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Religious College Suspends Student for Gender Transition

Yanna Awtrey
Yanna Awtrey

Yanna Awtrey was informed after having top surgery that he was not welcome to return to Welch College in Tennessee.

A Free Will Baptist college in Tennessee has suspended a transgender student for undergoing a transition procedure.

Welch College in Gallatin, near Nashville, suspended Yanna Awtrey, 21, this month after he had top surgery, an operation to remove breast tissue. Awtrey was assigned female at birth but identifies as male.

Awtrey underwent the procedure August 2 and awakened from the anesthesia crying for joy, he told The Advocate via email. However, a couple who had promised to house him during his recovery revoked their offer upon learning what type of surgery he'd had. A trans acquaintance then took him in, with Awtrey planning to return to Welch as soon as his health permitted. But later that day he received an email from the college telling him that he would not be allowed to return because of the nature of his surgery. It was "the best and worst day of my life," he said in the email.

A few days later the college offered to put him up in a motel for a week and pay for his food, but after that he'd be on his own. He had a hearing before a disciplinary committee Wednesday, and he was suspended for two terms, with the option of applying again after that time is up, but he doubts that Welch would accept him.

"I believe the committee did not fully expel me to bring about the false notion that I have a chance at returning into their good graces," his email said.

Several media outlets have covered his story and sought comment from Welch College. To one of them, BuzzFeed News, school officials declined comment on Awtrey's particular case, but made clear the college does not approve of transgender people.

"The College holds that God created humanity in two distinct and complementary sexes: male and female," Welch officials said in a statement to BuzzFeed. "The College acknowledges that the Fall of humanity into sin has introduced brokenness into God's good creation, including in the realm of human sexuality. Welch College believes that individuals experiencing such confusion -- and the distress that usually accompanies it -- should be treated with love and compassion. The College also believes that attempting to alter one's bodily identity constitutes a rejection of God's design for humanity."

Welch's president, Matt Pinson, added, We will continue to pray for all people experiencing gender confusion while also honoring the values of this institution and its sponsoring denomination, which are shared by the Christian tradition over two millennia."

The Free Will Baptist Church is one of many denominations using the term "Baptist." There is great variance among them regarding LGBTQ issues, with some being fully accepting and some completely the opposite. The Free Will denomination is separate from the largest U.S. Baptist group, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the nation's biggest Protestant denomination overall. But the two are equally opposed to acceptance of LGBTQ people. Awtrey had chosen Welch because he was brought up in the Free Will church, and while college officials say the policies are made clear to all students, Awtrey contends there is little discussion of LGBTQ matters.

He is staying at the hotel paid for by the college until Monday, after which he plans to stay with friends in North Carolina. "I've actually had homeless scares before two times, both related to my gender identity, so I've been planning for something like this to happen again," he told BuzzFeed. "I'm just taking it one step at a time."

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