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Education Department dismisses complaint against BYU over gay dating ban

The private religious school had been under investigation for months over its treatment of LGBTQ students.
Brigham Young University
The campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.George Frey / Getty Images file

The Education Department has dismissed a complaint against Brigham Young University after a monthslong investigation into the private religious school’s treatment of LGBTQ students. The complaint stemmed from the university’s ban on same-sex romantic relationships.

The department’s Office of Civil Rights sent a letter to BYU’s president Tuesday saying that while the Utah institution is subject to Title IX — a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funding — it is also entitled to a number of exemptions because of its religious affiliation. 

The letter then listed 15 regulatory provisions from which BYU, which is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is exempt, stating that the provisions would “conflict with the religious tenets of the University’s controlling religious organization that pertain to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“Because the University is exempt from the above-referenced regulatory provisions of Title IX,” the letter says, “OCR lacks jurisdiction to address the complaint’s allegations. Accordingly, OCR is dismissing this complaint.” 

The university issued a statement Thursday acknowledging the dismissal and stating that it “had anticipated” the outcome “because OCR has repeatedly recognized BYU’s religious exemption for Title IX requirements.”

The statement ended by quoting a letter BYU President Kevin J. Worthen had sent to the OCR in November, saying that “we simultaneously stand firm in our religious beliefs and reiterate our love and respect for each member of the campus community.”

Not all members of the campus community, however, are feeling that love and respect. 

Madi Hawes, a sophomore and one of the leaders of the university’s unofficial LGBTQ group, was in class Thursday afternoon when she found out the complaint had been dismissed. 

“I’m almost compelled to say that I was heartbroken, but I honestly wasn’t, because as much as I wanted something to happen, I didn’t expect anything to happen,” Hawes said. “While I was hopeful, there wasn’t much faith backing up that hope. It was blind hope that I could even recognize as blind hope."

An aspect she described as “painful,” however, was the speed at which the complaint was dismissed. The Office of Civil Rights sent a letter in October notifying BYU that it was opening an investigation, and the dismissal notice came less than four months later. 

“It felt as if the office wasn’t valuing our safety and our rights as much,” she said, adding that “it almost feels more painful than if the investigation had gone on a long time and nothing happened.”

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