Media Trail: March 13, 2020

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Mormon students protest BYU stance on same-sex behavior

   The Salt Lake Tribune reports that two weeks ago, after Brigham Young University dropped a section from its strict code of conduct that had prohibited all expressions of homosexual behavior, bisexual student Caroline McKenzie felt newfound hope that she could stop hiding and be herself. She even went on a date with another woman.

   That optimism was pierced recently when the university, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, clarified in a letter posted online March 4 that “same-sex romantic behavior” was still not allowed on campus. The letter said the recent revision to what is known as the “honor code” didn’t change the “moral standards” of the church or the faith’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

   McKenzie said it made her feel whiplash and that her religion was telling her she was dirty for who she is and unwanted by God. She’s reassessing whether she wants to finish her studies at BYU even though she loves her professors and the education she’s receiving.

   “It’s psychologically damaging,” said McKenzie, 23, of Kaysville, Utah. “It has been a roller coaster the last couple of weeks. This last Wednesday pretty much destroyed me. It felt like I was drowning again.”

   She was one of several hundred people who protested March 6 outside church headquarters in Salt Lake City to cap off a week of fury and heartbreak for LGBTQ students and their straight allies. They sang hymns and chanted “have no fear, God loves queers” as they held rainbow flags and signs that read “Love one another,” “Jesus loves everyone” and “Bigotry wrapped in prayer is still bigotry.”

     The Utah-based religion of 16-million members worldwide has tried in the last decade to create a more welcoming environment for LGBTQ members while still adhering to its doctrinal opposition of gay marriage. The faith, widely known as the Mormon Church, teaches that while being gay is not a sin, engaging in same-sex relationships is against God’s commandments.

     The letter posted this week and an accompanying Q&A posted online doesn’t provide details about what same-sex romantic behaviors are and aren’t allowed. But it seems to shut the door on the idea that gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to kiss and hold hands on campus like their heterosexual classmates. 

Judge sides with transgender Alaska librarian in health case

     KWWL.com reports that an Alaskan health care plan that has excluded coverage of gender-confirming surgery for transgender employees is discriminatory, a federal judge ruled Friday.

     The decision came in a 2018 case filed against the state by Jennifer Fletcher, a legislative librarian who said she was forced to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for medically necessary transition-related care not covered by her insurance plan.

     Her attorneys, in legal documents, said a blanket exclusion of coverage for gender-confirming surgery violates a prohibition on sex discrimination. They said terms of the plan were set by the state and that the exclusion dated back decades.

     U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, in his decision, said if a procedure, such as a vaginoplasty, was medically necessary to correct a congenital defect, coverage would have been available under the AlaskaCare plan. But he said the plan denies coverage for the same surgery in cases involving transgender women.

     He said Fletcher was treated differently in terms of health coverage because of her sex.

     Maria Bahr, a state Department of Law spokeswoman, said the department is reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment. 

Washington state bans ‘gay panic’ defense of homicide

     The Seattle Times reports that Washington has become the 10th state to prohibit homicide defendants from claiming a defense based on panic over a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

     Gov. Jay Inslee signed the measure on March 5. It takes effect in June.

     Nine other states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey New York and Rhode Island – have already banned the use of gay or transgender panic as a legal defense.

     The Washington state measure is named after Nikki Kuhnhausen, a transgender teen who was killed last year. It was approved with bipartisan support in the state House and the Senate, though some lawmakers questioned if the legislation was necessary since a panic defense has never been used in Washington.

     Kuhnhausen, 17, disappeared in early June and her remains were discovered Dec. 7, southeast of Battle Ground. A Vancouver man was charged with second-degree murder and malicious harassment, which is a hate crime in Washington. He has pleaded not guilty.

     Authorities said the Vancouver teenager was strangled after her assailant learned she was transgender.

     The new law blocks a defendant from using a defense based on discovery or disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation and would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.