Jacob Newman: We are not your diversity lesson

(Photo courtesy of Franchesca Lopez) BYU has removed part of its Honor Code referring to “Homosexual Behavior," which led some students to celebrate on campus. Franchesca Lopez posted this photo on Twitter, which she called "my first gay kiss."

As a gay alum of Brigham Young University (BA 2014, MA 2016), I was shocked to see the changes to the Honor Code and the implications for the LGBT community at BYU.

When I first saw the news, I found myself surprisingly emotional. My time at BYU was a formative period of my life. I cherish the experiences and the education that I received. I grew intellectually and emotionally, meeting many lifelong friends and mentors along the way. I do not regret my decision to attend BYU.

My growth, however, came at deep personal cost. During my first semester on campus, in the fall of 2008, I discovered quickly that BYU was not friendly to LGBT people. Many Sundays my first bishop announced many ward-sponsored calling banks in coordination with LDS Church efforts to sponsor Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage.

The Sunday before the 2008 election happened to be my 19th birthday. That same day, our stake presidency visited every Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum to have a group prayer that Proposition 8 would pass. We were told that it was not a political matter; it was a matter of following the prophet of God.

The day after the election, I sat in Randy Bott’s missionary preparation class and he asked us all to applaud that Proposition 8 had passed. As the years passed, the homophobia came in various forms: lectures from Sunday School teachers about the immorality of LGBT people, snide comments from other students in class, and letters to the BYU newspaper about how having same-sex parents was equivalent to having criminals as parents. LGBT students at BYU have been subjected to decades of abuse from a majority that has long viewed us as the enemy.

Hearing the words of Jim Brau in the past few days has given me mixed emotions (“BYU professor says critics of changing school’s Honor Code should be thankful,” Tribune, Feb. 26).

On the one hand, I am grateful that caring professors like Brau are taking time to discuss these sensitive issues. On the other hand, Brau’s words reveal a few solemn truths about the LGBT Mormon experience.

The LDS Church and BYU are not in the business of apologies. Brau’s discussion of this policy change includes no acknowledgement of the incredibly deep pain that these policies caused to LGBT students.

Beyond the lack of an apology, however, another pattern emerges. The changes in policy at BYU are framed as a blessing to the straight students. When these straight students arrive in the workplace, they are expected to interact with the LGBT community. He shares the story of a straight BYU student making homophobic remarks who was fired for these words.

This example, while obviously well-intentioned, rings hollow. In most of the country, LGBT people lack protections in employment. Beyond this sad truth, LGBT people are not some diversity lesson for straight BYU students. We are not a professional development opportunity. We are human beings who have experienced profound pain as a result of institutional homophobia.

BYU and the LDS Church must acknowledge the decades of pain it has caused to LGBT people. With that said, however, I recognize that we must first wait for an apology to those of African American descent, women and our beloved transgender siblings in the LGBT community who continue to experience policies of exclusion and marginalization.

Admitting error takes moral courage. Will the LDS Church show such courage?

Jacob Newman, right, and his husband, Christian Larsen

Jacob Newman is a proud BYU alum who lives in Millcreek with his husband of nearly four years.