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Will The Very Anti-Gay, Mormon-Owned Brigham Young University Be Allowed to Join The Big 12 Conference?

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Testing NCAA’s Commitment to Inclusion: Big 12 Conference Considers Membership Application of BYU

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has in recent years emerged as an advocate for equality in college athletics. Its website includes a number of LGBT resources and statements affirming its commitment to inclusion. Moreover, it has matched its words with action, using its economic power to protect LGBT athletes and fans from discrimination.

Its commitment to inclusion will soon be tested again as one of its “power conferences” considers the membership application of Brigham Young University, a school notorious for its discrimination against LGBT students, faculty, and staff.

NCAA as Advocate for Inclusion

In the spring of 2015, when Indiana Governor Mike Pence (now the Republican Party’s candidate for Vice President) signed into law an odious “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to LGBT patrons on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs,” NCAA president Mark Emmert spoke out forcefully against the legislation and implied that the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, was prepared not only to relocate its headquarters, where some 500 employees work, but also to move any future championships and tournaments scheduled to be played in the state.

“[Inclusion and diversity] are values that are fundamental to what college athletics are all about and what higher education is all about,” Emmert said. “For us personally in the NCAA, this is a big deal. We’re very proud of the inclusive environment in our office. We’re very proud of the environment that we’ve created here and we don’t want to lose that. We don’t want to have it put at risk.”

He added, “We hold lots and lots of events. We’re going to have our national convention here, our offices are here. We have to say, ‘What are we going to do if this law goes into effect in July? What’s our relationship with the state of Indiana going to be?’”

In the face of massive negative reaction to the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” the bill was significantly revised and its invitation to discriminate removed. Hence, Emmert did not have to go through with the implied threat.

More recently, in response to North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2, a law that nullified protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibited transgender people from using public restrooms that do not conform to the gender on their birth certificates, the NCAA Board of Governors took steps to protect participants and spectators from discrimination at NCAA events.

On April 27, 2016, the NCAA  announced that it had added a new requirement for sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events: they must demonstrate how they will provide “an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event.”

Explaining that the Association considers the promotion of inclusiveness in race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity a vital element in protecting the well-being of student-athletes and creating a culture of fairness, Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of NCAA’s Board of Governors, said “The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation backgrounds. So it is important that we assure that community—including our student-athletes and fans—will always enjoy the experience of competing, and watching, at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

Inasmuch as NCAA championships and tournaments often inject millions of dollars into the economies of host cities and states, the new requirement serves notice that failure to protect LGBT people from discrimination may be costly, as will so-called “religious liberty” bills that encourage discrimination against LGBT people.

On July 22, the Association released a questionnaire that cities that are interested in hosting future NCAA events must complete, along with specific steps they intend to follow to make certain that all participants and fans are protected from discrimination.

Big 12 Expansion

The NCAA will soon face a major test of its commitment to LGBT rights and inclusion. One of its premier conferences, the Big 12, which now consists of only ten universities, mainly in the Southwest and the Great Plains, recently announced that it would explore plans to expand, at least to its original size of twelve and possibly beyond.

The Big 12, which shrank as a result of a series of conference realignments over the past twenty years, has slipped behind the SEC, the Big Ten, and the Pac-12 conferences on a number of measures. It now consists of the following members: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Christian University, and West Virginia.

Upon the conference’s announcement that it had authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to begin negotiations with prospective candidates, Brigham Young University, currently a member of no conference but with a large national fan base and a big stadium, indicated interest in being considered for membership. Indeed, among sports writers and fans, BYU quickly became the leading candidate for admission, along with such other schools as the University of Houston, Colorado State University, University of Cincinnati, Boise State University, and the University of Memphis, among others.

In response to the speculation that BYU would be granted membership in the Big 12, Athlete Ally, an organization devoted to ending homophobia and transphobia in sports, along with more than twenty other organizations, issued a letter on August 8 opposing membership for BYU.

Signed by such organizations as the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National LGBTQ Task Force, GLAAD, Campus Pride, Soulforce, and the National Organization for Women, the letter asserted that “Adding BYU would be inconsistent with Big 12 Conference membership values.”

It pointed out that “BYU . . . 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 letter noted that “BYU’s anti-LGBT policies violate both Big 12 guidelines and NCAA guidelines” and argues that adding BYU would undermine Big 12 values.

