Gay Mormon Students at BYU Come Out in Web Video
Students from a strict Mormon college that prohibits "homosexual behavior" have launched a Web video aimed at reassuring other gay and lesbian youth struggling with their faith and sexual orientation.
The video recently posted to YouTube by 22 Brigham Young University students is the first of its kind with ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids gay sex and marriage. By posting the video, the students could face excommunication from the church and expulsion at BYU, where gay students are prohibited from touching or kissing.
The campaign is part of columnist Dan Savage’s "It Gets Better" project, which seeks to give voices and hope to bullied gay and lesbian teenagers. In the video, several BYU students confess that they considered suicide because they didn’t think they could be Mormon and gay.
"In our religion, there is a lot of misunderstanding and ugliness about homosexuality," said Kendall Wilcox, a former BYU faculty member who produced the video and serves as an adviser to the school’s unofficial gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender support group. "We wanted to send this message that God loves you just as you are."
The video has sent tremors through the Mormon community and represents the latest effort to reconcile the church’s conservative values with a growing acceptance toward gay relationships. The video estimates there are more than 1,800 LGBT students at BYU. It also notes that the school is consistently ranked as one of the most unfriendly campuses for those students in the nation.
A mere five years ago, BYU students weren’t allowed to discuss their sexual orientation without risking expulsion under the school’s strict honor code. A clarification in 2007 stressed that "one’s stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue."
In 2010, BYU lifted a ban on advocacy of homosexuality. That same year, students formed Understanding Same-Gender Attraction. The support group drew eight people to its first meeting. This semester more than 80 students have attended the weekly meetings on campus.
Gay students must still adhere to much stricter standards than their heterosexual classmates under the updated honor code. While premarital sex is off limits to all BYU students, straight couples are allowed to kiss and cuddle openly on campus. Gay students cannot.
The student support group is more conservative than many LGBT groups. Some members have embraced lifelong celibacy as a way to stay in the LDS church without violating its rules. One student leader is gay, but married to a woman.
Some students used the video to come out to their parents. One student recalled how she "died a little in the inside" every time she kissed a former boyfriend. "I thought eventually maybe it would be better if I died," another student tells the camera.
BYU provides counseling to students grappling with depression, anxiety and other issues, spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.
"Students who uphold the honor code are welcome as school members of the campus community," she said.