A transgender student at a Christian college in Tennesee has been suspended for "sexual perversion" after undergoing breast reduction surgery.
Yanna Awtrey, who was born female to Baptist missionaries but identifies as male, is speaking out after being suspended for two semesters by a disciplinary committee at Welch College this month.
Welch College is a Free Will Baptist institution located outside of Nashville with just under 400 undergraduates. It was formerly known as Free Will Baptist Bible College.
Awtrey was gearing up for a junior year at the college when the student underwent breast reduction surgery (also called "top surgery") on Aug. 2 as part of a gender reassignment procedure following months of taking hormone pills.
Awtrey told NBC News about an email received from Welch College vice president for student services, Jon Forlines, the day of the surgery explaining that Awtrey was no longer allowed back at the dorms "because of the choices you have made."
Forlines offered to arrange for Awtrey to stay at a nearby hotel for a week and provide food money to give Awtrey some stability while finding a new place to stay.
It was also alleged that the college tried to get Awtrey to sign a withdrawal form.
But after the student refused to sign the form, a disciplinary hearing was scheduled. That hearing was held last Wednesday before the Welch College disciplinary committee.
At the hearing, Forlines claimed that Awtrey violated a section of the student handbook that bars "any kind of sexual immorality" or "impurity." The handbook not only bars students from engaging in premarital and extramarital sexual relations but also bars students from engaging in "sexual perversions in any form."
Awtrey claimed during the hearing that no acts of immorality were committed that "disobeys the college handbook and the Bible." But Forlines contended that "sexual perversion" is not "just a matter of a sexual act," according to The Tennessean.
The committee issued Awtrey a two-term suspension. After those two semesters, Awtrey will have the opportunity to reapply for enrollment at the college. However, Awtrey would have to again go before the disciplinary committee in order to be reinstated.
The Tennessean reports that Awtrey was also given the chance to appeal the committee's decision suspension but declined to do so.
Welch College President Matt Pinson said in a statement that he could not comment on individual cases.
"The College holds that God created humanity in two distinct and complementary sexes: male and female," Pinson's statement reads.
Welch College maintains that students experiencing gender confusion should be treated with "love and compassion." However, Pinson stated that Welch College believes that "attempting to alter one’s bodily identity constitutes a rejection of God’s design for humanity."
"The College is also aware that such attempts all too rarely deliver on their promises to alleviate psychological and emotional suffering," Pinson's statement adds. "The College thus invites all transgender individuals to trust fully in Christ and experience renewal in the gospel."
Pinson explained that the college's community standards hold that "students are to obey God’s revealed will in Holy Scripture and avoid behaviors that constitute a rejection of the divine design for human sexuality."
"Our desire is to show individuals experiencing gender confusion the love and compassion of Christ while bearing witness to God’s design as revealed in Holy Scripture for His human creatures as male and female," Pinson contended. "We believe that a commitment to historic Christian teaching on human gender and sexuality must ever be melded with love, compassion, and sensitivity to people who are made in the image of God."
Pinson made clear that Welch College informs all campus community members — whether staff, students or faculty — that the institution's beliefs on sexuality and gender inform the administration's decisions on hiring and housing.
Awtrey contested the school's explanation.
"Gender and sexuality are intrinsically linked, but that doesn't mean they're the same," Awtrey told The Tennessean. "I don't think they had anything in the handbook for being transgender, and I do think it was a really long stretch for them to label me in that category, but they did."
Although Awtrey kept her gender identity hidden while attending the evangelical institution, one of Awtrey's roommates in a female dormitory read Awtrey's diary and outed Awtrey to school officials about a year ago.
From that point, Awtrey claimed to have been put under an "unofficial" set of rules by the school.
"I was under strict rules that I could only attend the college if I stayed with a Christian therapist and if I didn't tell anyone else I was transgender or bisexual," Awtrey was quoted as telling The Tennessean.
Awtrey began taking hormone therapy in January and planned to switch schools. However, Awtrey's mind changed and decided to stay at the school until action was taken against the student this month.
Awtrey has spent most of her life living with her parents, who served as Baptist missionaries in Bulgaria. The family moved back to the United States when Awtrey was 18. But after Awtrey's freshman year of college, Awtrey's family moved back to Bulgaria.
According to The Tennesseean, Awtrey has not spoken with her mother since the surgery, while her father has only contacted to help arrange temporary housing.
Awtrey will temporarily travel to North Carolina to stay with family friends while healing from the surgery.