For decades since its founding, Brigham Young University has created a hostile environment for LGBTQ students, ranking number seven on The Princeton Review’s list of LGBTQ-Unfriendly institutions and occupying a prominent spot on CampusPride.org’s Shame List.
However, the school just took a hesitant but meaningful step in the right direction. This week, BYU removed the infamous “homosexual behavior” section from its Honor Code, a set of by-laws that govern the behavior of all students enrolled in the university.
The newly removed section read:
“Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
According to KSL.com’s Liesl Nielsen, the newly updated Honor Code “simply requires students to abstain ‘from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman.’” There’s still a lot of gray area in there, but at least the most draconian anti-LGBTQ language has finally been stripped away.
Nielsen further cited Tweets from several BYU students that appeared to indicate that the university was no longer going to punish LGBTQ students for actions like kissing or holding hands.
The expressions of unmitigated happiness on the faces of these students might just be the most beautiful sight in the entire state of Utah.
Over the past several years, we’ve profiled how the Honor Code has made the lives of BYU’s LGBTQ student athletes unimaginably stressful and difficult. In June 2019, bisexual BYU cross country runner Emma Gee wrote her coming out story — “I am the only out LGBTQ athlete at BYU” — detailing how the Honor Code’s ambiguous language “created a culture of paranoia for LGBTQ” students.
Outsports asked Gee to share her thoughts about this change to the Honor Code. Gee noted in an email that the university has remained maddeningly vague about precisely what— if anything — is different. Noting that BYU administration responded to the news it created by declaring that “the principles of the Honor Code remain the same,” Gee remained cautious, stating that “Because of the ambiguity of the Honor Code change, and the lack of clarification, my day to day life remains the same. I still have to be careful.”
Read Emma Gee’s eloquent and personal thoughts about the change here.
Also last year, recent BYU graduate Charlie Bird, who played mascot Cosmo the Cougar from 2015 to 2018, revealed that he was gay. Bird wrote, “I wore another mask while I was at BYU — a mask to cover the shame I felt for being ‘different.’” In 2011, we profiled an anonymous BYU grad and former track star who expressed his belief that “Mississippi was much more liberal.”
Yes. That Mississippi.
So this recent news, when viewed alongside BYU agreeing to allow same sex couples to compete in the US National Amateur Dancesport Championships on campus, can still be viewed as a series of baby steps in the right direction. However, there’s still a long way to go before Brigham Young becomes a truly inclusive campus.
As could be expected, there’s also been a backlash against BYU’s decision to expunge the “homosexual behavior” section:
Dear @BYU— Maci (@MaciF00) February 19, 2020
As a member of the @Ch_JesusChrist this makes me ashamed to be a student here. The new Church Handbook does NOT support this. Please bring back the gospel to BYU!Please restore Christ’s doctrine to this campus!
A now hurt, yet faithful & dedicated member pic.twitter.com/Lh2MKHCpx4
Thankfully, there are members of the BYU faculty who are countering sentiments like that by stepping up to be the kind of allies that the school’s LGBTQ students need.
I will be in my office today after 1:00 for any LGBTQIA+ folx who need a place to stop by, say words, eat churros, cry tears, get hugs, etc. No advice will be offered. Love will be given freely. #illwalkwithyou #loveisspokenhere #iliketolookforrainbows#byu— Roni Jo Draper (@RJDraper) February 20, 2020
BYU has a long way to go before we can officially declare that “Love wins.” But finally, love appears to have made a stunning comeback and sent this one into overtime.