"There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction."-Salvador Dali
Question #92974 posted on 04/09/2020 5:06 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What are your thoughts/reactions on the CES Letter from Elder Johnson? What are your thoughts on the whole Honor Code + LGBTQ+ students in general?

-A Curious Possum

A:

Dear Possum,

I don't envy the job of the apostles (or BYU administrators) one bit on this question. I think it's sad, if understandable, that the pain, isolation, and frustration surrounding it has led people on both sides of the debate to react with vitriol rather than a genuine desire to understand one another.

Fundamentally, BYU is stuck between a rock and a hard place. As an organization inseparably entwined with the Church, its mission overlaps, in many ways, with the Church's own. That means that BYU has an interest in not only providing an education to its students but also instilling in them the values and beliefs befitting active, committed, faithful Latter-day Saints. And by extension, that means that BYU is not likely to change the Honor Code in any meaningful way that would permit the expression of same-sex romantic or sexual feelings. Even if it does, there would still be an irreconcilable disparity between the encouragement of heterosexual marriages and the discouragement of homosexual ones. That's a hard stance to take. No matter how we slice it, LGBTQ+ students will always be treated differently in this regard, and short of a total doctrinal reshaping of Latter-day Saint theology on several core questions, that will not change. From the current perspective of the Church at this point in time, that cannot change--even if we earnestly wish it would. It's not something that's in our control.

I don't really know what to say to that. The fact is that that hurts a lot of people. It leads many of them to feel there's no place for them in the Church. As tragic as I think that is, it's ultimately understandable. I can't even imagine how difficult it is to carry such a burden. Some navigate it successfully and find a happy life in the gospel, but many, many others do not, and I'm not sure I can blame them.

I don't have a lot to say about the actual change itself. I think it was handled poorly, at best. I'm surprised that BYU and CES seemed to be caught so flat-footed by the response and that clarification took as long as it did.  The saddest thing to me is not the inevitable arguing over the Church or BYU's standards, because I believe that there is a fair, just, and merciful God who will ultimately make all things right, but the horrible, insensitive level at which our cultural discourse feels like it's been frozen for the last several years. 

I can't second Guesthouse enough on the need for kindness. Given that BYU holds to a standard of sexual morality that is incredibly difficult for most LGBTQ+ students to live with, and given that that standard is not going to change, our job as members of that community is to do everything we can to help those brave souls who try to reconcile their faith and sexuality while at BYU. They as much as everyone else are fellow members of the community and fellow children of God who deserve our love and respect. I think too many Latter-day Saints have mistaken the institutional responsibility to teach and declare doctrine with an individual responsibility to do the same, without much regard for ministering to individual needs. I don't look kindly on the insistent viewpoint that we "love others without supporting their sin," mostly because nobody is ever actually clear about what "not supporting their sin" means, and in practice, most people just end up shunning those who are gay or pointedly treating them differently. This is not the message LGBTQ+ Saints need to be told over and over. I think the institutional Church has improved its messaging considerably over the last few years (it's by no means perfect, but it has improved). But the culture has so much further to go that sometimes it's actually staggering.

I struggled on my mission for a lot of reasons, but this was one of my biggest trials--this pernicious idea that just because we love people and desire their salvation, we can rest assured that we're the good guys in virtually anything we say to them. It isn't enough to be well-intentioned. It isn't enough to just want the best for people and treat them nicely because we're supposed to. It isn't enough to say that the end of bringing someone "to the gospel" justifies the means of shaming or shunning them for sin. It isn't enough to say that God would want them to be active in Church, so everything we do to get them there must be the Right Thing To Do, no matter how insensitive or inappropriate it might actually be. If your love for someone doesn't inspire some introspection--if it doesn't force you to be empathetic and to ask yourself how they perceive what you're doing and saying--that might be love, but that's not charity.

