BYU Alumni Challenging School’s Religious Exemptions in Court

June 1, 2021

BYU Provo Honor Code March by Jacob Payne

BYU Provo, Credit: Jacob Payne

by Joel McDonald

Should church-owned or faith-based schools be able to receive federal funding and discriminate against their LGBTQIA+ students? A federal lawsuit filed in April is challenging exemptions given to these schools allowing sex-based discrimination and asking they be declared unconstitutional. The focus of the challenge is how this exemption is applied to LGBTQIA+ students.

Twenty-five religious colleges have been cited in the lawsuit. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, one college has more plaintiffs signed on to speak against it than any other: Brigham Young University.

“I joined this lawsuit because I didn’t want anyone else to feel how I felt there in Provo,” said Ashtin Markowski, a recent BYU graduate who is lesbian shared with the Tribune. “I was on edge, anxious all the time and afraid every day that I was going to be kicked out for being myself.”

Other plaintiffs from BYU or BYU-Idaho include Chandler Horning and Rachel Moulton. As word has spread about the lawsuit, additional BYU students have been coming forward interested in signing on as plaintiffs in the case.

The lawsuit is being backed by the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), which according to their website, empowers queer, trans and non-binary students at more than 200 taxpayer-funded religious schools that actively discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Through civil rights litigation, documentary film, oral history, research and public policy, we work towards a world where LGBTQ students on all campuses are treated equally, with safety and respect.

According to Paul Southwick, the lead attorney for the lawsuit and the director of REAP, Brigham Young University receives about $1 billion each year from the federal government.

The Tribune reported BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the school is “in the process of reviewing this lawsuit.” She also said BYU aims to treat all students “with respect, dignity and love. We are concerned when any of our students do not feel this way and greatly value the contributions our students make to BYU.”

There are several ways to better understand what it’s like to be LGBTQIA+ at Brigham Young University.

Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship (USGA) is an unofficial group of Brigham Young University students, faculty, and guests who wish to enhance the BYU community by providing a safe space for open, respectful conversation on LGBTQ & SSA topics. To better understand the history of USGA and LGBTQIA+ student life at BYU, they’ve published The History of BYU and LGBTQ Issues and History of USGA.

The OUT Foundation empowers LGBT+ Alumni and current students at Brigham Young University in achieving their intellectual, social, and professional potential. They’ve published many alumni stories.

During the 2020 Affirmation International Conference, attendees had the opportunity to watch “Same-Sex Attracted“, a documentary filmed by LGBT students at BYU that shares stories of other LGBTQ and SSA students at BYU. The film is now widely available.

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