Unwritten rules can cause a lot of harm at BYU

March 7, 2020

Gay Kids Grow Up Mormon

“Gay Kids Grow Up Mormon” Quinn Dombrowski from Berkeley, USA / CC BY-SA

by Nathan Kitchen and Laurie Lee Hall, President and Senior Vice President of Affirmation

This commentary was originally published by the Salt Lake Tribune on March 6, 2020. It is being published here in full for the benefit of the Affirmation community around the world, many of whom are not able to access the tribune’s website.

Policies are messaging tools that broadcast values and practices. Brigham Young University’s Honor Code is no exception.

For many years, the Honor Code has been broadcasting discriminatory values and practices that are harmful towards LGBTQ students.

Outside athletic and academic organizations have found these values and practices disturbing. Recently the Classical Association of the Middle West and South rescinded its offer to hold its 2023 meeting on the campus of BYU Provo because of the “impact of BYU’s policies on LGBTQ colleagues and the conflict between those policies and CAMWS’s own policies on diversity and inclusivity.”

The loss of academic inclusion for the university may concern some, but more devastating is the trauma caused to LGBTQ students who navigate a campus environment that is so unattractive to professional colleagues.

When the First Presidency announced the rescission of the November 2015 policy, it stated that “immoral conduct in heterosexual and homosexual relationships will be treated in the same way.” When the new honor code removed written restrictions on “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings,” it appeared to implement this stated equalization.

Instead, we witnessed everything that could possibly go wrong when the policy arm of the Church Educational System and the enforcement arm of the Honor Code Office are not on the same page before a major policy change. The roll out and roll back of the updated Honor Code was not only unprofessional, but highly irresponsible and injurious.

For two weeks, the public infighting and power struggles at the highest levels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s educational system over the Honor Code created a dangerous ambiguity. It placed vulnerable LGBTQ students squarely in harm’s way when the commissioner of the Church Educational System finally issued a jolting reversal, declaring “same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.” The “homosexual behavior” clause, though removed from the Honor Code, remains in force as an unwritten rule.

Unwritten rules mask prejudice and cause real damage.

CES appears blatantly dishonest attempting to veil discriminatory policies from academic societies, professional associations or the NCAA by removing prescriptive anti-homosexual behavior from the stated Honor Code, only to enforce such as unwritten law reviewed beyond public view on a case-by-case basis regarding romantic intent. There is no required determination of romantic intent regarding heterosexual relationships.

Furthermore, CES does not define specific “forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings” that would be honor code violations. Such discrimination and ambiguity is harmful and gives the Honor Code Office undue power over LGB students, stoking fear over violating a set of unwritten rules as compared to their heterosexual peers.

This must stop.

All students have the right, regardless of sexual orientation to enjoy chaste, affectionate public behavior without any fear of reprisal. LGB students are worthy of the same rights, protections, and freedom of loving expressions which are afforded their heterosexual peers.

LGB students are not seeking relief from the law of chastity. They are aware of the church’s teachings on marriage, including that the church does not “counsel that heterosexual marriage is a panacea.” They only seek the same opportunity to enjoy a fullness of joy and expression during their university years that their heterosexual peers are encouraged to have — not by way of exception, but by inclusion.

The church states that “it is unethical to focus professional treatment on an assumption that a change in sexual orientation will or must occur … the individual has the right to define the desired outcome.” We believe that church education policies surrounding sexual minorities must be brought into alignment with these stated principles.

We recognize that gender identity is not addressed in the new Honor Code. Transgender students face higher ambiguity and greater safety concerns than their LGB cisgender peers. They must not be forgotten in this transitional moment.

We renounce any efforts that read into the stated Honor Code any restrictive elements based upon individual prejudice or bias that places one group of students above another in terms of right of expression.

To all our LGBTQ students, you are worthy and equal no matter where you choose to be, in your family, in worship, in school, in work, and in who you love.

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1 Comment

  1. David Matheson on March 19, 2020 at 4:38 PM

    WHAT FULNESS OF JOY?

    I agree with the sentiment of the article and echo its emphatic “This must stop.” The Church’s ethos regarding LGBTQ people might aptly be described as a “psychoemotional wood chipper,” given its impact on those affected by it. However, I think the article stops disingenuously short of a full consideration of the problem.

    The article states that BYU students “only seek the same opportunity to enjoy a fullness of joy and expression during their university years that their heterosexual peers are encouraged to have…”

    First, parenthetically, the concept of a “fulness of joy” described in the scriptures (D&C 93:33, 138:17) is expressive of the resurrection and is not referring to intimate relationships. Nevertheless, I consider it self-evident that a full experience of human joy requires an intimate relationship, both with God and with another human. Friendship and community are valuable, but they are no substitute for an intimate pair-bond with a spouse. That is why God said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” That is why the Church strongly advocates for marriage and family.

    So, yes, LGB BYU students are seeking even ground with their straight peers. They want the same thing that nearly every other human wants: a loving and romantic bond with a person to whom they are rightly attracted. And that starts with an unfettered right to express those feelings in normal ways through dating and public acknowledgment of their affection.

    But then what?

    Dating, holding hands, kissing–that’s joyful for a while until it starts to drive you crazy because you naturally want more. Most straight BYU students can only take a few months of that before they rush to the temple for the natural next steps–marriage and the full expression of their love and passion.

    But that’s not on the table for BYUs gay and lesbian students. There is no next step for them at BYU or anywhere within the Church. So, why are they so focused on the right to hold hands in public? It’s like demanding the right to board a plane when the flight has already been cancelled. I think we need to be honest about the real problem. It’s not a BYU policy shortcoming. It’s a shortcoming by the leadership of the church to understand our needs as gay and lesbian people. It’s their inability to view us as more than a behavior; to see us as real humans possessing all the same normal needs and desires as the rest of God’s children. It’s the fact that they have not yet received from God an understanding of His intention for us, which results in them having no real place and no real plan for us.

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