By Preston Gossett |
Many expected that conservative provocateur Matt Walsh’s speech would stir up Baylor University, but what no one expected is that his visit would ignite a long overdue fight for equal rights of LGBTQ+ students on this 174-year-old Baptist campus.
“It’s so incredibly sad, a tragedy really, that this hostility to thought, to ideas, to challenging perspectives should be found of all places on a college campus,” Walsh said, ironically highlighting the topic he so vehemently argued against.
A petition utilizing his invitation to speak as an opportunity to address the university’s exclusion of LGBTQ+ student groups began circulating in the days preceding his visit. This document was signed by over 2,700 members of the Baylor community who in the petition self-identified as 1,500 alumni, 600 students, 200 current and former university faculty, 70 ministers, pastors, and donors, and is being hand-delivered to Baylor president Linda Livingstone.
During Walsh’s talk on Diadeloso – an 87-year-old campus tradition when students get the day off from classes to enjoy the outdoors – an unconventionally large number of MAGA hat-wearing students and Wacoans made an appearance to hear “Why the Left Has Set Out to Redefine Life, Marriage and Gender.” We typically don’t see so many MAGA hats on campus, but they all came out of the closet that night.
Walsh’s stance alone assumes that everyone on Baylor’s Christian campus agrees with his presupposition. The truth is that he is wrong. He was forced to take a foundational approach to explain why he believes abortion is evil, why he believes transgenderism is a myth and why he believes marriage should exclude gay couples.
“The bottom line about free speech… it doesn’t mean that I have to agree with you, or you have to agree with me, but it should be a common ground for understanding,” said Desmond Thomas. He’s a Resident Chaplain for Allen/Dawson residence hall at Baylor, whose experience at the event was marred by an anxiety for how Walsh’s message would be perceived by students. “Let’s do everything we’re going to do in a spirit of peace and respect, and let’s be courteous to even agree that we disagree.”
But where do we draw the line? Why does it seem that only certain people are entitled to free speech while there are organizations on Baylor’s campus that continue to face rejection from administration?
Since 2011, Sexual Identity Forum (SIF, the unofficial gay club on campus) has been trying to become a chartered organization, and yet every year, Baylor denies their request. So for the time being, word of mouth is their only viable option because they aren’t allowed to publicly advertise for new members. SIF also can’t host events, nor can they receive university funding. For too long, Baylor has not treated LGBTQ+ students fairly. The brochures tell us that all are welcomed at Baylor. That is simply not true.
“We are this entity that people can call upon if they want information or if they need a safe space,” SIF president Elizabeth Benton said. “But it’s more than annoying that a lot of times the conversation I hear from people is that they just didn’t know we existed.”
However, action is being taken as I’m typing this and times are changing. Just this past week, Baylor student government passed a bill – with San Antonio senior Paige Hardy at the helm – discouraging further exclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. In her discussion during Student Senate, Hardy mentioned the fears she had if these types of issues aren’t addressed right away or as soon as possible. Tragedy, Hardy put it, is sometimes the only way that change is brought about.
What this bill is – a call to action based off of an overdue conversation. What this bill isn’t – an attack on anyone, and therefore not in any way calling for Baylor to change its faith statement.
“We’re in this weird grey area where we can reap the benefits of diverse students… and celebrate for it,” Hardy said, in regards to the non-white Christians that make up a significant portion of the student population at Baylor. “We praise their differences, and even put them on our ‘Baylor Lights,’ (campaign) but then we don’t serve them.”
Even students of color struggle to fit in on this campus, regardless of whether they are Baptist or not, and when it comes to LGBTQ+ students, they are simply ignored, made to organize in silence.
Walsh’s argument was based around the principle of free speech, and when students and faculty protested, the First Amendment prevailed. SIF has been requesting a charter for their club to meet and talk freely while also spreading information and news to the students. This is a concept based on the guaranteed First Amendment, but with a little bit of protesting and a look at Baylor’s statement on sexuality denouncing homosexual behavior, it is clear that free speech is a privilege not guaranteed to all.
The principle in both of these situations is the same, so why hasn’t SIF been recognized as an official organization?
The flyers for Walsh’s event depicting the communist symbol of a sickle and hammer on top of the rainbow pride flag are classified as “free speech,” but SIF students wanting to simply meet officially to exercise that same right are being refused.
Who gets to decide whose First Amendment rights are worth fighting for?