By SARAH L. OSTLER
Most students would agree there are homosexual students on campus. However, few realize they may be sitting next to one in class.
“Church leaders are sometimes asked whether there is any place in the [church] for persons with homosexual or lesbian susceptibilities or feelings. Of course there is,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, in the October 1995 issue of the Ensign.
Sam Clayton, a senior from Toppenish, Wash., majoring in sociology, is a student at BYU with feelings of same-sex attraction. He recently returned from a convention in San Diego. There, he presented his research on same-gender attraction. These results were gathered during Winter Semester 1997 while in an English 315 class.
Ninety-one percent of those surveyed said they knew the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s stance on same-gender attraction; however, when asked to choose what the stance was from four options, 33 percent responded correctly, according to Clayton’s survey results.
“We have gays in the church. Good people. We take no action against such people — provided they don’t become involved in transgression, sexual transgression,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle April 13, 1997.
The purpose of Clayton’s survey was to show students’ attitudes toward same-sex orientation, he said.
Some do not recognize the difference between same-gender attraction and homosexual behavior. They are not the same.
In a letter from the First Presidency, Nov. 11, 1991, it said, “There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior.”
In an interview with CBS-TV, Elder Oaks said those who have homosexual tendencies need not feel like outcasts.
“The church’s position based on scriptural commandments is that men and women should refrain from any sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage,” Oaks said in the Dec. 30, 1986, interview. “That is the same doctrine for sexual relations between the sexes and among the sexes.”
In his article in the Ensign, Oaks said the LDS Church does not discipline those who have improper thoughts or feelings, though there is encouragement to improve them. There are consequences for behavior.
“It is such an assumption that if you are homosexual, you are sexually active,” said Margaret Blankenbiller, a sophomore from Rapids City, S.D., majoring in sociology. “It’s really easy to live the Honor Code.”
Just as there are two types of heterosexuals, active and non-active, there are two types of homosexuals, said Courtney Boldt, a junior from Provo majoring in finance. Boldt said he classifies himself as a non-active homosexual.
When Blankenbiller told her roommates she had feelings of same-sex attraction, two roommates were supportive; one moved out.
John Pace, manager of off-campus housing, said there have been incidences where roommates have panicked. He said he would advise students who have discovered their roommates have same-gender attraction to talk to someone at the counseling office or the Honor Code Office.
“It is not a violation of the Honor Code to have same-gender attractions and be in our student body. It is a violation to be involved in homosexual activities,” said Rush Sumpter, director of the Honor Code Office. “We expect everyone on our campus to live a chaste and virtuous life.”
Sumpter defined homosexual activities as “any overt display of same-sex affection.” The Honor Code Council would need “some type of verifiable observed behavior” in order to take action.
A sophomore, whose name was withheld for personal reasons, majoring in psychology, came to BYU because her parents wanted her to “straighten out.”
More than anything, however, she said she has felt the loneliness of not being able to relate to anyone else. She would like to have a place where homosexual students could gather to talk about their struggles.
David Orton, a junior from Kansas City, Kan., majoring in graphic design, said he is concerned that a successful support group would be difficult.
“We should have a place to get information. But I also see potential for chaotic discussions,” Orton said.
Orton has known, since he first asked his parents for ballet lessons at the age of 5, that he was different. He figured that eventually the feelings would go away.
When he returned from his mission to Finland and realized he still had homosexual feelings, he decided to seek therapy.
Demoyne Bekker, clinical director for the Counseling and Career Center, said each homosexual student’s case is different. At the center, students can receive both one-on-one and group counseling.
Students can sign up for personal counseling in 1500 ELWC, without disclosing their needs. At the confidential “intake interview,” their needs will be addressed, Bekker said.
Boldt said he worries that if someone has nobody to relate to or help them deal with issues, that person may look outside the LDS Church and into a relationship where they are likely to transgress.
E. Dale LeBaron, professor of church history and doctrine, said he understands homosexuals wanting a support group. He said he gets nervous, however, about what will be accomplished in those groups.
“The Lord has provided support groups. They are called bishops and stake presidents,” LeBaron said.
Rebecca Wolfe, a junior from Susanville, Calif., majoring in conservation biology, said her bishop, stake president, branch president in the Missionary Training Center, and MTC president knew of her struggle with same-sex orientation.
Clayton, Orton, Boldt and Wolfe said their feelings of homosexuality were not an issue during their missions. They had a calling and fulfilled it.
“I was honest with all of my leaders,” Wolfe said. “I’m so glad I served a mission. I learned so much and gained so much.”
LeBaron said when he was a stake president, he had many heart-wrenching interviews.
“There were tears of deep emotion, concern and frustration,” he said. “There are times that priesthood leaders shed tears with the person.”
“I have struggled a lot with this,” Wolfe said. “In my younger years, I would pray and cry — here it is, take it away. But it doesn’t work that way.”
Wolfe recognizes the risk involved with identifying herself as one with homosexual feelings.
“I think that if there is just one other person out there who’s feeling very alone and isolated, maybe just hating themselves for the way they feel, if they could just know they are not alone. They have someone to reach out to,” Wolfe said. “I am sure that out of 30,000 students, I am not the only lesbian.”
Wolfe is unsure what the future will bring. She loves children, and would like to have her own.
“It is a huge mystery to me. I have so many questions. I have a testimony. I want to do what is right,” she said.
People who are ignorant or afraid of homosexuals sometimes retaliate in verbally and physically damaging ways. Recently, Boldt and his four roommates with homosexual feelings have received both.
In the Ensign issue, Oaks affirmed the doctrinal teachings of condemning those who engage in so-called “gay-bashing.”
LeBaron said magnifying people’s differences does not solve anything.
Oaks, in his CBS interview, said the timeless solution to homosexual and heterosexual feelings, alike, is “abstinence from sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage.”
In the April 15, 1995, issue of the Church News, the First Presidency said:
“We are asked to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving … We are asked to extend the hand of friendship and resist the hand of retribution. We are called upon to be true disciples of Christ, to love one another with genuine compassion, for that is the way Christ loved us.”