#GLAADinstitue Alum Andrew Hartzler was interviewed by host Al Furgeson on the Unapologetically Queer podcast. He spoke about growing up in a conservative evangelical household, being sent to conversion therapy multiple times, and how his experiences have led him to be one of the forty-four plaintiffs filing suit against the US Department of Education. Hartzler is a GLAAD Media Institute alum. Earlier this year, Andrew attended GLAAD’s Engagement 101 training in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The workshop provided attendees with tools and knowledge on how to impactfully tell their stories to the media and audiences who want to learn more about the LGBTQ community.
In the podcast, Hartzler uses these skills to discuss how his family forced him to attend conversion therapy after coming out at 14. As a child, he was quick to realize that his sexuality could not be erased and was a fact of his life. At the same time, Hartzler saw the sessions as something to endure for the sake of his parent’s acceptance, and he hoped that starting college would give him the freedom to be his authentic self. However, his parents threatened to kick him out of the house if he did not attend Oral Roberts University (ORU), an infamous anti-LGBTQ evangelical college in Oklahoma.
Since 2022, over 200 schools have acquired exemptions from Title IX using the banner of religion to discriminate against thousands of LGBTQ students and to ignore complaints of harassment. ORU is one of these institutions. The university is notorious for its anti-LGBTQ policies, and for expelling students for their sexuality or gender identity. Hartzler was also confronted with potential expulsion after he was outed to the university’s administration. He was given two options: suspension from ORU or attend accountability meetings, which, as Hartzler described, was conversion therapy by another name. Not willing to jeopardize his degree, he chose the latter.
Now graduated, Hartzler has become a fervent advocate for LGBTQ youth and students across the United States. He has spoken out against the harmful practices of conversion therapy as well as the Title IX exemptions granted to many religious universities. He is one of many involved with the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP). REAP represents 44 plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the DOE, disputing that religious exemptions violate the student’s equal protection rights and the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from making legislation that favors a particular religion.
Hartzler spoke on REAP’s efforts, saying:
“They [students] aren’t going to school to have their sexuality or gender identity and expression changed or conformed to the school’s preference. So our hope is that we will be treated fairly and equally because we are equally deserving of the same rights our heterosexual peers are entitled to.”
Moreover, these universities with Title IX exemptions receive federal funding through research grants, scholarships, and so on. In 2022, Hartzler’s Alma Mater received 50 million dollars from the federal government. Thus, the typical taxpayer is inadvertently supporting these institutions that are wrongfully allowed to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity and expression.
Though the American Psychiatric Association has denounced conversion therapy and UN experts have called the practice a form of torture, 28 states do not have laws that ban conversion therapy as of 2023. Conversion therapy, which attempts to change or suppress an individual’s sexuality or gender identity, is not only ineffective but there is a plethora of evidence that illustrates the harm it inflicts on LGBTQ youth. According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ youth who face extreme rejection are six times more likely to report high levels of depression and eight times more likely to have attempted suicide.