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Brigham Young University Changes "Honor Code" on Gays

Brigham young University has made what the Salt Lake Tribune is calling "a small but significant change" to its honor code which one former student and blogger they spoke with says is a reflection of the fact that visibility, awareness, and education are having an impact on tolerance.

ByuThe Tribune reports: "A former BYU student who is now an attorney in Seattle, Nick Literski was among bloggers buzzing about the news. Literski, a gay man who has withdrawn his membership from the church, said his daughter will attend the school this fall. 'What it's reflecting is there's a growing disconnect between church position on homosexuality versus what individual members are coming to see,' he said in a phone interview. 'As more and more members of the LDS Church are coming to know individuals who are gay and finding out that they're human, that these are people just like them, that they're good people, it becomes difficult for them to demonize homosexuality the way the church positions do.'

The section of the BYU Honor Code in question previously read like this:

"Brigham Young University will respond to student behavior rather than to feelings or orientation. . . . Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."

It now reads like this:

"Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or orientation and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. . . . One's stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity."

The changes now condemn behavior rather than orientation. Baby steps, but ones that should be noted. One current student told the paper that the changes "remove a lot of the Gestapo atmosphere from the campus."

Last year, five members of the gay Christian activist group Soulforce were arrested at the University after yelling that the policies of the Church of Latter Day Saints were "killing gays."

BYU changes honor code text about gay students [salt lake tribune]

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  1. That is a hugely significant baby step in the right direction.

    Way to go Soulforce. You are making a difference.

    Posted by: Zeke | Apr 17, 2007 9:32:39 AM

  2. My first thought was: BYU has adopted Don't Ask/Don't Tell, only 14 years after the ever-progressive military adopted it.

    But, I guess by the standards of the LDS, this really is progress.

    Those Sourlforce kids have a lot of guts, I salute them.

    Posted by: sam | Apr 17, 2007 9:59:27 AM

  3. Since it only took 150 years for the LDS to admit that they murdered all the adults on a wagon train so they could steal their supplies and force their children into becoming Mormon slaves, this real is progress.

    Posted by: ggreen | Apr 17, 2007 10:29:48 AM

  4. uh, not to harsh your soulforce buzz or anything, but check out the rest of the new Honor Code text:

    "Homosexual behavior or advocacy of homosexual behavior are inappropriate and violate 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. Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable."

    The BYU spokeswoman says this is just a clarification, and that seems accurate. The only substantive change seems to be that now, stating one's orientation doesn't costitute advocacy or homosexual behavior.

    So it's not "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," more like "Be, Don't Do, Don't Say." Not sure where that falls on the March Of Progress.

    Posted by: | Apr 17, 2007 11:08:38 AM

  5. The change to the honor code is quite a step. It will be interesting to see how it "plays out" as this small change puts BYU in opposition to the "church."


    Posted by: WD | Apr 17, 2007 11:54:38 AM

  6. Nice non-sequitor, GGreen.

    I attended BYU for five years, and it was a wonderful time in my life — surrounded by people who cared about me and shared my faith. At the time, I was in the closet — though not deeply (are there degrees of closetdom?). I knew many other gays at the school, and they each feared the reach and sway of the Honor Code Office (the body which enforced the school's code of conduct). Some feared the Office because they were actively betraying their signed avowal to abide by it... others because of the (well-deserved?) reputation the Office had for being staffed by witch hunters.

    But despite all of this, I enjoyed my time there. I loved the school then and I love it now — zits and all. And I'm happy to see the change. I know the group of students who approached school leadership and initiated the change, and I'm proud of them... and, from their accounts, I have hope that this is not the last of the steps to be made.

    A couple small corrections, however... the name of the church is "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (yeah, it's a mouthful); also, while Soulforce's campus visits had some role to play in the change, it should be noted that the group who approached school leadership were in no way affiliated with Soulforce, and, in fact, wished to be a counterpoint to the messages they heard and the campus community inferred from Soulforce.

