Brigham Young University has lately been rife with opposition and disapproval towards their honor code, a document that every one of their students must sign and abide by which outlines behavioral standards that align with the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the code’s agreements features a subsection called “Homosexual Behavior.” It reads that those attracted to the same gender are allowed to attend BYU but that “homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates The Honor Code.”
Liza Holdaway is the former president of BYU’s USGA, a club that stands for “Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship.” They described their time presiding, saying it was “overall, super rewarding [and] really amazing, being able to work with so many people and [I] had so many good experiences.” They added, “It was also exhausting — a lot of work and a lot of stress.”
A growing pile of features and profiles have covered Holdaway’s criticism of BYU penalizing and alienating their LGBTQ students. Recently graduated this year, Holdaway presses on their club’s many attempts to designate themselves as an official student organization by BYU.
USGA was founded in 2010 and serves as an all-embracing environment for students both out of the closet and questioning. In its earliest stages, the club was a small group and often hosted meetings on campus. By the summer of 2012, the group increased in membership and local awareness when they were asked by BYU to host their meetings off campus.
“We relocated to the library, but ever since we were founded, we have operated as if we were a BYU club, and we have applied for a period of time and been denied, which is really hard,” Holdaway said.
When asked about the collective tumult towards the honor code, they turned to fears of BYU penalizing students more, specifically transgender students. “Right now, the honor code doesn’t say anything about transgender individuals [though] it does in the dressing grooming [rules],” Holdaway said. “It does talk about no cross-dressing, which of course, transgender people are not cross-dressing — BYU might see them as cross-dressing.”
Though there isn’t an explicit barricade on transgender students outlined in its grooming section, the honor code prohibits men and women from wearing particular wardrobes which could create hurdles for either gender transitioning.
Aside from no longer being able to engage in the student politics at BYU as an alumnus, Holdaway feels the future seems uncertain for incoming and current LGBTQ+ students. With that issue coupled with other interests regarding the honor code and climate, they only “hope that things will continue to improve and there will be more support for those students on campus.”
Different College, Same Honor Code
Cody Ricks grew up in Rexburg, Idaho where a large population of its residents identify as conservative and as Latter-day Saints. When he was 15, Ricks identified as gay. “It was hard, but I also feel like I changed a lot of people’s opinions about gay people,” he said about coming out. “Because you just have to be the change you want to see.”
After graduating from high school, Ricks moved to Salt Lake City and attended LDS Business College to earn a degree in paralegal studies. As a city ranked as the seventh-highest LGBTQ population in U.S. metro areas, he started immersing himself in the gay community.
At the same time, Ricks learned to conceal his identity in fear of being reported to the college’s honor code office while attending school. LDS Business College, BYU-Hawaii and BYU-Idaho all fall under the same honor code umbrella and students face similar entanglements with disciplinary measures if found violating it. “You’re living in constant fear that you’re going to be turned into the Honor Code Office for being who you are and had to keep to yourself,” he said, also mentioning the risks of getting expelled.
He avoided any opportunity for other students or faculty to be able to recognize his sexuality and remarked that he felt that “people in that situation don’t really get a good college experience like everybody else.”
Shortly thereafter, Ricks attended the U and walked in 2014 after studying political science. He now runs and serves his own advocacy firm called Rick’s Disability Aid which focuses on representing disabled claimants before the Social Security Administration.
Looking back, Ricks believes that he went to school to obtain a degree and a door to a successful career. “It shouldn’t matter who you’re dating — that shouldn’t have any bearing on your education,” he said.
An LGBTQ View From the U
At the U, it’s been rainy the past few days this June as Alex Tatom pursues a master’s degree in mechanical engineering while living on campus. With a reverent fondness to head outdoors whenever he can, his interests carry over to his academic curiosities where he’s “working on [a] thesis on adaptive skiing.”
“I came out ‘later’ in life at 26 and have found nothing but acceptance within my peer group,” said Tatom, now 28 years old and identifying as bisexual. “It fits and feels right and comfortable as I’ve grown into living my truth and learning to continue to accept myself.”
Most of the responses from students and peers have been positive for Tatom concerning his coming out. However, he also had rare occurrences where some of his peers openly expressed anti-LGBTQ sentiments toward him. “However,” he said, “this is similar to what I’ve experienced in Utah in general with the Mormon-dominated population and legislature.”
Tatom wasn’t familiar with the ongoing rifts between BYU’s administration and students involving the honor code. But after hearing about this conflict, he was immediately disappointed. “This saddens and angers me deeply,” he said. “BYU’s stance on LGBTQ individuals is one of mild tolerance, not nearly approaching acceptance.”
He mentions feelings of individuals being intolerant and dysphoria that has led to affecting his mental health, acknowledging how frustrating it must be for students at BYU. “I know that not feeling accepted will push closeted folks further from coming out if they don’t feel supported and accepted,” he said.