[Salt Lake City television station KSL reported on the letter and interviewed Athlete Ally founder Hudson Taylor.]

Indeed, the Big 12 Conference Handbook includes several references to discrimination, diversity, gender equity, and fairness. For example, in addition to affirming the conference’s commitment to observe Title IX requirements that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, the Conference Handbook also says, “The Conference shall not schedule (nor participate in) any regular or postseason competition or event at sites, venues or facilities which have membership restrictions or practices which result in discrimination on the basis of gender.”

The Handbook also spells out a policy on Diversity: “Consistent with NCAA Constitution 2.7, the Conference and its Member Institutions are committed to cultural diversity, promoting respect and sensitivity to the dignity of every person and fostering participation of all in competition, administration and governance. 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.”

As part of its Diversity policy, the Conference pledges to “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.”

It is difficult to see how BYU can meet such requirements.

Brigham Young University

BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), a religion that has been at the very center of efforts to deprive LGBT people of equal rights in the United States and abroad. In many ways, BYU is less a university as generally understood than an indoctrination project of the Mormon Church, which sometimes refers to it as the “Lord’s University.”

It severely restricts academic freedom and limits any criticism by faculty members or students that contradicts church doctrine or policy.

[The video below, from BYU’s admissions office, hyperbolically describes the school as a “world-class institution of higher learning.”]

BYU also imposes on students and faculty an Honor Code that is rigorously enforced and almost absurdly detailed. The code covers everything from academic honesty, dress and grooming standards, the use of alcohol and tobacco to what rooms guests in residential housing may enter. Not only are gambling, obscene or indecent conduct or expressions, disorderly or disruptive conduct, and involvement with pornographic, erotic, indecent, or offensive material prohibited, but so is “any other conduct or action inconsistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

At one time homosexual impulses as well as homosexual behavior were punished (including by aversion therapy and reparative therapy, among other means). Now the recently revised Honor Code distinguishes between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior, with only the latter subject to punishment. The university apparently believes that punishing someone on the basis of their homosexual conduct is more acceptable in polite society than persecuting someone on the basis of their homosexual orientation.

The section on “Homosexual Behavior” reads as follows:

“Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.

One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. 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.” 

The video below, posted in 2012 by BYU student members of an unrecognized student group called “Understanding Same-Gender Attraction,” recounts the painful experiences of several LGBT students who have come out under very difficult conditions. The video is heartbreaking both because of what these young people have had to endure and, equally, because they seem to have reached a spectacularly erroneous conclusion as to how to make things get better. The LDS Church should be deeply ashamed of the spiritual terrorism it has inflicted on these and millions of other LGBT young people.

As a private university governed by a religious organization, BYU has been granted an exemption from certain Title IX requirements by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It is also exempt from Utah’s nondiscrimination statutes. Hence, however repugnant the university’s discriminatory policies are, they are not illegal.

Moreover, no one is forced to attend such a repressive institution (though, of course, many LDS youth experience enormous family and community pressure to attend the “Lord’s University”). People who voluntarily subject themselves to the policing strictures of BYU’s Honor Code may deserve sympathy, but they cannot claim to having been duped since the university widely publicizes its expectations and values. 

But simply because BYU’s discrimination is both legal and well known does not make it acceptable.

Response to Athlete Ally’s Letter

In response to the letter asking the Big 12 conference to reject Brigham Young University’s application for membership, the university’s athletic director Tom Holcomb issued a brief statement via Twitter: “LGBT players, coaches and fans are always welcome to the BYU campus. Everyone should be treated with respect, dignity and love.”

Another university spokesman said, “BYU welcomes as full members of the university community all whose conduct meets university standards. We are very clear and open about our honor code, which all students understand and commit to when they apply for admission. One’s stated sexual orientation is not an issue.”

Such a statement, of course, does not address the real issues posed by the letter. The question is not only whether visitors are treated with respect, or whether students are aware of the Honor Code, but also, and more pertinently, whether the discrimination practiced by Brigham Young University against its LGBT faculty and students, including student-athletes, is consistent with the values of the NCAA.

Unsurprisingly, supporters of BYU are casting themselves as victims, saying that intolerant gay bullies are advocating discrimination against them for their religious beliefs. Some are even alleging that the letter abridges the university’s First Amendment rights.

