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LGBTQ Advocacy Group Urges Big 12 to Pass on Adding BYU

An LGBTQ advocacy group has sent a letter to the commissioner of the Big 12 urging the conference to remove BYU from consideration for membership because it says the school has discriminatory policies.

Athlete Ally, a nonprofit group that works with sports leagues and organizations on educational and awareness programs, wrote in a letter sent Monday that "... through its policies, BYU is very clear about its intent to discriminate against openly LGBT students ..."

BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The school's honor code states that same-gender attraction is not an issue.   But it does state, "Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code." The school honor code requires all students to commit to chastity outside of marriage.

"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 said in a statement through spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.

Fox Sports first reported Athlete Ally's letter, which was signed by 23 other advocacy groups.

Big 12 university presidents and chancellors authorized Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to begin evaluating potential expansion candidates last month. BYU is among several schools that have made it clear they would like membership in the lucrative Power Five conference.

BYU is a football independent that competes in the West Coast Conference in other sports, such as basketball. The Cougars football program has a long tradition of success and a large national following.

Along with schools such as Central Florida, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut and Memphis, BYU is considered a strong expansion candidate for the Big 12.

In an interview with the AP last month, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said he was not concerned that the school's religious affiliation would stand in the way of its attempts to join the Big 12.

"We fully intend that when we have an opportunity to meet with them and have discussions that they're going to ask us questions that they're going to have about everything, every aspect (of the school).

"But certainly that could be one of the things, and specifically we're not sure what they would ask regarding that but we would answer every one of the questions," Holmoe said on July 22.

"Some of the things that they might ask specifically about the church we're prepared to answer those questions and we have people other than coaches or an AD, although I could answer, that would ... either have the authority to answer correctly or specifically."

LGBTQ rights have been a hot button issue in college sports in recent years and the NCAA has taken an aggressive stance against laws it deems to be discriminatory.

The board in April adopted a requirement for host sites of its sanctioned tournaments and events to demonstrate "how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination and also safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event."

Last month the NCAA said it would be sending a questionnaire to future and potential host city organizing groups to gauge whether they would "provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination."

The NCAA last year helped apply pressure that led to Indiana changing a law that its critics called discriminatory against LGBTQ people. North Carolina is now facing similar pressure over the law known as HB2 that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people.

Utah has nondiscrimination laws, but BYU as a private school is exempt.

Big 12 members Baylor and TCU are private schools with church affiliations. Baylor, a Baptist university, last year modified a school policy on sexual misconduct to remove a reference to homosexual acts. The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963, which guides the school's policies, does define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

TCU is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ Church and has a non-discrimination statement that references sexual orientation and gender identity.

Bowlsby did not respond immediately to a text message from the AP asking for comment Monday night, but he told Fox: "I am not prepared to make any comments on our process at this time."

Other widely dicussed Big 12 expansion candidates include the Universities of Central Florida, Conneticut, Houston, Memphis, New Mexico and South Florida. The conference has yet to show any favorability towards certain schools, but several celebrities, elected officials and television networks have voiced their opinion on what the conference should do.

The conference, which was one of NCAAF's premier leagues just a few years ago, has a volitile future being the only Power 5 conference without a league championship game. That is largely due to the fact that the departures of the Universities of Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas A&M early in the decade left the conference with the short end of the stick during that phase of realignment.

The Big 12 has only ten teams, making it the smallest Power 5 league, despite having two of the country's most notable programs in The universities of Oklahoma and Texas. Many college football pundits question whether or not those programs should be waiting around for expansion or joining the PAC-12 or SEC to assure their own success, leaving their longtime rivals to fend for themselves in the ultra-competitve world that is Division 1 athletics.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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