Tell your LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters that you love them. Leave off the superfluous bit about "not supporting their lifestyle," whatever that's supposed to mean, because that comes across as a narrow, unkind qualifier on your love, which ought to be genuine and unconditional. Believing that marriage is an unchangeable union of man and woman doesn't mean you have to be cruel or callous or unkind towards people who will not or cannot have that through no fault of their own. It doesn't mean you have to constantly remind people who don't live up to your own moral standards that they're different from you and that your standards are unchanging and eternal. And emotionally and morally supporting those people because they hurt--even if it is because of their own decisions in some way or another--is not some kind of concession that our doctrine is not true. God is not going to punish you for celebrating with a friend who married someone of the same sex. He is not going to sternly ask you why you didn't take to the microphone to loudly and publicly denounce the whole thing as a celebration of sin.

This is the message the BYU culture sorely needs. The ends don't justify the means. There is a time and place for, as Preach My Gospel puts it, "warning people of the consequences of sin." And there are indeed times where we may well be the one person whose responsibility it is to warn someone that they're about to put themselves in spiritual danger. But without genuine, empathetic charity and a serious consideration of their personal circumstances, we're liable to do more harm than good by rushing in with our doctrinal guns blazing. By this I do not mean that you have to concede moral and doctrinal questions and fall into the trap of believing that it doesn't really matter what people choose to do. But it would do a world of good for everyone to remember that we're called to build Zion by inviting every last one of God's children to come and join us, no strings attached. If they turn down that invitation, we may be hurt and sad--as we ought to be. But we should never marginalize others or bully others out of Zion. The celestial city of Enoch or the Nephite civilization of 4th Nephi are not just fun scripture stories to read about for a quick pick-me-up. These are models of exactly what we're supposed to be doing, both here at BYU and in the world at large. Homophobia, unkindness, and a misplaced sense of duty to "save BYU" from unnamed apostates should be the last thing on our minds. I am, to put it mildly, wary of the hyperconservative undercurrents (in some strains genuinely homophobic) of thinking that these events have brought to the forefront.

Genuinely,

9S

A:

Dear Possum, 

I'm pretty mad. 

First of all, even if there wasn't any Bad Stuff going on behind the scenes, this would still be one of the worst PR miscommunications ever, and CES and BYU should be incredibly ashamed of themselves and at least apologize for the horrible way they handled the whole situation. People deserve more than just that, for sure. But an apology for the bad handling should be in order. 

Second of all, I'm bothered because if I recall correctly, we were treating homosexual and heterosexual people the same under the law of chastity and uhhhh, I'm pretty sure holding hands or going on dates doesn't break the law of chastity. During those two weeks when we thought The Gays could date, it made total sense to me. This makes plenty of sense with what President Nelson said at his devotional. Treating people equally, that's how it should be. 

THIRD OF ALL, "doesn't lead to an eternal marriage" is trash logic to back up their response. NCMOs don't lead to marriage, they're far more racy than gays holding hands on campus, but they don't dare do anything about that. PLUS, what about all the couple's on campus who are basically snogging on public couches?????? THE STANDARDS! Are not! Equal! I'm super disappointed that people will complain about two girls holding hands on campus but there are RMs who get away with sexually harassing women in their wards because they're so horny they can't handle themselves and just can't wait to get married. Doesn't make sense to me that gays holding hands is what they're worried about with the Law of Chastity and eternal marriage.

Fourth, I'm tired of seeing people say things like "the Church's standards haven't changed!" or "You should have expected this!" or "judge righteously" or whatever (and anyway, if you think you're judging righteously and have to tell other people to justify it, you probably aren't). Why does that matter right now? That isn't necessary. What matters is that people are hurting. They feel betrayed. They were told one thing and then told another. And more than anything, they feel rejected and unheard. And that's what we should care about. Relatives' cold takes on Facebook are not worth caring about, because no matter what caused the pain, we are commanded to mourn with those that mourn so that's what you should be doing. Sheeeesh.

