BYU students and faculty gather in first-ever approved LGBTQ demonstration

Students embrace each other at the close of the event. The event was the first-ever BYU approved demonstration on campus. (McKell Park)

Students and faculty gathered in Brigham Square on June 11 for the first-ever BYU approved demonstration of love and support for members of the LGBTQ community at the university.

Attendees wore rainbow, held signs and listened to messages from students and faculty who spoke on the LGBTQ experience at BYU. Speakers expressed ways they have felt supported and accepted on campus, as well as their struggles with feeling isolated.

The demonstration was planned by Cougar Pride Center president Julia Sasine, who in January this year got in touch with the BYU Dean of Students Office and managed to get the event approved.

Maddison Tenney, founder of RaYnbow Collective, told the crowd about her experience at BYU after coming to terms with her sexuality on her mission.

“I realized three months into my mission that I couldn’t be this LDS person that I wanted to be unless I started to do some of that internal mirror work,” Tenney said. “I started to take a look at who I was and what I loved, and that I was gay.”

Tenney recalled how she felt seeing the Y lit up in rainbow colors for the first time, after an isolating semester on campus.

“It was that first time after the Y was lit that I felt like I belonged at BYU,” Tenney said. “As a queer person who holds both my faith and my sexuality and I live in paradox everyday, I had found a place where I could start crafting an identity of two things I loved.”

Maddison Tenney speaks to the crowd in front of the Wilkinson Center on June 11. Tenney is the founder of the RaYnbow Collective, a space for LGBTQ students and allies to share stories and find support. (McKell Park)

Cielle Salazar, a BYU academic advisor, spoke about her commitment to helping the LGBTQ community on campus. Salazar has two children who identify as queer, who she says help her to be a better parent and ally.

Salazar shared four ways she helps her LGBTQ students on campus feel seen and supported: creating safe spaces, embracing students’ full identity, helping them envision a meaningful future and being loyal to them.

“We need to be connected to feel alive,” Salazar said. “I am doing my best to be a part of that community building so students have the connection they need now and in their future.”

Other speakers included BYU USGA president Carolyn Gassert, president of Cougar Pride Center Julia Sasine and Cougar Pride’s former president David Shill.

The event was approved through the new demonstration policy BYU implemented in early 2022. The policy requires any on-campus demonstrations to be approved through an application process and participants to follow specific procedures and standards.

In January of this year, the group applied to hold the demonstration on campus and it was approved five months later by the BYU Dean of Students Office, which plans out-of-classroom experiences and services on campus.

Sasine met with Dean Sarah Westerberg and Associate Dean Nathan Ward weekly to plan the event.

“There was a lot of stake riding on this event, so I’m really glad that it turned out the way it did,” Sasine said. “The deans also expressed their appreciation for how well it went so that gives me hope that in the future BYU can have more events like this.”

Sasine said in order to reach and connect with the LGBTQ community on campus, BYU must be more direct and clear in their communication.

According to Sasine, the BYU-affiliated resources for queer students are hard to find, as many of the events or resources for those students are not explicitly labeled as LGBTQ. Sasine said this language shift is important.

“Terms like inclusion, belonging and diversity are great and they have their spot but if you want to reach your queer students you have to tell them, ‘I want to include you, an LGBTQ student,'” Sasine said.

Although the BYU Office of Student Success and Inclusion does include resources for LGBTQ students, Sasine said the information should be more accessible for the wider campus population.

“They don’t have a way to get the information out about an event or about a resource unless you’re on their email list and I think BYU can grow beyond that,” Sasine said. “For a time that may have worked, having it hidden and on the back end like that, but BYU students are ready to be seen and spoken to as they are, as LGBTQ students.”

Students wrote thoughts of how they wanted to build belonging in the community and messages they would tell LGBTQ people. (McKell Park)

The crowd stood, hugged each other and sang the popular primary song “Love One Another” at the close of the event. The group then wrote answers to several prompts asking them how they can build belonging, and what messages they would send to LGBTQ students on campus.

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