Mar 10, 2020

Transfer fund for LGBTQ BYU students surpasses $35,000 after honor code "bait-and-switch"

Braley Dodson
Daily Herald
March 10, 2020

A fundraising campaign to provide funds from LGBTQ students transferring from Brigham Young University has topped $35,000, as of Monday afternoon.

“We have been blown away by the amount of response and reception that we have gotten,” said John Valdez, the executive director of the OUT Foundation, a group of LGBTQ BYU alumni.

The OUT Foundation launched a GoFundMe campaign Wednesday evening to help LGBTQ BYU students with costs associated with transferring from the university after the Church Educational System announced earlier that day that the removal of the “homosexual behavior” section from its honor code did not mean that a ban on same-sex relationships and signs of affection was eliminated.

The honor code, which students at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-owned university agree to abide by in order to attend, bans behavior such as the consumption of alcohol, premarital sex and beards for male students.

The code was updated last month and the section on “homosexual behavior” removed, which was widely interpreted to mean that LGBTQ students could date, hold hands and show other signs of physical affection.

That interpretation is incorrect, according to a letter released Wednesday by Paul Johnson, the commissioner of the Church Educational System, which oversees BYU.

“Same-sex behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code,” the letter reads.

Kevin Utt, the director of the BYU Honor Code Office, references the letter on a question and answer page about the change on BYU’s website. Utt wrote in the post that the honor code was changed and the “homosexual behavior” section removed in order to create a standard for all Church Educational System schools and to be consistent with the church’s updated handbook, which was released last month on the same day as the honor code changes.

“We realize that emotions over the last two weeks cover the spectrum and that some have and will continue to feel isolation and pain,” Utt wrote. “We encourage all members of our campus community to reach out to those who are personally affected with sensitivity, love and respect.”

According to the post, same-sex romantic behavior, including dating, holding hands or kissing, remains an honor code violation.

Wednesday’s announcement sparked protests in Provo, Salt Lake City and New York City as LGBTQ students said they felt betrayed by what they believed was a reversal in policy.

Valdez said the OUT Foundation held back on issuing a statement on the appearance of the policy’s removal last month because they were cautious about the change. He said word spread among LGBTQ BYU students that the changes meant that they could date, and many came out as LGBTQ to their friends and family as a result.

“It was unfortunate, what we felt was a bait-and-switch,” Valdez said.

The fundraising campaign started with a goal of raising $10,000. That goal has increased by an additional $10,000 each time the previous goal was met.

The appearance of a policy reversal, Valdez said, has been painful.

“When you give hope to someone who is hopeless and then take it away, that is really cruel to do,” Valdez said.

He said as a result, students went public with same-sex relationships and sexual orientations. Now, he said, students are afraid they could be punished for going public.

The fund was created to help students pay for application fees, help with a potential loss of housing or if students lose their on-campus jobs.

“There are a lot of financial ramifications that transferring can hold,” Valdez said.

The OUT Foundation plans to release an application in order to access the funds later this week.

LGBTQ individuals and allies have taken to social media after Wednesday’s announcement, offering support for LGBTQ students and offering to help with the transferring process. Valdez said the foundation will support all LGBTQ BYU students whether or not they decided to transfer.

“We are saddened by the events that have happened, and simultaneously we are very happy to be able to use this traumatic event in order to mobilize action and get some good out of it,” Valdez said.

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