Brigham Young University in Utah is under investigation after ending gender-affirming speech therapy for trans students earlier this year.
The Mormon institution in Provo, Utah, halted services in February for a master’s program in speech-language pathology after determining that transgender people who used it to alter their voices in order to align with their gender identity were not in line with church guidelines. to “advise against social transition”, according to C. Shane Reese, academic vice-president of the university.
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The church defines social transition as changing one’s dress or grooming or name or pronouns to present oneself as other than one’s sex assigned at birth.
The Council on Academic Accreditation launched a survey in the spring to determine whether the program remains compliant with accreditation standards. This investigation is ongoing.
Three trans people were directly affected by the end of the program.
“The whole time I was there, everyone was kind and assertive,” said one trans customer. “Everyone I interacted with directly was wonderful.”
ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, says the end of gender-affirming services for transgender clients “stands in direct opposition” to the expected practice of its members.
“ASHA recognizes gender-affirming voice and communication services for transgender and gender-diverse populations within the scope of speech-language pathology practice,” the association said in a statement.
“As a result, BYU places its certified speech-language pathologists in an untenable position.”
RJ Risueño, a former BYU undergrad, is now a licensed speech-language pathologist working with transgender and gender non-conforming people in Arizona. He considers BYU’s decision to be discriminatory.
“By denying services to transgender people, BYU is preventing their clinical students from embracing an essential part of the gospel of Jesus Christ: loving your neighbor,” he said. “In turn, a community in need is left without access to essential services.”
Because it is church-controlled, BYU enjoys religious exemptions under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in education. Title IX does not apply to an educational institution controlled by a religious organization where the application of the law would be inconsistent with its religious principles.
Speech-language pathologists in private practice in Utah have offered to provide services to trans students, including the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain University, a private school in Provo.
“We will happily accept anyone affected by BYU’s policy change,” said Dr. Brett Myers, director of clinical training in speech-language pathology at the University of Utah.
This institution has 25 transgender clients who receive gender-affirming speech therapy, one of the largest providers in the country.
Wendy Chase, director of clinical training and assistant professor of the speech-language pathology program at Rocky Mountain, said she is also happy to support BYU clients and “continue the work that has already been done.”
Paul Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, said the civil rights organization is monitoring the situation at BYU.
“We are watching it closely as there is a large LGBTQ+ student population at BYU. … There are a number of alumni who are LGBTQ+ and we see a lot of pressure in a number of areas,” Southwick said. “We believe that right now BYU has a system of discrimination that is on the verge of collapsing.”
In a speech last fall at the university, Latter-day Saint Apostle Jeffrey Holland said the school and students should uphold the tenets of the faith, especially “marriage as a union of a man and a woman”, even if it costs the university. “professional associations and certifications”.
And in February, the Department of Education dismissed an investigation into how LGBTQ students are disciplined at BYU, saying it has no enforcement power in the private religious school.
The complaint came after the university said it would continue to enforce the same-sex dating ban even after that language was removed from the school’s written honor code.
The university also tightened rules against dissent, after students lit the “Y” in “BYU” on the mountain above the rainbow-colored school.
“It’s one thing after another,” said one of the affected trans students. “It is destabilizing and it makes you worry about what will follow. Losing this therapy is particularly difficult.