After Brigham Young University leadership reiterated a campus ban on “same-sex romantic behavior” on March 4, Mormon writer Meg Conley put out a call on Twitter, offering to edit application essays for LGBTQ students who wanted to transfer out of the Utah institution.
Her message – signed, “a Mormon mother who loves you” – has since been retweeted 1,300 times.
Brigham Young University, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, previously had a student honor code that explicitly banned “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” So, when that section disappeared in the updated honor code on Feb. 19, LGBTQ students celebrated. Some took the opportunity to come out or to openly share previously hidden relationships.
But two weeks later, Elder Paul V. Johnson, commissioner of the church educational system, wrote in a letter, “Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code.”
Brigham Young University tweeted that there had been a “miscommunication” with the updated code.
“Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same,” the university posted.
The reversal was a blow to the school’s LGBTQ students.
A junior, who spoke to Diverse and chose to remain anonymous, came out to his parents after the honor code change in February. He’s not at a point where he’s ready to date – that still feels “kind of scary,” and he’s not out to most of his friends – but it gave him and other LGBTQ students more room to “be open and figure out that side of yourself.”
“It just made me feel safer,” he said.
Since then, he’s felt like “a bit of a mess.” He skipped all of his classes one day. He’s thinking about transferring to the University of Utah next year but hasn’t decided yet. He hopes universities will work with Brigham Young University students who want to leave and allow their credits to count.
“My main hang up on transferring is it’ll extend my graduation time frame by a semester, which will delay when I can apply for medical school for a year,” he said.
Stories like this left Conley feeling “bereft,” she said. So, she set out to “remove as many roadblocks as possible” for any LGBTQ students who may want to leave Brigham Young University.
After her Twitter post, Conley’s inboxes flooded with messages. Over 500 people – mostly Mormon and many in higher education – asked how they could help. Some volunteered their proofreading skills and others offered their guidance as admissions staff, professors and financial aid officers.
Dr. Rose Judd-Murray – a Mormon professor in the School of Applied Sciences, Technology and Education at Utah State University – was one of them. Brigham Young University’s reversal was “gross negligence,” she said. So, when she saw Conley’s tweet, she felt compelled to join, especially as an educator.
“We are here to help you and support you,” she said. “That’s the role of higher education.”
And as a Mormon, “I’m disgusted and I’m tired,” she added. “It’s really emotional for me.”
In recent years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made some efforts to be more LGBTQ-inclusive. Reversing a 2015 decision last April, the church now allows the children of same-sex couples to be baptized. A statement by church leaders at the time called gay marriage a “transgression,” but clarified that “it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of Church discipline.”
While she wants them to have the option, Judd-Murray doesn’t expect many students will transfer from Brigham Young University. Transferring schools is a “monumental task” in and of itself, she noted. It involves paying application fees, budgeting for moving costs and navigating bureaucracies.
But it’s even harder for some students to transfer from Brigham Young University because it’s a “generational decision,” she said. “Generations of their family have attended the university and supported the university.”
It’s also an expensive decision. For members of the church, Brigham Young University tuition is subsidized, costing a mere $2,895 per semester. If LGBTQ students want to go elsewhere, they’ll likely take on a sizable tuition increase.
Regardless of how many students actually need help with essays, Judd-Murray wants them to know, “that they are supported and that there are people who value their contribution, their lives, their work.”
She doesn’t know if protest from the community will make any difference at Brigham Young University, she said, “but it matters to me.”
According to Conley, hundreds of college students have reached out – but not just Brigham Young students and not just students who want help with application essays.
Some Mormon LGBTQ students contacted her to talk theology. In Mormonism, salvation is a “community project” – Mormons believe the whole community is supposed to end up in heaven together – so feeling on the outskirts can be a theological minefield for young LGBTQ Mormons, Conley said.
“A lot of these 18-year-old kids, they literally feel like they’re losing access to eternity with their families because of their sexual orientation,” she said. “And that’s just bulls***. God wants all of us.’”
LGBTQ students from other faiths also got in touch with Conley, many sharing experiences at other religious higher education institutions. Some told her they didn’t feel comfortable bringing up LGBTQ issues on campus at all, unlike Brigham Young University students who openly protested the school’s honor code decision.
What Conley ultimately found through her Twitter post was more than essays to mark up. She found a diverse array of LGBTQ religious students who want to be heard by their faith communities and universities.
She hopes higher education professionals will ask, “As a professor, teacher or administrator, how are you centering queer students’ actual voices?”
It’s important to “announce yourself as an ally,” she said.
Sara Weissman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.