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How Religious Colleges Are Staying Anti-Trans on Your Dime

Brigham Young

Religious universities and colleges are rushing to protect their ability to discriminate against LGBT students and faculty by seeking faith-based exemptions to civil rights law.

The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released requests from and responses to religious universities that wanted exemption from Title IX, which forbids any school receiving federal funds to discriminate on the basis of sex. The law provides an exemption for religious universities where gender separation is a firmly held belief. This allows religious schools to participate in public grant and loan programs while still practicing their faith—such as student honor codes limiting contact between the sexes or Catholic seminaries refusing admission to prospective female students.

As of March 2016, about 233 universities have religious exemption, with another 29 requests pending.

Though the Department of Education changed the game in 2014 when it decided Title IX protections should include transgender students and faculty, religious schools have since seeked exemption and have specifically referred to beliefs on gender identity in their requests.

“The purpose of the distinction between genders is based on religious tenets about our divine nature as children of God, the eternal nature of our gender identity, and the purpose of our life on earth,” Clark Gilbert, president of Brigham Young University-Idaho, wrote in a February 12 letter to the DOE. BYU-Idaho has more than 36,000 undergraduates and receives and administers about $2.5 million in federal grants. Gilbert continued: “As a religious tenet, gender is not simply socially determined, but is an essential characteristic of each person’s eternal identity.”

Indiana Wesleyan University president David Wright told the DOE that “gender non-conformity … violates the law of love and the sanctity of the family.” IWU has more than 14,000 students and takes in about $2.48 million in federal grants. “When necessary, church discipline of gender non-conforming individuals must be administered in holy love,” Gilbert said. 

A DOE spokesman told us that Title IX’s protections, incluing gender identity, are enforced "in every applicable school." However, the spokesman acknowledged the limits based on the religious exemption: “We are committed to protecting every student Congress gave us jurisdiction to protect, to the fullest extent of the law."

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