Students navigate LGBTQ+ relationships, identities at Baylor

Gracie Speer | Cartoonist

By Sarah Gallaher | Staff Writer

When it comes to finding a significant other, things may look different for LGBTQ+ students at private Christian universities. Members of Gamma Alpha Upsilon, an unaffiliated LGBTQ+ advocacy group at Baylor, said being in an openly queer relationship is especially complicated at Baylor.

As a transgender person, Elgin, Okla., junior and external chair Bee Matthey found a safe space on campus within Gamma Alpha Upsilon. The organization sought a charter for 10 consecutive years before deciding in 2021 to remain unaffiliated. A year later, Baylor welcomed Prism — its first LGBTQ+ student organization.

“Despite not being allowed to be a student organization, there are definitely benefits to it,” Matthey said. “There’s a big sense of independence that we have because we are able to seek justice in a way that an official organization might not be able to.”

Matthey said the relationship between LGBTQ+ students and Baylor is a complicated one. According to Baylor’s statement on human sexuality, “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.”

Though the university does not condone LGBTQ+ relationships in its understanding of Christianity, its guidelines state that students are no longer expelled or punished for same-sex attraction, nor do counselors condone the use of conversion or reparative therapy. In 2015, Baylor removed its ban on “homosexual acts” in favor of the phrase “biblical understanding of sexuality.” But in 2023, there was controversy surrounding the university’s Title IX religious exemptions.

“There is a history of oppression on Baylor’s campus that is not being repaired,” Matthey said. “There is a bridge that was torn down for decades, and we are a Baptist campus that still can’t say we fully accept queer students.”

Waco freshman and Gamma Alpha Upsilon member Joanna Able said her outward appearance and identity as a bisexual woman offer her privilege, protecting her from backlash on campus.

“I can ‘pass’ as straight,” Able said via email. “When I am seen with a man, no one bats an eye. Yet, I have faced hostility for simply walking with friends who outwards appear ‘queer.’”

Though Able said she has felt welcomed and loved in many spaces at Baylor, she said she has felt rejected by others. Able said she feels like the hostility present on campus prevents her from dating a woman without the fear of facing backlash from various people and groups.

“I hate to encourage people to hide parts of themselves, yet your safety needs to come first,” Able said via email.

The fear of judgment or criticism can prevent LGBTQ+ students from fully exploring their sexuality and identity, sometimes opting to keep their romantic relationships private.

To Matthey, those who hold hands and participate in other public displays of affection have a lot of confidence in doing so. While Matthey has the opportunity to hold hands with their partner in public, they said that is not the case for many queer couples.

“As a trans person, I look like a woman, and nobody would ever assume that I am trans,” Matthey said. “My partner is a cisgender gay man, so we pass as a hetero relationship. I think that is a really big privilege for us.”

Although Matthey has generally felt accepted by faculty within their department, they said they have still experienced discrimination and microaggressions based on their gender identity while at Baylor. Gamma Alpha Upsilon offers a space for them to explore their identity as a transgender person and to have an openly queer relationship.

“Any place where queer people feel safe, it is so empowering to be around people like you,” Matthey said.

Sarah Gallaher is a sophomore from Seattle, Washington majoring in public relations with a minor in political science. During her first year on the Lariat staff, she hopes to help inform her fellow students about things happening on campus. Sarah plans to return to Seattle after graduation to pursue a career in corporate public relations.