    PS... WD: I don't see how this change puts BYU in opposition to the Church. It was an approved change, and the leadership of the church sits on the Board of Regents for the school...

    Posted by: Zachary Fish | Apr 17, 2007 12:20:01 PM

  7. Kim Clark, President of Brigham Young, and Dean of Harvard Business School when I was there in 1997, met with me a few times when I was representing the views of an organization I headed on Leadership and Ethics and as part of the student gov., but refused to meet with me 3 times when I called for a meeting with the Gay and Lesbian Club at HBS. This was an oturage which I wrote about when there....

    Maybe is he undertsanding that education and religion are mutually exclusive....but....maybe he went to Brigham Young because he realized that he could have his religion be more of an influence there than at Harvard.

    In either case, I am glad he is out of Harvard...he did nothing to help the GLBT community there and stuck his head in the sand as his answer to helping our community.

    Posted by: Chip Arndt | Apr 17, 2007 12:57:30 PM

  8. Chip: Clark is President of BYU Idaho... Samuelson is president of BYU (Provo)... though it is expected that BYU (Provo)'s change in their Honor Code will translate into the Honor Codes at both BYU Hawaii and BYU Idaho.

    Posted by: Zachary Fish | Apr 17, 2007 1:04:21 PM

  9. I grew up about 7 miles from the BYU campus. Zachary, while you may have had a great time at BYU, I knew of many students whose lives were shattered for merely expressing homosexual feelings. They were sent for aversion therapy (which included electical shock, etc...), some were pressured into disastrous marriages, some killed themselves. Some of us were able, over time, to mitigate the damage, but I still see it going on now. This change in the code is a small step, I wish I had more hope that it will be ongoing. I still find the church extremely reactionary.

    Posted by: Daniel | Apr 17, 2007 1:13:37 PM

  10. The most popular acronym for the church is LDS, which is easy to remember by being similar to LSD.

    It was tactless of Soulforce to say that the church was "killing gays".

    This policy change was of the sort: "On second thought, we'll let you live..." It's just, oh so generous.

    Posted by: anon | Apr 17, 2007 1:32:44 PM

  11. Anon, tactless maybe, but, in my biased opinion, accurate.

    Posted by: Daniel | Apr 17, 2007 1:37:54 PM

  12. Reactionary? I think a deliberative or cautious are better terms... at any rate, the way that BYU treated gay people in the past mirrored in large measure the way that society in general treated gay people... society is changing, and so is BYU. I'm grateful for both.

    As for your "still see(ing) it going on now"... I'm not sure what you mean. Yes, there are still problems, but aversion therapy hasn't been used for _years_. And the urging gay men to marry straight is a largely dead issue among ecclesiastical leaders on campus. What isn't dead is the idea that it may be possible to "change" a gay man... there are still pockets of resistance to the idea that orientation is — if not in-born — a core attribute.

    Posted by: Zachary Fish | Apr 17, 2007 2:13:34 PM

  13. Dang... didn't catch the "killing gays" comment.

    Such a comment is not only tactless, but grossly oversimplified and incendiary. And the Church has been actively encouraging a loving attitude towards gays for the last 10 years. Yes there's a long way to go, but incendiary (and false) language hardly helps.

    Posted by: Zachary Fish | Apr 17, 2007 2:19:11 PM

  14. Daniel, I agree. They may not be the ones who pull the trigger or swing the baseball bat, but their retrograde viewpoint on sexuality gives aid and comfort to those who do.

    I am pleased to see even a small measure of progress at BYU. No one should have to suffer persecution or abuse just in order to get an education. There is still a long way to go to bring BYU and other religious-based schools into the 21st century, but even a small step is progress of a sort.

    The best thing for any young gay Mormon to do is to avoid schools like BYU and instead attend a more secular school where their sexuality isn't a matter of importance for the school administration. Go to a school where you can learn and grow as a human being. Life is too short to put up with the nonsense of the wingbat religous right.