I'm writing this about a week after it all went down, quarantined in my house (literally what is happening to the world right now?) and I still just feel tired. I'm tired that we say stuff like "hate the sin love the sinner" and use it to justify not listening, being unkind, and excluding people. I'm tired of the fact that we leave the Trans community out too and nobody is talking about the handbook because we're all distracted with the CES letter (no, not that one. This one.) 

God will never punish you for being kind. For walking with someone. For going to your gay cousin's wedding to his long-time boyfriend. For loving both of them. For supporting a friend who starts hormone treatments. If you are reaching out, serving, and listening, you are doing the right thing. I don't know why that's hard to understand? 

Anyway. I don't know how, but I really felt last week that this will work out in the end. I have faith in Heavenly Mother and Father and Jesus and their incomprehensible plan and love for us. I'm grateful for the infinite Atonement so we can all get a little more forgiveness for being unkind. Myself included.

I think They're watching us and are a little disappointed. I think they're sad that the people of Their church are treating each other like enemies. That we're comparing each other based on perceived righteousness. Honestly, it's pathetic. I wore my rainbow pin around campus the last couple days/weeks (the one I got when I met you!) and I have been so hurt by all the glares and dirty looks I get as I walk around. It scares me. I am a straight, cis, middle-class Mormon white girl. My life is easy. Just by doing that tiny act of solidarity, I have become the target of some pretty hurtful comments, from family and from strangers. People ask me my opinion on what's happening and then try to argue against me. It's terrifying, and I have the privilege of choosing to not participate, to separate myself from it if I want. But I feel scared for my friends. My siblings in the Gospel. And that makes me cry, a lot. 

I think this event has just brought out the sometimes hidden homophobia that still runs campus and our church. I think God is disappointed in us for treating each other this way. Especially people who promise to love others and instead call them out for 'sinning' at every possible opportunity and constantly remind them they don't belong. What I keep saying and thinking to myself is that we don't build Zion by bullying people who don't look like us into leaving. Zion won't be Zion if we just kick out everyone but the Deznats. That's ridiculous and completely wrong. We build Zion by welcoming everyone and figuring out how to love them and work on lifting each other. 

It reminds me of a comic/art piece I saw. It can apply to other members of the LGTBQ+ community, but it illustrates the point:

translamb.jpg (source)

I hope people know they are loved. That they have allies and friends, and that no matter their choice - stay or leave (BYU or the Church), their Heavenly Parents know them and see them. I've tried to help convey that by going to the rallies, the small group meetings on campus to write notes to people, the post-it note wall at The Wall, and by expressing my thoughts on social media. I hope other people do the same so we can build a community of love rather than one of hate and judgment. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse

A:

Dear Awesome Possum,

I don't know as much as the other writers, I just want to say I'm sad and this whole thing unfolded in what seemed to be the worst way possible.

Peace,

Tipperary

A:

Dear you,

What a mess. At first glance, it's easy to blame this on BYU administrators, but it's really not their fault. The honor code was changed by the Church for all Church owned schools. I'm assuming that BYU found out about the change as soon as the rest of us found out. I can hardly imagine that they received prior notice. If I'm wrong and they did, then I can agree that BYU is to blame.

I do think this is deserving of a public apology. Do I think an apology is forthcoming? No. It's pretty easy to see that many people were unnecessarily hurt by this mix up and I would applaud a public apology from the Church. 

At the same time, I'm left wondering how can the Church own a school that is supposed to embody the standards of the Church (i.e. heterosexual relationships) and still show love and compassion to everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality? I don't have a clear answer yet, but I hope to become someone who can do both. I don't want LGBTQ members and non-members trying to hide their true selves from me for fear that I won't accept them.

-Sunday Night Banter

A:

Dear Possum,

Jenny was apprehensive about going to JSU. She had always dreamed of attending there, probably thanks to her parents' constant references to their own undergraduate experiences there, but with one year left of high school she now wasn't sure. You see, a few months ago she had spotted a brown hair among her golden locks. 

It must just be the stress, she told herself, steeling herself as she plucked the brown hair out. It doesn't mean anything.

