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Same-sex couples at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University have long been told they cannot kiss, hold hands, kiss or date in public. If they did, they would risk an investigation from the dreaded Honor Code Office, as well as punishment in their church or expulsion from school.
But this week, a section of BYU’s student honor code that prohibited “homosexual behavior” on campus was quietly removed. University officials are keeping details of the change vague, leaving LGBTQ students to wonder if public displays of affection are now allowed.
The change was first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
“I feel free and supported by college for the first time in a long time,” Franchesca Lopez, an undergraduate sociology student, told CNN. “I really hope they don’t let me down again.”
The honor code was always vague for same-sex couples. Attraction between two men or two women was not prohibited, but “all forms of physical intimacy that express homosexual feelings” were.
This meant that public displays of affection between same-sex couples were prohibited.
This section of code is gone now. LGBTQ students took this to mean they could be seen publicly with a significant other, and many of them celebrated what they saw as a victory.
But the university said Wednesday that its students may have misinterpreted the policy.
“The Honor Code Office will deal with issues that arise on a case-by-case basis,” said the the university tweeted. “For example, because dating means different things to different people, the honor code office will work with students individually.”
CNN called and emailed the honor code office multiple times about the code change, and an employee directed CNN to the university’s communications department.
BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins reiterated the school’s tweet in an emailed statement to CNN.
“The principles of the honor code have not changed,” she said. “We will deal with issues that arise on a case-by-case basis.”
She said the honor code office’s role is not “to approve or disapprove of relationships,” but to help students maintain their commitment to the code.
“We want our LGBTQ students to feel welcome and included on our campus,” she added.
So for now, students are cautiously optimistic.
Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer and BYU graduate, said that was understandable.
“Of course the students are excited about it,” she told CNN. “It’s a small change, but for them it could be a lifesaver.”
Honor Code Update Reflects Changes in the Mormon Church
The university said it updated the honor code to align with new policies on homosexuality outlined in the Mormon church’s handbook released last spring.
Prior to this, the church viewed same-sex couples as “apostates” and did not allow their children to be baptized without special approval from leaders.
This policy has led to as many as 1,500 liberal and LGBTQ Mormons leaving the church.
The church has called its updated position on homosexuality an attempt to ‘reduce the hatred and strife so common today’, but still considers same-sex marriage a ‘serious transgression’ and condemns sexual acts outside of marriage. heterosexuals.
The change is mostly a step forward, said Nathan Kitchen, president of Affirmation, an organization for LGBTQ Mormons.
“Like everything to do with religion and LGBTQ+, it’s a win, but it’s not quite a win,” Kitchen, a BYU graduate, told CNN.
Kitchen said he spoke to the honor code office on Thursday morning and was told by officers that they would allow same-sex student couples to kiss, hold hands and date. . They will also no longer accept advice from other students or church leaders about “homosexual behavior” on campus, Kitchen said — everything will be self-reported.
The office used to investigate violations of its code – including “homosexual behavior” – using councils from students, teachers and local church leaders. They interviewed witnesses and put students on probation or expelled them, in some cases.
Now, Kitchen said, same-sex college couples can “date for fun or companionship,” but if it’s for the purpose of getting married, they can report to the honor code office — because that would mean they are breaking church doctrine, which prohibits same-sex marriage.
“I like to call it the rainbow stained glass ceiling,” he said. “It’s a ceiling that no one can cross.”
BYU students are surprised, delighted and confused
When BYU Class of 2019 valedictorian Matthew Easton came out in his May convocation speech, it was still against code for him to hold hands with a male partner.
Now a presidential campaign organizer for Pete Buttigieg, Easton shared an image of himself last year protesting the code’s “homosexual behavior” policy.
“As of today, same-sex relationships are now treated the same as heterosexual relationships at BYU,” he said. tweeted. “Girls and gays, we did it!”
LGBTQ students shared his joy.
Lopez was “shattered” when she heard the news. Three college girls asked her out, she said, and she kissed a woman for the first time in her life.
After speaking to an honor code officer, she said she believed the change for students in same-sex relationships was here to stay.
Zacharie Ibarra celebrated first. Administrators told her friends they could hug, hold hands and kiss same-sex partners.
“In a way, it’s a huge win, and we’re trying to be excited about it!” he told CNN. “It’s difficult because I think most of us would never have thought it would happen. Now suddenly it’s there, and I think a lot of us don’t know what. do it.
It’s especially confusing, he said, because the Mormon Church announced its changes in April. Students had been waiting ever since to see how these policies would affect the university. And even now they don’t know if the admins will back down.
“There are a lot of fears that the ‘case by case’ could be a tool against gay students,” he said. “We want to follow the rules, either out of fear or out of respect, but we have to know what those rules are, and at the moment it’s not very clear.”
This is a vital change for LGBTQ students
If same-sex couples are allowed to manufacture PDAs under the new code, it could make them feel much safer on campus, Kitchen said.
“It takes away a lot of fear in the LGB community of being found out and exposed,” he said. “The bans are now gone. As long as you live under the doctrine of the church, you can carry on like your heterosexual peers.
Kitchen is careful to omit the “T” in LGBT – transgender students are also not recognized in this new code. The church takes no position on transgender causes, according to its manual.
“So far, we’ve reached that ceiling,” he said. “But one thing the church has in its doctrine is that it believes in continuing revelation and open canon. We know [change] It could happen.”
Kelly is less optimistic about future changes.
Kelly was excommunicated in 2014. Although she is no longer a member of the church, she said seeing how LGBTQ members are discriminated against still stings.
“As a queer person, it still affects me to see these policies still in place, to see these students suffer,” she said.
She points to Utah’s suicide rates, which are consistently higher than the national average, especially among young people. She attended the funerals of friends who committed suicide because they were not accepted by their church.
For students who felt the same way, holding hands or kissing without fear of discipline is vital.
“For these adherent Orthodox Mormon children, this is a pivotal and life-changing decision,” she said. “Any small iota of acceptance, any glimpse of hope they can get, makes a big difference.”
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