This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.
An activist group at Brigham Young University is asking students across Utah to join a national college walkout next week, in an effort to fight homophobia on college campuses.
The Black Menaces — known for asking BYU students challenging questions about racism and equality, then posting the answers on TikTok — has teamed with the Religious Exemption Accountability Project to organize the “Strike Out Homophobia” walkout on Tuesday.
The aim of the walkout, organizers say, is to protest discrimination against the LGBTQ community and other minorities at colleges and universities operated by religious organizations.
“We are walking out to protest the end of legal discrimination by religious universities against queer individuals,” said Sebastian Stewart-Johnson, content coordinator and editor for the Black Menaces, in a TikTok video posted Sept. 6.
Brigham Young University is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through its Church Educational System — which also oversees Ensign College in Salt Lake City, BYU’s branches in Rexburg, Idaho, and Laie, Hawaii, the online BYU Pathway Worldwide, and a network of seminaries and institutes of religion.
Students on campuses across Utah and the nation are invited to participate, as organizers hope to get more than 100 colleges and universities involved. The walkout begins at noon Mountain Time on Tuesday. That day, Oct. 11, also is National Coming Out Day, the annual celebration of declaring publicly one’s LGBTQ identity.
Event organizers, on their website, say the goal is to bring Title IX protections — which prohibit sex-based discrimination in any school that receives federal funding — to private religious schools, which are largely exempt from the law.
Elisa Stone, a professor of English and queer studies at Salt Lake Community College and an advisor for the college’s queer student association, said she believes the walkout could be effective in prompting change.
“Peaceful protest is always impactful,” she said. “Anything we can do to get the attention of those who are choosing to oppress and let them know that the oppressed are rising up, that’s when things begin to shift.”
In her advisory role, Stone said she tries to ensure SLCC is a safe place for LGBTQ and minority students.
“I fight every single day for people who are oppressed by organized religion in any way to claim their authentic identity, to be who they are, and to know that they are seen, loved and way more than tolerated,” she said. “They deserve to be celebrated.”
In 2019 on National Coming Out Day, SLCC opened its Gender & Sexuality Student Resource Center (GSSRC), which works to support SLCC’s LGBTQ students throughout their education. The GSSRC holds activities and support groups and provides resources to women, LGBTQ students and allies.
Nizhoni Tsosie, an English student at SLCC who counts several BYU graduates in her family, said she would be interested in participating in the walkout.
The videos the Black Menaces make for TikTok, which have been going viral for months, paired with planning events like the walkout and participating in protests in Provo “takes guts,” Tsosie said.
“The Black Menaces have become notorious among my family,” she said. “I think they’re doing what all BIPOC students at BYU wish they could’ve done. It’s kind of amazing to see just a handful of students and a microphone make a whole school feel on edge.”
Haily Askerlund wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.