About a week ago, I was in the locker room when an unexpected conversation between three BYU students ensued. The conversation went like this:
The first guy said to his friends, “Gay guys are just strange. Their feminine actions make me uncomfortable, and I’m afraid they will be attracted to me while I change.”
His friends countered with “Not all gay guys are like that. My cousin plays sports.”
He responded, “Yeah, but even then, gays are weird.”
After that, they continued to discuss their feelings and misconceptions about gay individuals. Despite the two friends attempting a moderate position, the conversation ended with the first guy saying, “I don’t know; I just don’t like them.”
This experience stuck out to me, not because it was uncommon or egregiously harmful, but rather because it is representative of the climate at BYU. It mirrors BYU’s apparent feelings towards its LGBTQ+ students as depicted by their actions and inactions. It seems the university doesn’t care about their plight, or worse, they just don’t like them.
Although BYU has an official policy of acceptance and belonging, a recent in-house survey indicates that LGBTQ+ students are 6.25 times more likely to feel unsafe on campus, and 74% of BYU students have heard derogatory remarks about LGBTQ+ people there.
This LGBTQ+ crisis affects more students, and in more harmful ways, than we think. Up to 22% of LDS college students are identifying as LGBTQ+. Of the gay students I know, most have transferred, considered transferring, or been expelled from BYU because of the negative anti-LGBTQ+ climate. Of the ones who stay, they feel a diminished sense of happiness, value, and belonging.
I believe the main reason these students feel unsafe isn’t because they are afraid of being physically assaulted or coerced into conversion therapy, as was done in the past, but rather because they fear BYU, what it will do and what it will let slide.
Last semester, I proposed an event that would help students understand how to navigate professional landscapes as LGBTQ+ individuals, but I was met with opposition. I was advised by BYU faculty to include other excluded groups too, which was a wonderful thought, but it had the underlying message that gay issues are not to be a sole focus here. As I spoke with an office of belonging advisor, he told me to avoid the words “equity,” “diversity” and “inclusion” because BYU officials would deny any event with those keywords. He further stated that rainbows should not be on the flyer at all, because BYU does not allow rainbows.
Although trying to be helpful, another message was clear: BYU does not support its gay students as they are, but rather wants a curated version of them as their straight-gay ideal. This position is further illuminated by the recent CES Honor Code update which emphasizes toleration of those who are gay but not those who do gay.
These BYU policies inform and influence this unsafe climate on campus. The guy in the locker room felt his position emboldened because of BYU’s stances on gay individuals. On campus, it has been taught that children of gay couples are adversely affected, even though psychological studies strongly indicate otherwise. The attempt to align the class lesson with BYU’s policy on gay individuals creates untrue and harmful paradigms.
There are thousands more stories like this. One of my professors indicated that God’s command to avoid gay actions is to protect us from HIV. A BYU student I know indicated he would not hire gay individuals unless they were significantly more skilled than a straight applicant. I have heard “fag” on campus in multiple settings. All of this goes to show that LGBTQ+ students are not welcome or accepted, and BYU is partially to blame.
When I came out, some members of my family asked if I would transfer. They know that gay people are not welcome here. Others know too. BYU knows, and they do nothing substantial about it.
I know it seems that I am being harsh to BYU. However, I am immensely grateful for my time here, the friends I have made and the education I have received. It is precisely because I know that BYU can be better, that I strive to enhance it. I want BYU to improve its policies and make its campus a Zion for all, including gay students.
The only way to do that is to sincerely listen to LGBTQ+ students, update outdated policies and actively create safe environments to make them feel welcome as they are. That way they can realize the first part of BYU’s unofficial motto, “enter to learn,” and, once in a safe place to learn, they can “go forth to serve.”
Joshua Bennett is a gay BYU senior, majoring in microbiology. While planning on continuing with immunology research after graduation, he is highly interested in LGBTQ+ advocacy and hopes to continue in the future.