Transgender student suspended from Christian college after top surgery

“It's the best and worst day of my life. I'd do this surgery again if I could,” Yanna Awtrey said.
By Gwen Aviles

A transgender male student was suspended from a Christian college because of his gender identity on the same day he got surgery to remove breast tissue.

Yanna Awtrey, 21, was staying with family friends for the summer before his junior year at Welch College, a Free Will Baptists Church institution, in Gallatin, Tennessee, began.

“I left a letter with the couple on Aug. 2, the day of the surgery, telling them that I’d be having surgery — though I didn’t specify what the surgery would be for,” Awtrey told NBC News.

Yann Awrey was suspended from Welch College because of his gender identity on the same day he got top surgery.Courtesy of Yann Awrey

After struggling with gender dysphoria — a medical condition resulting from a conflict between one’s sex assigned at birth and one's gender identity — since early adolescence, getting top surgery, which involves removing breast tissue to flatten the chest, was an emotional experience for Awtrey.

“Everything went great,” Awtrey said. “I woke up and I cried from happiness to the point where my nurse told me to be quieter for the other patients’ sake.”

Yet his joy was eclipsed when the woman he was staying with came to visit him at the hospital and realized the kind of surgery he received.

“She was angry and told me she wouldn’t have me in the house anymore,” Awtrey said about the family friend.

The Morning Rundown

Get a head start on the morning's top stories.

Awtrey said the woman called his parents, who are Free Will Baptists currently on a missionary trip in Bulgaria, and Welch College. A few hours later, he received an email from the school's Vice President for Student Services, Jon Forlines, instructing Awtrey he wasn't welcome back on campus.

"Please be aware that because of the choices you have made we will not be able to allow you to come back to the dorm," the email read. "We’re praying for you that the love of Christ will speak to your every need in the coming days.”

Forlines offered Awtrey a one week’s stay at a local hotel as well as some money for food in the email.

“I did not expect the email because I was physically vulnerable after the surgery and do not have an income nor can I work for a few months following the surgery,” Awtrey said.

Awtrey posted about the situation on Facebook and was able to find a friend to stay with during the initial recovery process.

“It's the best and worst day of my life. I'd do this surgery again if I could,” Awtrey wrote in the post. “The physical pain right now is nothing compared to witnessing a lack of empathy for our fellow man.”

Awtrey said that the school tried to get him to sign a withdrawal form stating that leaving Welch College was his responsibility and decision but he refused to sign it, which led to a hearing with a school disciplinary committee on Aug. 7.

During the hearing, Forlines stated that Awtrey was in violation of the student handbook, which forbids "any kind of sexual immorality, impurity, including the use of pornography" and "engaging in acts of sex immorality, including premarital and extramarital relations, sexual advances and sexual perversion in any form."

Awtrey argued that his receiving top surgery was not an act of sexual perversion, according to a recording of the hearing obtained by NBC News, and was ultimately suspended from the school for two semesters.

“They told me I could reapply to the school again, but I doubt I’d be accepted,” Awtrey, who was only one credit from earning a degree in Biology and 11 credits from earning a degree in Theological Studies, said.

Welch College did not immediately respond to NBC News’ requests for comment.

“Welch College didn’t have any legal language that did not allow trans people to attend, but everything LGBTQ-related at the school is kept hush-hush,” according to Awtrey.

He plans to stay with another couple while he fully recovers from the surgery and then look for a job.

“You can’t argue with the people who run Welch because they believe they’re doing the right thing,” Awtrey said. “They think their actions have no consequences and that it just works out for trans people, but when you look at the trans homeless and unemployed population and the amount of trans people that are murdered, that clearly isn’t true.”

Follow NBC Out on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram