Mormon-owned Brigham Young University has left many of its LGBTQ students exposed and vulnerable after several weeks of confusing changes and attempted clarifications on its Honor Code.
On February 12, BYU amended the code, which all students and faculty are required to abide by, by removing two paragraphs that pertained to a prohibition on "homosexual behavior." Students seeking clarification on how this change might affect gay and bisexual students were reportedly told by school administrators that actions such as holding hands, kissing, and going on dates with a member of the same sex would no longer be prohibited by the Honor Code Office. A video was also disseminated online that showed a BYU professor delivering a lecture where he confirms the change.
In the days following these assurances, many BYU students celebrated by wearing rainbows, photographing themselves kissing on campus (like students Kate Foster and Franchesca Lopez, seen above), and coming out to friends and roommates. These actions were often met with homophobic remarks and protests, but students took solace in the idea that the Honor Code changes would protect them.
Unfortunately, the celebrations proved premature. This Wednesday, the Mormon Church issued a statement by Elder Paul V. Johnson, commissioner of the Church Educational System, followed by a Q&A with Honor Code Office Director Kevin Utt, who confirmed that activities such as same-sex hand-holding, kissing, and dating could be punishable by the Honor Code Office.
He added, "Elder Johnson in his letter counsels, 'Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.' Therefore, any same-sex romantic behavior is a violation of the principles of the Honor Code."
This leaves students who came out in the last two weeks or were photographed kissing on campus in a vulnerable position. Honor Code infractions can lead to expulsion, and students stand to lose years worth of credits if that happens.
In response to the chaos and heartache, The Out Foundation, a nonprofit made up of LGBTQ BYU alumni, has set up a fund to help students transfer to other universities. The fund has raised over $22,000 by early Friday afternoon; money that will cover costs for LGBTQ students who risk losing scholarships and familial support by transferring.
The Out Foundation describes the campaign thus:
"In a cruel bait-and-switch, BYU announced 2 weeks ago that homosexual dating and behavior was going to be allowed by the Honor Code, only to fully renege said statements yesterday. In that brief time period, many queer BYU students have come out and displayed acts of queerness on campus (taking and posting pictures of themselves kissing/holding hands with people of their same sex, etc). These same students are now at risk for punishment from the Honor Code.
Understandably, many of these queer students no longer feel safe on campus. However, if they try to transfer out of BYU, they are at risk for losing scholarships, income from on-campus employment, and even their own housing. This problem is compounded by the fact that many queer students face the very real possibility of being cut-off financially from their family if they come out or transfer out of BYU.
The OUT Foundation is announcing the creation of our Transfer Fund in order to step in and subsidize these costs. Our hope is to offset any losses for queer students transfering out of BYU, so that they may feel empowered to do so if they so desire. We are also investigating the possibilty of working with other LGBTQ+ resource centers in colleges across the state to see if they would be willing to subsidize any of their costs for queer students transferring out of BYU in an effort to maximize the lengths these donations will go."