    Posted by: Jonathon | Apr 17, 2007 2:20:11 PM

  15. FUCK BYU! Now that I have your attention. The problem is far less the policies of the school than the soul killing homohating beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that feeds its enrollment. Students ARRIVE on campus already believing the most extreme nonsense about gayness this side of Fred Phelps, already hating gays—and themselves if they are gay. You may have been an exception, Zachary, but spare us the choruses of Kumbaya.

    The school may have stopped its barbaric aversion therapy, but the psychological torture is still there regardless of this fresh coat of paint on their zealous bigotry. One of the most emblematic stories of the result of their cultish homohatred is not the fictional dramatization of the often moving movie "Latter Days" but the real life story of Stuart Matis who was 32 when he shot himself on the steps of his local California Mormon church in 2000 at the same time the denomination was pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign to outlaw gay marriage in the state through Prop 22, and repeatedly urging members in Sunday services to vote for it, equating holiness with homohatred. His suicide note said, "I am now free. I am no longer in pain and I no longer hate myself. As it turns out, God never intended for me to be straight. Perhaps my death might become the catalyst for some good."

    He had earlier written a cousin, "On the night of March 7th, many California couples will retire to their beds thrilled that they helped pass the Knight Initiative. What they don't realize is that in the next room, their son or daughter is lying in bed crying and could very well one day be the victim of society's homophobia. The Knight Initiative will certainly save no family. It is codified hatred. It is anti-family, anti-love and it is wrong."

    Three days before his suicide, he wrote a letter to the student newspaper at BYU, from which he graduated in 1994, urging students to harbor more tolerance toward gays: "I am gay. I am also LDS. I realized the significance of my sexuality when I was around 13, and for the next two decades, I traveled down a tortuous path of internalized homophobia, immense self-hatred, depression and suicidal thoughts. Despite the calluses on my knees [from constant praying], frequent trips to the temple, fasts and devotion to my mission and church callings such as Elders' Quorum president, I continually failed to attenuate my homosexuality. . . . I read a recent letter to the editor with great regret. The author compared my friends and me to murderers, satanists, prostitutes and pedophiles. Imagine having to live with this rhetoric constantly being spewed at you."

    Some of the Mormons I have met have been extremely nice—IF one sets aside their bigotry. To write, Zachary, that you are proud of “the group who approached school leadership” even though they “wished to be a counterpoint to the messages they heard [from] and the campus community inferred from Soulforce,” shows that no matter how much time you spend on your knees doing things besides praying that you are still pathetically brainwashed. Repeat: Fuck BYU and the LDS hierarchy.

    For former/present gay Mormons unaware of it, may I respecfully refer you to the organization Affirmation and, among others, the book, "No More Goodbyes, Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones," by Mormon Carol Lynn Pearson.

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 17, 2007 2:29:24 PM

  16. I know Carol and the Mattis family... Stuart Mattis' cousin is a friend and one-time roommate (and an out, gay man)... my experience at BYU and in the Church has been largely positive, but I accept that my experience has been exceptional. The bigotry you speak of, though, is the bigotry of members who either refuse to understand the core doctrines or misrepresent core doctrines to reinforce their own prejudices. Be careful not to paint with such broad strokes, gentlemen. Being anti-gay marriage isn't the same as being "homohaters".

    Of course I don't expect to really change any minds — but did want to ensure that more than one side of the issue was heard.

    So I've said my peace.

    Posted by: Zachary Fish | Apr 17, 2007 2:41:00 PM

  17. Zachary, I accept that you mean well, but if the denomination was as accepting, as non antigay [not just anti gay marriage] as you want to belive, want us to believe, Affirmation would have gone out of business, Carol would not feel the need for her books, the LDS "Proclamation on the Family" would not still say, "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan," and Stuart Mattis would still be alive rather than having blown his brains out on the steps of his church three years after you say, "the Church [began] actively encouraging a loving attitude towards gays." What you call "pockets of resistance" I call huge sink holes of active religious oppression and teaching of self-hatred into which far too many are still falling. Rather than cherry picking defenses of the church, you might go on a "mission" to truly change it.

