Baylor University President Linda Livingstone announced this week that the university will take steps to better support LGBTQ students, but a request to recognize unofficial LGBTQ student groups was not addressed.
In an email Tuesday to students, faculty and staff, Livingstone stated Baylor students will not face disciplinary action for their sexual identity, and said that Baylor counselors do not practice or condone so-called conversion or reparative therapy to change their orientation.
Baylor officials have faced pressure in recent months from students and alumni who have petitioned them to recognize LGBTQ student organizations, and Baylor regents discussed related issues at a retreat this summer.
“During the course of these conversations, it has become evident to us that there are many misperceptions regarding Baylor’s stance on human sexuality and that there is more we can do to support our LGBTQ students,” Livingstone said in the statement Tuesday.
Baylor’s website now contains a page stating the university’s LGBTQ resources are compliant with Title IX, the federal law that bars gender discrimination on campus. The page states that students are not expelled or disciplined for same-sex attraction. In a frequently asked questions section, the site reiterates Baylor’s official statement on human sexuality, which reads:
“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.”
The page also states LGBTQ students seeking community support can find it through Baylor’s counseling center, Baylor’s Bias Response Team or the Department of Spiritual Life.
“With this said, we understand that we must do more to demonstrate love and support for our students who identify as LGBTQ,” Livingstone’s statement continues. “A common theme emerging from all of the aforementioned conversations is the need for us to provide more robust and more specific training for students, faculty and staff in loving, caring for and supporting our LGBTQ students.”
The unofficial student group Gamma Alpha Upsilon, formerly known as SIF, said in a statement that their members appreciate the university’s efforts, but that Baylor still has not addressed issues they raised during the previous semester.
“We wish to point out that they have continued to ignore our requests and refuse to talk with us about the issues we face as LGBTQ+ students,” they stated. “We have clearly outlined what issues we have found, in the petition written in April, that we wish to be addressed. In the email, the president has expressed interest in continuing the conversation and we would greatly appreciate the ability to establish this dialogue with her and other Baylor administration.”
Gamma Alpha Upsilon President Elizabeth Benton said the group is still seeking a charter from the university’s Division of Student Life, which would give them official status and access to assistance other groups receive.
“It still refuses to acknowledge what we’ve been asking for the entire time,” Benton said.
Benton said the new webpage referring students to the Baylor Counseling Center and other campus resources is not a negative but also does not fully address the issue.
“They’re not always equipped to help,” Benton said. “On many occasions, the counseling center has turned students away because their ‘problems’ were too much to handle, and they’d send them to other places that would either cost too much or that people weren’t able to get to.”
She said her group exists to provide a sense of safety and security for LGBTQ students who might not be able to find it elsewhere.
“Take it outside of this context,” Benton said. “Whenever you find a group of people that you really connect with, you feel safe and you feel comfortable. That’s why we’re here.”
Benton said her group is still seeking an audience with Baylor administrators. The group asked to address the Baylor Board of Regents before the end of the semester last year, but was not allowed to.
“Have a conversation with us,” Benton said. “They keep bringing in people who don’t go to Baylor, who have no affiliation with Baylor, and it feels like a slap in the face when they do this. It’s just really disappointing on our end.”
Kyle Desrosiers, a Baylor student who wrote about the issue in a Tribune-Herald guest column, called the statement a “callous lack of action.”
“Though President Livingstone and the Baylor administration think that current resources, which most LGBTQ students don’t currently trust to meet their needs, are enough, LGBTQ students are constantly faced with harassment and hatred at Baylor in many ways small and great,” Desrosiers said. “Additionally, LGBTQ persons cannot and have never been able to participate in the Baylor community as fully as straight students.”
BU Bears for All founders Skye Perryman, Jackie Baugh Moore, and Tracy Teaff, who authored an open letter calling for recognition of Baylor’s unofficial LGBT student groups that gained more than 3,000 signatures, released a statement in response.
“Dialogue is part of academic life and can be useful,” they stated. “At the end of the day, this is an effort about real people who are in the Baylor family living their lives as dialogue about their civil rights is happening around them.
“Until all members of the Baylor family, including LGBTQ+ people, are afforded equal opportunities to participate fully in campus life, our work is not done. We and thousands of others look forward to helping Baylor move forward and urge it to adopt policies that are in line with its academic and athletic peers.”