Sitting in his car after work, Randall Hoffman, an alumni from Brigham Young University Idaho, sobbed after hearing the news that conservative university had quietly removed a section titled “Homosexual Behavior” from its Honor Code.
“I was in shock and did not understand. I should’ve been happy, but I was triggered,” he said. “All the trauma I felt – and that I thought I was over from therapy – washed over me. I drove home, then sat in my car, and balled my eyes out just like I did when I was at BYUI and experienced hate.” Hoffman came out to himself and some close friends while he was a student at BYUI in 2017.
In the late 90’s BYU added a section to their honor code which prohibited “homosexual behavior” including hand-holding and kissing. Students could be disciplined or even expelled if they were caught engaging in such behavior. Nearly thirty years later, the LGBTQ+ community and BYU are still at odds.
On March 4, 2020, BYU removed this section from its honor code, but later clarified that “same-sex romantic behavior is still prohibited.”
According to Hoffman, many queer students feel alone and misunderstood at BYU. Hoffman often disagreed with what was taught in his classes. “I dreaded my religion courses,” he said. “My throat would always close when teachers talked about marriage, dating, gender or sexuality.”
Hoffman remembers one specific experience when he spoke out about his beliefs. “One professor swore that gender stereotypes were natural and God-given. I approached him later to tell he was wrong, and that I didn’t identify with any of that. His response was that my testimony was weak. I cried in my car after that.”
Out of fear, Hoffman never came out to his roommates. He said his roommates would make homophobic comments that hurt him deeply, but he didn’t feel he could say anything. While he felt unsafe throughout most of his time at BYUI, he did find safe places.
“Professors and teachers at BYUI can be especially hurtful and unaware of science and history, but there is an amazing community of queer students, ally students, parents of queer kids, parents who want to take in hurt queer kids and so on.”
Hoffman was shocked when he heard about the honor code clarification. He said, “I could only imagine what state I would have been in had I been a student during that. With being an activist in a queer, Mormon community, you set yourself up for repeated hurt. And I can’t deal with that much more.”
Zac Thompson, a student at BYU Provo who identifies as gay, was hurt by the university’s recent announcement about LGBTQ+, “Honestly it made me feel like BYU could care less about its LGBT students,” he said.
Thompson came out earlier this year, but he said he is selective in who he discusses his sexuality with because in general he does not feel safe on BYU campus. He works part-time for the university in the Emergency Medical Services Office. “I’m a very social person,” he said. “But at work, I try to stay out of any conversation. In fact, I feel like I have to keep my distance so they don’t find out.”
Thompson feels the university could have done a better job announcing the removal of the section from its honor code. “The situation was handled very poorly and with little care,” he said. “There was no attempt to apologize for causing the confusion and pain that followed.”
Thompson says there are safe spaces at BYU and many who want to help the LGBTQ+ community. “[When I came out,] I wasn’t expecting to get so much support,” he said. “A lot of people reached out to me: close friends, friends I hadn’t talked to in a while, strangers on social media, church leaders from home, but there were definitely some people that stopped talking to me.”
When BYU released the clarification about their policies regarding LGBTQ+, many students rallied together and protested on campus. Students held posters that read, “Jesus said love everyone”, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor” and “Make BYU honorable again”. They sang church hymns and marched around campus.
Belle Wilson, a senior at BYU feels conflicted between the religion she practices and the discrimination she sees. “I believe marriage is meant to between a man and a woman,” she said. “But I believe BYU should stand by the prophet and allow their gay students to date, and only discipline them if they cross the line of the law of chastity.”
Wilson also feels that there is danger in encouraging queer dating because within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Wilson said, “I love my gay brothers and sister and support them and my heart goes out to them. I can’t imagine how hard it must be.”
Hoffman is seeking to find the good in this situation. “I’m so glad that students and staff have stepped up at BYU and downtown Salt Lake City to voice what they believe: true love and compassion and kindness.”
He is excited by the changes he sees in BYU. “My heart leapt as I watched BYUI students filling campus with rainbows and chants of love and equality. That was always my goal while I was there.”
While Hoffman sees these changes as positive, he believes LGBTQ+ students would be safer at other campuses. “But my hope is that BYU students find safety at other campuses.”