Okay, maybe that’s a little bit dramatic, but it’s also kind of true.
I had just finished competing in a dance competition with my brother as a part of our Latin ballroom dance class. I was already aware of COVID-19, and some of the threats it posed to society. I had heard of other universities closing down and switching to online classes, but I hadn’t given it too much thought in terms of BYU closing down. However, right as I was leaving the competition, I opened my email on my phone and saw it. BYU was cancelling school for the next three days, and then switching to online classes. And they encouraged students to return home to finish the semester.
I was shaken. But I was 35 minutes late for a class, so I speed-walked there, and for the next 25 minutes, I was at least a little bit distracted from what this announcement meant for me and my friends in Provo. Then, I went to my prep class for my Jordan study abroad that is supposed to happen this fall. And there, I couldn’t distract myself anymore. Every other question was about COVID-19, online instruction, and contingency plans in case the study abroad is no longer possible.
All this talk made me very anxious, and what didn’t help was that my family group chat was going crazy with my parents and siblings asking what our plans were. I was panicking. All my friends were in Provo, my job was in Provo. I didn’t know how to deal with this. And I didn’t have time to think about it. My parents offered to come pick me and my brother up that same weekend. Two days. That’s how much time I had. To figure out whether I was staying or going, and whether or not I could even go home since my job was on campus. Right after my class, I ran into my brother, Jacob, on campus and we talked briefly about our plans. Jacob is married, so he and his wife planned to stay in Provo. When I left him, I called my dad, and we talked about the situation.
On the bus on the way home from campus, I talked with a couple of my roommates about it more, and then at my Arabic house dinner, we all talked about it again. Every time I talked about it, I got more and more sad. Everything was so uncertain and scary. That night, I watched Strictly Ballroom to take my mind off the craziness.
The next morning I woke up and checked my email. My boss had emailed saying that I could work remotely. I called my parents and told them I was coming home. The rest of the day I spent packing, and hanging out with my roommates and friends, trying to get the most out of the last 24 hours that we would be in the same city.
I had a ton of fun with my friends. We went and got Indian food and joked and laughed. But every time we had any quiet moments, tears would well up in my eyes. I always knew I would have to say goodbye to these people, but I thought I had five more weeks. I was not prepared to say goodbye to them in under 48 hours.
It was really hard to say goodbye to these people. They have become some of my closest friends in the world. We’ve been through so much good, so much bad, and so much ridiculousness. I love my family, and it’s nice to be home in so many ways, but I miss my friends so much. They were my support when I was struggling, they were my study buddies, my meme suppliers, and my second family.
COVID-19 has wreaked so much havoc on all of our lives. My situation is far from the worst I’ve heard of. In fact, it’s one of the best ones. But it still sucks. So bad. No one wants to deal with this. My only hope is that we will all take this seriously so that life can go back to normal as soon as possible.
Stay safe. Wash your hands. Stay at least six feet away from each other. Avoid large gatherings. And try to stay hopeful and grateful for what we do have.
Last month, BYU removed the clause on “homosexual behavior” from their honor code. Students, LGBT+ and not, celebrated. Gay students were finally allowed to be themselves and love who they wanted to without fear of repercussions. Many students were wary at first, but when students went straight to the source and asked the Honor Code Office about it, they pretty much confirmed it: BYU would finally be a safe space for LGBT+ students.
Two weeks later, on Wednesday, March 4, all BYU faculty, staff, and students received an email from CES (Church Educational Systems), which is over all the church-owned schools, including BYU, BYU-Idaho, and BYU-Hawaii. The letter explained that despite the clause on homosexual behavior being removed, “the moral standards of the Church did not change with the recent release of the General Handbook or the updated Honor Code.”(the whole letter can be read here) As you may assume, many students were upset by the news.
I got the email right when I sat down at my desk at work at 11am on Wednesday. I read the email, read the letter, and instead of letting myself get upset by it, I ignored it for the next two hours, so that I could focus on working. As soon as I let myself think about it, however, I was so angry I nearly cried at my desk. I went to my last class of the day, and then went to Brigham Square, where students had been protesting. There, I ran into a couple of friends, and we were discussing the letter. As we said our goodbyes, one of them, who is usually very tough and tends to laugh off anything that’s difficult to hear, said, “I’m going to go home, so I can cry there, instead of here.” I knew that this change was a big deal, but until then I hadn’t realized the extent to which it is affecting the BYU student body.
