Lariat Letter: It’s not a matter of civil discourse, it’s a matter of civil rights

Photo courtesy of Veronica Bonifacio Penales

By Veronica Bonifacio Penales | Sophomore Senator; President – College Democrats of Baylor

This week, a Baylor lecturer who will be teaching an Honors Colloquia course to Baylor students this spring, made the following, since deleted and revised, public statement about the civil rights of transgender persons:

“What if I don’t want biological boys in the bathroom with my biological daughter? Do the 99% of us who do not wrestle with gender dysphoria have a voice? What if I told you Title IX was never meant to apply to the >1% of the students over the 99%? Doesn’t matter? Ok. Cool.”

Following the penning of a Lariat article by a student journalist marking Crenshaw’s tweet as “transphobic,” the Lariat faced backlash and issued a correction, instead referring to the tweet and Crenshaw’s message as “controversial.” I would like to take a moment to explicitly denounce Crenshaw’s tweets as anti-trans and as a message that epitomizes a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) argument, worsened by the use of religion as justification: that aiding the trans community hinders feminism and cis-women’s rights.

On Jan. 27, the Lariat published Provost Brickhouse’s statement urging that this is a time for “civil discourse.” The provost stated that “the protection of free speech by individual faculty members is vital.” In response to this I must ask: is the scope of Baylor’s Title IX policy so narrow that it does not address inflammatory statements toward the LGBTQIA+ community?

Time and time again, students are disappointed by the response Baylor presents to the public when concerning matters of race, sexuality and other marginalized identities. This response is no different . An apology granted to an openly discriminating professor rather than a granting of support to the Trans community is very telling of what this university is establishing as its ideals. There was no insult in regarding Dr. Crenshaw’s tweet as transphobic; this was a mere statement of fact. The willingness to immediately reverse a public statement in order to appease the cis-gendered, Christian majority is a direct attack on the LGBTQIA+ community. To our trans students on campus, I am so very sorry.

Title IX states that:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

This summer, the US Supreme Court recognized that discrimination against people based on sexual orientations or transgender status is discrimination “on the basis of sex.” Yet Baylor continues to discriminate against the LGBTQIA+ community: denying them the right to charter campus organizations, denying faculty members the right to marry whom they love and failing to ensure a campus free from bigotry.

The trans community was explicitly subjected to discrimination by Dr. Crenshaw. While her tweet may not have introduced the transphobic, homophobic and biphobic view on this campus, Baylor’s lack of response to, and I go even as far as to say a communication of support of, her message projects a clear one of its own: when it comes to the Trans and greater LGBTQIA+ community, the university’s love, compassion, respect and loyalty lie elsewhere.

Baylor’s refusal to enact an investigation and enactment of punitive measures can only be taken as the university neglecting to create a safe environment for all students, faculty and staff. Dr. Crenshaw’s feelings are not worth more than the safety and feeling of belonging of the LGBTQIA+ community on this campus.

These past few days I’ve reflected and allowed myself to feel everything. And I find myself thinking of how the following statement could have been used in the 1950s and early 1960s, during the time of Baylor’s exclusion of African American people from university admission, and what response would have been garnered from it:

What if I don’t want Black kids in the same school as my White kids. Do the majority of us who have White skin not have a voice? No. Okay Cool.”

We can agree to disagree on many things: budget deficits, environmental policy, how much money the university should invest in academics or athletics, the proper role of the federal government versus state governments in a constitutional democracy, to name a few, but when it comes to the fundamentality of matters concerning human rights, civil rights and basic human decency — on whether people are worthy of equal dignity, equal treatment and equal respect, both the Gospel’s message of equality and the civil rights laws of the United States are unequivocal. If we are going to have a civil discourse, let’s have one about civil rights — rights that the University continues to disregard for LGBTQIA+ people.

I am deeply saddened and hurt by the stark contrast of Baylor’s claim of having “love and care” for its LGBTQIA+ students and it’s contradictory behavior.

To Provost Brickhouse, Dr. Crenshaw, the Baylor Regents, and other influential members of Baylor leadership I ask, with the intent of civil discourse: to what extent must the LGBTQIA+ community continue to face the pain and suffering that being on this campus has brought us? And to Baylor University as a whole I beg the question: Where is the “caring Christian community” you so pride yourself to be?