate overwhelmingly voted to reinterpret the university’s Statement on Human Sexuality and add a nondiscrimination clause to student organization policies. Perhaps this resolution will finally clear the way for the recognition of Gamma Alpha Upsilon.
This unprecedented decision is only the latest effort to demonstrate that the urgent needs of students and the priorities of Baylor’s leadership have yet to align.
It is time for Baylor’s administration to follow the lead of student government by firmly and explicitly committing to the ongoing project of cultivating a diverse and inclusive university – a university that joins other R1 institutions in supporting and respecting the dignity of LGBTQ+ students.
The LGBTQ+ community at Baylor suffers from marginalization and discrimination that many cannot comprehend.
Students may be struggling to come out to their families, fearing whether they can still safely return home for the holidays. These students may fear telling their roommates because school is hard enough, and they can’t risk losing a friend just for being themselves.
These students wonder whether they’ll be called a homophobic slur by a classmate for holding hands with their significant other on campus. And, unfortunately, many experience debilitating anxiety and depression at rates that far exceed their peers.
These students are just looking for a community, for belonging.
Baylor should be a place where they feel welcome, but arbitrary policies that prevent LGBTQ+ students from gathering together keep them from developing interpersonal relationships with peers who can empathize with their experiences – their highs and lows, their triumphs and suffering.
Baylor could be a home for LGBTQ+ students, but its reluctance to officially recognize an LGBTQ+ student organization betrays its commitment to the support, safety and well-being of all its students.
Baylor takes immense pride in its religious roots, as do the thousands of students, parents, faculty, staff and alumni who call Baylor home. This spirit of faith is doubtless what makes Baylor such a transformational university.
But the way I see it, Baylor’s unapologetic commitment to its Christian character and the unequivocal affirmation of LGBTQ+ students are not mutually exclusive. Rather, Baylor’s embrace of LGBTQ+ students is the next right step toward fulfilling its commitment to faith and values.
Our faith is meant to draw people together. Our faith is based upon compassion and empathy for the most vulnerable among us. This is what a commitment to faith means.
Our faith does not discriminate; neither should Baylor University.
Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. If you know anyone who might be interested, encourage them to submit their article for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org.