On April 27th, my peers and their families will descend upon Provo, Utah to participate in the conclusion of their final chapters at Brigham Young University (BYU). I would be in attendance but I find the idea of celebrating my time at BYU uncomfortable. Not because I didn’t receive a first-rate education, I did. Not because I don’t have the meaningful, endearing friendships one would hope to have after four years at a university, I do. I’ll be sitting out of my college graduation because my needs as a gay student were glaringly ignored.
I know it’s not a grand gesture, it’s just one less seat that will be set-up, and one less hat thrown into the air. And I know, what did I expect when I enrolled at BYU? That it would be a wonderful place to explore my sexuality?
Well at eighteen, I actually expected my feelings for men to dissipate and to be replaced with feelings for women. I was counseled by church leaders who sent me off to BYU that this would naturally happen and that righteous conduct would expedite it. At twenty-one I began to doubt that would happen. At twenty-two I didn’t think it would. And at twenty-three, I didn’t know how to go on. In a sea of thirty-three thousand students, I felt so alone.
BYU doesn’t have a formal group for LGBT students. They refer students to seek support from the local leader of their congregations, but those leaders are at a loss on how to help LGBT students, often resorting to encouraging them to “pray the gay away.” It wouldn’t take much for BYU to make its campus a better place for its hundreds and hundreds of LGBT students. A simple forum for LGBT students and allies to meet, process their feelings and gain support, meets just blocks from BYU. It is also a group that BYU refuses to sponsor.
BYU has official clubs that cater to the needs of a diverse student body, including: Armenian Business Students, or the BYU Newman Club which seeks to “help Catholic students live their faith.” BYU even offers such niche clubs as, the official BYU Weird Al Fan Club, and even an Amateur Radio Club. Considering its wide variety of existing offerings and an overt need of support for LGBT students, as evidenced by recent petitions and an alarming spike in Mormon LGBT suicide rates. One has to wonder, what is BYU afraid of in offering an LGBT on-campus support group? I might know the answer.
What did I expect when I enrolled at BYU? That it would be a wonderful place to explore my sexuality?
You see, I actually found myself the unexpected member of an LGBT on-campus support group at BYU. I sought treatment for compulsive behavior at a support group run by the BYU Counseling center. To my surprise, over half the participants in the group were gay students. I won’t forget the feeling I had as I listened to another BYU student look me in the eye and express the pain and heartache he felt, as he came to terms with his sexuality and tried to reconcile it with his religion.
For the first time, the deep, personal pain that I’d worked so hard to numb, took form. That pain became tangible as I saw it reflected back at me. The experience was validating and excruciating, but it was also beautiful. This group lit a fire in me. But BYU doesn’t need to be afraid of such a fire spreading because it is one of understanding, love and support. (In many ways, I’m sure like the Official BYU Weird Al Fan Club.) BYU’s only sponsored LGBT student-support group shouldn’t exist as a recovery group.
While I may not be in attendance at commencement, I will be pondering BYU’s motto: Enter to Learn, go forth to serve.
I didn’t learn what I expected to or wanted to at BYU. Regardless, I did learn it: the idea of a group of people being “the other” is a lie. BYU’s refusal to sponsor an on-campus LGBT support group continues to perpetuate the idea that gay men and women are “the other.”
So on April 27th, though I may be one missing from a sea of thousands of students assembling to celebrate, I know I am not alone. For I am not the other.
I am that freshman, on his knees, praying to be turned on by women.
I am that sophomore, watching his best friend fall in love and wondering if a holistic relationship will be in his future.
I am that junior staring at his phone screen in the dead of night, looking for someone to understand.
I am Harry Fisher, the senior who a year ago tragically missed his BYU graduation upon committing suicide in his last semester.
I am that graduate, going forth to serve.