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Missouri native challenges colleges’ right to discriminate against LGBTQ students

 Andrew Hartzler
Courtesy of REAP
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Andrew Hartzler

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” at noon on Wednesday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

Andrew Hartzler’s last name carries weight in Missouri politics. His aunt, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, has spent her decades in politics opposing gay marriage on religious grounds. She’s now in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign that’s prominently featured her calls to restrict the rights of trans people. 

Andrew Hartzler grew up as neighbors with his politically prominent aunt. He’s also gay — and one of more than 40 plaintiffs in a new class-action lawsuit led by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. The suit seeks to end a controversial exemption in federal civil rights law that allows religious colleges to discriminate against gay students, even while receiving federal funding.

In Hartzler’s case, that meant hiding his sexual identity for years while attending Oral Roberts University — until he faced the possibility of expulsion for having a boyfriend. Other former students now involved in the lawsuit say their schools pressured them into accepting “conversion therapy” from counselors who tried to convince them they aren’t actually gay.

The lawsuit alleges that the exemption for religious institutions acts as a “license to discriminate” and affects an estimated 100,000 LGBTQ students at more than 200 religious colleges in the U.S., including six in Missouri.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Andrew Hartzler will discuss his experience as a gay student at a religious college and why he’s joined the lawsuit. We’ll also be joined by Religious Exemption Accountability Project director Paul Southwick.

Do you think religious colleges that receive federal funds should be exempt from non-discrimination laws? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpr.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

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Danny Wicentowski