But Athlete Ally is not challenging BYU’s right to believe or practice their religious beliefs. Rather, it is challenging the NCAA to practice its own widely-touted commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Even BYU Law School professor Lynn Wardle recognizes that BYU has “no right to join” the Big 12. “It’s a free association issue,” not a First Amendment issue, he told Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack. However, he believes the attempt to keep BYU out of the Big 12 is simply “an opportunity to put pressure on BYU and embarrass it.”

By minimizing the issue of discrimination, Wardle is typical of his co-religionists in refusing to acknowledge the consequences of the discrimination practiced by his church.

In contrast, several openly gay Big 12 athletes and former athletes have expressed trepidation about traveling to BYU to compete. Former University of Oklahoma pole vaulter Tanner Williams said “I would like to see any athlete feel comfortable to be who they are in the Big 12. Adding a school that is homonegative can destroy that type of atmosphere.”

He stated that he would refuse to travel to BYU for a meet were he still competing. “LGBT athletes should not have to compete at a school where they do not feel comfortable or accepted,” he said.

Former TCU football player Vince Pryor also told Salt Lake Tribune reporter Aaron Falk that he would be apprehensive about traveling to BYU.

Pryor said that he would be disappointed were BYU welcomed into the Big 12 without making a change. “This is a huge opportunity for people on both sides of the fence, the Big 12 and BYU, to make a statement about what kind of organization and what kind of conference they’re going to be.”

Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler recently pointed out that other current and prospective members of the Big 12 also have problematic records of LGBT acceptance, but noted that “Probably no school has a longer, darker history in oppressing LGBT students and student-athletes than BYU.”

Pointing to the mental and emotional torment that BYU forces upon its LGBT students, he concludes that “Adding BYU to the Big 12 would be a complete rejection of the equality of LGBT people by the conference.”

Conclusion

It is not known exactly when the Big 12 will make its decision concerning Brigham Young University’s bid to join the conference. The decision could come at any time, but many observers believe that it will be announced in October, when its governing board has a regularly scheduled meeting.

BYU brings much to the table, including a huge fan base, good facilities, and a passion for sport. However, it also brings a great deal of baggage. In addition to its long and ugly history of homophobia, the university is also under investigation for its handling of sexual assaults. Allegedly, women who have reported sexual assaults have themselves been punished for violations of the Honor Code.

The reputation of the LDS Church has been damaged by its political activities directed against equal rights, but its leaders seem not to have learned very much. More importantly, church leaders seem unconcerned about the suffering they cause their own LGBT members and fail to connect the dots between their homophobic policies and statements and the alarming rates of suicide among LDS youth.

I do not harbor any illusions that sports activists will change BYU’s homophobic policies, but they deserve commendation for highlighting those polices and pointing out their inconsistency with NCAA’s stated commitment to inclusion.

Their efforts need to be placed in the context of the sports activism of the 1960s and 1970s, when athletes played a role in drawing attention to the LDS Church’s discriminatory racial policies that barred Blacks from the priesthood and from participating in most temple ordinances. A number of athletes and several universities, including Stanford, protested those policies by refusing to compete with BYU.

After decades of pressure, in 1978 church leaders finally announced that they had received a “revelation” that “every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the Holy Priesthood.”

The NCAA has previously shown that it has the courage of its convictions. I hope that it will once again affirm its commitment to equal rights and and refuse to turn a blind eye to BYU’s blatant discrimination.

 

Image by Ken Lund via Flickr and a CC license 

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‘Extremely Concerned’: School Board’s ‘Christian Values’ Candidate Search Sparks Criticism

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Wisconsin’s Cedar Grove-Belgium School District Board of Education postponed a scheduled public event to share with the community its narrowed-down list of candidates to become the next superintendent of schools after a former schools superintendent raised concerns about the process. The school board cited a “shift in the timeline” as the reason for the delay.

Retired St. Francis Superintendent Carol Topinka pointed out the Cedar Grove-Belgium School District’s job posting listed “Christian values” and “conservative politics” as desired characteristics for candidates to be considered by the board, as Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) reports.

