Four LGBTQ+ student panelists spoke about being a part of the LGBTQ+ community at BYU and answered questions from the audience at this semester’s PEN Talks event.
Some of these stories included topics such as faith, acceptance, rejection and coming to know themselves better. They also talked about times they felt hopeful, times they felt discouraged and what people at BYU can do to create an atmosphere of belonging.
PEN Talks is an event put on by the Honor sector of BYUSA. “The end goal is always just to help people understand each other,” BYUSA Vice President of Honor Udim Obot said.
Panelists were chosen and approved through the administration and the Office of Belonging, Obot said. The four panelists, Sequoia Ploeg, Hunter Steele, Badí Quinteros and Alexis Hovorka were joined by moderator Blake Fisher.
Fisher started the panel by sharing his experiences as a gay administrator on campus and thanked the audience for their efforts to listen to and understand their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.
Panelists each shared their personal stories as they came to understand their sexuality better and talk to others about it. Many of the panelists mentioned feeling like they were the only LGBTQ+ person at BYU, and how they struggled to love and accept themselves at first.
Audience members asked questions about what to do if someone comes out to them, how they can help LGBTQ+ students feel included on campus, how the panelists balance their sexuality and faith and advice the panelists had for LGTBQ+ members of the audience.
Ploeg said it is important to love people where they are at, regardless of where they stand with God and religion. For some people, being LGBTQ+ might draw them closer to God, and for others, it may push them away, according to Ploeg. Ploeg said little things, such as seeing pins on people’s backpacks, help him feel more comfortable.
Quinteros said he tries to separate what happens in the Church from what happens in his personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Quinteros said when asking friends about their life, people should be respectful of their space and ask them about what they want to talk about without assuming. Quinteros said the best thing to do when someone comes out is to just listen to them and what their concerns are.
Steele said because his faith is such a big part of his identity, it was hard for him to reconcile with his sexuality. He said he battled with strong expectations for himself. “God actually was the one who stripped all of those expectations from me except for one. And I remember vividly having this experience where I felt so strongly that God only had one expectation for me. And that was to do this with God,” Steele said.
Hovorka talked about her experience as a transgender BYU student, and how the Honor Code applies to her. Hovorka said with time, she was able to have experiences where she felt God loved her as His daughter.
When asked about advice for LGBTQ+ students, Ploeg urged them to talk to someone about their sexuality. Ploeg said people will treat others better than they might expect.
“There are safe people here,” Hovorka said. She suggested students find someone with whom they can feel less alone.
Steele said students are not alone, they are loved and they should not rush the process of navigating their sexuality.
Students should do what is best for them, Quinteros said. Quinteros said everyone can look for ways to make wherever they are a safe place for others, and follow the example of the Savior.
Hovorka asked audience members to find more stories than just the panelists’, and to make these stories “less untold.”
“I really appreciated what they shared and that they’re brave enough to be open with us and share their stories and help us better understand,” audience member Eliza Freestone said.
Quinteros said regarding the event, “I hope that people will be more open to talk about topics like this … and eliminate those misconceptions that they might have about us.”
Audience members gave the panelists a standing ovation after they finished their thoughts.