Probation for BYU students in gay protest
PROVO - Five Brigham Young University students involved in a protest last month in support of gay awareness will not be kicked out of school, the students say.
Instead, they will be placed on varying forms of probation.
"I wasn't naive enough getting into this that I thought there wouldn't be any consequences," said protester Alexander Liberato. "The consequences could have been harsher."
Liberato, 22; his girlfriend, Lauren Jackson, 19; Matthew Kulisch, 24; and Timothy Burt, 23, were arrested April 11 for trespassing when they took part in a so-called "die-in" ceremony with the Soulforce Equality Riders, a gay and lesbian activist group.
A fifth student, Emil Pohlig, 24, did not participate in the "die-in" and was not arrested, but was present at the rally and told news reporters he was gay.
BYU's Honor Code, a set of principles each student agrees to when enrolling at the LDS Church-owned university, prohibits students from advocating homosexuality.
All were placed on Honor Code probation, except for Kulisch, who was placed on "suspension withheld," an extreme form of probation.
Kulisch not only participated, but also told the media he was gay and was the first to "die" during the peaceful protest. He walked onto campus grass and fell to the ground while holding an Easter lily.
"I always hoped that I wouldn't be [kicked out]," Kulisch said. "But it seems like this particular decision had much less to do with me and more to do with how the university will look. I think that's exactly why I wasn't suspended."
School officials have yet to confirm the disciplinary decisions, saying they cannot comment since the Honor Code review continues.
"In our minds, the process is not final until it is complete," said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. "Until the student has the opportunity to appeal, we can't give a firm conclusion."
Kulisch said he has yet to decide whether he will appeal, but he plans to leave school. Both he and Pohlig expect to transfer to the University of Utah for the fall semester.
Pohlig, Liberato and Jackson say they won't appeal. Burt is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
"I was kind of surprised," Pohlig said of the disciplinary action. "I guess it wasn't as severe a punishment as I thought I'd get."
Last month's protest ended with 29 people arrested for trespassing on campus, most of them members of Soulforce - a gay-advocacy group that visited 19 Christian schools, which the organization argues discriminate against homosexuals.
An attorney representing Soulforce cut a plea deal with Provo prosecutors that allows all those arrested to plead guilty to an infraction and each pay a $200 fine.
Liberato said Soulforce has offered to use private donations to pay the fines.
What does BYU's Honor Code say?
"Brigham Young University will respond to student behavior rather than to feelings or orientation. Students can be enrolled at the university and remain in good Honor Code standing if they maintain a current ecclesiastical endorsement and conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code. Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."
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