[See update at the bottom of this article...]
So, here’s the thing about fear mongering: It is a process through which propaganda is distributed with the sole intent to create fear. One of the best ways to fear monger is to ask questions in such a way that the listener is forced to come up with his or her own answer. The problem with Sutherland Institutes’ fear mongering campaign against the proposed non-discrimination bill in Utah is that there are real, solid answers to the questions.
And they aren’t scary.
In this ad, paid for by Sutherland Institute as part of a media campaign known as “First Freedoms,” they talk about the right of a landlord to rent housing to whomever they please. A pleasant looking woman describes the following scenario:
(Here's the link to the ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lGVWgOivqc&list=PLPoDVd2yIgAbRKZlYAuDkqKrL-9icsncA)
“[But] imagine you’re a landlord, renting to private university students, in accordance with the University’s honor code; and a young man decides that he wants to live in women’s housing...”
She goes on to say: “Those rights would trump your rights as a landlord, and ultimately the honor code. How fair is that?”
What she doesn’t do is answer her own question. What would happen if a “young man” decides that he wants to live in women’s housing?
Let me repeat the answer to this question. Nothing.
In case you are not clear on the answer to Sutherland Institutes’ question, I’ll repeat it one final time: Nothing would happen.
And here’s why:
Landlords who rent to BYU students are under contract to the University to adhere to the honor code. It’s not a choice on their part. Once they have applied for and obtained status as contracted affiliates of the school, they must adhere to the policy of the school’s honor code.
According to the BYU Off-Campus Housing Handbook, Section 6, the University operates under the Title IX requirements of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. As such, they can require that owners of private property (apartment complexes, buildings or a basement apartment in their house) who wish to rent to their student body must adhere to their honor code. The university, at its discretion, however, can approve a complex owner to rent to the general public as well, under very specific circumstances. Such as:
· Non-students must live in a separate wing or building in the complex. They can’t live “next door” to a BYU student.
· The complex must have rules of conduct that, on the whole, meet the requirements of the school’s honor code – even for non-students.
· The non-student wings are not gender-specific, while the student wings/buildings are gender segregated.
· It is the landlord who requests that part of their building be non-student housing approved.
So, let’s take a look at possible scenarios like the one Sutherland Institute is so afraid of.
Currently, BYU seriously frowns on transgender students. Their current honor code policy states that students are not chastised or expelled for their feelings, but for acting on those feelings. It’s okay to be gay, but it’s not okay to make out with someone of the same gender. It is okay to make out with a person of the opposite gender, but it’s still not okay to have sex. That’s pretty plain. BYU is a religious institution, owned by a church. They have the right to be as bigoted and self-serving as they like. That’s what freedom of religion is all about. The government cannot set the standard for religion.
Being transgender is not the same as being gay. A person identifies as a gender opposite of what they were assigned at birth. The individual is female, even if she has a penis. The individual is male, even if he has a uterus. It is not defined by whether one wears high heels, makeup, business suits, loafers, short hair or long hair. It is not defined by whether a person leads on the dance floor or follows the subtle prompts of one’s chosen dance partner. It is certainly not about sex.
A transgender woman can wear men’s clothes, and a transgender male can wear a dress. So, is it possible that a transgender student might apply for and gain admission to BYU? Of course it is, and there are probably several at this very moment. It’s not about living a life that is not in accordance with the standards set at BYU for what they deem as moral behavior.
There are two issues at task here, even though Sutherland Institute doesn’t want viewers to think about both of them. The first is the issue of a transgender BYU student applying for and the school landlord being forced to grant admission of a transgender (woman, in this case) to approved women’s housing units.
The folks who wrote the ad for Sutherland Institute chose to use the most blatant of transgender mythos. Men will want to live with women, for purportedly nefarious purposes. They didn’t ask, “What if a young woman wanted to live in men’s housing?” On the contrary, they asked about a man who might want to live with the girls – a scenario that has nothing to do with equal rights, non-discrimination or transgender issues, because a man is not a transgender woman.
