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Colorado woman signs onto class-action lawsuit against U.S. Department of Ed seeking LGBTQ protections

Colorado woman signs onto class-action lawsuit against U.S.
Department of Ed seeking LGBTQ protections 1

A Longmont woman and former Colorado Christian University student is now part of a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, which asks the agency to better protect LGBTQ students at taxpayer-funded, religiously affiliated educational institutions.

Journey Mueller, 21, previously spoke to The Denver Post about harrowing accounts of conversion therapy she said she experienced at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood.

A spokesperson for Colorado Christian University did not immediately return a request for comment Tuesday.

There are 33 plaintiffs from across the country, Mueller included, who allege similar experiences at their institutions.

“I chose to be a part of this because it shakes me to my core to know that there are so many students in this nation who are legally being mistreated, discriminated against, bullied, abused, expelled, and traumatized by schools that they trusted to provide them with a safe education,” Mueller wrote in a Facebook past last week. “I know that there have been countless students before me who have gone through similar experiences and countless students that are going through it as you’re reading this. Young lives are being altered in very drastic, preventable ways. This is not OK.”

The lawsuit asks the Department of Education to overturn a rule allowing religious institutions to inform the department they are claiming a religious exemption to Title IX, the federal civil rights law intended to protect people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal money.

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“There’s a statutory exemption to claim even if they are violating the law, even if they are causing severe harms, they are allowed to do that if they’re doing it based on their religious beliefs,” said attorney Paul Southwick, who is part of the class-action suit’s legal team. 

In a statement to the Post, the U.S. Department of Education said the president’s recent executive order reads: ‘it is the policy of my Administration that all students should be guaranteed an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.’”

Southwick said the religious exemption was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of church and state because it allows “federally funded schools to practice discrimination using taxpayer dollars.”

Southwick added that CCU is not a “truly private” institution because it receives funding from the federal government through federal loan programs.

Colorado’s ban on conversion therapy for minors went into effect in 2019. The ban, which prohibits a state-licensed medical or mental health care provider from engaging in counseling with the goal of changing a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity, would not have protected Mueller because the law only applies to people under the age of 18 and does not include pastoral counseling.

In the new lawsuit and previous interviews with The Denver Post, Mueller described being outed to CCU administration after confessing to her college roommates that she was questioning her sexuality. The administration offered her a choice to renounce her behavior and leave the school or renounce her behavior and undergo a university counseling program intended to make her identify as heterosexual or leave the school immediately, she said.

After undergoing the university-mandated counseling, Mueller said her mental health diminished to a point that she needed to leave the institution and come out to her family.

“I look back at journal entries from this time, and I am moved by the struggle and pain that I was facing,” Mueller said. “There are several entries where on one page, I cry to God, committing to follow the rules of my program and end things with my newfound relationship. On the next, I write that the feelings I was experiencing were like none I had felt before, and wondered how I could deny myself from feeling so alive?”

Mueller now feels empowered sharing her story and finding community among those who have faced similar hardships.

“For the first time in a long time, I’m growing to love who I am,” Mueller said. “Every day, I choose to keep moving forward. I can confidently say that I am a proud, strong, brave, resilient, and valid lesbian woman.”

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