“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
I always enjoy making the 600-mile all-night drive from Sacramento to Salt Lake City each year for the annual International Affirmation Conference. Traveling the Nevada desert at night, it’s a time to get away from the rat race for a while, to enjoy the quiet, the stars, and contemplate the meaning of life. Last July as I approached the Utah border, I picked up KSL radio, the home of BYU sports and, therefore, the official station of Zion. Suddenly they interrupted their program with the biggest news since Brigham said ‘This is the Place”: Effective immediately, BYU was authorizing Caffeine Coke on campus! I switched stations, and it was the major story everywhere, even the network news. Social media went bezonkers! It was even the front-page story on the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and the Provo Daily Herald; with a gripping, action-packed photo of some guy dispensing a soda at the Cougareat. It seemed like the Second Coming, and in a way, it was.
Back in the 1950s, regular good ol’ Caffeine Coke was on campus and all seemed normal, until one day it was suddenly gone. People assumed that the Q15 (the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who also happened to be the school’s board of trustees) had some inspirational moment that Coke was “like unto” coffee too much, and to avoid even the appearance of evil, they felt moved to remove the caffeine ilk from the Lord’s campus. I was there in the late ’60s, and no one questioned the decision. We just followed the prophet because the decision had been made, and it was our responsibility to once again demonstrate to the world that we are a peculiar people and proud of it.
But the prophet and the other GA’s had nothing to do with the decision. It was the Director of Campus Dining Services who decided on his own authority to discontinue it. It’s not clear whether he took it upon himself to exercise his own “moral” standard and remove it, or if the student body boycotted it out of “cultural righteousness,” thereby justifying its removal for lack of demand. Nevertheless, it spread throughout the Church and became a part of our unique Mormon culture. Finally, Coca-Cola introduced Caffeine-free Coke in 1983 and the Diet version a year later. No one liked the taste of the stuff—I asked a Coke distributor about it once, and he said the caffeine-free varieties only make up about 2% of their sales except in Utah, where it’s their biggest seller—but that was the price you paid for keeping the faith.
The day after last year’s official comeback, an amazing thing happened at BYU: Nothing. No buildings were leveled to the ground, the sun came up like it always does, students studied, teachers taught, no one was struck dumb, the visiting GA’s could drink their favorite soda in the light of day and not hide in the shadows, there’s still no Starbucks on campus, and life went on as peculiar as usual.
While some standards have been loosened on campus, others have not. BYU has an Honor Code that is even stricter for the LGBT community than the Church’s infamous Handbook language. Whereas the Handbook states homosexuality is okay unless you “act on it,” the school’s Honor Code forbids “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” This language is so sweeping and vague, some overzealous school or church official could include two guys or girls shaking hands if it creates a spark of attraction… and since fellow students can also be disciplined if they see a violation and fail to report it, students might also be on the lookout for the most innocent behavior that offends them and inform the school. This is so far beyond bishop roulette, it boggles the mind.
In spite of that, the BYU LGBT community has USGA (Understanding, Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship, formerly Understanding Same-Gender Attraction), a valuable support group for LGBT students, faculty, staff, and their allies. Unfortunately, in spite of the group’s repeated requests, the school has refused to recognize them as an official club, so they can’t meet on campus, nor can they advertise on campus or through BYU-sponsored media, nor receive any financial or other support from the school. To me, that just seems like the school bully stealing your lunch money every day. For that reason, I stopped paying for my BYUtv, and I refuse to give any further donations to BYU, nor to its philanthropic requests, alumni causes, nor for sporting events or anything else, until they give official status to USGA and revise the Honor Code language so its restrictions on homosexuality are at least as “lenient” as the church’s Handbook. It’s not much, but it’s something, and it’s my something.
So hang in there, USGA. Things may look bleak now, but remember no one thought Caffeine Coke would ever be officially recognized, and it’s now back on campus. Marijuana was once the door opening to all evil, and now it’s recognized by the church for its medicinal properties. A peculiar people, even its peculiar university, works in peculiar ways, and someday, somehow, you’ll be officially recognized too. It’s only a matter of time.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.