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Baylor tennis coach Brian Boland speaks after the NCAA Tournament selection show Monday at the Ferrell Center.

editor's pick
Thousands petition Baylor to recognize LGBT groups
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

Baylor students, faculty, staff and alumni have signed on to supporting official LGBTQ groups on campus, surprising some and encouraging others.

More than 3,000 signers have added their names to an open letter calling for Baylor University to officially recognize and charter LGBTQ student groups, which the university currently does not do. Alumni Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore and Tracy Teaff wrote the letter partially in response to an on-campus appearance by Matt Walsh, a blogger critical of the gay rights movement. Unlike a separate petition that circulated, this one did not seek to cancel the April 9 event.

“Rather, we are writing because Matt Walsh’s scheduled appearance on campus, the University’s approval of the fliers advertising the event, and the official status of a group such as (Baylor Young Americans For Freedom) illustrates the fundamental unfairness of the University’s treatment of other student groups, particularly those seeking to provide community to students who identify as LGBTQ or allies,” the letter states.

Signers include prominent alumni such as Waco-based economist M. Ray Perryman and Waco bank presidents David Lacy and Bill Nesbitt, as well as former Baylor Vice President Reagan Ramsower and former U.S. Congressman Chet Edwards, D-Waco.

One group struggling for recognition is Baylor Sexual Identity Forum, which has existed since 2011 but has never attained chartered status. The student group applied for a charter most recently under the name Gamma Alpha Upsilon, after an administrator involved in the process suggested a name change.

“As he said, SIF was ‘notorious on campus,’ and it had a reputation,” said Anna Conner, the group’s president, who disputes that notion. “No one knows we exist,” she said.

The letter, which only includes signatures from signers with ties to Baylor, was delivered to Baylor President Linda Livingstone April 11. Baylor has yet to make a statement about the letter specifically. Baylor spokewoman Lori Fogleman referred back to the university’s “Statement on Human Sexuality,” found in the student policies and procedures, which states students are expected to not participate in “advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

Conner said over the years, the group has been rejected for a variety of reasons, most often because the university categorizes them as an advocacy group. However, she said the group’s primary purpose is to provide community and support for LGBTQ students, not advocacy.

“We have a lot of members who came in super uncomfortable with themselves, had very self-harmful tendencies, and our goal is to reach out to as many of them, to keep them from hurting themselves or doing anything destructive to themselves,” Conner said. “We just want to reach as many people as we can who are struggling with this.”

Without chartered status, the student group isn’t allowed to post notices of meetings, write messages in chalk on sidewalks, or promote themselves on campus in any way. Chartered groups can also rent facilities, such as the school’s bowling alley, at a discounted rate. The group’s external chairman, Hayden Evans, said the group relies heavily on word of mouth, emails and social media to communicate with members and bring in new ones.

The application process takes about 200 days of deliberation on average. This time, the group began the process in February.

“We aren’t asking for anything major,” SIF president Elizabeth Benton said. “We’re just asking for a room, to get out from the middle of everything, and to advertise.”

SIF officers said finding public spaces for large gatherings can be difficult, restaurants can be crowded and loud, and newcomers are often concerned with privacy.

“There is a very real fear that someone will see them and then target them later on,” Conner said. “If we had a separate meeting room out of the public eye, more people would feel comfortable to come to our meetings.”

Paige Hardy, a senator in Baylor’s Student Senate, added her name to the letter. She said until very recently, she thought she was one of only a few people who would.

“I was completely unaware that a supportive community existed within Baylor,” Hardy said. “I think when Matt Walsh came to campus and people started speaking out against it, it was reaffirmation to all of us.”

She wrote two bills supporting LGBTQ students at Baylor in April, which both passed. The first was a senate support resolution stating the student government’s support for LGTBQ students. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and queer.

“It basically said that if you are an LGBTQ student, you shouldn’t have to feel unsafe on campus because of your sexuality,” Hardy said.

The first measure passed with one nay vote. The next week, Hardy introduced a second bill calling for the university to allow LGBTQ students to organize formally on campus. The second bill passed by a narrower margin. Hardy, a senior, said she’d been considering the issue since she was a freshman.

