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BYU: Gay OK

College drops gay ban to align with Mormon Church; church still anti-trans

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Kristin Lam reports for USA Today that Brigham Young University removed a ban on "homosexual behavior" from its honor code, the Mormon institution said Wednesday, in an effort to match church policy.

The announcement came the same day the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints released its new handbook, but did not specify what displays of affection same-gender couples are allowed to do.

Until now, the code defined homosexual behavior as "all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings," such as kissing, holding hands and sex. Any of those actions had violated BYU's honor code, which students must follow on and off campus in order to graduate and take classes.  

"The Honor Code Office will handle questions that arise on a case by case basis," the university said Wednesday. "For example, since dating means different things to different people, the Honor Code Office will work with students individually."

The previous policy said a student's "stated same-gender attraction" was not an issue, but a BYU valedictorian made national headlines when he came out as gay during a graduation speech last year, and one student said other LGBTQ athletes stay closeted to avoid abuse. 

Addison Jenkins, a former BYU student, told The Salt Lake Tribune the change will improve the lives of LGBTQ students at the Mormon institution.  

“We’ve been vulnerable and authentic and persistently asked for the university to treat us queer students the same as our straight peers,” Jenkins told the paper. “Today, that work finally paid off.”

The church does not support same-sex marriage and its handbook says sex between people of the same gender "undermines the divinely created institution of the family." Gay Mormons are allowed to be part of the church, however, and their children can be baptized without special permission. 

More than 2 million Mormons live in Utah, which BYU calls home, accounting for about one-third of all Mormons in the nation.

Trans punishment

In a related development, Trudy Ring reports for The Advocate that the Mormon Church has ‘formalized’ punishments for its transgender members.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known informally as the Mormon Church, has never been supportive of transgender identity, but now it has fully spelled out its anti-trans positions in a new handbook, available online.

“Gender is an essential characteristic of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness,” says the General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, released Wednesday. “The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation is biological sex at birth.”

“Church leaders counsel against elective medical or surgical intervention for the purpose of attempting to transition to the opposite gender of a person’s birth sex (‘sex reassignment’),” the handbook continues. “Leaders advise that taking these actions will be cause for Church membership restrictions.”

The book also takes a stand against social transition — changes in dress, grooming, names, or pronouns intended to reflect a gender identity different from the one assigned at birth. That will result in restrictions “for the duration of this transition,” the document reads.

Those restrictions could include limits on temple attendance, although trans people are welcome to be baptized or receive communion, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. And the Mormon priesthood, which is reserved for men, will not admit trans men, the book makes clear. It builds on a statement by a top church leader last fall that gender assigned at birth is eternal.

The book replaces two earlier ones and reflects the views of the church’s two highest governing bodies, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The earlier, printed books were available only to faith leaders, while the new one, published online, is accessible to all.

“There are a number of moral policies that we've now put on paper of where the First Presidency and the [Quorum of the] Twelve stand,” Elder Anthony D. Perkins, executive director of the church’s Correlation Department, which oversees the creation of the handbook, said in a press release. “One of those moral policies that is new is around persons who identify as transgender. The reason that policy has been added is we've had an increase in questions coming from bishops and stake presidents saying, ‘What can a transgender person do? What are the guidelines?’ The transgender policy states that everyone is welcome to attend our meetings and that we should create a warm, welcoming environment for all — including persons who identify as transgender. At the same time, the policy clarifies that some of things in the church are gender-specific.”

Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families, & Friends, a support group for LGBTQ people who are current or former members of the LDS Church, did not care for the new handbook.

“Affirmation continues to stand aligned with the medical and psychiatric communities regarding the essential characteristic of gender identity, and that self-determination is the only means to establish gender identity,” the group said in a press release. “No person, group or institution has the means or the right to determine gender identity for any individual. Narrowly defining gender as the biological sex at birth negates the lived experience of transgender individuals.”

The organization also objected to the use of the term “same-sex attraction” regarding lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. The term “is an ineffective descriptor created by people and organizations outside the LGB community rooted in a belief that sexual orientation is a behavior and therefore amendable to conversion therapy to change such behavior,” Affirmation officials said. “Using this as a blanket identifier for LGB individuals is a step backward.”

Affirmation did praise the fact that the church will no longer consider same-sex marriages “apostasy” (rejection of church teaching) or deny baptism to children whose primary residence is with a same-sex couple. These policies have been denounced widely since they were announced in 2015, and the church indicated last April that it was backtracking on them. However, “the fact that legally married same-sex couples are still considered in serious transgression within the church still leaves lesbian and gay members of the church facing incredibly painful choices,” the Affirmation release said.