Brigham Young University wants to join the ranks of other power teams in the Big 12 Conference, a ten-school collegiate athletic conference headquartered in Irving, Texas. Given the school's intolerance toward the LGBTQ community, however, the school does not deserve a place in the renowned national conference.
In July, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced that the league would like to expand from 10 to 12 or possibly even 14 teams.
Jason Williams, a sports reporter for Cincinnati.com, tweeted that the Big 12’s top prospects include BYU, Cincinnati, and Houston. On Aug. 7, Williams tweeted that BYU is the conference’s top choice of available schools to add.
One day after his tweet, the Athlete Ally and the National Center for Lesbian Rights advocacy groups sent a letter to Bowlsby, begging the commissioner to choose any school but BYU.
The letter, which also featured signatures from members of the National Organization for Women, Campus Pride, GLAAD, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, stated that BYU “actively and openly discriminates against its LGBT students and staff ... Given BYU's homophobic, biphobic and transphobic policies and practices, BYU should not be rewarded with Big 12 membership."
Receiving membership in the Big 12 certainly would be a reward. Now in its 21st year, the premier athletic conference provides athletes with maximum visibility. Scholarly athletes in the program are eligible for valuable scholarships, both during their undergraduate and postgraduate years. Additionally, the conference distributes close to $2.6 billion to its affiliated institutions for athletic programming.
Given the benefits of taking part in the Big 12, BYU’s desire to acquire membership is not surprising. LGBTQ advocacy groups, however, do not believe that the school, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is worthy of such a reward.
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins stated, “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.”
The school’s honor code, however, seems to paint a less accepting picture.
According to SB Nation, the most recent version of the BYU honor code states: “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.”
Advocacy groups have every right to claim that adding BYU to the conference of top-performing athletic universities would signify a step backward for the LGBTQ community.
Recently, LGBTQ awareness and gender equality have been on the rise in professional and collegiate sports.
Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports, recently carried out a successful campaign to convince the NBA to change the location of the 2017 All-Star game in Charlotte due to a new North Carolina law that requires transgender individuals to use restrooms labeled with the gender listed on their birth certificates.
Similar organizations and efforts have increased the levels of acceptance and equality in sports.
BYU, on the other hand, carries a history of discrimination. Until 1978, the university prohibited African-Americans from joining their basketball team.
Ashland Johnson, the director of policy and campaigns for Athlete Ally, stated that “BYU's policies go against everything the Big 12 stands for.”
If the Big 12 Conference wants to uphold its reputation as a beacon of opportunity for student-athletes, it would be wise to shun BYU and its requests to join the conference.