Matthew Sheets, a 21-year-old queer Rice University student, is double-majoring in Environmental Science and Social Policy Analysis. He is also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to LGBTQ equality.
Sheets, a member of the Rice PRIDE advocacy group for LGBTQ students on campus, introduced a resolution to the Rice Student Association (along with two other students) calling for Rice to sever its athletic ties, wherever possible, with Brigham Young University (BYU), a Mormon school with a long anti-LGBTQ history. The student resolution passed unanimously on March 7.
“It’s not so much a conflict with BYU [athletics] per se, as much as it is Rice pointing out the unfair conditions for queer students, faculty, and staff there,” Sheets explains. “My relationship with many BYU students and alumni has been very positive and collaborative.”
Due to college athletic conference changes, BYU canceled games with Rice for the 2023, 2024, and 2025 seasons. Even so, Sheets wants Rice to permanently sever ties with the school.
“The problem of Rice’s willingness to associate with BYU and other anti-LGBTQ+ institutions remains,” he says. “Now that the immediate issue is solved, I would like to see Rice commit to stop scheduling games with BYU in the future.”
In January, Sheets wrote an opinion letter to the student newspaper stating that “BYU is nationally known for its anti-LGBTQ policies, and it was disheartening to see Rice publicly align itself with an institution so fundamentally divergent from Rice’s values. The football series, consisting of games in 2023 and 2025, was added to the schedule quietly, but the message was loud and clear: Rice Athletics—and the administration at large—is not concerned about anti-LGBTQ policies, at least not when money is on the line.”
BYU, a private religious school, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for civil-rights abuses related to LGBTQ student discipline procedures. Even though BYU removed its official ban on “homosexual behavior” in 2020, same-sex dating is still prohibited, based on the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Students can be punished for holding hands or kissing same-sex partners on campus. It is rare for the U.S. Department of Education to investigate such issues at church-owned schools, which all have religious exemptions from Title IX rules.
“With the BYU partnership ended, I hope Rice can begin to critically examine its relationships with all organizations that do not share our values of LGBTQ+ equality,” says Sheets.
“More broadly, hundreds of thousands of students attend universities with Title IX exemptions to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. In addition to creating a discussion at Rice, I hope this effort will inspire people to think about why we continue to tolerate such treatment of queer people throughout the world of higher education. Until the Department of Education stops [giving permission for religious schools] to discriminate, including infringing upon queer people’s constitutional right to marry, this will continue to be an issue. Rice and other universities, the NCAA, and the Department of Education are all complicit in this.”
Sheets, who is a member of Rice PRIDE’s Executive Board, plans on starting a business when he graduates. But for now, he still has work to do at Rice.
“This cause is important to Rice students for several reasons,” he says. “First, our queer student athletes are being sent into openly discriminatory environments at BYU and elsewhere. This is true for ‘away’ games in particular, but it also occurs when we bring the athletes and fans of anti-LGBTQ+ universities to play on the Rice campus. Second, Rice scheduling games with BYU shows queer students that the administration prioritizes profits over our community values of LGBTQ+ inclusion. It feels disingenuous for Rice to state in public that it fights for the LGBTQ+ community, [but] then it cashes in on lucrative TV deals and ticket sales from its association with homophobic universities. Queer students at Rice expect and deserve administrators who actually fight for them [rather than merely] tolerate them.”