US

Mormon university under federal investigation over heinous anti-LGBT+ rules

Lily Wakefield January 21, 2022
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Mormon-only Brigham Young University.

Taylor Frey attended the Mormon-only Brigham Young University. (brighamyounguniversity/ Instagram)

The US Department of Education is launching a civil rights investigation into a Mormon university over its treatment of LGBT+ students.

Brigham Young University (BYU) is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), commonly known as the Mormon church. It is based in Utah, but also has campuses in Idaho and Hawaii.

The investigation officially started at the end of last year, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, and will look at whether BYU is violating the civil rights of students by punishing them for being LGBT+.

A complaint was filed, which prompted the investigation, after BYU flip-flopped on its rules about “homosexual behaviour” in 2020.

Before February 2020, a section of the BYU Honor Code, which students can be expelled for breaking, read: “Homosexual behaviour is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code.

“Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

When the university decided to remove this entire section, queer students celebrated that they would no longer have to live in fear, and kissed friends and partners of the same gender in various places around campus including in front of the Honor Code office.

However, shortly afterwards, the university announced that “there may have been some miscommunication as to what the Honor Code changes mean”.

It added: “Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”

The federal investigation will look at BYU’s exemption from Title IX, which protects against discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

While the Mormon university was the first in the US to receive a religious exemption from Title IX in 1976, an investigation could determine that its treatment of LGBT+ students goes further than religious freedom.

When he learned of the investigation, BYU president Kevin Worthen wrote a letter to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in which he defended the university’s exemptions from any Title IX requirement “that contradict doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ regarding the distinction between men and women, the eternal nature of gender, or God’s laws of chastity and marriage”.

In response the office agreed that BYU had exemptions but added: “We are obligated to determine initially whether the allegations fall within the exemptions here recognised”.

Michael Austin, a BYU graduate and vice president of a private Methodist university, told the Salt Lake Tribune: “It’s really significant that investigators are stepping in now.

“It means there’s some reason to think the university has gone beyond the religious exemptions it has and is discriminating even beyond those.”

He added that depending on the findings of the ongoing investigation, BYU could receive a warning letter, sending a strong message that the Biden administration does not tolerate anti-LGBT+ discrimination.

In this case, if the Mormon university refused to make changes, it could lose “hundreds of millions of dollars” in federal funding.

More: Brigham Young University

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