But over the next few weeks, more and more brown hairs started appearing. She tried plucking them all out, but the moment she painfully yanked one out, another took its place. Her parents started noticing.

Dear...is that...a brown hair?

And she would quickly assure them, Nonsense, no, it's just a trick of the light! 

Her parents would nod, Of course, of course. They'd unconsciously stroke their own blonde hair, as if to reassure themselves their daughter could never be different from them. 

But as much as Jenny poked, prodded, and tore at her own hair, the brown hairs kept coming. She tried everything. She bought strange oils from the rundown neighborhood shop on the corner. She screamed at her hair until her voice went hoarse. She begged with it - If you're brown, I'll be rejected by everyone. My family. My friends. Everyone at school will mock me. Just be blonde, like everyone else!!

But nothing worked.

Finally Jenny bought a box of blonde hair dye from the store. She winced as the bleach stung her mangled scalp.  But by the time she rinsed it out and looked in the mirror, she was blonde. Sure, it was a bit ragged in places and it certainly wasn't perfect, but it would work.

She managed to make it by at school. Her parents didn't notice a thing. But now she was faced with college.

Oh, you simply must go to JSU! Jenny's parents told her excitedly. We'll pay for your tuition if you attend there! We'll even help out with housing!

But Jenny knew JSU was even stricter about brown hairs than her parents. Her parents would be devastated, sure. But JSU? If they even suspected she had brown hair, she could be expelled. But...her parents so wanted her to go. She had always dreamed of going. She'd been hiding her brown hair for several months, and she was planning on hiding it for the rest of her life, so it would be fine...right?

An application and acceptance later, Jenny was waving goodbye to her parents and packing her suitcase (one sneakily filled with hair dye) into her car.

 

At first, JSU was incredible. She had the best professors, the kindest friends, and the cleanest roommates. There were moments she laughed so long and hard with her friends that she forgot she was hiding part of herself from those closest to her. But there were also moments of sheer panic and terror. When her roommate walked into the bathroom when she was dying her hair, for instance. Jenny had to lie and say she was trying a new hair treatment supposed to make her hair shiny and soft. She never forgot how her heart thundered in her ears until her roommate smiled, I should really try that! and walked out. Jenny didn't dare write that experience in her journal, because what if someone found it and used it to expel her?

Once she passed a man on campus - tall, animatedly talking with friends, wearing a large red baseball cap - and noticed a brown hair poking out from beneath his hat. She nearly stumbled. She wanted to stop him and ask. Are you like me? Am I not the only one? But she didn't. Because what if she was wrong? What if she outed him in front of his friends, or worse, what if he started to suspect her?

 

Two years passed. Jenny was doing well in her classes, though she had become skinnier, with constant bags under her eyes. Oh Jenny, are you okay? her parents would always ask, concerned. She would laugh. I'm fine, just worried...about classes. She wasn't.

One evening Jenny had nearly closed the door to the bathroom when her roommate burst in.

Did you hear?? she burst out, That brown-haired people are allowed on campus now??

Jenny's heart fell to the floor.

Really?

Her roommate nodded, twirling around. I can't believe it! I have so many friends who have brown hair, and they've been waiting for so long, and I can't wait to tell - Jenny, are you okay?

A tear fell to the floor. 

Jenny didn't say anything. She just held out the box of hair dye.

Jenny's roommate's mouth formed a perfect O before she tightly hugged the sobbing Jenny.

Hey, she said. I have someone I want you to meet.


The hairdresser tsk-ed. Girl, what have you done to your hair? she asked, lifting blonde pieces of damaged hair. There's no way I can repair this now. You're going to have to cut it all off.

Jenny's breath caught in her throat. Could she? She had never... she could never...

Cut it off, she said.

 

Jenny's auburn hair was only a few centimeters tall when JSU announced they were reversing their reversal.

We encourage all members of our campus community to reach out to those who are personally affected with sensitivity, love and respect.


