U.S. Dept. of Education drops LGBTQ complaint against BYU

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After months of investigation, the U.S. Department of Education dismissed a complaint filed against Brigham Young University over how the private religious school treats its LGBTQ students. The dismissal was on the basis of religious exemption under Title IX prohibits changes against the school.

In a letter dated Feb. 8, an official with the Office of Civil Rights informs BYU President Kevin Worthen the department is “dismissing this complaint” pursuant to the religious exemption under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

“Because the University is exempt from the above-referenced regulatory provisions of Title IX to the extent that application of those provisions conflict with the religious tenets of its controlling religious organization, OCR lacks jurisdiction to address the complaint’s allegations,” Sandra Roesti, supervisory attorney with the department’s Office of Civil Rights wrote.

The letter noted the dismissal should not be considered as “a formal statement of OCR policy and should not be relied upon, cited, or construed as such.”

The initial complaint was filed on March 9, 2020, alleging BYU engages in the different treatment of students who are involved in same-sex romantic relationships by stating that such relationships are not compatible with the principles of the University’s Honor Code. The filer of the complaint is not identified.

A BYU response to the dismissal said the school was expecting the result as the U.S. government has consistently recognized the religious exemption under Title IX applies to the school.

“BYU had anticipated that OCR would dismiss the complaint because OCR has repeatedly recognized BYU’s religious exemption for Title IX requirements that are not consistent with the religious tenets of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” the statement says.

BYU is under scrutiny for its policies after what appeared to be a reversal after the school removed a section of the Honor Code that banned “homosexual behavior.” Upon BYU officials reemphasizing that such behavior was still against school policy, many protests took place at BYU and the Salt Lake City Temple. The school recently banned all protests on campus and on Y Mountain after pro-LGBTQ students lit it up in rainbow colors on multiple occasions.

Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the pro-LGBTQ student group Religious Exemption Accountability Project, said in a statement the department’s dismissal of the charges “is another example of the federal government siding with discrimination and powerful institutions like BYU at the expense of vulnerable LGBTQ+ students.”

“By dismissing this investigation, the federal government has not only dashed the hopes of many LGBTQ+ students who saw the investigation as a sign of good things to come, but it has placed the government’s stamp of approval on BYU’s discriminatory practices, which the government not only funds, but has now formally handed out a license to discriminate,” Southwick said.

LGBTQ students and others expressed their severe disappointment with the decision.

“I’m not sure how long we will allow ‘religious liberty’ to supersede the rights of queer people,” BYU graduate Zachary Ibarra told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I should not be surprised, but it is still deeply disappointing. When will the rights of queer students be upheld to the law without exception?”

“The Department of Education’s decision is nearly as heartbreaking as BYU’s coordinated campaign against its queer students is,” openly gay BYU student Cal Burke told the Tribune.

“I wanted to believe something would come out of this,” said bisexual BYU student Madi Hawes. “I had hope, but that’s all it was — hope.”

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