25 LGBTQ rights groups have sent a letter to commissioner Bob Bowlsby asking the Big 12 not to considering Brigham Young University as part of its conference expansion due to its discriminatory policies.
The letter was authored by Athlete Ally and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. It was co-signed by 23 other national and regional advocacy groups, including GLAAD, Lambda Legal, National LGBTQ Task Force, Campus Pride and TransAthlete.com.
BYU is owned and operated by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The school’s Honor Code says that students are allowed to have “feelings or attraction” but only so long as they remain celibate.
“Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code,” it reads. “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.”
Students who run afoul of the Honor Code can expect to be suspended or dismissed.
The Big 12’s handbook has a “Policy On Diversity” section that reads, in part, “It is the obligation of each Member Institution to refrain from discrimination prohibited by federal and state law, and to demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable treatment of all student-athletes and athletics department personnel.”
It also states that the Conference will, “encourage an atmosphere throughout the Conference among staff and student-athletes that demonstrates respect and support for each individual. As such, within the context of Conference events, the Conference will not tolerate disparaging comments, remarks, or jokes about any group of people including racist, sexist, or homophobic comments, remarks, or jokes.”
The letter from the LGBTQ rights organizations reflects this disparity.
“Currently, the Big 12 as a conference is overwhelmingly LGBT-inclusive,” it reads. “Nine out of ten of your member schools have explicit protections for students based on their sexual orientation. Eight out of ten of your member schools have explicit protections for students based on their gender identity. And nine out of ten of your member schools have LGBT resource centers to proactively make their schools safe and welcoming for LGBT people.
“BYU, conversely, actively and openly discriminates against its LGBT students and staff. It provides no protections for LGBT students. In fact, through its policies, BYU is very clear about its intent to discriminate against openly LGBT students, with sanctions that can include suspension or dismissal for being openly LGBT or in a same-sex relationship. The LGBT climate is so bad at BYU that it is ranked the 6th worst school in the country for LGBT students. Given BYU’s homophobic, biphobic and transphobic policies and practices, BYU should not be rewarded with Big 12 membership.”
A Big 12 spokesperson told FOX Sports that their policy on diversity includes LGBTQ students.
While Utah passed a law last year prohibiting housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, there is a religious carve out that allows institutions like BYU to be excluded.
The Big 12 includes two religious universities already, Baylor, a Baptist University, and TCU, affiliated with Disciples of Christ. Baylor removed antigay language from their sexual misconduct policy last year. It now simply states that “physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity.” It also reads as being against same-sex marriage, as it states that its policies “will be interpreted by the University in a manner consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message of 1963,” which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
TCU has a non-discrimination policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
BYU expressed interest in joining the Big 12 once it became public that the Conference would expand. Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, UCF and USF are also considered possibilities.
The Big 12 has not publicly stated when they expect to announce which teams they will add, but could bring in anywhere from two to four schools. The decision may come before the board’s next meeting in October.