Andrew Hartzler utilizes storytelling to end religious extremism and conversion therapy one TikTok at a time

@andrewhartzler my aunt cried today #vickyhartzler #lgbtq #respectformarriage #religousexemption #congress #gay #missouri ♬ original sound - andrew hartzler

Last week Andrew Hartzler met and trained with GLAAD to prepare for interviews with at least six news media outlets after calling out his aunt, Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, in a viral TikTok video. Andrew’s video centers on his aunt’s condemnation of the Respect for Marriage Act on the House floor Dec. 8. The anti-LGBTQ politician, who lost her seat in the primary, pleaded with her colleagues to stop RFMA from passing into law, but it was signed into law Tuesday afternoon by Pres. Biden. Andrew was invited to the White House to be present for the history making event. 

Andrew is gay and came out to his aunt in February

“I also thought it was super interesting that she only invoked religious freedom when it was used to take away the freedom of someone outside her religion,” Andrew said to MSNBC. “That is not what my definition of religious freedom is.”

The 24-year-old was sent to conversion therapy throughout high school by his parents. As a result of his sexual orientation, Andrew was sent to Oral Roberts University. GLAAD has supported Hartzler and Religious Exemption Accountability Project, which empowers queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression since the launch of the campaign and lawsuit. Hartzler is an alum of the GLAAD Media Institute, having received training when news of his discriminatory experience at Oral Roberts University began to make headlines in May, 2022.  Hartzler has joined 40 other plaintiffs in a lawsuit to end federal funding for schools that discriminate and threaten the academic success of students who are openly LGBTQ. 

"Negative rhetoric spread by the religious right demonizes LGBTQ people and basically turns their following completely against them," Andrew told People Magazine. "It can become very dangerous, like we saw in Colorado. Hate is taught, it's not something you're born with." 

Andrew has told media outlets that he wants his last name (which he shares with his aunt) to be associated with love, not hate. Hartzler’s story appeared in various outlets, including NBC News, CNN, The Guardian, People Magazine, MSNBC, Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Telemundo, and The Advocate.

Andrew’s mission is clear: stop conversion therapy and religious extremism from adducing violence. 

This mission of Andrew’s is shared by many who also believe that hatred is taught. Over the last year a number of documentaries have been made denouncing the manipulation and religious extremism behind conversion therapy and the anti-LGBTQ agenda. GLAAD has been a partner to many of these films, including attending their premieres and panels, while also serving as producers and consultants.

Conversion, Pray Away, Mormon No More, and Building a Bridge are four documentaries that came out within the last year. The films highlight activists that have taken a stand against the exploitation of the well-funded anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience funded discrimination and harm. They follow the ways Christian extremists will go to manipulate religion and people to eradicate LGBTQ existence through conversion therapy. 

In 2018 Zach Meiner, the director and a subject of Conversion, found out that his conversion therapist was still practicing 10 years after he left the dangerous practice. Meiner struggled to deal with the reality of his own traumatic experience, and made the decision to reach out to other survivors.

One of those survivor’s is Matt Ashcroft. Ashcroft, similar to Andrew, has spent his life fighting against religious exemptions, which encourages violences against the LGBTQ community. Ashcroft worked with No Conversion Canada, an nonprofit dedicated to ending conversion therapy in Canada, to stop conversion therapy by introducing Bill C-4 into Candian law. This bill defines conversion therapy as a “practice, treatment or service” to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, change gender identity to cisgender, change a person’s gender expression so that it “conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth”, and repress any and all non-heteronormative behaviors and appearances as illegal. 

“Just because it’s your religion—just because it’s what you believe in your religion—it doesn’t mean that you are harmless,” said Ashcroft at Conversion’s New York City premiere.

Andrew’s lawsuit against the Department of Education works to end religious exemptions, which allow for evangelical conservative universities like Oral Roberts University to discriminate against LGBTQ students from campus while still receiveing taxpayer dollars from the federal government.

“There are hundreds of thousands of students at these universities that are legally discriminated against,” Andrew said in his interview to MSNBC

He’s right.

There are over 698,000 conversion therapy survivors in the United States. Nearly half that amount attempt suicide every year, and each year another 80,000 LGBTQ youth will go through conversion therapy within the next five years, according to Conversion’s website. 

In these documentaries, specifically Pray Away, filmmakers highlight that the leaders of conversion therapy, or the use of religious freedom to pathologicalize LGBTQ people, are often LGBTQ themselves. These individuals are often groomed to think that they’re ill due to either a poor relationship with their “same-sex parent” or a trauma. This trauma is often pressured to be  foregone sexual abuse to explain homosexuality. 

Unfortunately, this rhetoric often tears people down to lift them back up as examples of reformed “ex-gays”, “ex-trans”, “ex-LGBTQ” people. Those “reformed” individuals then speak at universities, conferences, news commentary, and, or, contribute to hate groups like the Family Research Council, which Edgar Prince, the father of Betsy DeVos, the former Secretary of Education during the Trump Administration, helped start in 1981. 

DeVos much like Andrew’s Aunt Vicky have inspired a coagulation of Church and State, blurring the lines of equality, freedom and religion for United States citizens. 

“I rise to adamantly oppose the disrespect for marriage act,” said the Missouri representative. “This unnecessary, misguided legislation not only disrespects the importance of traditional marriage for the health of a family, but also disrespects the importance of traditional marriage for the health of a family, but also disrespects people and organizations of faith who have the right to carry out their mission in accordance with their most deeply held beliefs.” 

Many would beg to differ on the statements of Vicky Hartzler. 

About a year ago Father James Martin, the author of the book Building a Bridge and the focus of a documentary by the same name, met with Pope Francis. Both the documentary and the book are extensions of Father Martin’s advocacy; a belief that love for LGBTQ+ communities is essential to the teachings of Catholicism. 

Father Martin said in a tweet that Pope Francis told him to continue his ministry. 

“Equating LGBTQ people, including transgender people, in any way, with the "demonic" leads inevitably to more hatred, harassment and violence. Stigmatizing and dehumanizing language will mean even greater suffering for an already at-risk community…,” said Father Martin in another tweet Wednesday morning.