Openly gay Mormon taught religion classes this summer at BYU
Ty Mansfield, a gay Mormon who co-wrote a book about same-sex attraction and has since married a woman, taught a religion course this summer at Brigham Young University.
He may have been the first openly gay instructor hired to teach at the private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but school officials said Friday they could not verify that.
Mansfield was hired as an adjunct, or temporary, professor to teach two religion classes, which means he is not part of the faculty, said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. She said she was unsure whether he might return next summer to teach the course, called LDS Marriage and Family.
Mansfield, a marriage and family therapist in Lubbock, Texas, married his wife, Danielle, in 2010. They are the parents of one son.
The sexuality of a staff member would not be an issue unless there was a violation of the Provo school's Honor Code, Jenkins said.
On the BYU website, the code states that a person's "stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue." It adds: "However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. 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."
Years ago, LDS leaders faced criticism within and outside the faith for earlier statements about same-sex attraction. Mansfield came out in 2004, when he co-wrote In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction. The book began with the story of Stuart Matis, who shot himself on the steps of his LDS chapel in Los Altos, Calif., after struggling with same-sex attraction.
Today, the Utah-based church emphasizes that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is. LDS leaders recently created mormonsandgays.org, which urges compassion for those with same-sex attraction. Mansfield has been featured on the site, under "Ty's Story."
Mansfield, who could not be reached for this story, co-founded the nonprofit organization North Star, "a support organization for LDS individuals and families affected by homosexuality." In May, he wrote an essay on North Star's website titled "Owning Our Stories, Living Authentically and Standing as Witnesses."
"Over the course of the last few years there has been a remarkable shift in the conversation we're having around homosexuality in LDS culture," he wrote. "While core doctrines of the church with regard to the appropriate bounds of sexual expression have not changed (and will not change), there has been a clarifying and nuancing of church teachings (i.e., sexual attraction or temptation is not a sin it's simply part of the broad range of human experience we're called to channel and transcend if we're to become divine only inappropriate indulgence in thought or behavior is), as well as a notable shift in our cultural attitudes."
He also has discussed the topic on YouTube, and in May 2012, Mansfield and his wife told their courtship story in an LDS Living magazine article called "Living With Same-Sex Attraction: Our Story." An editor's note reads: "We are in no way suggesting marriage is a catch-all solution; we recognize everyone's experience is different. This is simply one man's story of finding fulfillment and happiness while living in harmony with the gospel."
Adam White, head of the BYU student group Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, said it's helpful for Mormons with same-sex attraction to be visible like Mansfield.
"Our stories need to be told," White said. "It's important to demystify. ... We read the Honor Code before every meeting. The purpose is to talk about homosexuality and Mormonism."
David Nelson, a pioneer in the gay-rights movement in Utah, who ran the first campaign as an openly gay candidate for the Salt Lake City Council in 1985, said Mansfield being hired at BYU is a move in the right direction, showing "that the LDS Church is practicing what it preaches when it comes to welcoming church members and employees with same-sex attraction."
"Coming from the premier church university," Nelson said, "the decision is especially remarkable," considering LGBT students were disciplined in the 1970s.
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