The NCAA made a powerful public relations move when it announced that it would remove all championship events from North Carolina, in response to the state's anti-LGBT "HB2" law. Praise came from fans, media members and even athletic departments of schools within North Carolina.
In the NCAA's own words, "NCAA championships and events must promote an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans."
The association's claim to protect "all" so far has come in conflict with various member schools that maintain policies that are anti-LGBT.
It’s a dilemma the NCAA is struggling to balance. How do you pull out of North Carolina based on anti-LGBT policies, yet allow members to have policies that ban gay and trans student-athletes?
How do you protect a marginalized group without banning another protected class?
Making matters worse, many of these schools’ policies are, frankly, more discriminatory than North Carolina's HB2 law. While the North Carolina law bars discrimination protection and forces trans people to use the bathrooms of their birth sex, BYU's policy (for example) outright discriminates against the entire LGBT community at every level and bans homosexuality all together.
Married same-sex couples cannot live together at BYU or schools like Oral Roberts University. Gay students are afraid to show simple affection on campus. This is not hyperbole.
"We believe in providing a safe and respectful environment at our events and are committed to providing the best experience possible for college athletes, fans and everyone taking part in our championships," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement.
They’re nice words, but they don’t fully reflect the complexity of the NCAA’s dilemma.
To be sure, every private school has the right to do as it pleases, particularly in relation to religious freedom. I’m a huge advocate of every word of the First Amendment.
BYU has maintained these anti-LGBT policies for decades, in the name of the Mormon Church. If the NCAA is serious about maintaining its commitment to "fairness and inclusion," it needs to do a better job explaining to all members how it does so while some schools maintain these bans.
To be sure, this stuff isn’t easy.
There are dozens of NCAA member institutions with policies that specifically target LGBT people. LeTourneau University in Texas makes it against the rules -- punishable by expulsion -- for two people of the same sex to hold hands. Erskine College has tried to ban gay student-athletes. Azusa Pacific University in Division 2 created a hostile environment for a newly out transgender professor, asking him to leave the school (which he reluctantly did). Pepperdine Univ. refuses to recognize an LGBT student group on campus. While we focus so much of our energies on "the South" and "rural" schools, those last two are in the “liberal, accepting” Los Angeles area.
There are many more universities that hold discriminatory policies, some of which have asked for or been granted by the Dept. of Education Title IX exemptions to allow their discrimination.
To be clear, if an LGBT-focused school banned prayer on campus, or banned the private reading of the Bible, I would be raising the same red flags. Of course, that NCAA institution doesn’t exist.
"Lets not forget, what about the closeted or questioning student athletes who play at NCAA member institutions with anti-LGBTQ policies, programs and practices?" Campus Pride founder Shane Windmeyer said in an op-ed for NBC News. "When will the NCAA be concerned for their protection and safety? What about the transgender athlete who has no choice but to visit, compete and play, use the bathrooms and public facilities at these campuses?"
The NCAA claims to have made their commitment to fighting homophobia and transphobia clear with their move out of North Carolina.
"The NCAA Constitution clearly states our values of inclusion and gender equity, along with the membership's expectation that we as the Board of Governors protect those values for all," the NCAA said in a statement.
How to balance religious freedom with the needs of LGBTQ student-athletes will continue to be an important conversation had at the NCAA and across our society.
Hopefully we can all build bridges and play, work and coexist together.