BYU under federal investigation of its LGBTQ policies

Jan 21, 2022, 3:31 PM | Updated: 3:34 pm
The "Y" on BYU's Y Mountain was lit in rainbow colors by students Thursday. School officials said t...
The "Y" on BYU's Y Mountain was lit in rainbow colors by students Thursday. School officials said the group did not receive permission to light the Y. (Chopper 5/KSL TV)
(Chopper 5/KSL TV)

PROVO, Utah— The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, OCR is investigating multiple BYU policies of their treatment of LGBTQ students.

Amidst the federal investigation, BYU affirms their right to exemptions from Title IX that were previously issued to the private religious university. Title IX is a statute that protects students from discrimination on the basis of sex.

The university sent the following statement in response to an inquiry from KSL TV.

“Given BYU’s religious exemption, BYU does not anticipate any further action by OCR on this complaint. BYU is exempt from application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. OCR has repeatedly recognized BYU’s religious exemption, including in connection with this case.”

OCR does not comment on ongoing investigations.

However, BYU President Kevin Worthen responded to the investigation in November stating, “Neither the complaint nor OCR’s letter identifies any provision or specific requirement under Title IX that BYU is allegedly violating,”

A spokesperson for the university said they expect the OCR to uphold the exemptions offered to the university by the federal government 45 years ago.

“OCR has previously recognized that, “BYU’s Code of Honor . . . is derived from religious tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ,” and that where “treatment of employees and students would conflict with the religious tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ [of Latter-Day Saints] BYU is granted an exemption from those requirements,” Worthen states his response.

Worthen told the OCR that LGBTQ students were welcome at BYU and were expected to follow the honor code along with all other students.

The investigation began on Oct. 21, according to the Deseret News and was based on a March 2020 complaint. The complaint surfaced after BYU removed a section of its honor code titled, “homosexual behavior” when a new standard was created for all church universities consistent with an update to the church’s General Handbook.

Many students viewed the section’s removal as a change in policy for LGBTQ students to allow them to date, hold hands, and kiss within same-sex relationships. However, within a few weeks BYU clarified that “same-sex romantic behavior” was not acceptable under the school’s honor code.

The clarification spurred protests on campus in the days that followed the announcement.

In 2021, BYU banned protests on its iconic “Y” Mountain after students and others created a multicolor Y with rainbow LED lights on two occasions.

Worthen’s November letter to the OCR  included 18 pages of exhibits.

The exhibits include the church’s family proclamation, a copy of the honor code, and the 1976 OCR letter to BYU in which the university was provided eligibility for exemption, “where the application of Title IX would conflict with religious tenets of the religious organization.”

The church has changed its stance regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in recent years and announced in 2019 that same gender behavior or marriage would no longer be regarded as apostasy.

The church and BYU maintain that all sex outside of marriage can lead to school discipline. The honor code is annually signed by students and faculty where they agree to follow all school policies.

The question that remains is whether the university can enforce a ban on same-sex hand holding or kissing when it’s no longer listed in the policy.

The investigation by the federal department’s Office of Civil Rights is one of over 1,400 ongoing investigations at U.S. schools.

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BYU under federal investigation of its LGBTQ policies