“I noticed a lot of my gay friends constantly felt unsafe, unwelcome, unwanted at Baylor, and they were some of the most beautiful aspects of Baylor,” Hardy said. “They were the people who taught me the most about my faith and morality. It really hurt me to see they were hurt in that way.”

Ray Perryman, president and CEO of local economic firm The Perryman Group, attended Baylor and later returned as the university’s business economist-in-residence.

He said he signed the letter without hesitation, and was surprised to learn Baylor still held the policy. He referred to his mentor Vivienne Malone-Mayes, Baylor’s first black professor, who was rejected from Baylor when she applied as a student in 1961.

“I think the University’s policy of excluding LGBTQ student groups from recognition is inconsistent with principles of justice and well as with showing fairness and compassion to all of its students,” Perryman said. “I would hate to see Baylor again be on the wrong side of history and justice as it was in its decision regarding Vivienne’s admission.”

Kyndall Rothaus, a graduate of Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary and Lake Shore Baptist Church’s senior pastor, signed the letter. Rothaus she believes support for LGBTQ students has been growing steadily for years, and Walsh’s event simply provided a catalyst for organized action.

“(The letter is) really only asking for fair treatment of all student groups,” Rothaus said. “To exclude them, but not other groups, is really unfair.”

“Studies consistently demonstrate that LGBTQ youth that grow up in religious environments have higher rates of suicidal ideation and attempts than LGBTQ youth from non-religious backgrounds,” Rothaus said.

She said for LGBTQ youth from secular backgrounds, the inverse is true.

“It’s not just a matter of different interpretations of scripture, it’s literally life or death,” Rothaus said.

Associated Press — Susan Walsh  

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Baylor women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey as he welcomed members of the national champion Lady Bears basketball team Monday at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Lady Bears at White House

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Baylor women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey (front row, second from left) on Monday as he welcomes members of the Baylor women’s basketball team, the 2019 NCAA Division I women’s basketball national champions, to the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. See story on Page 1B.

Associated Press — Susan Walsh

editor's pick
First day of giant I-35 project goes smoothly; more disruptions on the way
 Mike Copeland  / 

The marathon project to widen Interstate 35 through Waco got off on the right foot Monday, with no major bottlenecks or wrecks reported from the closing of a northbound lane.

It was the beginning of an estimated 2,000-day, $341 million project to widen the interstate from near Bellmead to South 12th Street. The undertaking creates a six-mile construction zone around Baylor University, downtown, restaurant row at Fifth and Sixth streets and the Brazos River, with heavy equipment, crews in hard hats and street and exit closings.

“I have not been made aware of any potential issues so far, nothing where I have been asked to issue a statement,” said Waco Police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, speaking late Monday afternoon. “We have passed along information on our Facebook page, and will continue to provide information on lane closures and when lanes slow down. The public needs to be aware that for the next four or five years we will have construction issues on I-35. They need to follow the signs, follow the rules and be particularly diligent in construction zones, where workers are trying to improve Interstate 35.”

About 140,000 vehicles a day travel I-35 through Waco, said Ken Roberts, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. The department will provide updated information on the widening at

Motorists particularly need to use caution as mid-May approaches. At that time, TxDOT crews will demolish the pedestrian bridge spanning the interstate near South Eighth Street. Roberts said the 1,285-foot bridge was built in 1966.

“We do not know the exact date, but should as it approaches. We will get that information out as soon as possible,” Roberts said, adding the department likely will close the entire interstate, both northbound and southbound lanes, during the dismantling that crews will complete overnight.

“There have been times when the thinking was we would close, say, the northbound lanes one night and the southbound lanes the next in a particular area. But what we discovered was that when we started taking down one end of the bridge, the other began crumbling,” said Roberts. “So now we take the whole thing down at once. We get in there, knock it down, haul the material to a ‘spoils’ site and reopen the lanes. It can be done overnight, with the lanes possibly closed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. so as to limit the inconvenience.”

During the bridge demolition in Waco, traffic will be rerouted to Loop 340 or to Interstate 35 frontage roads for the evening, Roberts said.

Roberts confirmed that TxDOT on Wednesday will permanently close Exit 335A on southbound I-35, which now leads to Fourth and Fifth streets. Motorists should use the University Parks exits instead, Roberts said.

“This exit is not coming back,” Roberts said. “The site is being reconfigured.”

