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An Uncertain Future for LGBT Students at Brigham Young University

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Provo, Utah is home to Brigham Young University, the largest religious university in the country. It’s owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints informally known as the Mormon Church. Consider this fact: more than 100 US college campuses have an established LGBT center that’s staffed by paid employees. It’s clear that students, bolstered by progress made in certain social and political spheres, have never felt quite so comfortable or open with their sexuality. What does it mean, though, for the student who attends a faith-based school with doctrines that preach heterosexuality? It could mean a very isolated academic experience. The Princeton Review has called Brigham Young one of the most volatile and un-accepting environments for gay students time after time. Read on to discover how unwavering this institution is when it comes to rallying around human rights.

In order to understand the present, we have to venture several decades back into Brigham Young’s past. There was once a time when the school actually studied electroshock therapy as a cure for homosexuality. The notion of coming out as gay to a group of students simply wasn’t an option for fearful students. Ernest L. Wilkinson, the president at the time, addressed the issue himself with the following rhetoric:

“Nor do we intend to admit to our campus any homosexuals. If any of you has this tendency and have not completely abandoned it, may I suggest that you leave the University immediately after this assembly…we do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.”

Incredibly, using homosexuality as a grounds for expulsion wasn’t revised in Brigham Young’s code of conduct until 2007. The overturned rule prohibited “advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature.” Its revised and current state has simply replaced one injustice with another by stating that the university will “respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or orientation”. In other words, you’re not “technically” breaking any of the school’s mandates if you are gay but choose to suppress it with an act of celibacy. Some gay students have famously appeared on YouTube and other media outlets stating that they’ve indeed chosen celibacy, as they’re fearful about public condemnation and ultimate removal from the school.

Small strides have been made, but the day-to-day struggles for the LGBT community at Brigham Young have persisted. Students say that some administrators have attempted to council them by instilling a “pray the gay away” philosophy, encouraging them to marry someone of the opposite sex as a cure and understanding their “wrongful” sexuality as a mere phase that will pass in time. It still isn’t accepted that these students can’t change their sexual preference on command, nor should they feel like that’s something worthy of sacrificing.

Remember when we touched upon those schools that have an official LGBT center for? Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Brigham Young doesn’t have one. Although, there is a silver lining in an unofficial campus group titled Understanding Same Gender Attraction. This is perhaps the sole place where students can discuss the LGBT community, overcome self-esteem or religious issues, find acceptance and even discuss relationship issues. Students involved with the group say that while their faction isn’t recognized by the university, it still helps to promote a positive image to the community as a whole. They realize that reverses decades of discrimination won’t be easy, and select individuals don’t even believe that it will happen in their lifetime. If a connected and respected LGBT community is essential to your college experience, then Brigham Young is not poised to be the school of your dreams by any stretch.

Ryan James is a ’13 alumnus of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in writing and media. He currently works as a copywriter for a Fortune 500 e-commerce corporation based in Columbus, OH.

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