A transgender woman is a woman. If she wants to live in women’s housing, it’s because she doesn’t want to be stuck in a building with “all those boys.” She is not wheedling her way into an apartment complex full of young women to “get some.” And if she did behave in a way that was in contradiction to the honor code (that is, making a pass at anyone at all), she would then be removed based upon her behaviors, not because of what is or is not between her legs. If she makes a pass at a boy, she’d be in violation of acting out on “homosexual” ideas. If she makes a pass at a girl, she’s in violation of “same gender [identity]” behaviors. She’s damned if she does, and damned if she does, again.
If this hypothetical “young man” is living as a woman while attending BYU, she is probably already in violation of the honor code and would be expelled for that violation. Housing would not be an issue. The moment she applied for women’s housing, she could be removed from the school rolls.
The second aspect of this scenario, the one that Sutherland Institute doesn’t want us to think about, is the discrimination for non-student housing. Can the landlords truly adhere to the student honor code for non-student portions of their property; housing that is not gender segregated? That’s where it gets a little tricky.
Maybe they can’t. Maybe they can.
They can rent to both genders on that side of their property, so the fact that they might see a prospective tenant as a “boy in a dress” doesn’t really matter. If they have a wing of women’s housing, for instance, and another wing that is non-student housing, they are already allowed to rent to people with penises in that non-student wing.
But they are still required to insist their non-student tenants abide by the complex's rules. The honor code has to do with chastity, drinking and smoking. The complex rules are derived from that honor code: i.e. “In addition, non-student tenants are not required to maintain BYU Residential Living Standards as set forth in this handbook. However, because most housing areas are an integrated whole, BYU requires that owners establish and enforce general conduct-based regulations sufficient to preserve an environment which enhances moral and spiritual growth and academic performance of student tenants. Consistent with applicable state and federal laws, owners shall establish regulations that ensure basic principles of modesty, decency, and privacy in keeping with accepted community morals. Failure of an owner to so regulate the conduct of all tenants may result in the university withdrawing the contract of the student housing.” Section 6.01(Paragraph 3) – BYU Off-Campus Student Housing Handbook.
This basically means non-students have to follow the rules of the complex, and the rules of the complex match up pretty cleanly with the honor code. Nothing wrong with that. If our hypothetical transgender woman, or “young man” as Sutherland Institute likes to call her, breaks the rules, she gets evicted. She doesn’t live in the women’s housing because she’s not a student at BYU. She doesn’t have wild orgies, or even parties, because that would not promote the “spiritual growth and academic performance of student tenants” in the complex.
But isn’t that what the non-discrimination bill is trying to change? The short answer is, “No.” Landlords who are under contract with BYU to provide student housing do not have to rent to the general public!
The non-discrimination bill would prevent landlords who rent to the general public from refusing housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They can’t not rent to a transgender man or transgender woman based on that fact. If that same landlord is under contract, however, to rent only to students who are in good standing with BYU, they would be in violation of that contract if they rented to anyone who was not a student in good standing – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
BYU landlords do not have to rent to the general public. They have the option to rent to students who have already agreed to live by an honor code exclusively. Sutherland Institute doesn’t mention any of this in their public non-service announcement. They leave the question dangling, and at best, give a false and misleading “answer” about new laws trumping the hypothetical landlord’s religious convictions. They want us to think that temple-recommend carrying members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who rent exclusively to BYU students will be forced to rent rooms or apartments to members of the transgender, gay or lesbian community, which is not the case. Landlords who rent to the public, on the other hand, must adhere to laws that protect minorities and other targeted populations. Period.
Sutherland Insititute: Fear mongering at its finest.
UPDATE: Paul Mero, the president of Sutherland Institute, has admitted that the information provided in the above-referenced ad was inaccurate, stating, "I felt awful," Mero said in a blog post. "I don’t claim to know everything about a lot of things, but I do pride myself in accuracy about what I do know. I felt sick – mostly for me – it’s a pride thing. But we move on."
This comes after he stood by the ad for a time, claiming that it was accurate at the time the ad was produced and the the bill's sponsor altered the bill later to include an exemption for BYU landlords. In fact, the original bill that was pushed aside during last year's state congress also included the exemption.
As stated in my original peice, the exemption is not necessary as the landlord's are already covered.
The Sutherland Institute has asked stations in Utah to stop airing the ad and have removed it from YouTube.