A northbound main lane of I-35 closed Monday for the entire section of the project between 12th Street and North Loop 340, leaving only two lanes in that direction. Crews are reinforcing the pavement and shoulder.

Throughout the 5½-year process, motorists must watch for alterations to entrances, exits and frontage roads. Frontage work should wrap up in early 2022, and main lane projects the following year, TxDOT announced.

As each phase unfolds, businesses that may face challenges will receive “face-to-face visits” from highway department representatives, Roberts said.

The project is to be completed in late 2024, with The Woodlands-based Webber LLC serving as lead contractor. Trucks and heavy equipment bearing the Webber name are appearing along the construction route.

“The public will get very familiar with it,” Roberts said.

editor's pick
Doris Miller Memorial closing funding gap with Waco Foundation loan
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

The Waco Foundation will provide a $370,000 cash advance to Cultural Arts of Waco to complete funding of the steel ship hull at the Doris Miller Memorial while organizers continue to raise money to finish the project.

The zero-interest loan is in addition to $300,000 that Waco Foundation has already given to the $2.69 million landscape monument on the Brazos River, and the foundation is encouraging Cultural Arts of Waco to apply for an additional $300,000 grant in July to help close the gap.

Doreen Ravenscroft, executive director of Cultural Arts of Waco, said the cash advance from the Waco Foundation will allow contractors who worked on the memorial that was dedicated on Dec. 7, 2018, to be paid and essentially completes funding for the large steel hull in the display.

Two other Waco-based foundations, the Cooper Foundation and Rapoport Foundation also recently made additional donations of $300,000 each, beyond their earlier commitments, to offset the higher-than-expected cost of the project. Ravenscroft estimated that the Doris Miller project still needs about $100,000 to $200,000 beyond the foundations’ support.

“We are extremely excited that through the combination of money from the three foundations and the other donations we have received, we have almost achieved our goal,” Ravenscroft said. “We are so grateful to the board of the foundation for supporting the mission and the goal of the Doris Miller Memorial.”

The memorial honors Miller, the Waco-born World War II hero who dodged enemy fire during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while dragging his Navy captain and others to safety before returning fire with a machine gun.

The memorial features a reflecting pool and a 9-foot bronze statue by Lubbock sculptor Eddie Dixon depicting Miller standing at parade rest in his Navy uniform. Behind the statue is a shiny silver structure that resembles a ship’s hull.

Ravenscroft said she is hoping to wrap up fundraising to complete the final stages of the memorial, including Dixon’s bronze replica of the Navy Cross and bronze panels with raised designs.

Miller, who survived Pearl Harbor but who died in combat two years later, inspired many through his heroic actions and became the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross. Endorsements for Miller to be awarded the Medal of Honor continue.

Waco Foundation spokeswoman Natalie Kelinske said that while the foundation gave Cultural Arts Waco the $370,000 cash advance, the foundation has encouraged project officials to approach the foundation for a $300,000 grant in July, when they would be eligible for a grant request based on the foundation’s guidelines and procedures.

“Waco Foundation is committed to improving quality of life in McLennan County, and the foundation board feels very strongly that the Doris Miller Memorial honoring a local African-American war hero is a priority project for our community,” Ashley Allison, Waco Foundation executive director, said in a statement.

“In keeping with our stated values around race equity, we believe our commitment to this project elevates the conversation and bolsters educational opportunities about the importance of contributions from Doris Miller and other people of color in our community,” she said.

The earlier Waco Foundation grant of $300,000 included $200,000 underwritten by the estate of William Travis Clark Jr.

Ravenscroft, the driving force behind the memorial for a decade, has guided the fundraising vessel through some stormy times, including a squall that more than doubled the project cost to $2.5 million.

Organizers were told that the land near the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center on the Brazos River is in a floodplain, which forced additional engineering and design studies to ensure the memorial site was properly elevated and stabilized.

On Monday, an upbeat Ravenscroft and staff were opening envelopes with donations to the memorial, many of which were generated by John Deaver, recent Cotton Palace pageant king, who requested that donations in honor of the Cotton Palace be made to the Miller Memorial.

She said a total from those donations will be available later this week.