    Posted by: Leland | Apr 17, 2007 3:43:23 PM

  18. Zachary,

    You are an Uncle Tom of the highest order. I grew up within sight of BYU and at the first opportunity, mercifully got the hell out of that oppressive, hypocritical hell hole called Provo, Utah.

    You may find the Mormon influence that permeates the region to be pleasant, but I for one can at least recognize an enemy when I see one. As you're no doubt well aware, the Mormon church has sunk millions of dollars into anti-gay initiatives and is one of the most oppressive religious organizations in the country toward our "lifestyle".

    I could never fathom why anyone who was gay would subject themselves to the ridicule and condemnation of a church that despised what they were. Why would anyone insist on crashing a party where they know they are not welcome?

    I suggest you grow a pair, get over the brain washing you've most likely been subjected to from a young age and tell the invariably old, male, snow-white dinosaurs of the Mormon church exactly where to go.

    Posted by: Tom | Apr 18, 2007 12:36:35 AM

  19. From non-sequitors to ad-hominems.

    How quaint.

    Tom: I've got a pair; anti-samesex marriage is not the same as anti-gay; people trying to live to a high standard are easy targets for the hypocrite police; victimhood doesn't suit you; my congregation loves me and you don't know any different; and maybe you should look at working on your anti-religious bigotry before climbing on the soap box.

    I've been nothing but cordial, and (as much as possible) factual in my approach to this issue... shame that's not universal.

    Yes: BYU and the Church have some growing to do... but more importantly, the people of the Church and the people at BYU have growing to do. It doesn't matter how much an institution preaches if the people won't listen or hang haggardly to their dirty blankets and worn-out binkies. Perceiving homosexuals as an "other" is a social ill... and the worst of it is not found at BYU or in the Church.

    This all takes time, and vitriol serves no good purpose. I'm encouraged by the changes (small as they are) and am hopeful.

    Piss on someone else's parade.

    Posted by: Zachary Fish | Apr 18, 2007 11:32:42 AM

  20. Zachary, the church itself is anti-gay, I've heard the speaches from General Conferences, from the General Authorities and from the Presidency. BYU may not officially support aversion therapy but it still goes on they've just "outsourced" it to the various camps that no one talks about. I hope that one day the church will realize the horrors they have caused and apologize to me and others who have gone through their "therapies". I know people who haven't--and probably never will recover.

    I'm happy you're happy, but you are living in a daydream. I know individual members of the church who are wonderful people but I don't confuse them with the doctrines (whether misread or not) that the church continues to teach.

    And, we shouldn't underestimate the role of the church in banning gay boys and men from participating in the Boy Scouts of America.

    Posted by: Daniel | Apr 18, 2007 5:32:23 PM

  21. Although I do not attend BYU, I am LDS, and I am bisexual. I understand that there are too many members of the church who are ignorant, bigoted, and hateful. I hate the stain they put on this church and myself as a member. If I may add my personal experience, I have seen only love and care given to gays, or people of differing faiths, or anything like that, by the Mormons I am associated with. Yes: our doctrine is that homosexuality is not in line with Heavenly Father's plan for families. And I am so sorry for the pain that doctrine has caused; my heart breaks for those who have suffered, and died, because of it. I struggle with these teachings on a daily basis. But the doctrine does not dictate hate: we are called to love, actively, all human beings. And I am proud to say that in my experience I have seen actions of love more than actions of hate. This church DOES NOT preach hate. I love this church. And I love GLBL persons as much as anybody else; in fact last October I was arrested in a gay-rights protest.
    I would like to take this opportunity to stand as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and apologize. I apologize for the ignorance and hatred that permeated this church for too many years. I apologize for the mistaken actions against GLBL persons. I apologize for the horrific "therapies" adopted (and thank goodness, rejected) by the Church. I apologize for those who have been hurt, who have felt ostracized, who have been attacked, who have suffered because of our teachings and especially because of the actions of people who do not display the love of Christ. I apologize.

