Out of the millions of potential commencement speakers they could have chosen, Southern Utah University picked perhaps the worst option: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In 2021, Holland said he “would like to hear a little more musket fire” when he referenced the LGBTQ community. That comment, while metaphorical, was made shortly after the shooting of Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner, a lesbian couple, in Moab.
Selecting someone who uses such hateful and violent rhetoric when talking about a minority group shows that SUU doesn’t value its queer students. Even worse, they chose him in a year when the Legislature has repeatedly and viciously targeted LGBTQ, especially trans, Utahns.
For some background, I began attending SUU in August 2016. Just over a year later, I came out as gay. And as great as it felt to come out, my life wasn’t just sunshine and rainbows after that.
It’s hard enough being openly queer in Utah. It’s even harder when you are geographically isolated.
An act as simple as hanging rainbow banners in Saint George was met with outrage. My fellow classmates repeated hateful ideas from church leaders, saying that my desire to fall in love and get married was simply Satan seeking “to distort marriage.”
Combine all that with my not-so-great mental health, and I didn’t think I would survive until graduation.
In a press release, SUU President Mindy Benson said Holland was chosen in part due to “His southern Utah roots and dedication to education…” If a speaker with a similar background had called for “musket fire” against members of LDS Church, would they have been chosen despite their past rhetoric?
Of course not.
To be clear, my opposition to Holland has nothing to do with his religious beliefs. Any number of LDS leaders would make great speakers. And to his credit, Holland is a pretty good orator.
My problem is that Holland’s hateful and violent rhetoric helped degrade the mental health of SUU’s queer students. And as an alum who attempted suicide more than 10 times while a student at Southern Utah University, I feel betrayed that my alma mater would choose to honor him as a commencement speaker.
In college and since graduating, I’ve served on several university committees. A lot of time and thought goes into major decisions like choosing a commencement speaker.
And that fact makes it worse.
Because it means that SUU’s administration looked at their options, considered how they would affect LGBTQ students, employees and alumni, and chose Holland anyway. They knew this would hurt us, and they inflicted that pain anyway.
Southern Utah University ought to be ashamed.
Billy Clouse (he/they) is an openly queer graphic designer living in northern Utah on Eastern Shoshone and Goshute land. They attended Southern Utah University from 2016–2020.