The U.S. Department of Education has started 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 a prohibition on same-sex dating even after that rule was removed from the school’s honor code, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
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 sex. They face harsher discipline than straight students, the Associated Press reports.
Senior BYU student Everett Patterson said the punishment for same-sex dating can be a warning or even an expulsion. He told TV station KSTU that he knows someone personally who had to leave BYU.
“They had gone in and admitted themself assuming there’d be some kind of discipline but not that they’d be expelled from the university,” Patterson said. “And they were expelled.”
“All the reasons that straight students come to this university are the reasons that we come to this university,” he continued. “And the fact that queer students are held to a different standard than straight students. Because a straight student wouldn’t be expelled for going on a date. Or holding hands. Or kissing.”
In 2020, the school removed its ban on what it called “homosexual behavior,” which led to some students coming out as LGBTQ+. However, a few weeks after the announcement of the change, the administration said that same-sex dating was still banned. It’s just not in the honor code.
Things also banned include drinking alcohol, beards, and piercings.
Students at the school said they felt tricked for coming out. The federal investigation started under Title IX — the law that protects against discrimination based on a person’s sex in schools.
The probe will assess whether BYU’s rule is allowed due to the school's status as a private religious institution of higher education or if the school is violating the rights of its LGBTQ+ students.
“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,” said BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins, 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 does have some religious exemptions, according to the AP. However, the probe is investigating if the complaint the DOE received falls under those exemptions.
“I’ve grown up in Utah and I understand the invincibility that the Mormon Church can have. So I kind of was like, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ But somehow, BYU escapes it every time,” BYU student Christian Hunt told KSTU.
LGBTQ+ rights have been a significant topic for schools in recent years. The school was sued last year for alleged discrimination. The school banned protests near its letter Y, which is on a mountainside, after some protesters lit the letter in the colors of the rainbow. And last fall, a top church official called out faculty, staff, and students who go against the Mormon Church’s anti-marriage equality stance.