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by Ashlyn Smith

When I start my presentation by telling the class that I lived in Utah for two years, I am

met with a chorus of varying “Ewwww!”’s. They have seen my title slide; they know I am talking about signaling in queer fashion. I explain that Utah is beautiful. It has great weather and dazzling sunsets, and no matter how long you live there you’ll never be able to explore all the places you want to. Having said that, Utah is very conservative and isn’t the most friendly of places to be when you’re gay like I am. The class laughs.

I moved to Provo when I was 18 to go to BYU. I was insanely nervous—I’d never traveled by myself, and all of the sudden I was moving to a different country on my own. I remember my first day in my dorm, getting to know my exceptionally kind and generous roommates, and walking to the Cannon Center for dinner where I could only manage a few bites of salad because my stomach was fluttering with nerves. I was so excited to be at college; I was so terrified to be at college.

I tell my class that when I attended BYU, I wanted to meet other queer people. Of course, I couldn’t outright say that I was queer. My solution was to wear a little rainbow bracelet—a wink to those that were looking for it. My class nods in approval.

When I got in, my mom told me how excited she was for me to attend the BYU devotionals. There are so many temples in Utah—two in Provo alone! And I would meet so many nice people. My mom told me about how she and her college roommates did a group prayer every night. I would enjoy my classes, and I would enjoy all of the activities that came with being a freshman, but most importantly, I would enjoy the many dates that would surely come my way.

What I hadn’t told my mom was that half of the reason I was excited to go to BYU was that I thought it would make me straight—that the differences I’d recognized in myself since I was 14 would magically disappear if I was attending the Lord’s university. Of course, this didn’t

happen. I took a mission prep course, I was in my Relief Society Presidency, and I went on dates with boys. And this still didn’t happen.

After my presentation, one of the girls in my class asks me what it was like going to BYU as a queer student. I laugh a little and say that it really isn’t too bad, so long as nobody knows.

I don’t think I fully understood the impact that going to BYU as a queer student had on me until I transferred. Now, every day on campus I walk on a rainbow-painted crosswalk to get to my classes. I hold my girlfriend's hand above the table instead of under it. And every now and then I go to the school Pride Center—the designated Pride Center—to do a little craft and chat with other queer students. Often, I think about how beautiful Utah is. How sometimes you look at the mountains and everything finally makes sense. Less often, I remember that when you live in Utah as a queer student—when you go to BYU as someone that is ‘other’—you will finally understand what it means to be lonely. To have your existence be so alienated that you forget you shouldn’t have to fight to be accepted and loved and included.

After my presentation, my professor—my gay, 71-year-old professor—tells me that it brought back many memories for him. He tells me that he was offered a job in Salt Lake many years ago and that he thinks the people down there would have “eaten him alive.” I smile. I tell him that some of the best people you will ever meet come from Utah. That you don’t understand what allies really are until you are attending a Christian university, and people who aren’t part of the queer community fight for your existence on a campus where it would be much easier for them not to.

I text my mom and tell her that my presentation went well. Maybe someday I’ll tell her what it was about.



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