Wednesday, December 6, 2023

I am Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s Nephew. I spoke out against her homophobic speech in Congress.

  • Andrew Hartzler spent many decades in conversion therapy. He also attended a religious institution.
  • After Vicky Hartzler’s speech against the Respect for Marriage Act, Vicky Hartzler was called to his attention.
  • Hartzler said to Insider that he wanted to counter the hate message she was sending by using a message of love.

This is an as-told to essay that was inspired by a conversation with Andrew Hartzler. Andrew Hartzler is an LGBTQ advocate and nephew of Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Vicky Hartzler is a Republican congresswoman. broke down in tearsWhile begging her colleagues not to vote in favor of a same-sex bill for marriage, The essay has been edited for clarity and length.

Since a young age, I have heard, read, seen, and been affected by the actions of my aunt, Vicky Hartzler (Republican for the GOP), in my community. 

But I always felt there was a line I needed to respect. My aunt was my aunt.

My second year of college was a turning point for me when I found a HuffPost article about my aunt hosting a party. conversion therapy group at the US Capitol2019

I was shocked to see a photo of the event. It was a conversion therapist I had seen in high school, after I came out to them. This is the person to whom I owe a lot of my trauma.

The real-world consequences of her actions were obvious to me. 

So I was shocked to see the video of my aunt crying on Thursday as she encouraged her colleagues to vote. against the Respect for Marriage Act — which will help protect same-sex marriage — in the name of religious freedom, I was frightened.

I decided to answer my phone.

In a TikTok videoI spoke out about how religious freedom is not being threatened in this nation. Instead, institutions of faith like the college that I used to attend were being allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ students due to religious exemptions, despite receiving federal funds.

“It’s more like that you want to force your religious beliefs onto others and because you don’t possess that power, you feel like being silenced.” I spoke to my aunt as I did in my video. “You’re just going to have to learn to coexist with all of us, and I’m sure it’s not that hard.”

While making that TikTok I thought about the trauma LGBTQ people could experience if they hear one of their political leaders talk about two people marrying with such hatred. It’s frustrating that people in power don’t realize how much influence their words can have. 

LGBTQ people are being demonized in this country because there’s a class of politicians — my aunt included — that weaponize their faith and frame the queer community as a threat to Christianity. It is contributing to real-life violence like the tragic. Colorado Springs shootingNovember

It is frustrating when people in power fail to realize the impact their words have. With my video, I felt the need to counteract hateful messages with a message that showed love.

Conversion therapy and attending a religious college led me to a life of advocacy for LGBTQ people. 

I was 14 when I first went to conversion therapy. 

My freshman year of highschool was the summer that I first revealed to my parents I was gay. That was when I began to hide who I was. 

I saw a conversion counselor multiple times per week in the Kansas City, Missouri office where I grew. After a month of meetings, it was too late. Conversion therapy makes it feel like you’re hiding a fundamental part about yourself. You’re told to hate this part. It’s self-taught hate.

But I didn’t tell them. I played the part of the convert and told them what I wanted to hear. I saw conversion therapists through my senior year of highschool.

When it was time to pick a university to attend in 2017, my parents — in an attempt to protect me in a safe little bubble of Christian-abiding people — sent me to Oral Roberts University. This religious institution, named after the famous televangelist was against the honor code.

I decided at the beginning of college that I would try to be straight because I was in an all-Christian environment. I also wanted to get my parents to accept and change. 

This attempt lasted for a semester. 

I was a sophomore in college and came out to my parents for a second time. They initially took it very hard. They have come a long ways since then. They may be there one day, but I won’t let them down.

I navigated my religious university as a homosexual person, and it was very detrimental to be in an environment that required me to conform to university standards.

I also noticed people who were similar to me. Like my parents, other parents had the same idea and sent their LGBTQ kids to a religious school. There were many queer and gay people in the community, but not enough for us. 

Although we didn’t know each other, we knew each other. It was all a little secret because you don’t always know if someone is praying for their sexuality. Talking to someone about your experiences as a LGBTQ student will not make you report to the administration.

This is what ultimately happened to me.

I was a junior in college when the dean called me into his office for “homosexual activities” because it was discovered that I had a boyfriend from a different school.

I was subjected, as a result, to conversion therapy-type accountability meetings. These meetings were filled with lectures about “holy sex” and what constitutes a godly relationship.

The COVID-19 pandemic struck and allowed me to leave campus and skip the rest of my accountability meetings. I kept my head down, and completed my psychology degree in May 2021. 

I was a student at the Religious Exemption Accountability Project during the summer after my graduation. It advocates for LGBTQ students in religious universities. Now, I’m a part of a class action lawsuitWith more than 40 other plaintiffs representing tax-payer-funded religious colleges across the country. 

We advocate for students at religious universities to have the same protection provided by Title IX. 

My video received overwhelming positive feedback

My now-viral video has led to an outpouring online support, especially on TikTok. I am so grateful. 

One person messaged me to inform me that they were supporting my journey from Austria. Another person joked with me that they forget that politicians also have families.

Hopefully, my actions will prove to people that they don’t need to give in to hateful rhetoric and should stand up for the things they believe.

For what’s next, I’ve been spending lots of time doing the things I love, such as reading, writing, and learning French. I will be starting graduate school next fall for my master’s degree in clinical psychology. I won’t be returning to a religious institution. Instead, I will be attending Oklahoma State University.

Once I’m done with my education, I intend to continue my research career. My senior thesis was at Oral Roberts University about the relationship between suicide ideation and sexual risk behavior in gay and bisexual men.

My advising professor said it was one their best papers.

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