Brigham Young University will investigate a confrontation that happened across the street from the school Thursday night when a man dumped a bottle of water on chalk art messages drawn in support of LGBTQ students and shouted a homophobic slur at some gathered there.
In a statement Friday morning, the university in Provo said it condemns the man’s behavior, calling it “disrespectful and hurtful.” Administrators say they are now reviewing video of the incident that has been shared widely on social media and intend to identify the man.
If he is a student, the private religious school said, he could be punished under its strict Honor Code, a set of standards for conduct, which “explicitly states that each member of the BYU community has the obligation to respect others.”
“There is no place for hateful speech, or prejudice of any kind, on our campus or in our community,” added the school, which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It’s a strong response from BYU that comes shortly after the university drew national attention earlier this week for a controversial speech centered on the LGBTQ community from an apostle of the LDS Church.
In that address on Monday, Jeffrey R. Holland sharply criticized faculty members and students at BYU who push back against the faith’s teachings on same-sex marriage. The apostle urged individuals at the school to take up their intellectual “muskets” to defend the church, especially “the doctrine of the family and ... marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
And Holland specifically called out a BYU valedictorian, Matt Easton, who came out as gay during his 2019 commencement address, which was pre-approved by the school.
Many have since spoken out against the speech, including Easton, calling it painful, disappointing and even threatening, with the reference to muskets.
The school and the faith accept LGBTQ members, but prohibit them from having relations of any kind with the same sex. Brigham Young University has long drawn criticism for the stance, which has included in the past disciplining gay students for holding hands and hugging others of the same sex.
In response to Holland’s speech, a group of Provo residents organized the chalk drawings of support for LGBTQ students.
They gathered Thursday night to draw rainbows and write messages of belonging like “you are loved” and “love is love” on the sidewalks across from the private campus on 800 North. There were big hearts and the “Y” in red, orange, green and blue. One person scribbled the lyrics to a church song about walking beside one another. Another added: “Put down your muskets and pick up your flag.”
Amber Sorensen, 30, saw a note about the gathering on social media and went to join it at about 8:30 p.m. She’s not a student but wanted to show solidarity as someone who is a former member of the faith and identifies as bisexual.
When she got there, most of the people had already left, she said. She lingered to talk to a few remaining folks and read the messages.
“It just lifted my spirits so much,” she said. “It just kept going for blocks and blocks.”
But then the man with the water bottle approached. Sorensen had her phone out as she was taking pictures of the art and started filming when she saw what he was doing, she told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The video that she shot and shared on social media shows the man taking the large bottle and dumping it out on a rainbow next to the word “love.” The colors quickly fade and wash away.
One of Sorensen’s friends, shocked at what the man was doing, can be heard in the video saying: “I’m feeling a little less homophobic than that.”
The man responds, using a slur. “Oh no, f------ go to hell,” he spits.
Sorensen can be heard retorting, “Oh yeah, I’m sure the Bible actually says that.”
And then the man walks away. It’s over in less than 30 seconds. It has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on every popular social media platform.
Many on Facebook and Twitter lamented the man’s actions. Some said they weren’t surprised and have faced similar hate speech on campus. A few blamed Holland’s speech for inciting the man. Sorensen had captioned the video, herself, noting: “This is how Holland would have us love our neighbor.”
Sorensen said she’s seen anti-LGBTQ people in Utah before, protesting at Pride parades that she’s marched in. But, she added, she’s never had such a response so close to her.
“It’s definitely shocking,” she said. “It’s really jarring.”
She said she posted the video to show people what she sees as the consequences of Holland’s address and hate toward LGBTQ individuals. She wants the man to be identified so that, if he is a student, the school can consider discipline.
“I want people to have to see and acknowledge that this type of behavior exists in Provo,” Sorensen said. “And I want any people in the LGBTQ+ community who are feeling ostracized and exiled, no matter what stage they are in their journey, whether they’re a member or not, that this is not the norm. There are people out here who love and accept them.”
In its message, the university added, too, that it’s “striving to create a community of belonging” for everyone on campus.
Earlier Monday, before Holland’s address, BYU President Kevin Worthen had announced the creation of the Office of Belonging on campus to combat “prejudice of any kind, including that based on race ... and sexual orientation.” It comes after a report found some students, especially individuals of color, were feeling isolated and sometimes attacked on the campus.
That news, though, was overshadowed by Holland’s words. And it’s not the first time the school has come under fire for how it has treated LGBTQ students.
Last year, the school removed the wording on “homosexual behavior” from its Honor Code. But after many students came out as LGBTQ — and said they were told it was OK to do so by the Honor Code Office — the university later clarified that the rules still applied and students could continue to be disciplined or even expelled for having intimate gay relationships.
Additionally, in April of this year, a BYU assistant professor publicly used a Book of Mormon term associated with an anti-Christ to attack a gay student. There has been no public action against the professor.
In pushback, a group of former students are now suing the institution for how they say they were discriminated against there. And another group recently lit up the “Y” on the mountain above BYU in rainbow colors in opposition to its anti-LGBTQ policies.
Meanwhile, the rest of the messages of support written for those students in chalk were all gone from the sidewalks by Friday morning, likely rinsed off by city sprinklers.