As the Big 12 searches for the right expansion model, a number of schools are bidding to join the conference. Three of them bring with them some LGBT-discrimination baggage to the Big 12. If either BYU, the Univ. of Houston or the Univ. of Memphis is welcomed into the conference, the Big 12 will have ignored some glaring issues that LGBT people at each of these three schools face.
To be sure, the current Big 12 schools (of which there are 10) are not exactly models of acceptance. According to the Campus Pride Index, which rates colleges and universities based on their LGBT inclusion, only one of the 10 schools -- Kansas State -- received five out of five stars on the Index. On the flip side, West Virginia Univ. gets an abysmal 1.5 stars, Texas Tech gets 2 stars and the Univ. of Kansas receives 2.5 stars. The Univ. of Oklahoma gets 3.5 stars, indicating progress but still work to do. The other half of the schools haven't even bothered being rated.
While the Campus Pride Index is a snapshot of the atmosphere on the campuses, the overall bad or non-existent scores show where LGBT issues fall on the Big 12 priority list.
Recently about two dozen LGBT groups wrote a letter to the Big 12 asking the conference to reject BYU as a possible member, yet they did not also call out Memphis and Houston as problematic. While each of those schools has anti-discrimination policies that protect LGBT people, they are both massive public institutions that educate students living off campus or commuting. Those students may be protected on campus, but voters in Houston and legislators in Tennessee have opened the door to discrimination against LGBT people over the last 10 months.
Ultimately, none of this will matter. Baylor University is a long-time member of the Big 12, and until just last year had a nearly identical anti-LGBT policy to that of BYU, just as the NCAA doesn't care that fans going to tournament games in North Carolina are subject to discrimination. If the Big 12 didn't care about these policies then, they sure don't now. Money will talk.
BYU blatantly discriminates against LGBT student-athletes
Probably no school has a longer, darker history in oppressing LGBT students and student-athletes than BYU. The Mormon school has codified discrimination in its student policies and is controlled by the Mormon Church, which in the last decade has taken the lead at times against equality for LGBT people. While the school claims to focus only on "acts" and not "people," gay people on campus are banned from any kind of intimacy, including holding hands or kissing.
The mental and emotional torment that BYU forces its LGBT students to endure can be debilitating. With such a high rate of suicide attempts by LGBT teens, you'd think the school would have learned by now. But it hasn't.
When the church and school's revised policy was released earlier this year it made matters worse, forcing children of gay people to disavow their parents and marginalizing legally married same-sex couples.
Adding BYU to the Big 12 would be a complete rejection of the equality of LGBT people by the conference.
Univ. of Houston has no LGBT discrimination protections in home city
Last November the voters of Houston overwhelmingly voted to remove any kind of discrimination protection for LGBT people. Students at the Univ. of Houston, a public school located in the city, can be discriminated against in housing and other accommodations at the whim of the business-owner.
While the university includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy, those protections do not extend to much of students' lives. On-campus housing is, according to the university's Web site, "available on a limited basis," forcing thousands of students off-campus where they can be rejected for housing simply for being or "looking" gay.
Even without the off-campus complications, Campus Pride rates Univ. of Houston a 3.5 out of 5 stars for LGBT inclusion, which is like getting a C- on a test.
Adding Houston to the Big 12 would be an endorsement of the removal of discrimination protections for LGBT people.
Tennessee passed anti-LGBT law putting Univ. of Memphis students at mental-health risk
Despite the harsh realities so many LGBT youth must navigate as they come of age, the state of Tennessee earlier this year made it legal for therapists and counselors to refuse to help LGBT people. Yes, you read that right: The population with the highest rate of suicide attempt is now the target of the state's attempts to limit access to mental health facilities.
While the school's non-discrimination statements are lovely, as a public institution run by the very state that just passed this heinous bill, it's impossible to separate one from the other.
Adding Memphis to the Big 12 would be confirmation that the mental health of LGBT students is not a priority for the conference.