- Andrew Hartzler spent years in conversion therapy and attended a religious institution.
- He called his aunt, representative Vicky Hartzler, after she spoke out against the Respect Marriage Act.
- Hartzler told Insider that he wanted to counter his message of hate with one of love.
This is an essay based on a conversation with Andrew Hartzler, an LGBTQ advocate and nephew of Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican congresswoman who broke down in tears while pleading with her colleagues not to vote same-sex. marriage bill. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
From a very young age, I have heard, read and seen what my aunt, Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler, has done to focus on my community.
But I always felt that there was a limit that I had to respect. She had grown very close to my aunt, and after all, she was family.
However, during my sophomore year of college, my perspective changed when I came across a HuffPost article revealing that my aunt hosted a conversion therapy group at the US Capitol in 2019.
When I looked at a photo of the event, I was shocked: A conversion therapist I used to see in high school after confessing to my parents was there. He this is a person I would attribute much of my trauma to.
I then realized that he could not ignore or justify the real consequences of his actions.
So when I saw the video Thursday of my aunt crying on the House floor while encouraging her colleagues to vote against the Respect Marriage Act, which will help protect same-sex marriage, on behalf of religious freedom, I freaked out.
I decided to take my phone and answer.
In a TikTok video, I spoke about how religious freedom is not threatened in this country. Instead, religious institutions, like the university I previously attended, were empowered to discriminate against LGBTQ students because of religious exemptions despite receiving federal funding.
“It’s more like you want the power to impose your religious beliefs on everyone else, and because you don’t have that power, you feel like you’re being silenced.” I said in my video, talking to my aunt. “You’re going to have to learn to coexist with all of us, and I’m sure it’s not that hard.”
Making that TikTok, I thought about the trauma LGBTQ people might experience watching one of their political leaders talk about two people marrying so hatefully. It’s frustrating when people in positions of power refuse to see how influential their words are.
LGBTQ people are being demonized in this country because there is a class of politicians, including my aunt, who weaponize their faith and frame the queer community as a threat to Christianity. And, unfortunately, it’s contributing to real-life violence, like the tragic shooting in Colorado Springs in November.
It’s frustrating when people in positions of power refuse to see how influential their words are. So with my video, I felt like I needed to counter the hate message with a love message.
Attending a religious university and undergoing conversion therapy led me into a life of advocacy for LGBTQ people.
The first time I went to conversion therapy, I was 14 and 15.
It was the summer before my freshman year of high school that I told my parents that I was gay. That started the process of trying to suppress who I was.
Several times a week in an office in Kansas City, Missouri, where I grew up, I see a conversion therapist. But after a month of meetings, I gave up trying to change myself. Conversion therapy makes you feel like you are using 50% of your mind to hide a fundamental part of who you are, and tells you to hate that part of yourself. It’s self-taught hate.
However, I did not tell my parents. I played the role and told them what they wanted to hear. I continued to see conversion therapists until my senior year of high school.
When it came time to choose a college to attend in 2017, my parents, in an attempt to shelter me in a safe little bubble of Christian people, sent me to Oral Roberts University. At this religious institution, named after the famous televangelist, being gay was against the honor code.
At the beginning of college, I decided that because I was in this completely Christian environment, I would give it one last chance to change and be straight and get my parents to accept me.
That attempt lasted a semester.
As a sophomore in college, I told my parents for the second time, which they initially took very seriously. They have come a long way since then. They may get there one day or they may never be there, but I can’t live my life hoping they will.
I continued to navigate my religious university as a gay person and it was very damaging to be in an environment where I felt I had to conform to the standards of the university.
I also noticed other people who were just like me. Other parents, like my parents, had the same idea of sending their LGBTQ children to a religious institution. There were a lot of gay and queer people locked up, but there was no community for us.
We didn’t really know each other, but we knew each other. It was all a bit hidden because you don’t know if someone is praying against his sexuality or not. And if you talk to someone about what you’re going through as an LGBTQ student, who’s to say they won’t report you to the administration?
This is finally what happened to me.
When I was a junior in college, I was called to the dean’s office for “homosexual activity” after it was discovered that I had a boyfriend who attended a different school.
As a result, I was subjected to “accountability meetings” of the conversion therapy type, as they called it. These meetings consisted of lectures on “holy sex” and what constituted a godly relationship.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit and allowed me to move off campus and avoid the rest of my accountability meetings. After that, I kept my head down and finished my psychology degree in May 2021.
The summer after I graduated, I became involved with the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at religious colleges. Now, I’m part of a class action lawsuit with more than 40 taxpayer-funded religious college plaintiffs from across the country.
We advocate that all religious college students receive the same protections provided by Title IX.
The positive response to my video has been overwhelming.
My now viral video has resulted in a huge amount of support online, especially on TikTok, for which I am very grateful.
A person sent me a message to tell me that they were supporting me from Austria. Another person humorously told me that they always forget that politicians have families too.
Hopefully my actions will show people that they don’t have to succumb to hateful rhetoric and that they should stand up for what they believe in.
As for what’s next for me, I’ve spent a lot of time doing things I enjoy, like reading, writing, and learning French. Next fall, I will start graduate school to earn my master’s degree in clinical psychology. I will not go to a religious institution again; instead, I am choosing to attend Oklahoma State University.
And once I finish my education, I think I want to go into research. At Oral Roberts University, I did my senior thesis on the relationship between suicidal ideation and sexual risk behaviors in gay and bisexual men.
My advisory professor said it was one of the best articles they had ever read.