Feeling Unaccepted at BYU and “Conflict” Between Loving the Gospel and Being Gay
[Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blog articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of USGA.]
I came to BYU wanting to prepare for a career in music by learning to be more hopeful, serviceful, kind, trusting, open-minded, and loving. But BYU has made me more bitter, angry, resentful, reclusive and pessimistic than I ever imagined. BYU, on paper, stands for spiritual strength, academic integrity, and character development. In my experience, however, I have been spiritually shamed, academically brushed aside and told I am evil and going down a dark path for sticking up for my beliefs. I am despised because my integrity is not compatible with another's opinion. I came to BYU because I believed in the principles I thought it stood for, but I have learned through experience that you need to back up your words through action; faith without works is dead. And BYU has done the opposite of what they espouse. I have been edified spiritually by turning to God to work through the trauma BYU has given to me. I have grown academically by fighting a system that does not trust me. My integrity has been challenged greatly, but I have tried hard to stick to the tenets I believe in.
But even though I have grown through it all, I keep questioning, is it worth it?
Part of the reason I have continued feeling so depressed even after distancing myself from BYU is because I feel like a burden. The shame I felt there for being gay has made me continue to feel like I am burden to my school, to this world, and to everyone I am around. I know that I am worth it, and I write music about learning to choose to belong because I know I have worth, but when people of authority question my validity as a human being so frequently it gets harder and harder to not begin to internalize those questions. I often repeat the mantra "I am enough" to myself, but I'm human. I'm fragile and it hurts.
I feel constantly trapped and suffocated by people and an administration who shame my existence and choices. I was barred from studying music for 2 years and felt like no one was taking me seriously, and some professors literally told me they didn’t take me seriously. And now I am in debt to a university with policies that make me feel like giving them my tuition money is a self-betrayal.
Of course I have met amazing people too, whom I love, but is it worth it to stay in a toxic environment even if some of the people there are genuinely wholesome and edifying? Even if you love someone like family, is it worth it to live with them if their house is full of OSHA violations?
The most rigorous triggers for my major depressive episodes have been related to BYU’s homophobia and its sick enabling of homophobia, such as threats on social media in November 2019 when there was one of the first LGBT events ever on campus (a simple Christmas party), or when BYU rewrote the Honor Code excluding the homosexuality clause and did not say anything when people subsequently threatened LGBT students, or again when they dropped the CES letter and still to this day have not publicly announced or remarked upon how it relates to the Honor Code, or how homosexual relationships would be viewed or handled. I know some in administration feel the CES Letter is a clarification on the Honor Code, but I do not agree that the documents make sense together; I personally think they stand in opposition to each other. Yet BYU remains silent and allows students to live in fear of their education being compromised and know their school has enabled discrimination against them with no public safeguards.
I have so much compassion for my friends and for people I do not know who suffer in silence, and I want to help them. I have been thanked countless times by those who were too emotionally compromised or simply not in a safe enough situation to stand up for themselves for representing them. They said my example helped them feel like they had permission to exist. But I don’t know how much longer I can stand for others or myself while facing this constant opposition. When the CES letter dropped, the Holy Ghost told me to hold my head up high and keep moving forward. But it can be hard to hold on and keep my head high when people attack the very core of my spiritual beliefs that keep me going. I feel God's hand in keeping me afloat, and maybe God knows I can handle the fire of opposition, but I am starting to feel insane for walking into the blazing flame in the first place.
A lot of people tell me that I get discriminated against at BYU because I am gay or because I am more liberal minded. I don't agree. I get discriminated against at BYU because a lot of people at BYU are discriminatory. My identity is not the problem and will not be “fixed.” There is nothing wrong with being gay, but there is a lot wrong with telling someone you love them and then making them feel like a piece of garbage and psychologically harassing them, and then refusing to apologize or do anything to lift that person back up after realizing the damage you have done. And there is nothing wrong with having a different ideology; diversity is something to celebrate and learn from. I do not condemn the different ideologies I am surrounded by, but I do not condone or support the actions of people of any ideology that constrict the freedoms of others and actively cause harm.
I don’t want to feel like a victim, so I make choices in things I can control to better my experiences wherever I am. At BYU, I addressed administration when I felt the Honor Code was potentially hiding information about their history, and after 5 months of appealing, I got a beard card/license (It is illegal to have a beard at BYU, except for a couple reasons like physical health so I petitioned for mental wellbeing knowing I would do better in school with more control of my body and face). When people in music thought I wasn't good enough, I snuck into a challenge exam for an upper level music theory course and passed it honestly, because of that someone finally let me take other course challenge exams to see my actual skill level. I got into classes I was ready for because I forced them to listen.
I don’t want to support a system that enables discrimination to the point that many of my friends have tried to kill themselves. BYU always seems to focus on sympathizing with victims and conveniently ignoring the perpetrators. Rather than telling people “I love and support you, but don’t agree with who you are,” why not change the system of shame that is destroying them? If your friend is allergic to peanut butter, stop force feeding them peanut butter. Change the root of the problem and the allergic reaction won’t occur.
Even after all I do to make my life better, a Bishop could revoke my ecclesiastical endorsement if he did not agree that I am worthy. What if I have to petition the Honor Code because I believe I am worthy to be at BYU? Will I have to, yet again, prove my worth as a human being to a school that doesn’t seem to agree? If that is a possibility that I will have to go through all of that again, is it worth it? When I wanted to serve a mission, the Stake President withheld my endorsement for three months without explaining anything or meeting with me. Finally he met with me a month before I was supposed to leave and told me he and other leaders researched and watched all of my social media and listened to my music on the internet and thought I may be “too gay to serve. But I can’t find anything on you, so you can serve a mission.” I have given great effort to become friends with a Dean of Students and other administration and get to know them as people and let them get to know me. But even with me trying to let leaders see me as a human, why do I have to prove that I am not evil all the time? Why did a Stake President essentially stalk me without just getting to know me as a human in order to attempt to stop me from serving God because of his prejudice? I now feel unsafe speaking to local church leaders because if any one of them believes I am unworthy they could pull my ecclesiastical endorsement and freeze my transcript. Even if I believe I am worth it, someone else could undermine my entire education because of their homophobic opinions.
I just want to study music, make connections, and along the way inspire joy and love, all while connecting with my God. But instead I exhaust my time having to advocate for my own validity as a human being. It’s draining. Can I just like, prepare for my career in peace, please?
I'm usually good at getting back up from trauma and the negativity. Usually I just write a song about it and then go live my life, proving their hurtful words wrong through my example. But with everything that happened at BYU in winter, and their refusal to be clear about how they feel about queer folk at BYU, it feels like I am not worth it to my school. I have felt before that my school generally does not believe I belong. They may say they love me, but words are empty without action. But this is more than just feeling like I don’t belong: It feels like my school does not validate my worth as a human being. I feel like they see me as subhuman. They may see me and my strength and tell me how amazing I am, but they will never support me for who I am.
I don't want to live in endless shame and fear or be depressed anymore. I want to inspire good through music. But it is hard to be authentic and honest while writing about my feelings when I feel censored and silenced by my school. I want to feel comfortable singing out praises to God and love songs to men. People tell me all the time that I am sinful and wrong, that my connection to God is fake (even though He seems to be the only one who completely understands and validates me), and that the love that I have felt with men is Satanic. But if all things that inspire good are of God, why is it that when I am edified and supported by a man who loves me in a wholesome way, that's considered evil?
It doesn't feel like my school is listening. I am not alone in feeling all this. So many of my friends are also hurt and confused like me, working through trauma related to BYU. We are burnt out from fighting to exist authentically.
By Peter Morgan