Brigham Young University is becoming the paragon of progressiveness. First, last year, it allowed its students to purchase Coke products on campus.
Earlier this year, it hosted a schoolwide devotional by Ben Ogles, dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences and psychology professor, who spoke with clarity and detail about sexual assault and the nature of consent. And the fact that no means no.
And now, BYU is recognizing, and reaching out to, some of its students who may, in fact, be attracted to people of the same sex.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns BYU as its flagship school and hasn’t had a great track record toward recognizing and validating gay and bisexual students. Policy dictates that while students may be same-sex attracted, they cannot act on any sexual urges with someone of the same sex and remain a student in good standing. Or a church member in good standing, for that matter.
BYU’s Honor Code forbids “not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
The policy means that BYU can be a lonely and depressing place for such students.
But perhaps BYU is trying to change that — to reach out to these students to tell them, you belong, we want you. That would be a welcome change.
On Thursday afternoon, BYU hosted a school-sanctioned panel discussion, with more than 600 people spilling out into aisles and overflow rooms, featuring four gay and transgender students who were willing to frankly talk about their experiences.
The panel was held to help students welcome gay and transgender students, as well as help reconcile gender identity with faith.
Panelists noted that some suppress their homosexual identities for years, in fear of the consequences of what such admission would mean in the highly restrictive church environment.
Kaitlynn Wright, one of the panelists, shared that “I love this gospel, and I love this church. But I feel a lot of disconnect there. … After coming out, I did have a faith crisis.”
To improve the environment at the Y, panel members suggested that the school sanction the support group Understanding Same Gender Attraction as a club, that it conduct sensitivity training for faculty and that it readjust language to be more inclusive.
When students feel that they would rather be “dead and straight than alive and gay,” as Ben Shilaty felt, it’s time for a course correction.
BYU should guide its policies by the simple question: What would Jesus do?