This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Brigham Young University-Idaho is a great school, Grant Hopkins said, albeit one with an "unfortunate" culture.
The academic quality is high and the tuition is low, he said, but students at the Rexburg campus can be overly focused on minor, unimportant rules and prone to making ignorant remarks.
He remembers one day visiting a friend's apartment when he noticed a sign above the kitchen sink.
"Do your own dishes," it read, "or you're gay."
And below that, he said, a roommate had scrawled a retort.
"If I were gay," it said, "why would I go to this school?"
"It wasn't directed at me, but it was kind of this passing attitude that this culture has," said Hopkins, a gay man. "It made me feel a little bit unwelcome, like I had no business being there."
Caleb Kidd recalls hearing similar offhand remarks at BYU's Provo campus. At both schools, owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, students are required to enroll in religion courses on the Bible and other Mormon scriptures, as well as doctrinal topics such as marriage and family.
Those classes, Kidd said, are prone to discussion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, including speculation from students and professors on why LGBT individuals exist.
"Most of my religion professors have talked very extensively about the attack on the family," Kidd said. "They use gay marriage and gay people as an example of how the world is kind of falling apart."
The Salt Lake Tribune, in conjunction with the Utah Public Insight Network, asked readers to answer an online questionnaire about their experiences as LGBT students at BYU.
Many respondents praised their time at the university, noting the school's academic caliber, supportive friends and faculty, and the ability to study in a faith-promoting and spiritually affirming environment.
Others described the isolation of avoiding romantic relationships or conducting those relationships in secret on a campus that emphasizes marriage and dating.
And the school's Honor Code was frequently referenced as creating a persistent fear that benign gestures could be misinterpreted and reported for investigation, sanction and expulsion.
"You get really good at lying and you get really good at pretending," said one woman who requested anonymity.
BYU's Honor Code, a series of academic and morality standards, bars students from engaging in premarital sex, as well as drinking, profanity, and inappropriate dress and grooming.
The code states that "same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue," but emphasizes that behavior must meet university standards.
"Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex," it says, "but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."
Many said these guidelines create a double standard, starving LGBT students of physical and emotional intimacy while their heterosexual peers are encouraged to date, kiss, cuddle and marry.
Unlike many universities, BYU does not host on-campus LGBT support services, like resource centers, pride clubs, or a gay-straight alliance.
Several students credited off-campus groups for creating a support network and, in some cases, mitigating suicidal ideation.
'Contaminated by your presence' • In 1965, then-BYU President Ernest Wilkinson gave a now-infamous address to the student body titled "Make Honor Your Standard," in which he said the university had no intention of admitting gay students.
"If any of you have this tendency and have not completely abandoned it, may I suggest that you leave the university immediately after this assembly," he said. "We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence."
Wilkinson's name now adorns the student center at BYU, and Addison Jenkins said it's a prominent reminder of the school's heterocentric history.
"I assume that [current BYU President Kevin] Worthen doesn't have those same thoughts toward LGBT students," Jenkins said. "But there has been very little public distancing from BYU's past rhetoric and actions, and there's been essentially no tangible changes or services offered."
Jenkins is president of the LGBT support group Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, or USGA. The group was founded in 2010 as an informal gathering of LGBT students and made headlines in 2012 after producing an "It Gets Better" video that drew more than 500,000 views on YouTube.
After the video, USGA's weekly meetings were moved off-campus to the Provo Library under circumstances that Jenkins described as a "long, kind of complicated and disputed story."
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins no relation said on-campus counseling is available to students, including a limited number of group sessions.
"While there are no formal support groups for LGBT students," she said, "all students have ecclesiastical leaders who are loving and available to address a range of concerns, along with trained counselors in the counseling center."
Addison Jenkins said one of his goals as USGA's leader is to see the group sanctioned as a BYU campus club or, barring that, prompt the creation of a school-endorsed support organization for LGBT students.
"The goal of USGA is to save and improve the lives of LGBTQ and same-sex-attracted students at BYU," he said. "Because we don't currently meet on campus, there's a certain segment of the demographic that we can't reach or that aren't aware of us."
About 100 students attend USGA's weekly meetings, and BYU student Adena Moulton said she knows several people who credit the group with saving their lives.
Moulton said having a personal support network is crucial for LGBT students at BYU. But even with friends or an organization such as USGA, she said, prospective freshmen shouldn't underestimate the difficulty of being LGBT at BYU.
"I was able to find people at BYU who I cared about a lot and they care about me," Moulton said. "That has helped me stay."
