Brigham Young University agreed to give LGBTQ resource pamphlets to incoming freshmen next week — but then pulled them out of welcome bags and trashed them, according to the groups that made the booklets.
The groups, which all support the queer community, say they had a $200 contract with the school through the student newspaper to include the resource guides in the bags given to new students on the first day of class, with the fall term set to start Monday.
The newspaper, called The Daily Universe, is overseen by BYU administrators. It organizes the freshmen welcome gifts each year, with the bags of stickers and school spirit gear vetted by Communications faculty there before they are assembled. The bags are then handed out through student housing, where most of the roughly 5,000 incoming freshmen live their first year.
This week, members of the LGBTQ groups say they learned that the school — which is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — had made what they call a “unilateral decision” to no longer include their six-page pamphlets.
Many of the printed booklets were thrown away as they were removed from the bags, said Maddison Tenney, founder of the Raynbow Collective, an off-campus nonprofit that supports BYU’s LBGTQ students and pulled together the resource guides. The few that were not trashed were given back to her.
She said the collective wasn’t told about the decision by the school, but by an anonymous tip. When she reached out to BYU, an administrator there confirmed the removal, she said.
“The heartbreaking part is that this is the experience being at BYU” as an LGBTQ student, said Tenney, who is also a senior expecting to graduate in December. “You have this beautiful community, and you love the school so much and they just don’t love you back.”
The school confirmed in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that the pamphlets were removed.
BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins said the administrators over Residence Life and New Student Orientation were not aware of what was in the bags until after some had been distributed. When they learned about the pamphlets, an administrator decided to pull them.
Jenkins said the decision was made because the materials came from an outside group and the university wants to instead “provide support through the Office of Belonging and our counseling services and not to allow outside entities to imply affiliation with or endorsement from the university. ... BYU’s focus is on creating unity and belonging within our campus community.”
But the pamphlets did include university resources, including information on BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services.
The Office of Belonging at the school was formed last year, as part of an effort to recognize and do better by marginalized groups at BYU. Jenkins said the vice president there met with the LGBTQ groups about removing the booklets.
The decision came just a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of when a top church leader came to campus and criticized faculty members and students who challenge the faith’s teachings on same-sex marriage. In a talk that drew national attention, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said they should instead take up their intellectual “muskets” to defend “the doctrine of the family and ... marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
That speech caused discord in the LGBTQ community on campus, with many saying they felt unsafe. One group protested.
To remove the pamphlets so near that anniversary caused extra pain, some students said on social media. And the school’s policy already make them feel ostracized, a few noted.
Though the faith doesn’t ban gay members from attending services, they are instructed not to act on their attractions. Likewise, the private school prohibits through its strict Honor Code any same-sex romantic partnerships or displays of affection among LGBTQ students. Those who break the rules are subject to discipline.
The guides — called “Allyship & Activism Resource Guide: LGBTQ+ Edition” — included information on how to access counseling on campus, where to apply for scholarships, a place to find gender-affirming clothes and the contact information for a resource advisor.
They also had a list of events, including the Back to School Pride Night being organized by the RaYnbow Collective. That’s happening on Sept. 3 at Kiwanis Park. Tenney said they’ll be printing out more of the pamphlets to hand out then. A flyer for that event, Tenney said, was also removed from the bag.
Other events listed in the pamphlet were club meetings for students of color on campus, such as the Black Menaces, and for Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship, or USGA, a group for LGBTQ BYU students. USGA is not approved by the school and not allowed to meet on campus. But the pamphlet had information about their weekly get-togethers at the Provo Library.
The groups put out a joint statement Thursday, expressing disappointment in the decision to discard their pamphlets.
“We are currently in conversations with BYU to figure out amends and how to move forward,” they wrote. “... There will always be LGBTQ+ students at BYU, and our goal is to support all students on campus, especially those who experience discrimination.”
The groups said they spent 350 hours with the help of 50 volunteers putting the booklets together. Tenney added that it cost about $2,000 to print them, which they funded through donations. The Daily Universe, she said, did not make the decision to pull them from the freshmen bags, but the newspaper did give the groups a full refund, including for the printing costs.
Tenney said the materials were approved by professors both before and after the contract was paid for.
“While we received a refund,” the groups wrote in their letter, “we would have rather had these resources available. … No student should feel alone, and no student should feel rejected by their university because of their identity. We hope BYU improves its adherence to contracts, educates its employees on industry-standard diversity and inclusion training, and provides these resource guides in the future for all BYU students.”
Jenkins said the student newspaper will review its approval process moving forward and confirmed the refund.
Carolyn Gassert, the president of USGA, said the decision was infuriating.
“It’s exhausting to have something like this happen,” Gassert said. “... It’s a constant reminder they don’t want us there and don’t care about our lives.”
Jenkins, though, said BYU “recognizes and welcomes LGBTQ individuals as part of our broader covenant-keeping university community.”
Several others also commented on social media, calling it “completely outrageous” and “a short-sighted pointless choice.”
Emma Gee, a former BYU student who came out as gay while on the school’s track team, called the decision “a blatant move to withhold essential information from vulnerable people” on Instagram.
Jillian Orr, who is bisexual and graduated from BYU this spring in a rainbow gown that went viral, said on TikTok that she was angry.
“I don’t understand how BYU can continue to isolate and to separate and segregate those who are in that community,” she said. “It is unacceptable.”
Several folks said the resources are life-saving, saying they would have valued from seeing them as a freshmen on the conservative campus. The OUT Foundation called it “censorship.”
The RaYnbow Collective wrote in a post: “What does a banned book look like at BYU? Sometimes it’s 6 pages and lists scholarships, resources, and therapy for marginalized students.”
Tenney said the groups had tried to be respectful and careful when pulling the pamphlets together. She felt they didn’t include anything that went against the school’s policies. But when she spoke to an administrator, Tenney said she was told that the information was removed because it was deemed “disparaging” to the church — not because it was from an outside group.
Tenney added that she doesn’t intend to stop trying to provide resources for LGBTQ students on campus.
The groups who made the booklets intend to hold events this coming week to recognize queer students as classes begin, including drawing messages of support in chalk near the school. She also invited those interested in helping fund more books and additional resources to Venmo @raynbowcollective.
Tenney said: “I just wanted students to be safe and taken care of.”