“Help me understand how a public school district can legally limit its hiring to people who are Christians?” Topinka wrote in an email to the Illinois-based firm hired to conduct the search for the schools superintendent, WPR reported. A friend of Topinka who applied for the job pointed out the “desired characteristics.”

“My mentee is not a Christian and is frankly gobsmacked that a public school district can blatantly and prejudicially flout the law,” Topinka wrote.

“Thanks for your email,” responded Mike Richie of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. “That was a comment made during the focus groups and you are correct that should not have been in the report. It will be removed. Thanks.”

School Board President Chad Hoopman “said as part of the process of hiring the superintendent focus groups met and ‘any characteristic mentioned by any participant in attendance is recorded and appears on the list of traits for that particular focus group for complete transparency to any potential candidates to review.'”

An undated post on the school district’s website announcing the search states, “base salary range expected to be $140,000-$180,000 (based on experience).”

It adds, “As the district looks ahead, it seeks a leader who aligns with its values and shares a commitment to preserving the traditional principles that have made Cedar Grove-Belgium a unique and cherished educational community.”

The ACLU is raising concerns.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of religion, including in the recruitment phase,” Ryan Cox, legal director with ACLU of Wisconsin told WPR. “The ACLU of Wisconsin is extremely concerned that a public body might be attempting to apply a religious test as a condition of employment, or even as a preferred ‘qualification.’”

Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Congressman Mark Pocan called it, “a complete disregard for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You can’t hire based on religion for a public position.”

Meanwhile, the chair of a Wisconsin chapter of Moms for Liberty, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an anti-government extremist group, falsely claimed Christians are now being excluded from the search.

“In the era of woke ‘inclusive’ paganism, everyone is welcome… except for Christians,” Scarlett Johnson wrote on social media. Stating the ACLU “plans to investigate” the district “for their heresy,” Johnson added, “Imagine stating that ‘Christian Values’ in a superintendent might be good! How dare this community in Sheboygan, WI, stray from the qu-er gender-bending multicultural god to whom leftist wing radicals worship and sacrifice!”

Johnson also claimed ACLU attorneys “will investigate and deconstruct whiteness wherever they find it and look into past actions taken by the board as well.”

“Don’t worry, folks,” Johnson continued. “Christians will not have a voice in YOUR public school. The WPR and ACLU will be sure to take appropriate action. Rest easy and watch a drag show with someone else’s kids.”

 

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‘Spoiler’ Questions Swirl as Trump Says He Would Vote for RFK Jr. ‘If I Were a Democrat’

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Embracing polls and reports that claim independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could take more votes from President Joe Biden than from Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee is effectively “endorsing” RFK Jr., but only for Democratic voters.

“RFK Jr. is going to be taking away votes from crooked Joe Biden and he should because he’s actually better than Biden,” Trump says in a rambling nearly three-minute video posted to his Truth Social page. “He’s much better than Biden. If I were a Democrat, I’d vote for RFK Jr. every single time over Biden, because he’s frankly more in line with Democrats.”

Trump’s remarks come as multiple news reports and the DNC this week suggest RFK Jr. could be a “spoiler” to help Donald Trump, and as the Kennedy campaign announced it had fired a New York State staff member whose remarks suggested the goal was to “get rid” of President Biden, throw the election to the House, which, she said, would choose Trump. RFK Jr.’s campaign manager has denied that is their plan.

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In his video, Trump calls RFK Jr., “the most radical left candidate in the race,” while saying, “he’s a better man than Joe Biden,” “great for MAGA,” and, “I happen to like him.” He ends the video repeating his claim: “I do believe he’s going to take a lot of votes away from crooked Joe Biden.”

Noting that “RFK Jr. sounds like Trump as he courts MAGA voters,” Axios this week reported, “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is making targeted appeals to Donald Trump supporters, pledging to “seal the border” from undocumented migrants and investigate the prosecutions of pro-Trump rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.”

UC Berkeley Professor of Public Policy Robert Reich warns, “Don’t be fooled: RFK Jr. has received funding from big Republican donors.”

“Steve Bannon urged him to run! Why? Because he’s there to play spoiler. The MAGA world knows that a vote for RFK Jr. is a vote to help Trump win, plain and simple,” he added.

Is RFK Jr. a threat to Biden?

