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Trans BYU Student Could Be Expelled for Top Surgery

Kris Irvin
BYU student Kris Irvin

Gender-confirmation procedures are frowned on by the Mormon Church, which owns BYU -- but Irvin says top surgery needn't fall into this category.

A transgender student at Brigham Young University may be expelled from the Mormon school for having top surgery.

Utah resident Kris Irvin, 31, plans to have top surgery -- the removal of breast tissue -- but no other gender-confirmation procedures, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Irvin, who uses the nonbinary pronouns they and them, was assigned female at birth and came out as a transgender man three years ago.

At issue is whether top surgery truly falls into the definition of gender-confirmation procedures, which are frowned upon by the Mormon Church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Its handbook for lay leaders says those who undergo a "transsexual operation" may be subject to discipline.

"That term is generally understood to mean reassignment surgery that changes a person's reproductive anatomy," the Tribune reports. "But it's unclear if it encompasses more than that, such as top surgery or hormone therapy."

Irvin says the surgery, scheduled for next spring, will make them more comfortable in their body. But they will not use he/him pronouns, and their marriage, to Nate Irvin, will not be a same-sex union, another thing the church objects to. As Kris Irvin sees it, having top surgery but no other procedures should satisfy the policy of the church. "At what point do my breasts determine my level of membership in the church?" they wrote to their local bishop, Jake King.

But King does see top surgery as a deal-breaker with the church and BYU. "It's not prerequisite that the church and church leaders accept elective transgender surgery in order to accept, love and serve LGBTQ+ members," the bishop wrote to in response to Irvin. "I know that no surgery can bring you true peace and comfort in this life." If Irvin proceeds with the surgery, King will proceed with discipline, he wrote.

"King's discipline of Kris could include, on one end, restricting their participation in church -- not allowing them to take the sacrament, pay tithing, visit the temple or speak during Sunday services -- or, as an extreme, excommunicating them," the Tribune reports.

Irvin also believes the discipline will most likely include withdrawal of the church's endorsement for them to attend BYU. Like other Mormon schools, it requires endorsements to be renewed each year to assure that students are "living by church standards," as BYU's website puts it. Endorsements can be revoked at any time, and the loss of endorsement means a student must leave the school, although there is a brief period in which the student can appeal the revocation.

BYU, based in Provo, Utah, has no formal policy on transgender students, considering them on a case-by-case basis, a spokeswoman told the Tribune. Irvin, who has been taking just a few classes a year while raising a son, is close to graduation -- but feels the choice between the surgery and their BYU education puts them in a difficult situation.

Irvin, now looking to transfer to another school, joked to the Tribune, "If I ran my own church school, I probably wouldn't make it dependent on breast size." BYU has a religious exemption from federal law on sex discrimination in education, so it does not have to recognize trans students' lived gender, which Irvin says is ironic. "If they're not going to recognize me as male anyway, what's the problem?" they said.

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