This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
During commencement ceremonies next week, the University of Utah will award honorary degrees to four people: businessmen Kem Gardner and George Smith, scientist Kirk Ririe and philanthropist Lynette Nielsen Gay.
When the U. announced the honorees in March, the school described Gay as the founder of Engage Now Africa and the Ensign College of Public Health in Kpong, Ghana. Her biography also included her leadership roles in organizations such as Choice Humanitarian, Southern Virginia University, Family Watch International and the World Congress of Families, for which Gay serves on the board of directors.
But since the March announcement, her bio on the U. website has been updated to include her missionary service for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and remove the references to Family Watch International and the World Congress of Families, both listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for advocating to restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
"There is no amount of good that can compensate for hateful actions," wrote a commenter on the U. website. "The University of Utah has disgraced itself with this honoree."
Another commenter wrote that by honoring Gay, the school is "slapping all LGBT people worldwide."
"As an alumni," the commenter added, "I hope this wrong can be righted with the withdrawal of the honorary degree."
Last October, the World Congress of Families held its annual conference in Salt Lake City, with the four-day event promoted as the "largest gathering of pro-family advocates in the world."
The event schedule included appearances by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, Utah-based performing group The Piano Guys and a keynote address by M. Russell Ballard, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
The conference prompted a counterevent, sponsored by Utah activists and the Human Rights Campaign, called the Inclusive Families Conference, which was held on the U. campus.
Mark Lawrence, director of the activist group Restore Our Humanity, said it was disheartening to see the World Congress of Families welcomed with open arms by the LDS Church and state leaders.
"It seems like here in Utah they get a free rein," he said. "What would happen if it were another kind of hate group?"
He said he can understand why the U. would want to downplay Gay's involvement with both the World Congress of Families and Family Watch International, which he described as "extreme" anti-LGBT hate groups.
"To most people who would be educated about those issues," he said, "it would be no different than her being involved in the KKK."
In a prepared statement, U. spokeswoman Maria O'Mara defended the university's reasoning behind removing the items from the site.
"Ms. Gay is affiliated with two organizations whose involvement in anti-LGBTQ campaigns around the world does not reflect the values of the University of Utah," O'Mara said. "Those organizations were removed from an online biography because they were not part of the honorary degree committee's deliberations."
The university is recognizing Gay, O'Mara said, for her work promoting health, education and economic development in Africa.
The Ensign College of Public Health, which Gay founded with her husband, LDS general authority Robert Gay, is partnered with the U. as part of the school's Global Health Initiative.