After Brigham Young University surprisingly removed its ban on “homosexual behavior,” finance professor Jim Brau walked into class last week knowing his students would be thinking about that major change to the Honor Code.
He knew some were excited, though it was still a little confusing what exactly it meant for gay couples. But he knew others at the religious school weren’t happy at all with the update.
So before jumping into his lecture on venture capital funds, Brau decided to explain how he felt: It’s “a blessing” — even more so for those who don’t agree with it.
“BYU just did you a massive favor,” he said.
He offered a practical perspective, noting that students who later get jobs will work with LGBTQ individuals and need to be welcoming. He pointed out that a former student of his was recently fired from “our No. 1 recruiting company” for making homophobic comments to a gay co-worker. “I’m just saying, we need to be more Christ-like,” Brau suggested.
The 10-minute discussion from his Thursday class had been shared widely across social media, where many celebrated the professor’s take and said it finally offered some clarification on the policy change. The clip was originally cut from video of Brau’s longer lecture, which he posts online each day. Before it was taken down from YouTube, it had more than 20,000 views.
“I do realize for some of us, including me, who have been praying for this moment for years, today is a massive watershed,” Brau said to his students. “For others of you, this is a huge struggle and I understand that. … But if you see same-gender couples walking around campus, being respectful, acting like straight couples, that’s really going to get you ready for the real world.”
His comments came the day after BYU, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first publicly acknowledged it had changed its LGBTQ policy. The Honor Code — which includes a strict set of rules for dating, a dress code and a ban on drugs, alcohol, coffee and tea — previously prohibited “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings." Those who acted on such feelings could be punished or suspended.
In the update, that section was deleted. And students said that staff in the Honor Code Office told them it meant they would no longer be disciplined for dating, holding hands with or kissing people of the same sex.
But BYU officials said there “may have been some miscommunication.” The school’s official Twitter account posted: “Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.” It then declined to give specific details, saying relationships would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“That’s confusing,” Brau acknowledged in his lecture.
The finance professor, who started working at the school full-time in 2010, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Carri Jenkins, the school’s spokeswoman, responded Tuesday, noting, “I would emphasize that Professor Brau is not a spokesperson for the Church or the University.”
The professor told his class that he personally called the Honor Code Office for clarification and talked to a full-time counselor there. He said he asked, “Can you date and be gay at BYU?”
The staffer responded, he said, noting, “The Honor Code no longer prohibits that.”
Brau told him that he planned to tell his 1,200 students. On Thursday, they clapped and cheered.
“I loved the message that Dr. Brau shared with our class,” one of his students, Chandler Mill, said on Twitter. “His message was an uplifting call for Christ-like compassion and love toward LGBTQ+ students and faculty at BYU.”
Calvin Burke, a gay student at BYU, shared the video on Twitter, applauding the professor for “laying down the law.”
During the lecture, pushing aside his notes on finance, Brau pulled up a copy of the new church handbook, which the church also released last week. He highlighted a section. It said: “If members feel same-sex attraction and are striving to live the law of chastity, leaders support and encourage them in their resolve. These members may receive Church callings, hold temple recommends, and receive temple ordinances if they are worthy.”
The school has said it based its Honor Code updates on those refreshed guidelines from the faith.
Nowhere in that section, Brau noted, does it say gay couples can’t kiss or hug — they just must remain sexually abstinent. Students have told The Salt Lake Tribune that’s their understanding of the new LGBT rules on campus. They can date but must be chaste, the same as straight couples.
“Obviously, no one is allowed to break the law of chastity. No one is allowed to do any kind of sex” outside of marriage, Brau said.
The church does not support gay marriage. But removing the “homosexual behavior” section from the Honor Code appears to allow same-sex dating.
Those who don’t like that change, the professor suggested, are questioning the faith. Brau believes disagreeing with the updates means believing that church leadership is wrong. “It amazes me because what they’re saying is they don’t have a testimony of the living apostles.”
Another important aspect of the change, for him, is that the ban didn’t prepare students for life — which he believes college is supposed to do.
“When you get out in the workplace, your boss might be gay,” he said Thursday. “Your boss might be trans. You definitely will have co-workers who are gay. You will have people all over the place who are LGBT. Everywhere.”
Without learning now to live with diversity and people with different perspectives, he told his students, “you’re not going to know how to react.” He doesn’t want more students, like the one he knew, to be fired.
Accordingly, Brau noted, anyone who harasses or threatens LGBTQ students, including using homophobic slurs, should now expect to be reported to the Honor Code Office themselves. It used to be that gay students could be reported for holding hands or flirting. Now that’s no longer in the rules. But a policy on “respecting others” is.
“I’ve been told by two different counselors on two different occasions, if a gay couple is holding hands or flirting with each other or hanging out like any straight couple would and you have a problem with it and you whisper something under your breath or you say something to them or you crack a joke, they can report you to the Honor Code Office,” the professor said. “And they will start a formal investigation.”
That didn’t stop a few from posting hateful responses on the video, including “BYU needs to be purged,” before comments were turned off. Since the announcement of the change last week, there has been tension on campus over the policy change.