-guppy of doom

A:

Dear Possum Parent,

Here's a little relevant info from my best friend, who spoke directly to BYU's head of PR (this is second-hand info, so take it with a grain of salt, but I trust it enough that I want to share it here):

1) Best practice in public relations is to anticipate several likely reactions to any statement you are preparing, and to prepare for each of those cases. BYU didn't do this with the initial honor code change.

2) Multiple professors who expressed happiness about the initial honor code change were dealt serious threats by people who were upset about the change.

3) BYU was put under serious and sudden pressure to release a statement, which is why they released the statement retracting the change so quickly and rashly.

4) BYU is aware of the mess and is preparing another statement to attempt to clarify.

Now, here's my interpretation of what happened, based on the above information and other things that the head of PR said:

I think BYU actually did mean to stop punishing same-sex couples differently than heterosexual couples. But in reaction to that initial change, two things happened: Professors were threatened, and people interpreted the Honor Code change as a doctrinal change (I'm not sure why, considering homosexual couples do not face church discipline as long as they do not violate the law of chastity, according to the new handbook). Because BYU failed to appropriately prepare for either of these outcomes, they were put under pressure to release another statement, and do it NOW.

I think it's incredibly unfortunate. I'm heartbroken, and I think a lot of students took a real hit to their mental and emotional health as a result of the whole situation. I also don't think that the school and its administration are entirely to blame. I think they tried to do something good, and were shot down because of poor execution (including lack of preparation and communication). 

On a good note, though - I'm definitely seeing a lot of the BYU LGBTQ+ community band together, and I'm also seeing a lot of allies step up to respond. I appreciate that with my whole heart, and think that unity is one of the few positives to come out of the entire debacle.

Best,

Josefina

A:

Dear Possum,

I'm too tired about this whole mess to fully explain my feelings, but my heart aches for the LGBTQ+ community at BYU and their allies. My heart aches for all the people who keep being told they're not enough and that they'll never measure up, and who have to hear over and over, "We love you, BUT..."

I'm not at BYU anymore, so I haven't had to bear the brunt of this, but I'm so heartbroken over the complete lack of compassion some people have been showing. All of the people saying stuff like, "Well what did they expect? Why would they even come here if they aren't willing to live the rules anyway?" are driving me CRAZY. First of all, I doubt that people posting about some amorphous "they" realize that they absolutely have people who follow them online who identify as LGBTQ+. To constantly refer to anyone in that group as "they" is very othering and I wish people could see LGBTQ+ people as people instead of some sort of enemy. And to say that people were dumb for believing that maybe finally their school wouldn't discriminate against them is to take a pretty dark view about the school--"Ha, you fools! You thought your school cared about you? You should have known better!" And let's all take a moment and acknowledge that a lot of people are socially/culturally pressured to go to BYU, or only receive financial support from their families if they go to BYU, or go there before realizing that they're LGBTQ+, so it's not as simple as saying, "If you don't like it don't go there." There are definitely a lot of good things about BYU, but that doesn't mean that people should never be allowed to speak up if they see something bad (and the culture around LGBTQ+ students at BYU is truly terrible and toxic, as this episode has shown us. It's something that needs to change, and people should not be punished for calling it out). And finally, the fact still remains that there are people who outed themselves because of BYU's honor code change, breaking family ties, because they thought their school supported them, only to have that security ripped out from under them. That's heartbreaking. Rather than scolding those people we should all be rallying around them to show them our love and support.

In total, I just wish that people tried a little harder to be a little kinder. Come on, people. Just try. Be a little more compassionate.

-Alta

A:

Dear you,

I wasn't going to respond here. It just makes my heart ache. But then I felt compelled to share some good.

The Board was how I found out about this whole mess (I know, I know--I should really keep up to date with current events better). Yet before I found out about the CES letter, I saw people on Facebook posting pictures of rainbows that they'd placed around BYU campus saying, "This is a safe place. Everyone can be themselves and still loved around me." 

Homophobia is real and bad at BYU. But I think its beautiful that there are people who truly love and care about others, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identification.

~Anathema