    Posted by: Jessie | Apr 20, 2007 2:41:27 PM

  22. Over the past six years, HeartStrong has been predicting that many religious educational institutions are about to change some of their vague anti-gay policies and make them more specific. This will be in direct result to public exposure as well as the newly looming threat of high profile lawsuits against religious schools with vague anti-gay policies.

    Like many religious universities, Brigham Young University is no place for someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. However, many students are coerced by their own religious beliefs or by their parents to attend this school.

    Previously, BYU's Honor Code and rules about homosexuality included the following : "Brigham Young University will respond to student behavior rather than to feelings or orientation. . . . Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code."

    Basically they were saying that the school would always look at a student's behavior as opposed to invoking discipline as a result of suspicion or even someone saying that they were gay (without 'practicing' homosexuality).

    The revised statement reads as follows: "Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or orientation and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. . . . One's stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity."

    As you can see, there is very little difference between the two statements. The newer statement seems to make a statement that one's admission of being gay is not grounds for dismissal or even exclusion from enrollment. HOWEVER, the key statement here is "BYU... welcomes...all whose behavior meets university standards...the law of chastity."

    While this new policy may have prevented the two students from getting expelled a couple years ago for watching "Queer as Folk", the policy is still anti-gay. There are no pro-gay social events at this university, only pro-heterosexual. As well, the only students that are required to live in chastity are single heterosexual students and those who identify as gay. Again, heterosexual privilege prevails as usual.

    Interestingly but not surprisingly, the rules only speak of homosexuality and not the issue of transgendered students. Or, bisexuality.

    This policy also confirms the school's position about homosexuality. Most people in this sect of Christianity don't really believe there is such a thing as homosexual people, but rather believe that everyone is heterosexual and some are just prone for falling victim to the "sin" of homosexuality. Just like others are prone to falling victim to the "sins" of lying, cheating, stealing, murder, pornography, etc.

    This new policy clears up any confusion about the school's position in this area and confirms their belief in "original sin."

    And, nothing is stated about discontinuing the degrading discussion and name calling of those who exhibit homosexual "behavior" as sinners. There is also no statement made about the school's rabid history of promoting reparative therapy both passive and extreme.
    The school's policy defining behavior is as follows:
    "Homosexual behavior or advocacy of homosexual behavior are inappropriate and violate 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. Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable."
    It is extremely important to note that there is NOT nor will there ever be a non-harassment or non-discrimination policy on the books and enforced at BYU. And those policies are what is necessary for a school to be truly safe.

    As usual, things like this are predictable. We predicted these changes back in 2000. (Yet no one ever seems to believe us.) There will be many additional similar changes in high profile schools as these schools continue to seek to avoid public scrutiny, outrage and potential lawsuits.

    Similar to this change, we expect many schools, even k-12 schools to change their vague policies about homosexuality. Many schools removed the word homosexuality from their student handbooks and replaced it with the highly subjective term of immorality. Because of recent lawsuits by some of our students, we expect some schools to begin changing their policies to be more definitive.

    Posted by: Marc Adams | Apr 21, 2007 12:36:28 AM

  23. Hey ZACHARY FISH! Correction for you too, buddy. Those people at BYU didn't "love you." They loved a facade you created for them. Had they actually known the real you (aka, the GAY you), they would have loathed everything you stand for. You're just another brainwashed fag in my who will continue to push your superstitions onto others, including any gay-bies you might adopt with your equally deluded partners.

    Posted by: Sheldon | Sep 1, 2008 6:42:24 AM

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