“Election spoiler?” writes USA Today on Friday. “Seven months from the election, Kennedy has the support of 11.7% of likely voters, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls. That doesn’t make him a serious contender to win the election. But Kennedy’s current double-digit standing is more than enough to swing outcomes in battleground states.”

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The Hill on Friday also asked, “Will RFK Jr. be a spoiler in November?”

“Kennedy and other independent candidates ‘certainly could be spoilers,’ conceded No Labels chief strategist Ryan Clancy, who cautioned that much could happen before November.”

Bloomberg Opinion‘s Patricia Lopez this week slammed No Labels and RFK Jr.

“Let’s Call No Labels and RFK Jr. What They Are: Spoilers,” Lopez wrote. “A rudderless third party and a nepo baby’s vanity run distort the dynamics of a pivotal election.”

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi points to a New York Times report from Wednesday: “Trump Allies Have a Plan to Hurt Biden’s Chances: Elevate Outsider Candidates.” Trippi writes: “Trump Allies, Trump Donors, MAGA Supporting Billionaire all in to make RFK Jr a Spoiler For Trump.”

The liberal Super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has repeatedly labeled RFK Jr. a “spoiler.”

“Trump is desperately trying to prop up RFK Jr.’s spoiler campaign after two straight weeks of negative headlines and zero polling bump after his running mate announcement last month,” the group said on Friday, posting a short clip of the Trump video.

Watch the videos above or at this link.

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Pro-Trump RFK Jr. Campaign Staff Member Fired for ‘Misrepresentation’: Report

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Rita Palma, a Robert F. Kennedy Jr. presidential campaign New York State staffer and pro-Trump election denier who attended the pre-insurrection January 6, 2021 rally, has been terminated for “misrepresentation,” according to multiple news outlets and the campaign.

Palma made headlines earlier this week when unearthed video of her promoting a plan to “get rid” of President Joe Biden to help elect Donald Trump went viral.

Palma was identified as the campaign’s New York State director, but RFK Jr.’s national campaign manager, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, on social media claimed Palma is “a ballot access consultant” and distanced the campaign from Palma’s remarks, saying she was “speaking as a private citizen and her statements in no way reflect campaign strategy.”

Fox Kennedy, CNN reports, “said on Wednesday that New York campaign staff member Rita Palma was fired after she told GOP voters in a meeting last week that preventing President Joe Biden’s victory was her ‘number one priority’ and encouraged them to volunteer for former President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania.”

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Fox Kennedy Wednesday night, in response to an RFK Jr. supporter angered by Palma’s remarks, wrote on X: “We terminated her contract for misrepresentation immediately upon seeing the longer video in which she gave an inaccurate job title and described a conversation that did not happen.”

Palma had told Kennedy supporters the goal is to use RFK. Jr. to block President Joe Biden from obtaining 270 Electoral College votes, throw the election to the Republican-majority House of Representatives, which she said would put Trump back in the White House. She also declared President Joe Biden the “enemy” of both the Trump voter and the “Bobby” Kennedy voter.

“We’re all on the same team right now, and we’ll be on the same team later, as long as Trump or Kennedy wins,” Palma said, CNN had reported. “If it’s Trump vs. Biden, Biden wins. Biden wins six days, seven days a week. With Bobby in the mix, anything can happen.”

Responding to the video, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison wrote: “As we have been saying… RFK Jr. = Trump,” and added, “They share the same donors… the same extremist agenda.”

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Earlier this week CNN’s KFile reported Palma “previously promoted false claims that the 2020 election was rigged and attended ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies after the election, including the rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC, that preceded the deadly riot at the US Capitol.”

She “also repeatedly called Trump her ‘favorite president,’ according to tweets along with comments she posted on the conservative social media site Parler that have since been made private.”

On Wednesday, Vanity Fair‘s Eric Lutz wrote, “The big question here is whether Kennedy is knowingly playing into Trump narratives, or if he’s actually buying into some of this as a noted conspiracy theorist himself.”

“But whether this is gullibility or bad faith, the effect in November could be the same: to create chaos in November that could ultimately help Trump, an aspiring authoritarian, reclaim the White House. ‘RFK Jr.’s campaign isn’t building a plan or a strategy to get 270 electoral votes,’ Matt Corridoni, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, told CNN. ‘They’re building one to help Trump return to the Oval Office.'”

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