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.