Brigham Young University has long been a focal point for its LGBTQ policies, and in recent months, the attention grew louder as students began to push back against what they see as unfair treatment of queer students.
Schools north of BYU in the Salt Lake Valley, including Salt Lake Community College, tend to boast more accepting spaces and often earn awards from external organizations for LGBTQ-friendly environments. Last October, however, the U.S. Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation into BYU regarding how the school disciplines queer students.
BYU, a private religious school located in Provo, underwent investigation due to Title IX, which protects students from discrimination based on sex, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The department dismissed its investigation on Feb. 8 after finding the school exempt from parts of Title IX due to the religious tenets of BYU’s controlling organization, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Federal investigators were first notified of the complaint after the school made changes to the honor code that removed a section that banned “homosexual behavior,” but later notified students that same-sex couples would still be prohibited on campus.
“Neither the complaint nor OCR’s letter identifies any provision or specific requirement under Title IX that BYU is allegedly violating,” BYU President Kevin Worthen wrote in response in November 2021.
BYU currently does not offer any LGBTQ clubs. However, students and faculty members created a club that is not sponsored by BYU called USGA, an acronym for Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship.
Carolyn Gassert, USGA president, disagreed with Worthen, saying, “BYU’s policies create fear and loneliness, which in a community that in the outside world is already often ostracized, at BYU, just breeds mental health issues and suicide risk.”
“I hope that there is at least some accountability that comes out of this investigation,” Gassert said. “I don’t expect much, honestly, because of the whole religious exemption aspect of BYU, but it does give me some hope that people at least care about what’s happening at BYU.”
The Campus Pride Index listed BYU in the Shame List in 2019, which entailed the “Absolute Worst Campuses for LGBTQ Youth.”
In contrast, SLCC earned two national awards in 2021 for being the best of the best in LGBTQ-friendly colleges.
“SLCC has made some important steps as far as inclusivity goes. The fact that they have created options to include your pronouns in Canvas is really helpful. Especially when you compare the campus culture here to BYU, there is a lot that SLCC has done,” said Lauren Hamilton-Soulé, president of SLCC’s Queer Student Association.
Hamilton-Soulé said that a lot of people can’t just choose to go to another school, either.
“Growing up, I faced a lot of pressure from my parents to attend BYU,” Hamilton-Soulé said. “I imagine there are a lot of LGBTQ+ students who attend BYU because that’s how they either have financial support from family, or they have scholarships.”
SLCC provides resources, clubs, information and more to LGBTQ students as well as information and resources to LGBTQ allies.
SLCC’s LGBTQ mission statement asserts that the college has a strong initiative to improve the quality of life for LGBTQ and questioning students, faculty, and staff.
“There are a lot of great resources at SLCC, most of which exist because of a lot of hard work and advocacy from the LGBTQ+ (Employee) Committee and the Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center staff,” said Heather Graham, secretary for the LGBTQ+ Committee. “There is a robust amount of programming for LGBTQ+ students at the GSSRC with movies, workshops, dance, game nights, and support groups. The GSSRC also offers scholarships, menstruation products, community, and a ton more.”