Elder Ronald A. Rasband’s devotional on religious freedom on Sept. 15 became an instant talking point on the BYU Campus. It sparked conversation among the student body and was met with a positive reaction from Provo’s LGBTQ support group.
Elder Rasband encouraged students to have respectful conversations about fairness for all, including those who identify themselves within the LGBTQ community, and encouraged students to share their experiences with him on his Facebook page.
“We need you to engage in dialogue reflecting the complexities of this issue and find solutions for how to best extend fairness to everyone,” Elder Rasband said.
The issues of fairness for all and religious freedom hit close to home for Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, an unofficial LGBTQ support group at BYU.
USGA President Addison Jenkins said he appreciated Elder Rasband addressing these issues.
“The main part of his message was that we need to reach out in love and respect and kindness to everyone,” Jenkins said. “That’s something that USGA has been trying to do for years.”
USGA has been a support group for BYU students experiencing same-sex attraction since 2010. Jenkins said the association’s goal is to improve these students’ quality of life while providing a community for them.
Gina Darata, one of the two vice presidents, said USGA also welcomes straight members of the community to its weekly meetings.
“We love being with anyone who’s interested in the kind of dialogue that Elder Rasband described,” Darata said.
She said LGBTQ students feel alone and isolated when they don’t have the chance to participate in respectful, open conversations about their sexual orientation.
“I’m really excited to have the dialogue open up a little more,” Darata said. “When people express curiosity and they’re interested, that’s a powerful way to show Christlike love.”
The other vice president, J.D. Goates, said he felt loved when he came out to his mission president on the first day they met.
“I said, ‘By the way, I’m gay, and I’m OK with it,'” Goates said. “And my mission president said, ‘OK…and?'”
Goates said his mission president always showed love by simply listening.
“He cared about my well-being, and that was not dependent on my sexual orientation,” Goates said. “Because I am so much more than my sexual orientation.”
The USGA presidency agreed that the devotional has already helped BYU students have respectful conversations about gay rights and fairness for all.
“I’ve heard students say, ‘You know what? I need to be better,'” Goates said. “How often do college students say that?”
Jenkins said it’s always refreshing to see empathy toward the LGBTQ community.
“When you say, ‘I’m invested in your story,’ that communicates love,” Jenkins said. “Even more than saying, ‘I love you.'”
USGA is not an official BYU organization, but most of its members are BYU students. The group welcomes guests from the community and meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Provo Library.