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Bisexual Grad Bucks BYU's Anti-LGBTQ+ Stances With Pride Flag Display

Jillian Orr

A bisexual student at the notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ Brigham Young University found a way to show pride at the school’s graduation ceremony last Friday.

Jillian Orr opened her graduation gown onstage to reveal a rainbow flag stitched inside, as shown on video that has made the rounds on social media.

Her younger sister suggested displaying the flag, Orr told NBC News. “She knew I wanted to honor what I’d been through and what I had to face,” the graduate said. Other sisters helped and supported her.

After flashing the flag, “I swear I blacked out. I texted my sister and said, ‘What happened? Did I just do it?’” Orr told NBC. Another graduate came up to her later and praised Orr’s action. “One student stopped me and she was like, ‘My girlfriend just saw you on live TV. She wanted me to thank you, meet you, and say that she’s proud of you,’” Orr told Utah’s KUTV.

BYU, whose main campus is in Provo, Utah, is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormon Church). It forbids dating or displays of affection between members of the same sex. The U.S. Department of Education recently held that the university can maintain this discriminatory policy and still receive federal funds because of a religious exemption.

BYU and the church have repeatedly made their anti-LGBTQ+ stances clear. In a speech last year, one of the church’s leaders, Jeffrey Roy 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.” Another Mormon leader, Dallin H. Oaks, said in 2018 that LGBTQ+ activism comes from Satan, who “seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing.”

Holland, in his “muskets” speech, also criticized a BYU student who in 2019 used his valedictorian speech to come out as gay. That student, Matt Easton, had said, “I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God. I am not broken, I am loved and important in the plan of our Great Creator. Each of us are.” Easton responded to the criticism by saying, “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.’”

Orr, who told NBC she found Holland’s remarks “infuriating,” said she realized she was bisexual about halfway through her time at BYU. “I started to realize my actions and beliefs were not lining up, and there was a lot of preconditioned shame and guilt around it,” she told the network. “But I came to the realization that this is who I was, and it was beautiful.”

She decided to stay at BYU because it had a good program in her field, psychology, and the tuition was within her means. It was a relief to her that classes went remote because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she still dealt with the university’s anti-LGBTQ+ doctrine. On Monday, she put a video on TikTok about a quiz she took in a course required for her degree. “It said, ‘One who truly loves LGBTQ people will “blank,”’ and it goes through options. The answer I chose was to ‘love them unconditionally and accept whatever they want as what’s best for them,’ and I got it wrong,” she said in the NBC interview. The quiz, she noted on TikTok, was “the most homophonic assignment at BYU I’ve ever had.”

BYU officials have so far not commented publicly on Orr’s action at the commencement ceremony. The Advocate has left a message seeking comment and will update this story if there is a response.

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