LDS Press Conference on Nondiscrimination Feels Like a Slap in the Face

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks as LDS leaders reemphasize support Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, for LGBT nondiscrimination laws that protect religious freedoms at a press conference inside the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Scott G Winterton for KSL).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at a press conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (Photo by Scott G Winterton for KSL).

Earlier today several key leaders of the LDS Church, including Apostles Todd Christofferson, Dallin Oaks, and Jeffrey Holland, and Young Women’s leader Neill Marriott, called a press conference to discuss religious freedom and nondiscrimination legislation for the LGBT community. I have to commend the Church generally for a tone and policy that is radically improved from even just 5 or 6 years ago when I was a student at BYU. But as a whole, I found their statements lacking and ultimately hypocritical.

I appreciate the Church’s blanket condemnation of discrimination and persecution (their favorite word). I especially appreciate the Church acknowledging the historic persecution of gay people over the past several hundred years. What hurt was seeing the Church acknowledge this history without taking any ownership of their own role in that persecution.

If they won’t apologize for the pernicious statements of Church leaders like Spencer W. Kimball and Ernest Wilkinson, they could at the very least generally express regret for any persecution gay people have experienced at the hands of their members. Without this acknowledgement, their condemnation of bullying feels hollow.

In 2007 when I was a student at BYU, my straight, LDS roommates discovered I was gay. Immediately I was treated with suspicion, disrespect, and outright contempt. My roommates forbade me from bringing my friends to the apartment. They lectured me all the time. Whatever I did, it was reported to my Bishop so he could keep tabs on me. They stalked me on the internet and threatened to report things I had written. I almost lost my ecclesiastic endorsement (required to enroll in classes) simply because of their vague accusations. This blackmail was not only sanctioned by BYU, it was encouraged by the institution which forbade even the “advocacy” of homosexuality.

When my lease ran up, I vowed never again to live with unfriendly people. Over the next two years I lived in a series of apartments with other gay Mormon BYU students. The people I lived with were some of my best friends. Even though our homes were finally safe places, we continued to live in a hostile environment where we were constantly afraid of repercussions for our orientation and beliefs. One of my closest friends ended up getting in trouble with the school because of a brief romantic relationship. Because of this relationship, he was suspended from BYU and was evicted from our apartment. Each of the apartments I lived in were privately owned and managed, but were contractually obligated by BYU to evict students at BYU’s discretion.

Today and in recent years the church has supported housing and employment nondiscrimination legislation for LGBT people, provided that an exemption is made not only for religious institutions but for individuals with religious beliefs. In other words, they think it’s wrong for other people to discriminate but retain the right to do so themselves.

The fact that Jeffrey Holland, a former President of BYU, mentioned church employment, honor code statements, and college accreditation as specific exemptions for nondiscrimination means that the Church intends to continue fostering the hostile environment I experienced at BYU. They intend for the scenario in which my friend was evicted from his home simply because he had previously been in a gay relationship to remain a legal and actual reality.

So, yes, it’s great the Church supports nondiscrimination and rejects anti-gay harassment. But. Having experienced anti-gay bullying at the hands and mouths of LDS members, leaders, and official publications, such statements implying they have always been against such persecution, feels more like a slap in the face than a sincere change of heart.

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12 thoughts on “LDS Press Conference on Nondiscrimination Feels Like a Slap in the Face

  1. Lovely words, nicely written. Sadly, there are some very bitter, twisted, hateful people out there. And this appears to be an appeal to the faithful to perpetuate the intolerance.
    I used to be one of them, I’d like to think that I am very different now.
    There is hope I guess.
    Thank you for writing that, I enjoyed reading it

  2. We have to give the church and it’s members room to grow. It was 35 years after black members of the church were given full equality in the church that the papers were published explaining that prophets are imperfect men and are also a product of the times in which they lived. This is a step forward for the church, let’s encourage them to continue to become more christ-like.

  3. I am a Latter Day Saint since 1978. I was converted after the Blacks’ “revelation” I always feel that that “change was done for me only. Ambitious? Maybe. The point is, there are some things I will never agree upon because they are simply wrong. I still have to see a “black” person amongst the general authorities of the Church. Maybe some day. God loves everyone equally. The God I know does not look at color. The God I know is Fair. The God I know is forgiving. That’s the Gospel principle I live by.

  4. Our constitution protects the LDS church (and any other private institution) freedom of religions rights to discriminate against anyone it wants. The problem occurs when they want to influence civil rights public accommodation law.

    BYU’s admission and honor code policies are clearly spelled out. If one doesn’t want to be discriminated against, why go there and become a willing volunteer for emotional abuse?

    • Ah, the old, “if you’re gay, why would you even go to BYU?” line. This is a big reason I wrote the memoir!

      When you are a sheltered 17 year old, you may not have the resources, maturity, or insight to understand your own sexuality, much less what college you should go to.

      Besides, BYU actually advertised itself to gay Mormon teens by promising us free reparative therapy that aimed to make us straight. Read the book when it comes out to see how that turned out!

    • Paul, we want to attend the Lord’s University because it is supposed to be a Christ-like place of study. Or something like that. Or rather, we want to go because we were told from birth that this was the university we should strive to attend. However, no one told us the P.S.: “you’ll suffer discrimination.” Plus, you can’t really know what the experience will be like until you get there.

  5. Daniel, how are you these days? I read your post on Facebook and for whatever reason felt like I should leave a note. Not that this changes anything but I’m sorry for the way your BYU experience turned out. I feel a bit bad knowing that I was at BYU at exactly the same time but got caught up in my own things to continue the friendship we started during our missionary service. Not that I could have changed anything, but still.

    Anyway, I still remember the amazing, true Chicago style pizza you made one day, and thanks for the brief art lesson you gave me years ago, I can no longer look at most LDS art without noticing how unbelievably corny and tacky it is. So thanks for that ;). I hope your doing well and if you’re ever in the Utah Valley area we should grab some lunch or something.

  6. I’m very sorry you suffered from such maltreatment. I have seen youth treat their peers just as poorly for reasons other than sexual orientation. No reasons make such behavior justifiable. These youth do not reach maturity simply by enrolling in college. Despite regular instruction to treat others the way you would be treated, the lesson is often not learned until Karma returns the favor. Wisdom cannot be taught, but only learned. Having experienced many hardships, though I am straight and cannot fully relate, I can say that for me the balm of forgiving and forgetting has helped me to find greater happiness in my own life. I wish you peace and happiness.

    • The bullying I described comes not just from my RM peers, but from the institution of the Church that evicted my friend from my apartment. And that is one is one of many examples of persecution caused directly by BYU and the Church.

      I have long ago forgiven my roommates. And frankly, I have forgiven the church. But forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting history, or worse yet, changing it to erase wrongdoing.

  7. Pingback: Signature Books » Mormon News, January 26–30

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