Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Queer Mormon is Not an Oxymoron: Out LGBTQ Students at BYU

Higher ed and LGBT websites are abuzz about the recently released "It Gets Better" video by Brigham Young University (BYU) LGBTQ students. The video is at once more somber and hopeful than many other IGB videos, using statistics and personal stories to underscore that it doesn't get better immediately, but that queer Mormons do exist and can thrive.
My friend Julia D. Hunter who is an out and proud queer Mormon herself has agreed to share some context and analysis about the BYU video. Here is Julia:

"I encourage everyone to put this video into context and perspective--BYU has historically been one of the most hostile environment within the Mormon community for LGBT people. Even 4 years ago in 2008 these kids would've been harassed and judged by classmates and immediately expelled from the school and excommunicated from the church for being open and affirming about their orientation on campus.

"Now they're holding panels and open discussions on campus without fear of these consequences. They're creating new safe spaces for love and support that didn't exist before. They turned away hundreds of people from their last panel discussion--the campus is hungry for this kind of safe, open dialogue. It's truly amazing what they're doing for that community.

"Who know what the future will bring, institutionally speaking, or even for their individual lives. Many of them will probably end up having [same-sex] partners and leaving the LDS church behind--college is only 4 years, after all. But they and many of their classmates, gay and straight, are going to look back on their experience at BYU and know that it was better--they MADE it better--than it could've been, better than it was for thousands of kids who went there before them. Huge HUGE mega success. Bravo!"

In contrast, Queerty.com has been more cynical about the LGBT panel at BYU:
"Most disturbingly, one of the speakers, Brandon Bastian, is married to a woman and has a young daughter. The secret to his 'success' over homosexuality? 'A genuine love… not based on physical intimacy,' he told the crowd. That’s not a healthy marriage—that’s a perversity.  Is it any wonder, as Bastian casually mentioned, that his blushing bride is on medications that suppresses her libido?"
Julia's response:
"Ironically, Queerty's response seems to show a lack of respect for the many complex stages of the coming out process and only seems to highlight the agonizing place young LDS gay people constantly find themselves in. I realized I was gay for the first time when I was 23--I don't know about you, but how I understand and identify my orientation has evolved dramatically since then. Considering the intensely homophobic and heteronormative environment these students both grew up and go to school in, I'd say they are well on their way to beautiful and rewarding self-realization, and I find it pretty dismissive, cruel and unfair to judge otherwise.

"I don't personally condone Bastian's choice to marry a woman (and it should be clarified that the libido-suppressing quality of the medication is a side-effect of a drug used for an entirely different purpose), but that doesn't and shouldn't exclude him from BYU's queer community. There's probably just as many straight-married queers at BYU as there are single ones, and supporting the needs and experiences of MOMs (mixed-orientation marriages) is one of the many missions or branches of the LDS queer community, and potentially one of the most important topics to address openly as the LDS community continues to process and heal from past anti-gay policy and rhetoric.

"Again, what the panel proved, from the massive audience it drew, continued discussions, and overwhelmingly positive responses from BYU students, is that the campus is hungry to talk about these issues. But they have to feel safe having that conversation--the gay kids as well as the straight ones. They need to feel like you're speaking their language and understand where they're coming from. Queerty shows little compassion and understanding of where they're coming from. And recognizing that lack within LGBTQ activism is one of my biggest motivators for becoming involved in this ongoing dialogue. It's important for BYU students to know who their gay classmates are, even (and in some cases especially) the married ones. Then they can start to think differently about homosexuality, then they can start to process what that experience is really like--on their own campus. Step by step they can begin to deconstruct the church's anti-gay messages themselves--they are the future of the LDS church, after all.

"Most of all, gay Mormon kids are going to keep going to BYU and are going to keep needing support as they process and navigate their own journey through Mormonism and coming out. I hope more than anything that USGA [BYU's LGBTQ student group] is there to stay and will continue to grow and thrive throughout the years. It is a great example of grassroots work within a fiercely anti-gay church to turn the tides, and I promise you they're doing way more good for Mormonism than any of us yet know."

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful video! Thank you for sharing this, Judy!