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Big 12 Chancellor Praises BYU’s Progress With LGBTQ+ Policies

LAWRENCE, KS - SEPTEMBER 03: A general view of the Big 12 logo on the pylon during a college football game between the South Dakota Coyotes and Kansas Jayhawks on Sep 3, 2021 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, KS. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – When BYU athletics pursued membership into the Big 12 Conference in 2016, LGBTQ+ organizations urged the Big 12 to skip the Cougars.

The Big 12 Conference ended up skipping expansion altogether that year. But that letter from Athlete Ally and 20-plus LGBTQ+ organizations left BYU with an opportunity to create a more inclusive environment on campus.

Fast forward to this year’s expansion talks; advocacy groups did not publicly urge leagues not to invite BYU. Now the Cougars are set to join the Big 12 Conference in 2023.

What changed?

Big 12 Chancellors & Presidents addressed BYU’s policies towards the LGBTQ+ community

Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod, a member of the Big 12’s expansion subcommittee, told KUsports.com that Big 12 officials had specific conversations about BYU and its policies towards the LGBTQ+ community.

“They have demonstrated really significant progress in that area,” Girod said to KUsports.com. “And I think all the presidents and chancellors felt pretty comfortable with that.”

Back in the winter of 2020, Brigham Young University removed a section titled “Homosexual Behavior” in its Honor Code. However, the school’s Honor Code continues to be a principle-based code that reflects the standards of its ownership, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

BYU athletic department stepped up to create a more inclusive environment

Within BYU’s athletic department, individuals such as Senior Associate Athletic Director Liz Darger have played a significant role in improving BYU’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community.

Darger participates in forums such as the NCAA’s Common Ground. Common Ground brings LGBTQ+ advocacy groups with college administrators together to explore such issues as sexual orientation on faith-based college campuses.

Through Common Ground, Darger and BYU have been able to bring advocacy groups onto BYU’s campus. For example, Darger invited the NCAA’s Inclusivity Leader Amy Wilson to visit BYU’s campus in 2017.

Wilson, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, spoke with numerous individuals during her visit to BYU, including head football coach Kalani Sitake. She gave high praise to BYU after the conclusion of her visit.

“It was a great learning experience – an important reminder that we need to be open-minded when we enter new spaces and be willing to see people’s hearts and who they really are. We tend to lump people in a large group and say, ‘that LDS Church,’ or ‘those Mormons, they do this or they do that,’” said Wilson in 2017. “If we can’t move past that and talk to the actual people who are living in those spaces every day, we are never really going to find common ground.”

Darger now volunteers as a member of the NCAA’s Common Ground Leadership Team.

In 2018, BYU hosted Common Ground IV on their campus. It was the first time the Common Ground event was held at a Division I institution.

BYU’s first full year in the Big 12 Conference will be in the 2023-24 academic year. After that, the athletic department will join the Big 12 as a full member, fielding all of their sports except men’s volleyball into the new conference home.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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