NRA's LaPierre fends off backlash, wins re-election as CEO

INDIANAPOLIS — The National Rifle Association, facing internal turmoil over its financial management, increasingly partisan tone, and legal threats from government regulators, beat back efforts to overhaul its operations. Wayne LaPierre, the public face of the gun lobbying group for decades, fended off a backlash and was re-appointment Monday as the gun lobby’s CEO.

It was unclear if the debate that has roiled the 5-million-member organization in recent weeks would still lead to significant changes in its operations. In recent days, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North lost a bid for a second term as president and the next likely successor was passed over in favor of Carolyn Meadows. But most of the board remained intact and despite a very public tussle with its longtime public relations firm, which has received tens of millions of dollars to steer its message, the board did not formally sever ties with it.

Despite the turmoil, LaPierre struck a cheery tone in a statement after the board meeting: “United we stand. The NRA board of directors, our leadership team, and our more than 5 million members will come together as never before in support of our country’s constitutional freedoms.”

For the past two decades, the NRA has faced criticism from among its ranks that its leaders had become corrupted by the millions of dollars flowing into its coffers. The criticism has included allegations of self-dealing and excessive personal spending. Now the pressure has increased with New York’s attorney general opening an investigation that could threaten the group’s tax-exempt status.

The NRA’s charter was originally filed in New York, giving authorities there broad latitude to investigate its operations. Newly elected New York Attorney General Letitia James has made no bones about her dislike of the NRA, calling it a “terrorist organization.”

“I never thought this thing would ever get to the level it got,” Joel Friedman, an NRA board member since 2002, told The Associated Press before the 76-member board met to decide whether organizational changes were needed to stave off punitive action by New York authorities.

Just last year, an investigation by the previous New York attorney general led President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation to dissolve amid allegations it was operating as an extension of Trump’s business empire and presidential campaign.

The prospect of scrutiny by New York authorities led the NRA last year to hire an outside law firm and to ask its vendors to provide documentation about its billings. The NRA in recent weeks sued Ackerman McQueen, the Oklahoma-based public relations firm that has earned tens of millions of dollars from the NRA since it began shaping the gun lobby’s fierce talking points in the past two decades. The NRA accused Ackerman McQueen of refusing to provide the requested documents.

Ackerman McQueen turned the NRA from an organization focused on hunting and gun safety into a conservative political powerhouse. The firm created and operates NRATV, an online channel whose hosts often venture into political debates not directly related to firearms, such as immigration and diversity on children’s TV.

The NRA has faced some financial struggles in recent years, losing a combined $64 million in 2016 and 2017, and that has prompted some to question whether the large sums spent on public relations and NRATV are worth the money. In its lawsuit, the NRA said some of its members have questioned NRATV’s weighing in on “topics far afield of the Second Amendment.”

The turmoil boiled over Saturday when retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, a conservative stalwart aligned with the public relations firm and host of NRATV’s “American Heroes” segment, was essentially ousted from his role as NRA president after trying to force LaPierre out.

According to LaPierre, North tried to strong-arm him into resigning by threatening to expose damaging information about the NRA’s finances — specifically, allegedly excessive staff travel expenses — as well as sexual harassment allegations against an employee and accusations that LaPierre had charged tens of thousands of dollars in wardrobe purchases to his expense account.

North’s own contract with Ackerman McQueen raised alarm bells within the NRA about the costs and possible conflicts of interest. LaPierre, in a letter to the board, noted that of the 12 TV episodes Ackerman McQueen promised to deliver, only three have aired.

NRA insiders in recent weeks have described an operation with warring factions, a place where some are compensated richly, driving expensive cars and wearing fancy clothes, while most rank-and-file are paid so little that they hold down more than one job and risk being ostracized or fired if they question expenses.

“Right now, it looks like the NRA has become like a self-licking ice cream cone,” Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, conservative commentator and relatively recent NRA board member said in a video interview with the website Tactical Rifleman. “A lot of money is being raised just to scratch the backs of certain — a cabal of cronyism.”

“We’ve got one shot to fix this, and we’ve got one shot to make it right, which means there probably does have to be some personnel leadership changes,” he said. “There also definitely has to be organizational reforms.”

Trump weighed in Monday in defense of the NRA against New York authorities.

“The NRA is under siege by Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization, & others. It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS — FAST!” he tweeted.