LGBT BYU students explain why they chose to attend and stay

The Provo USGA T-shirt and logo. USGA is an open forum for BYU students, faculty, and guests to respectfully discuss LGBT issues.
The Provo USGA T-shirt and logo. USGA is an open forum for BYU students, faculty, and guests to respectfully discuss LGBT issues.

PROVO, Utah (AP) — David Delbar is used to people asking why he’s still at Brigham Young University.

For BYU students who belong to the LGBT community, it’s an easy question to answer.

“BYU is our home, too,” Delbar said.

Things have changed at BYU since Delbar, a graduate student, arrived in 2009 and there were frequent editorials in the school newspaper and bathroom graffiti speaking out against the LGBT community. But that doesn’t mean those opinions and voices have vanished in 2016, either.

“Every once in a while, you’ll get someone who is insensitive and ignorant,” he said. “For the most part, it’s improving.”

BYU’s honor code, which students agree to live by as part of their admission and attendance requirements, prohibits homosexual behavior, reported the Daily Herald.

“One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue,” the policy reads. “However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

At BYU, members of Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, an unofficial group of BYU students and faculty who aim to create discussion on same-gender attraction and LGBT issues, are commonly asked why they remain, or initially chose to be, students.

BYU’s low tuition rate was a selling point for K.C. Clark, a freshman, but attending was also a spiritual decision.

“I fasted every Sunday before sending in my application and getting accepted,” Clark said.

It was a similar experience for Dillon Harker, a senior, who fully comprehended he was gay while a student in 2012.

“I feel like my heavenly parents wanted me to go to BYU,” he said.

While Arenui Anderson, a sophomore, hasn’t served a two-year religious mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he feels like he’s where he needs to be.

“I truly feel like my mission, in a sense, is being here and being in USGA and being friendly and making it better for everyone,” Anderson said.

Their friends, the programs they chose and their support systems are at BYU as well.

But even if they wanted to leave, it’s not that easy.

“If I were to transfer, it is a big process, it is hard,” said Liza Holdaway, a junior. “It is a lot easier to stay. Not that I only stay here because it’s easy. I want to be here. BYU is where I want to be.”

The decision by LGBT students to attend or stay at BYU comes with the price of being unable to participate in the university’s dating culture. It oftentimes means staying home while roommates go on dates or watching as they get engaged. It’s knowing that two straight friends can hug, or go on a friend date, but that two LGBT students who are the same gender can’t do the same.

It’s also dealing with the constant questions about why they are at the church-owned university, or dealing with people on social media asking why they don’t give up their spot at BYU for a straight student who would be thrilled to live by an honor code, no matter how the LGBT student feels about it.

“I don’t hold hands, I don’t kiss people, I don’t do any of those things because the honor code says that is against their standards and regulations,” said Aubree Lyman, a senior. “I try to avoid having a whole lot of contact with women in general because I don’t want to have to deal with the dirty looks and the potential reporting of I am being inappropriate with someone because I tap on their shoulder to say hi.”

In one instance, Lyman was in Clark’s room watching a movie when a roommate walked in and asked them to leave, stating it was inappropriate for them to be in Clark’s room together.

Another time, a roommate asked Clark to not talk about being LGBT. Clark said that if she wasn’t allowed to talk about her identity, then she didn’t want to hear her roommates talk about being straight or hear about the guys they dated. That didn’t last long.

Anderson has heard members of the BYU community say there’s no difference between gay and straight couples, and that if a straight couple was kissing in front of the Marriott Center, they’d be asked to leave, as well.

“If they do that, they have to leave campus,” Anderson said. “If we do that, we’ll be asked to leave school.”

The LGBT students aren’t the only ones who struggle with the honor code, Lyman said, pointing to those who disagree with other parts of it, like men who want to grow beards, people who walk around campus barefoot or couples who struggle with chastity.

“I’ve rarely met a student who at some point hasn’t broken the honor code in some way,” Lyman said.

But the constant questioning of why they’re there, the students say, shows that some have trouble understanding a student can be LDS and LGBT, that LGBT students are allowed to attend BYU or to understand that life is different for the LGBT students than for the straight ones.

“I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to believe that God wants gay people here,” said Adena Moulton, a senior.

For students who aren’t out, leaving BYU would be the equivalent of outing themselves with their parents, or might be seen as leaving the LDS Church.

“If I had known what I know about BYU now, I might have chosen to go to a different school,” Lyman said. “But at the time, when I was a freshman, I believed the things they had promised me. I had been taught to trust the people who say that BYU is a Christ-like place.”

There’s a vocal part of the BYU community that expresses dislike of LGBT students, but for the most part, the LGBT students say, everyone is friendly and accommodating. But when things go south, they get bad, quickly.

They’ve seen backlash from people who blame the LGBT community for the Big 12 Conference’s decision not to expand and add BYU. They’ve heard professors make jokes at the expense of the LGBT community, and have had students personally blame them for anything someone in the LGBT community says.

And a lot of comments also come from the LGBT community outside of BYU, from those who don’t know why the students still attend or remain in the LDS Church.

“It is supposed to be the two more welcoming communities,” Clark said. “It just makes sense that they would be together.”

But in order for them to see continual change at BYU and help shape the discussion around LGBT members of the LDS Church, students and issues, the students say they need to work from the inside, which requires staying.

“We are doing important work here,” Moulton said. “In many ways, we are the pioneers of making the campus safe for LGBT people.

“I feel very strongly that I want to leave this school a safer place for the people who come after me.”

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