In his graduation speech this past weekend, Brigham Young University valedictorian Matty Easton, a political science major, outed himself:
“As I’m sure many many of you have felt, I recall countless times here at BY where I have battled and fought in prayer with my maker. It was in these quiet moments of pain and confusion that I felt another triumph: that of coming to terms not with who I thought I should be but who the Lord has made me. As such, I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God. I am not broken. I am loved and important in the plan our great creator. Each of us are.”
It was a remarkable moment for a number of reasons. For one, BYU has a long-burnished reputation as anti-LGBTQ, and the church it is affiliated with — Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a., the Mormon Church) — is doctrinally opposed to homosexuality, considering it apostacy. For another, the church has made significant strides in recent years to try and soften the treatment of LGBTQ Mormons.
“While we cannot change the Lord’s doctrine, we want our members and our policies to be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality,” the church said recently in a statement during a general conference leadership session of the First Presidency in Salt Lake City, reported National Public Radio’s online site, NPR.org.
On April 4, the church announced it had reversed its controversial 2015 policy that labeled people in LGBTQ marriages as “apostates,” which had prohibited children of such marriages from infant blessings or baptism until age 18 and their exit from and denunciation of their same-sex families, NRP reported.Church President Dallin Oaks explained that the policy change was intended to “help affected families” and to “reduce the hate and contention so common today.”
The policy cleaved the church when it was enacted in 2015, with many members protesting that it unfairly punished children. In protest, 1,000 Utah Mormons then traveled to Salt Lake City to renounce their church membership.
Calvin Burke, a gay BYU student, is optimistic under the revised policy.
“That is how LGBTQ Equality will work in the church; nothing, a glimmer, and then all at once the sun will be up & we will wonder how on Earth we ever saw anything different,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is a wonderful day to be alive!!!”
However, however compassionate it is trying to be, the Mormon church still officially believes that LGBTQ behavior is morally, biblically, wrong.
The other remarkable thing about this partial capitulation by the church on its LGBTQ policies, is how many gay Mormons previously chose to stay with a church — and its divinity — that purportedly despised who they were.
It’s clear that the church is still doctrinally loathes LGBTQ members, despite attempts at public relations to smooth its image.
But it’s not all negative. In 2007, the BYU Honor Code changed to allow LGBTQ students to publicly admit their sexual orientation without sanction or expulsion — as long as they didn’t intimately couple with people of their sex, the website LGBTQ Nation reported. And in 2010, the code was updated again to allow LGBTQ advocacy.
But then in 2014, the school bookstore pulled same-sex marriage greeting cards, and LGBTQ students remained wary of reporting same-sex assaults because of BYU policies against gay sex.
So there’s progress, it seems, but its two steps forward, one back.