On Monday, Brigham Young University president Kevin Worthen announced the creation of a new “Office of Belonging,” which will ostensibly support marginalized groups on the Provo, Utah campus.
The new office will provide services and programs focused on making the school inclusive, according to a university press release. The office's creation follows a report from BYU’s Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging that was finished in February.
Worthen said the Office of Belonging will not only seek to root out racism but also to work against “prejudice of any kind, including that based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief and sexual orientation.” Gender identity was not specifically mentioned by Worthen.
At the same ceremony for faculty and staff that Worthen spoke at, a Church of Latter Day Saints leader, Jeff Roy Holland, discussed what he said was “friendly fire” from BYU faculty and staff over the church’s position on topics including same-sex marriage, reported TV station KSTU.
Holland added that educators had come out against church doctrines when they should have supported them. He also brought up why a student would use a valedictorian speech to come out, saying the student “commandeer[ed] a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas” to do so, reported The Salt Lake Tribune.
“We must have the will to stand alone, to be different, if necessary. Being a university second to none in its role primarily as an undergraduate teaching institution that is unequivocally true to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If at a future time, that mission means forgoing some professional affiliations and certifications, then so be it,” Holland said. University faculty and staff should take up their intellectual “muskets” to defend the Mormon Church, especially “the doctrine of the family and...marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”
The gay valedictorian that came out two years ago, Matt Easton, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was proud of what he did.
“I wasn’t trying to grandstand or ‘commandeer’ the event. I drew on my personal experiences because they shaped my time at BYU — authenticity is not the same as ‘agenda-pushing,’” Easton said.
Holland’s comments led to condemnation and complaints online.
In a statement, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project’s director Paul Southwick called the remarks by Holland “antagonistic” and “warlike.”
“Every student should have the freedom to be honest and open about who they are, without being subjected to dangerous rhetoric that puts them in harm’s way. All students should feel safe in their campus environments,” Southwick said.
“We stand united against this speech and the message of exclusion that it sends to our LGBTQ+ youth at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives,” Southwick added. “We invite Mr. Holland, BYU, the LDS church, and all other religiously affiliated universities to join us in embracing these young people. These are your children and they deserve our unconditional love and acceptance.”