It’s not just affecting those who are a part of the LGBT+ community. It’s not just affecting straight allies. It’s affecting everyone on BYU campus. Because the problem isn’t just the Honor Code, or even BYU. The problem is the broken trust.
I truly do wish that queer students at BYU could date. I wish that they could feel the same sense of belonging that I feel as a straight woman. But that’s not what has enraged me in the past three days. What has enraged me is the absolute lack of respect for the LGBT+ community at BYU. They were finally given a glimpse of what that belonging would feel like, and then that was taken away, just weeks later. And this time, BYU wasn’t the one at fault.
One of my good friends went into the Honor Code Office to talk to Kevin Utt, the director of the HCO. She learned that the HCO had no idea about the letter until the email was sent out. So they were just as shocked as we were. On the one hand, this news was heartening. BYU seems to finally be understanding how to change and grow to accept students of all types. But on the other hand, it was so much worse, because this announcement came straight from CES, not just from BYU. This means the clarifications apply to all the church schools, not just BYU. It makes it so much harder to hear this kind of thing when it comes from so high up in the authority of the Church, rather than just from BYU.
All of this made me sad, but mostly I was angry. I was angry for how CES has mistreated its students and how nonchalantly they have dismissed our concerns. This is not an imaginary issue. LGBT+ people are literally dying because of policies like this. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preaches love towards all people, but try as I might, I truly cannot see the love in this decision. I am an active member of the Church, but I just don’t understand this decision. I don’t see how it can be helpful in any way to any students.
The most offensive part of the letter to me is the second to last paragraph: “Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.” There are many problems with this statement, if you ask me.
First, there is literally nothing queer students at BYU can do to lead toward eternal marriage. They essentially have three options: stay celibate, enter into a mixed-orientation marriage, or date people of the same sex. None of these options will lead to eternal marriage. Celibacy obviously won’t, mixed-orientation marriages are not recommended by the Church and often end in divorce, and obviously same-sex dating can’t lead to eternal heterosexual marriage either. So what CES seems to be telling LGBT+ students is that they need to change their orientation to truly adhere to the principles of the Honor Code. But sexual orientation can’t be changed.
Second, I did not come to BYU to seek after eternal marriage. Neither did many other students. I know that there are students who do come to BYU with that goal in mind, but I had no intention of finding my eternal companion at BYU when I decided to go here. I still don’t. Many things that I do, including most heterosexual dating that I will do at BYU, will not lead to eternal marriage. Is that against the Honor Code too?
Third, this sentiment completely invalidates anyone in the church who never gets married in this life. Some men and women, believing members of the church, try as they might, will never get married in this life. If the only goal in participating in this church is to reach eternal marriage in this life, I don’t want to participate. Marriage doesn’t happen for everyone, and it’s never completely in one’s control whether or not they get married. So basing righteousness on whether or not someone is married, or whether their behaviors “lead to eternal marriage” is unacceptable.
But most importantly, this completely invalidates LGBT+ members of the church, for the reasons stated above.
I’m not sure what I believe. I want to make that clear. Especially on issues like this, I’m always trying to figure out where I stand and what is right. But I know this: the way CES has treated our LGBT+ brothers and sisters in the past week is unacceptable, and I won’t stand for it. There is not a single part of me that feels the love in this decision. So if there was any love involved, no one is feeling it.
On Friday, March 6, I participated in a protest outside the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. I am not usually one to protest, but I attended for those of us who can’t. Those who didn’t survive, and those who were too strongly and personally affected to be able to protest. It was such a powerful experience. The protest likely will not change anything, but I was so happy to see how many people there are supporting our LGBT+ brothers and sisters.
