Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Brigham Young University Students: ‘It Gets Better’
They aren’t allowed to form an official group or use the word “gay” in their self-description, but a collective of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students at the Mormon Brigham Young University have released a video documenting their struggle with suicide and the hope that “it gets better.”
The group, Understand Same-Gender Attraction, was founded as a gay-straight alliance at BYU in 2010 and connects gay students struggling with rejection. Last week, a group of students involved with USGA posted a video in the vein of Dan Savage’s anti-suicide “It Gets Better” project to YouTube. It has since drawn over 280,000 viewers, and it has been posted on the front page of gay Mormon group Affirmation.
The video alleges there are more than 1,800 lesbian, gay, and bisexual students attending BYU—based on the prevalence of homosexuality in the broader population—which the Princeton Review ranks as one of the least friendly campuses for LGBT students. The Mormon Church considers gay behavior sinful.
In the video, students describe the tension they feel between their Mormon faith or background and their sexuality.
“I just felt, ‘I’m not worthy. God clearly doesn’t love me because he does not love gay people,’ ” Erikka, a lesbian student, says. “I just felt that I needed to just kill myself, because the heartbreak of me dying would be less than the heartbreak my parents would experience if I came out to them.”
One unnamed student wound up in the psychiatric ward of the hospital; others describe throwing themselves into extracurricular activities or intensive religious practices to avoid their orientation.
But after long nights of praying, a curly-haired boy with an easy smile named Adam says he finally asked God the question: “Is [my orientation] OK?”
“It was amazing the kind of peace I felt after I prayed,” Adam says. “Because there are very few times I felt so distinctly that someone somewhere loved me for who I was, and it didn’t matter that I loved boys instead of girls.”
The other students in the video describe that same peace coming from their acceptance of themselves.
The student association was formed in 2010, the same year a revision to BYU’s honor code removed a prohibition on advocating homosexuality. This change is representative of a slow move toward inclusion in the honor code—while it still prohibits homosexual behavior, it was edited to allow students to state a non-heterosexual orientation in 2007.
Because the students are merely discussing feelings and not engaging in homosexual behavior on the video, an assistant to the university president said they weren’t breaking any honor codes and wouldn’t face disciplinary action. It’s the same policy that grants the group its name: same-gender or same-sex attraction is common conservative religious parlance for “gay,” as attraction is an impermanent feeling instead of an inborn identity.
The group hopes that its video will encourage young, gay Mormons to be proud of who they are, and that it will provide hope for those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“It is very different to be gay and Mormon because it feels like neither community accepts you completely,” USGA Acting President Bridey Jensen told CNN. “We put out the message for youth that are going through this and we want them to know that we were them a few years ago and it gets better and there is a place for you.”
The 10-minute video ends with information about the Trevor Project, a help line for LGBT youth—and words of encouragement and love.
“We might not know you personally, but we are cheering for you the whole entire way,” Adam says.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.