BYU students and alumni protested outside the Wilkinson Student Center for the second day in a row Thursday following the release of a CES statement on Wednesday about recent changes in BYU’s Honor Code.
On Friday, LGBT community organizers planned to protest again on campus and then take their protest to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, which sponsors BYU. University officials have given brief responses to some media questions about changes in the Honor Code, but not many.
Thursday’s protest started at 1 p.m. and lasted a few hours, with dozens of students and alumni both participating and observing.
Some administrators from the Dean of Students Office were present to ensure protests and counter-protests didn’t get out of hand.
Nick Franks, the president of BYU Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship (USGA) group, said the protests are a manifestation of people feeling like decisions are being made for them and that they don’t voice.
“People are feeling pretty hurt right now because they were told one thing and now they’re being told something completely different now,” Nick said.
He also said the protests are not meant to be anti-BYU or anti-religious.
“This is a movement of love. People are frustrated, but most of these people love BYU, they love the Church,” he said. “I don’t think protests are the ideal method of communication, but sometimes they’re the only one. People feel like their voice hasn’t been respected and now they’re able to put that out in a public format.”
Student Chris Santos, who was part of a “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” reading last week, counter-protested. He said the protests do seem to be an attempt to coerce the university and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I feel like most of it is trying to pressure BYU into relaxing those steps and saying, ‘No, it is okay for homosexual behavior on campus,’ and I think that extends to the Church as well,” he said. “I’m just here to stand for religious freedom, stand for BYU’s right to uphold the standards that it believes in and the Church’s right.”
He added, however, that he didn’t necessarily think disciplining homosexual behavior via the Honor Code office is the solution.
“I feel like that just risks ruining people’s lives, and I’m not for kicking people out of school, but I don’t feel like this is what this is about,” he said. “If they want a clarification on discipline, go talk to the Honor Code office and ask them those specific questions.”
During the protest, Santos used a megaphone to chant “transfer” towards the main group. Some individuals in the crowd, including Franks, took offense to this, including one girl who ran up to cover Santos with a sign.
“That’s a pretty invalidating thing to say to people,” Franks said. “Being LGBT is not the only part of a person’s identity and it’s not the only factor in choosing a school. BYU is a great school, and there are a lot of reasons that people would go here and to tell somebody that they don’t belong because of their sexuality is trivializing and it doesn’t see them as a holistic person.”
He said there are various reasons why he stays at BYU. “Just because there’s one aspect that I feel like could be improved, doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here.”
Liza Holdaway, who graduated in April 2019, has protested on both days.
“For me, it’s really important to be here because this has been my school for so long, I just graduated a year ago so it’s still very fresh,” Holdaway said. “I think it’s really important to stand with the current students today and listen to their feelings and their emotions.”
Holdaway expects the protests to continue to several days. “I’ll be here when I have the emotional ability to be here and it works with my schedule,” Holdaway said.
Jake Ouman, a freshman studying mechanical engineering, said the way the Honor Code change was made was “weird.”
“They gave these people hope and then a couple of weeks later just took it all away. I don’t think that’s the most Christian thing to do,” Ouman said.
He wasn’t sure of whether or not the protests would facilitate any change on campus, pointing to BYU’s unwavering stance on beards despite public backlash.
“I personally don’t think BYU is going to change their stance on this, but I respect what these people are doing,” Ouman said. “These people have a right to do whatever they want, and BYU is a private institution that has the right to make the rules that they have.”
Tyrell Mangum, a senior studying finance, believes people need to find a balance between loving and respecting others while also respecting university policy.
“That’s the primary, important thing, to remember that we’re all children of our Heavenly Father,” he said. “We should be okay with people having different opinions.”