As we walked around Temple Square in Salt Lake, holding our signs and cheering, numerous cars showed their support by honking and waving and sometimes even shouting words of support through the window. Knowing that so many, even those who couldn’t or decided not to go to the protest, showed such love and support for the LGBT+ community at church schools made me so indescribably happy. That’s what love should feel like. Joy. Not the sinking, angry feeling in my stomach when I read the letter from CES. That wasn’t motivated by love. But the protest was.
After marching around Temple Square, we ended up in City Creek Park, where we all sat to listen to some speakers. The speakers included Stacey Harkey, of Studio C, current and former LGBT+ students of BYU, as well as others. I was a little worried that there would be a lot of anti-church sentiment, but for the most part, all the speeches were full of love and sympathy for those who want to stay in the church, even through this pain. It was such a wonderful environment, and I was truly proud to be a part of the group there.
I hope that anyone who reads this will consider these events and reflect on the impact that they have had on actual people. LGBT+ people are not just an imaginary group of people. They are our friends, roommates, brothers, sisters, classmates, coworkers, sons, and daughters. Even if you disagree with me, I challenge you to really think about what Jesus taught in John 13:
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Mediocre People do exceptional things all the time
What to Do by OK Go
I love it so much, I’ve had it on my wall for years. It might seem like a little bit of a sad song lyric. And maybe it is, but I love it, because I truly believe it.
I wouldn’t describe myself as extraordinary. But that doesn’t mean I can do extraordinary things. I think as a culture we often put too much importance of being special. We want to be different than everyone else, we want to be smarter than everyone else, we want to be more popular, more successful, happier, more exciting, more artistic, whatever it is. But I really believe that when we focus on this, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
Everyone, no matter how seemingly ordinary they are, has so much to offer. It’s just a matter of looking for it.
Last year, I read Oh The Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey, a memoir telling Wilsey’s adventures growing up in a wealthy and prominent San Francisco family. The book was really interesting, not only becase Wilsey’s life was so different than mine, but also because of how shockingly ordinary it was in some ways. He grew up with very wealthy parents, but he still went through many of the phases that an average child or teenager does. I was particularly struck by the title, which I originally heard in the song Light Years by The National:
Oh the Glory of it All
What a beautiful way to look at the world. The glory of it All. Not just the glamorous parts, but all of it. I’m not saying that every little part of life should be happy and joyous, or even that we should try to enjoy it. But I think that there is really a special kind of beauty in the mundane, ordinary parts of life.
Another book that brings this joy of the ordinary to mind is Anne Tyler’s Earthly Possessions and the other novels that I’ve read by her. Tyler writes about people with ordinary lives, and yet her novels are so beautiful and captivating. I have read two of her novels now and I’m partway through a third. Every time I start one of her books, I am not sure if I’ll like it. The characters seem to normal, there doesn’t seem like there’s much of a plot, but I get drawn in, and then I see the beauty of it. Anne Tyler writes about people just like me and you. At first glance, they seem uninteresting, but if you stick around for a while, and really try, you’ll see that everyone, and I mean everyone is unique.
This doesn’t mean we have to find everyone equally interesting, but I think often we dismiss certain people as being “basic” or “boring”, but I think that many times, if we give them a chance, we might find something we like about them, or at least come to understand a little bit more about them.
It’s so important to notice the beauty in the mundane. We get so used to looking for only the most beautiful things, but even the ugliest buildings and the most boring people have more to them than meets the eye.
If I spend my whole life waiting for something extraordinary to happen to me, I will just watch my life pass me by.
Life isn’t a movie where everything happens exactly how we want it to. Life is real and raw and often boring. But there is beauty even in those boring moments. Many of my favorite memories are of everyday, mundane things. But those memories are now treasures to me.
So I want to live my life with that in mind. I want to intentionally live every moment. I don’t even want to skip the boring parts. Not even the repetitive things, like work, or class, or saying hi to my roommates, or seeing a friend. Because at some point in the not-too-distant future, those moments will all be gone, and I’ll find myself wishing for them again.
So I’m going to listen to people, I’m going to find their stories. I’m going to love the ugly buildings. I’m going to cherish every moment I can, as much as I can. I don’t want to let the beauty in my every day life pass me by.