BRANDY: When my child came out to my husband and I as trans just a hair over two years ago, we were offered counseling through LDS social services. We refused. Adamantly. While I am sure that there are compassionate, sensitive, professionals within their ranks, the fact of the matter is I didn’t trust their commitment to professional codes of ethics to be stronger than their adherence to the parameters set for them by their employer, the LDS Church. In that moment, we recognized that their professional credibility was affected by the policies and attitudes of men completely outside of their professional sphere, men who have no affiliation or association to any of the professional psychological organizations or bodies that issue evidence-based standards of care or codes of ethics.
I wasn’t willing to take that chance with my son’s mental health. Instead, we sought counseling that we could be confident would not struggle between evidence-based therapeutic treatment and religious dogma. Recently, BYU announced that its speech therapy department, which gives student therapists the experience of treating patients, would no longer offer services to trans individuals, proving that professional ethics falls second to an ever-changing LDS church policy handbook (see section 38.6.23). Once again, it’s policy over people.
Just as the American Psychological Association (APA) has established and maintained codes of professional ethics for psychologists, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has its own governing body that maintains its own code of ethics. Those ethics state:
Individuals shall not discriminate in the delivery of professional services or in the conduct of research and scholarly activities on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity/gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, disability, culture, language, or dialect. (ASHA Code of Ethics 2015, Principle 1, Rule C).
In addition, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has research-based standards of care (SOC) that are readily available in 19 languages, designed to offer guidance to health care professionals working with gender diverse clients/patients in clinical settings in areas of mental health, medical and surgical interventions, reproductive health, and voice and communication therapy. While reading through various sections of the current SOC (v7), I couldn’t help but wish that my religious home would even attempt to talk about transgender and gender non-conforming individuals like whole people who are worth knowing, loving, and serving. With respect. Without blatant gaslighting. It’s tragic that I should find more comfort in a medical SOC document than in the policy documents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
WPATH standards of care v7 states:
Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is an important aspect of human behavior and gender expression. Transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people might seek the assistance of a voice and communication specialist to develop vocal characteristics (e.g., pitch, intonation, resonance, speech rate, phrasing patterns) and non-verbal communication patterns (e.g., gestures, posture/movement, facial expressions) that facilitate comfort with their gender identity. Voice and communication therapy may help to alleviate gender dysphoria and be a positive and motivating step towards achieving one’s goals for gender role expression.
Not only can a discrepancy between gender presentation (or the way a trans person appears outwardly) and voice be extremely triggering for some transgender people, it can also be an issue of personal safety. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 54 transgender people were murdered in 2021 in the United States and its territories. In their words, “[W]e say ‘at least’ because all too often these stories go unreported.” While hormone therapy for trans men does have an effect on voice depth and pitch, trans women do not get those same effects from hormone therapy. It’s vital to note that trans women face a much higher risk of violence than trans men. The National Coalition for Anti-Violence Programs’ report, “A Crisis of Hate,” found that 71% of the victims of homicide in the trans community in 2017 were trans women. Surgical interventions do exist, but speech training/therapy is obviously less invasive and a more affordable and accessible option. What BYU has done by refusing trans students voice treatment in their speech therapy clinic is potentially increase the likelihood of violence against those who would otherwise be their patients and may not be able to afford speech treatment elsewhere.
BYU has also stripped away the credibility of both the clinicians they train and the program they oversee. This new policy does not come from any professional organization with education, experience, and training in the field. There isn’t a single Speech Language Pathologist on the board of directors at BYU, not one board member has the professional experience or credentials to weigh in on practice decisions there, and even a fool could tell you that termination of a clinical relationship without warning, in virtually any setting, is damaging to the patient.
My heart goes out to the any transgender individuals who were being seen at the clinic on campus. There are already so many barriers to accessing competent, affirming care, without adding on the financial situation of most college students. Having this resource stripped away is callous and decidedly un-Christlike.
I feel for the clinicians working with those individuals because they now find themselves in an awful position of conflict between their religion and their professional ethics, not to mention at the mercy of a university policy that creates deficits in their training. This policy is a gross violation of the ASHA code of ethics, and the accreditation of the entire program is now, justifiably, at risk. I feel for the clinicians who care deeply about their patients, who have been forced to deliver the news that services were being halted in the name of Jesus Christ, for those whose educational and professional credentials are now at risk. They have no recourse in this situation.
But it’s the devastating symbolism here that really gets me. BYU administration is literally silencing the voices of the transgender community. Support for the LGBTQ community is growing on campus and becoming more insistent that others listen, and yet BYU choses to deny the reality and needs of trans people, opting to silence those most in need of being heard. In whatever verse of this hell song we’re in now, the chorus hasn’t changed.
They can issue all the statements they want, celebrate their Office of Inclusion, pat themselves on the back for their “tolerance,” but the truth shines in their actions. BYU might be a university with some top tier programs, but that excellence is more and more overshadowed by their ignorance and the hatred it practices toward those who don’t fit a very narrow definition of personhood.
Because everything that happens at BYU is sanctioned by the LDS church, we come back to death by a thousand cuts for those of us on the edges who are desperately trying to hold on, to protect the mental health of our children, to find reasons to stay in the Church even as the Church makes it clear, again and again, that it’s honestly easier for them if we don’t stay. If they can steal marginalized voices, or break burdened spirits, then they are no longer forced to hear us beg for something better, and they can go back to their stunted, shuttered version of Christlike love.
My son is 17 years old. He’s a bright eyed kid, walking head-on into some of the most brilliant and challenging years of his life. Everytime I look at him, I can’t help but wish that those in positions of authority would get to know him, to really and truly see him, because truly knowing and loving those within the LGBTQ community would forever blow the lid off of the small box they keep trying to shove Christ into.
Sign the petition to resume voice therapy at BYU by clicking here.
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