The US Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation into how Brigham Young University, a private religious school in Utah, disciplines its LGBTQ+ students.
BYU is under investigation after its administration said it would still enforce the same-sex dating ban even after the rule was removed from the school’s honor code, according to The Salt Lake Grandstand.
The school, which is run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can punish students for holding hands or kissing someone of the same gender. They face harsher discipline than heterosexual students, reports the Associated Press.
BYU senior student Everett Patterson said the punishment for same-sex encounters can be a warning or even an expulsion. He told KSTU television that he personally knew someone who had to leave BYU.
“They had come in and admitted themselves assuming there would be some sort of discipline but not that they would be kicked out of college,” Patterson said. “And they were expelled.”
“All the reasons straight students come to this university are the reasons we come to this university,” he continued. “And the fact that gay students are held to a different standard than straight students. Because a straight student wouldn’t be kicked out for dating. Or hold hands. Or kiss.
In 2020, the school lifted its ban on what it called “homosexual behavior,” which led to some students becoming LGBTQ+. However, weeks after the change was announced, the administration said same-sex dating was still banned. It’s just not in the honor code.
Things also prohibited include drinking alcohol, beards, and piercings.
Students at the school said they felt cheated for coming out. The federal investigation began under Title IX – the law that protects against discrimination based on a person’s sex in schools.
The investigation will assess whether BYU’s rule is permitted because of the school’s status as a private religious institution of higher learning or whether the school is violating the rights of its LGBTQ+ students.
“BYU is exempt from the application of Title IX rules that conflict with the religious tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins said, according to The hill. “BYU does not anticipate any further action by [the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights] on this complaint.
As a private religious school, BYU has certain religious exemptions, according to the AP. However, the investigation is investigating whether the complaint received by the DOE falls within these exemptions.
“I grew up in Utah and I understand the invincibility that the Mormon Church can have. So I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’ But somehow BYU escapes it every time,” BYU student Christian Hunt told KSTU.
LGBTQ+ rights have been a hot topic for schools in recent years. The school was sued last year for alleged discrimination. The school has banned protests near its letter Y, which sits on the mountainside, after some protesters lit the rainbow-colored letter. And last fall, a senior church official called out faculty, staff and students who go against the Mormon church’s anti-marriage equality stance.