A Light, Shining in the Darkness
Last night was anything but a typical Saturday night in Provo, Utah. LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saint allies, family, and friends hiked to the imposing block-letter Y on the mountain overlooking the campus of Brigham Young University and with flashlights, illuminated the Y in the colors of the transgender flag. By the time they cycled these colors to rainbow colors, BYU police had made the forty-minute hike from the valley floor to disperse the crowd and question the participants. No citations were given and no arrests were made. It was a show of love and support for BYU students by the local citizens and fellow members of the Church—a celebration of the Queer soul, those who face or have faced some pretty intimidating prejudice and acts of prejudice in their everyday life as an LGBTQ+ BYU student.
Seeing the Y lit in transgender and rainbow colors was powerful, but to hear personal stories from the Queer community about this night is absolutely the most meaningful and powerful part of this event. These personal reactions contextualize this moment in time and do so in empowering ways by assigning meaning to this expression of love and support. Personal posts, stories, and shared feelings are the true agent of change whenever the Y gets lit in Queer colors. After the lighting of the Y, I came across many reflections from the Queer Latter-day Saint community. One of the most powerful posts came from a friend of mine, who gave permission to share it anonymously, from a trans woman who graduated from BYU many years ago. I honor her story and share it here with you, our Affirmation community. – Nathan Kitchen, President of Affirmation
Tonight again I can’t stop my tears. A light. Shining in the darkness. In Provo. A light every trans person knows and another Y that I never thought I would ever live to see. Especially after the fencing barrier was placed around the Y so symbolic of similar ones that still surround so many hardened hearts in my culture of origin.
Most of my memories of BYU—even the happy ones—are always shrouded in a context of deep hidden sorrow, pain, and shadows. I don’t believe that I have ever seen a more beautiful night with that Y than tonight all my life. I know I’m not and will never be the 99 that this probably means nothing for, or who may even view this with resentment—but it means something to me as someone who walked so many nights so alone in darkness at BYU with no hope while others slept.
I have memories, some wounds that I don’t know if they will ever fully heal. For example, I remember well the labels leaders first gave me in “For The Strength Of Youth” and other places like “Perversion” or “Abomination.” But in my search for understanding, I also found and learned the history and origins of transphobia among my culture of origin. I have listened with my own ears and wept in grief at the first clearly and unmistakably transphobic words ever spoken in LDS circles by the same leader that BYU’s own library is named for.
He too had labels for those like me when he said “among us today there’s some ugly things” and explained me as “something that’s creeping in that’s as devilish and hellish as anything among us today. It’s called transsexuality.” Before he even performed the marriage and sealing for my own parents, it was he who spoke those words about those like me in animosity and derision at BYU while my own parents were still students there long before I was even born. They are words that are now less commonly spoken by lips to the faces of those like me in my culture of origin but that are spoken still in the actions we see and outcomes we experience in how we are treated—even when done with a smile and a “nice sounding” tone of voice. I know exactly how it felt then when spoken overtly and how it still feels now when spoken covertly while still surfacing in how we are treated.
In contrast, while aware of disputes over the meaning of exactly how BYU is still obligated to honor public access as a provision of purchase, I read tonight in the SL Tribune about this Trans Lighting of the Y and how “Everyone that was up there was briefed that it is possible that they could be arrested” and how “every single person is willing to be arrested, if it means keeping LGBTQ students at BYU safe.”
I know the difference when someone loves you enough to face even those kinds of threats. I know what love looks like. In my own life I’ve had to learn to dare love myself as worthy enough to live through and decide to stand up to threats of eternal damnation, past handbook version threats of excommunication and no forgiveness in this life just like murderers, threats of separation forever from loved ones and family, or even being erased and forced into a misaligned body for all eternity¬—oh, and also coming out as who I am to family, friends, and others and rejection.
Love so often requires great courage to face fears.
I don’t doubt what happened tonight will anger some people including leaders. But I’ve also seen how those kinds of people do not truly love me or those like me when their love is conditioned on ‘me’ not even meaning me. I wonder, will they really seek to fine and then throw those brave enough to love us so boldly into prison for daring love so fiercely?
To any who look at a transgender Y on that mountain and feel anger and want stronger exclusion and silencing, I can believe that some like you may feel that. I also understand that your reaction will never be something I will ever be able to experience as loving or even close to reminding me of a loving God as a Father or a loving Jesus I hear so much talk about. In fact, it is hard for me to imagine a Jesus who would not have walked among those whose love and concern lit the Y tonight and would not also have brought his light as well to show love. I never found that God or that Jesus in the church I grew up in—only one who never even had room for me in his own holy house in both this life and the next and could only love me if ‘me’ meant ‘never actually me.’ I am not remotely alone in my experience.
In contrast, again I can tell you I look at that Trans Y on the mountain and I see great love unlike any I ever experienced growing up or while at BYU or before leaving the church that never truly had really wanted me anyway. I can feel the love that was shown tonight. I am thankful for those whose love is not afraid to show so unmistakably brightly.