2023 Winner of the EGF Accelerator’s Eddie Prize

Deborah Jian Lee, Esquire & Economic Hardship Reporting Project

(Pictured: Journey Mueller)

About the Winner:

Former evangelical insider Deborah Jian Lee explains how over 200 federally funded religious schools – with nearly one million students – exploit the religious exemption from Title IX, the federal policy that protects students from discrimination. They violate the civil rights of Journey Mueller and countless LGBTQ+ students, all with the blessing of taxpayer dollars.

Because of the recriminations from their communities, as well as ongoing trauma and the shame of debt, many of these young adults are reluctant to talk publicly about their experience. Finding sources for this story was a significant challenge. For decades, students like Mueller have suffered discrimination in silence, arriving into adulthood with no degree or professional support, burdened with debt and trauma.

Lee describes how Mueller joined a landmark class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the religious exemption is unconstitutional because, among other things, the exemption is not comprehensive but specifically for “federally funded religious schools that condone or promote sex discrimination.”

Comments From the Judges:

“This is a great story I’ve never read before. We all knew it happened, I guess, but this is an amazing work of reporting and writing. Couldn’t love it more.” 

“A standout entry that deftly combines accountability reporting, narrative writing and personal memoir. Searing, powerful reporting that propels you through the piece. Very impressive work.”

Photo credits: Esquire & Economic Hardship Reporting Project; Henry Leutwyler; Courtesy of Caroline Frank