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.