Welch College – a Free Will Baptist institution formerly located on West End Avenue in Nashville – recently discovered that one of its students, Yanna Awtrey, was undergoing a gender confirmation procedure on August 2. Awtrey sought this procedure to alleviate gender dysphoria. While Awtrey was still recovering the day of surgery, Welch provisionally suspended and barred the student from campus. Awtrey, who was not out to his parents, was effectively rendered homeless in his hospital bed by the Christian institution’s administrators.
Awtrey discovered later that the couple he was to stay with after surgery, upon discovering the nature of the procedure, had informed Welch College. “I woke up from top surgery on August 2, 2019 at 10:30 a.m., and I cried from happiness to the point where my nurse told me to be quieter for the other patients’ sake,” Awtrey reported. The joy was hampered by what followed. “An hour later, an older couple that was supposed to house me came in and told me they do not want me in their house due to the type of surgery I did not initially specify [having informed Welch already]. I didn’t have anyone else to help me. My driver, a trans acquaintance I barely knew, kindly took me in until I was able to drive back to my college, which I thought I would be staying at afterward.”
Things went from bad to worse when Welch administrators got involved. “Several hours afterward I received a message from Welch College that stated they would be kicking me out effective immediately, due to that fact I am openly transgender and having had top surgery,” Awtrey reported. “I have nowhere to permanently stay, and I can’t work for money for at least 2 months because of the recovery process. It’s the best and worst day of my life.”
“I’d do this surgery again if I could,” Awtrey said, though, “and I’m going to do what I can to get back on my feet. The physical pain right now is nothing compared to witnessing a lack of empathy for our fellow man. I don’t understand other people’s cruelty. This is the second time in my life that I have had to endure homelessness due to my gender identity… I have had to trust a stranger to take me from surgery and help me survive for a few more days while I heal from the worst.”
Welch College administrators did offer to cover a hotel for him for a week, and provide some basic medical care, but was at the same time Awtrey was given “documentation that stated I would be withdrawing voluntarily from the college due to the college handbook that stated something along the lines of ‘sexual immorality, pornography, premarital sex, etc.’” Administrators also requested that Awtrey change the way he portrayed Welch in social media before they would provide assistance. They also would not allow Awtrey to collect his belongings from campus except under escort.
Awtrey examined the handbook and noted that the paragraphs cited in no way referenced transgender issues, “So I requested the claim be brought up with Welch College’s disciplinary committee. On August 7, 2019, I was given a hearing by the Welch College disciplinary committee… I was suspended for two terms for being transgender and could attempt to apply after the two terms to the college. 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.”
“My story is not uncommon,” Awtrey said, “because people who lack empathy are not uncommon in this world. This story further sheds light on the issues transgender people are facing due to the lack of legal protection. I believe that there are people, no matter how much information you give to them, who will not care about LGBT+ people. However, with this story, they will not have a chance to claim ignorance about the consequences of their actions.”
Awtrey shared his story with other media outlets and Welch College President Matt Pinson issued a statement to The Hill saying, “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… 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.”