- Andrew Hartzler spent years in conversion therapy and attended a religious institution.
- He called his aunt, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, after she spoke out against the Honor Marriage Act.
- Hartzler told Insider he wanted to counter his message of hate with a message of love.
This is an essay based on a conversation with Andrew Hartzler, an LGBTQ advocate and the nephew of Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican congresswoman who broke down in tears pleading with her co-workers not to vote for a homosexual. wedding bill. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
From a young age, I heard, read, and saw what my aunt, GOP Representative Vicky Hartzler, did to target my community.
But I always felt like there was a limit that I had to respect. I had grown very close to my aunt, and after all, she was part of the family.
During my sophomore year of college, however, my perspective changed when I came across a HuffPost article that revealed my aunt had organized a conversion therapy group at the United States Capitol in 2019.
When I looked at a photo of the event, I was surprised: a conversion therapist I used to see in high school after coming out to my parents was there. She’s someone I would attribute a lot of my trauma to.
I then realized that I could not ignore or justify the real consequences of his actions.
So when I saw video Thursday of my aunt crying on the House floor as she encouraged her colleagues to vote against the Respecting Marriage Act – which will help protect same-sex marriage – on behalf of religious freedom, I was scared.
I decided to pick up my phone and answer.
In a TikTok video, I explained that religious freedom was not threatened in this country. Instead, faith-based institutions, like the college I previously attended, were empowered to discriminate against LGBTQ students due to religious exemptions despite federal funding.
“It’s more like you want the power to impose your religious beliefs on everyone 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 just going to have to learn to co-exist with all of us, and I’m sure it’s not that hard.”
While doing this TikTok, I thought about the trauma LGBTQ people might feel seeing one of their political leaders talk about two people getting married with such hate. It’s frustrating when people in positions of power fail to see the influence of their words.
LGBTQ people are demonized in this country because there is a class of politicians – including my aunt – who weaponize their faith and present the queer community as a threat to Christianity. And that unfortunately contributes to actual violence, like the tragic Colorado Springs shootings in November.
It’s frustrating when people in positions of power fail to see the influence of their words. So with my video, I felt I had to counter the message of hate with a message of love.
Attending a religious college and experiencing conversion therapy led me to advocate for LGBTQ rights
The first time I went to conversion therapy I was 14 and I was 15.
It was the summer before my junior year of high school when I told my parents I was gay. It 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 saw a conversion therapist. But after a month of meetings, I gave up trying to change myself. Conversion therapy makes you feel like you’re using 50% of your mind to hide a fundamental part of who you are, and you’re told to hate that part of yourself. It’s self-made hatred.
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 was time to choose a college to attend in 2017, my parents—in an effort to protect me in a safe little bubble of Christian people—sent me to Oral Roberts University. In this religious institution, named after the famous televangelist, being gay was against the code of honor.
Early in middle school, I decided that because I was in this all-Christian environment, I would give it one last chance to change and be straight and have my parents accept me.
This attempt lasted a semester.
In my second year at university, I came out to my parents for the second time, which they took very badly at first. They have come a long way since. They may get there one day or never get there, but I can’t live my life hoping they will.
I continued to navigate my religious college as a gay man and it was very detrimental to be in an environment where I felt pressured to conform to college standards.
I also noticed other people who were like me. Other parents, like mine, had the same idea of sending their LGBTQ children to a religious institution. There were a lot of gays and homosexuals locked up, but there was no community for us.
We didn’t really know each other, but we knew each other. This was all kind of hidden because you don’t know if someone is praying against their sexuality or not. And if you tell someone about what you’re going through as an LGBTQ student, then who’s to say they won’t report you to the administration?
This is finally what happened to me.
When I was a freshman in college, I was called into the dean’s office for “homosexual activity” after finding out I had a boyfriend who went to another school.
As a result, I was subjected to conversion therapy type “accountability meetings”, as they called it. These meetings consisted of lectures on “holy sex” and what constituted a godly relationship.
The COVID-19 pandemic arrived and allowed me to leave 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 graduating, I got involved with the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ students at religious colleges. Now I am part of a class action lawsuit with more than 40 other plaintiffs from taxpayer-funded religious universities across the country.
We advocate that all students of religious universities receive equal protection, as provided in Title IX.
The positive response to my video was overwhelming
My now-viral video has resulted in an outpouring of support online, especially on TikTok, which I’m very grateful for.
Someone messaged me to let me know that they are supporting me from Austria. Another person humorously told me that they always forget that politicians have families too.
I hope my actions will show people that they don’t have to succumb to hateful rhetoric and that they have to stand up for what they believe in.
As for what comes next for me, I spent a lot of time doing things I love, like reading, writing, and learning French. Next fall, I am starting my graduate studies for my master’s degree in clinical psychology. I no longer go to a religious institution; instead, I opt to attend Oklahoma State University.
And once my studies are finished, I think I want to get into research. At Oral Roberts University, I did my thesis on the relationship between suicidal ideation and risky sexual behavior among gay and bisexual men.
My advising teacher told me it was one of the best articles they had ever read.