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.