Posted By Eric Ethington (Author) on February 4, 2011
Provo, UT – What happened to me afterwards aside, the people I found last night on the BYU campus were no less than heroes. 30 students dedicated to ending discrimination and bullying both at BYU and in Provo.
Outside of Utah, you may not understand the difference between Salt Lake City and Provo. True they’re both still Utah in all its quirky glory, but SLC is by far the progressive hub of the state (by our standards) while Provo is still the center of conservatism and bigotry.
So while being an activist in Utah is hard enough, I’m frequently reminded how much easier I have it living in the capital city rather than 30 miles to the south. But last night I met some people who beat down the odds, and are working to make both Provo city and Brigham Young University just a little safer.
When I caught wind of a group of BYU students meeting to discuss the non-discrimination ordinances, I had to attend. I figured that whether they were pro or con, it should be interesting. I wasn’t disappointed. What I found was a small group of mostly straight Mormon students discussing what they can do to get the Provo City Council to pass non-discrimination ordinances, which would prevent discrimination in workplace and housing based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
They explained how their first attempts, to get businesses to sign a letter of support, hadn’t gone well. Several businesses, such as Nu Skin, were supportive but were unwilling to sign on to the letter. Without skipping a beat, the group has decided to switch tactics and model what was done in Logan to pass the same laws. They’re organizing a letter and email campaign among the students of BYU and residents of Provo which will be sent to the Provo City Council and the Mayor.
Of course they’re putting a true Mormon twist on their plans, each member of the team have assigned themselves to one of the council members in order to “shepherd” them through this like any good “home teacher.”
Organizer Marshall Thompson is a 1st year law student at BYU and just moved down with his wife and 2 children from Logan. “The way our society teats people matters immensely,” says Thompson, “I’m just not comfortable living in a place that treats people unjustly.” The newest member of the group is 22 year old Sally who moved to BYU 5 years ago from Fairfield, California. She was invited to the group by a friend and says she has many friends at BYU who are both open and closeted. “I was very torn by Prop 8,” she says, “once you see people as human it’s hard to discriminate.” And of course, I have to give a shout out to BYU student Cary, one of our loyal PRIDEinUtah readers who was also at the meeting!
Once that meeting ended, I found myself invited to meet with a gay straight alliance on campus. Yes… you heard that right. A gay straight alliance on the campus of BYU. I was blown away myself. They call themselves the USGA group (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) and are not offically recognized or sponsored by BYU (obviously) but they still meet on campus. Imagine my shock when I walked in and found 30 students who meet regularly, many of whom are openly gay.
BYU’s honor code states that someone can be gay, lesbian or bisexual (not trans though) openly, as long as you have zero physical intimacy, including hand holding, with members of the same sex either on campus or not.
The group last night watched “For The Bible Tells Me So,” a documentary about what it is like to grow up and come out as a homosexual. I will admit that I was in tears by the end, thinking what these kids must go through and how amazing it was that they even existed.
Of course my tires were slashed while attending the meeting, but apart from that… I can’t think of a better way I could have spent my night then at BYU with these courageous people. Maybe there really are angels, I’ve met a few.