By Whitney Hunter |
Imagine not being able to fully express yourself in what many call the most formative years of your life. This is the harsh reality for LGBTQ+ students on Baylor University’s conservative, Baptist campus.
Luckily, in 2011 the Sexual Identity Forum was created as a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and as a place to build community. At 8 p.m. every Thursday, students meet in the SUB to build relationships and unity. The meeting topics differ every week, including study sessions or LGBT affirming priests speaking on their experience with sexuality and the church.
Baylor University’s policy on sexuality states that “it is thus expected that Baylor students will not participate in advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.” For this reason, SIF is a non-chartered organization.
This means that they are not allowed to reserve any spaces on campus for meetings, so their meetings are held in public spaces. Not every LGBTQ+ person is open about their sexuality. Some people are not out yet to their friends or family and people will often not attend meetings due to a fear of being outed. The SIF president, Elizabeth Benton, is a junior, bisexual secondary education major. She worries about people not feeling comfortable and safe attending a meeting that is not behind closed doors.
“I would love to get to know more people that are [LGBTQ+] and I’ve talked to a couple of people who don’t come to SIF for these safety reasons,” Benton said. “I’ve met so many people that are LGBTQ+ that don’t attend meetings because of fear of not being out.” Benton wishes this was not the case.
One of the largest struggles SIF faces is students not knowing of their existence. Being non-chartered also prohibits SIF from advertising, which makes attracting new members difficult. The vice president, junior Anna Conner, is a queer psychology/physical therapy major and is passionate about using SIF a place for those in need of community.
“The administration doesn’t really acknowledge that we exist. It’s just hard to be recognized and to get out there because I have this sense of urgency in that there’s a lot of people in this club that I know that have told me that they really struggled with being a part of themselves or being raised in a Christian environment,” Conner said. “They wouldn’t be here on this Earth if there hadn’t been something like this here, so I really want to get out there, but because Baylor doesn’t acknowledge us, it has been difficult.”
In previous years, SIF has been making changes to increase visibility on campus and in the community. After the release of the 2017 climate survey findings, which revealed that eight percent of Baylor students identify as other than heterosexual, they knew that it was time to expand. Being more visible is helping Benton reach her goal of having SIF “being able to be a voice for everybody.”
Benton wants students to know that SIF is “just trying to have community and be a safe space for people.” Whether or not people are out, Benton reminds students that everyone’s journey with their sexuality is something that shouldn’t be rushed.
“With any LGBTQ+ person… everyone makes assumptions, but there’s more underneath that surface,” Benton said. “Take your time, figure this out yourself. This isn’t a race if you’re not comfortable with it yet, that’s fine. I wasn’t for a while. It’s definitely not an easy decision to make. Go at your own pace and don’t feel pressure.”