Beyond formal recognition of USGA, Addison Jenkins said he'd like to see BYU explore sensitivity training for faculty, resident assistants and incoming students.
Those steps would make LGBT students not only feel more welcome and visible, he said, but would also benefit straight students.
University graduates need to be sensitive to LGBT issues, he said, to work productively in jobs where they might have a gay superior or co-worker.
"We have to realize that the vast majority of BYU students are coming from homes where LGBT issues are not discussed," Jenkins said. "Or, if they are, they're talked about in very negative terms."
'Nobody believes you' • BYU alumna Kylie McQuarrie said she commonly heard students disparage members of the LGBT community, because it was assumed that everyone in the room was straight.
McQuarrie, a bisexual woman, dated a man during her time on campus, which allowed her to be relatively open about her sexual orientation without having to hide or abstain from her relationship.
"People always just assume you are the sexuality of the person that you are dating," McQuarrie said.
But she also said that she was met with skepticism and hostility by an ecclesiastical leader whose sustained endorsement is required for enrollment at BYU after disclosing her bisexuality.
Despite adhering to the Honor Code and the LDS law of chastity forbidding sexual relations outside of husband-wife marriage she said her bishop refused to believe she was abstaining from premarital sex.
The experience reminded her that even though she was outwardly perceived as heterosexual, her sexual orientation put her at odds with the campus culture.
"You never feel like you're completely safe," McQuarrie said. "Because if someone finds out, they can turn you in and it can be that thing where nobody believes you."
In an email to The Tribune, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the faith's recently updated "Mormon and Gay" website includes information to help members and their local leaders approach discussions about sexual orientation.
"Leaders are taught to respond with love and understanding as they minister to those in their congregations," Hawkins said.
Hopkins said the Honor Code is "always in the back of your mind" as an LGBT student at BYU.
He said the risk of expulsion, and the requirement to date only in private, is enough to forgo romance.
"If I were in a relationship, it would require secrecy," Hopkins said. "It's just not really an option for me, not while I'm going to school." Other students describe covert and clandestine relationships, and a community of LGBT students living under the radar of the Honor Code and university policies.
One man, who requested anonymity, described being approached by several men in the locker room of BYU's Smith Fieldhouse and propositioned for sexual favors.
"The tricky part about BYU is that it does kind of create this underground gay scene that I feel is very unhealthy," he said.
Moulton said she disagrees with many aspects of the Honor code, but accepts that she agreed to adhere to its standards when she enrolled at BYU.
"I don't want to go back on my word," she said, "even if I don't like what I promised."
But she added that it can be challenging when the code's prohibition on "all forms of physical intimacy" cut her off from human contact.
"The Honor Code is telling me that I shouldn't touch people, which is awful," Moulton said. "Humans need to touch each other. They need to hug or hold hands."
Another student, who requested anonymity, said the perception that LGBT students at BYU can't hug one another is overblown.
He said he has been seen putting his arm around other men with no repercussions and that Honor Code investigations are never triggered solely for a simple gesture.
"There's kind of this perception that it's a witch hunt," he said, "which I've never observed."
Carri Jenkins, the BYU spokeswoman, said the core principals of the Honor Code "relate to every student."
Asked to clarify whether it precludes nonsexual touch by LGBT students, she deferred to the language of the code regarding homosexual behavior.
This is not the 'place' • Addison Jenkins said USGA is careful not to publicly criticize BYU or the LDS Church. Instead, he said, the group aims to provide a voice for LGBT students on campus and to educate the wider community on issues related to same-gender attraction.
He said many people don't realize that BYU's behavioral guidelines apply different restrictions depending on a person's sexual orientation.
"There are two different standards for LGBT students and for straight students," Jenkins said. "We kind of let people take it from there whether they think that is appropriate or right or not."
Kidd said he plans to transfer to a different school. The decision will likely set him back academically and carry increased tuition costs, but he added that BYU is "not really the place for me."
"It's not a very easy thing to do. It's just something that I've decided I have to do," Kidd said. "I feel for the people who wish they could leave but are unable to."
Jenkins said there are two angles to the question of whether he would recommend BYU for an LGBT student.
On one hand, he said, the cultural norms and institutional rules make it harder to be LGBT or same-sex attracted at BYU than at most other college campuses.
"The stakes are very high," he said, "and there are, currently, no resources."
On the other hand, Jenkins said, the experience of LGBT Mormons is unique, with challenges stemming from a particular religious and cultural background.
By enrolling at BYU, he said, LGBT Mormons are likely to encounter more of their peers than anywhere else in the world.
"That, I think, is really important," he said. "For some students, that is what they need the most."