Several dozen Latter-day Saints in New York City took to the streets of the Big Apple on Saturday to express their disappointment with Brigham Young University’s changing position on “romantic behavior” by same-sex couples.
“We want BYU students to know that they are loved and supported by people who are a country away,” said Sarah Morris, a BYU graduate who was among the 50 to 60 people who turned out for the demonstration. “We hear them. We feel their pain with them. And we will do everything we can to facilitate that change.”
Protesters started at the corner of Columbus Avenue and 65th Street, across the street from the Manhattan temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They chanted slogans, including “BYU, there’s no excuse. This is human rights abuse,” and held up signs reading “Agency is God’s plan” and “BYU, let the gays stay.” They also sang hymns and children’s Primary songs.
“It was all about just being there for fellow members and friends who were suffering right now; who are in pain and having a hard time with this,” said Anne Lambert, a Utahn who attends the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “We were there to show them that we’re there for them. And we support them and we love them and accept them.”
The protesters were members of the LGBTQ community, friends and allies, and included a number of BYU alumni. They talked to passersby and handed out literature explaining their demonstration.
“A lot of people were like, ‘Oh, this is so great. I love what you’re doing,’” Lambert said. “I mean, some people were uninterested and kept on walking. But I would say that, overall, people were really positive and really happy about what we were doing.”
No church leaders appeared at the rally, but members of the media — including a reporter from NY1 (a local cable news operation) and a photographer from The New York Times were on hand.
It was the fourth such rally — the first outside of Utah — in response to the school’s reaffirmation Wednesday that same-sex relationships were still “not compatible” with the school’s Honor Code — despite removing the code’s ban on “homosexual behavior” last month.
“For it to be removed as a section of the Honor Code was massive progress. Frankly, the section on ‘homosexual behavior’ has been vague and abused for years,” said Morris, a Latter-day Saint who was active in BYU’s unofficial student group, Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship, while she was a student there. “It was amazing to have that [section of the Honor Code] taken away and for students to feel that safety and freedom. And I know students who reached out to the Honor Code Office and were told directly, ‘Yes, this means that queer students can date.’”
Until Wednesday, when the church announced that same-sex romantic behavior is still “not compatible” with the BYU Honor Code.
“To be at a university that has absolutely no support for LGBTQ students — they’re already in a vulnerable position,” Morris said. “And now BYU has put them in dangerous position. They offered them a place of safety, and people came out. There were all sorts of other people kissing on campus and people came out to their families for the first time. And now BYU has retracted that?”
There were two demonstrations on the Provo campus after the announcement, and the third, which attracted more than 500 participants, was held Friday outside the church’s downtown Salt Lake City headquarters.
As was the case in Utah, the New York protesters aimed their well-behaved ire at BYU and the Honor Code, not at the church’s policies toward gay people.
“I don’t think it was really geared toward changing church policy,” said Lambert, who was there with a number of other members of the young adults Latter-day Saint ward she attends. “It was more specifically just about BYU and how they handled the situation and the Honor Code.”
The Utah-based faith teaches that being homosexual is not a sin, while acting on those attractions is.
“The teachings of the church and the policies of our universities are consistent with eternal principles, and seek to encourage and strengthen relationships that lead to eternal covenants made with God,” church spokesman Doug Andersen said Friday. “The church and its leaders continue to teach that though there may be disagreement on an issue or policy, we should treat one other with love, respect and kindness.”
Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.