Writing this post is potentially dangerous for me. As a current BYU-Idaho student, what I’m about to share and express, under current CES Honor Code, potentially subjects me to investigation, discipline, and expulsion. But this is important. So I’m writing it anyway.
Today, I was reading a news article that talked about BYU and the recent letters submitted by LGBT groups attempting to persuade the “Big 12” from accepting BYU into their group. To be honest, I don’t really know what the Big 12 is, other than it has something to do with sports (which I don’t care about anyway). That’s okay, though. It’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that the article quoted the BYU Honor Code. I’ve read the Honor Code before, I committed to follow it last year when I joined the Pathway program through BYU-Idaho. But the honor code was different then.
The quote the article referenced is from the Homosexual Behavior section of the CES Honor Code that states: “Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” (https://policy.byu.edu/view/index.php?p=26)
I support and believe that sex in any relationship outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong. I support and believe that acts of self-pleasure by means of pornographic materials, masturbation, etc. are wrong. I support and believe that members of the same sex intentionally or knowingly engaging in romantic or sexually arousing activities is wrong. And if the Honor Code specifically forbade engaging in romantic or sexually arousing activities and left it at that, I would have no issue whatsoever. I’d be supportive. I’d defend BYU and their right to believe and enforce such beliefs. But they completely crossed the line by saying “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings” are wrong. Not just morally or socially, it goes deeper than that.
To make sense of this, let’s first define homosexual. According to Merriam Webster, the simple definitions are 1) “sexually attracted to people of the same sex” and 2) “based on or showing a sexual attraction to people of the same sex”. Real quick, I want to define the word “sexual”. According to Google’s generated definition, “sexual” means “relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals.”
Next, let’s define physical intimacy. This is where it gets interesting. According to Wikipedia, Physical intimacy is “sensual proximity or touching. It is an act or reaction, such as an expression of feelings (including close friendship, love, or sexual attraction), between people. Examples of physical intimacy include being inside someone’s personal space, holding hands, hugging, kissing, caressing, and sexual activity. It is possible to be physically intimate with someone without actually touching them; however, a certain proximity is necessary. For instance, a sustained eye contact is considered a form of physical intimacy, analogous to touching.”
According to the CES Honor Code, used by BYU, BYU-Idaho, LDS Business College, etc. Simply being attracted to men in even a mildly sexual way means that ANY form of intimacy between them and myself is a breach of the Honor Code that subjects me to discipline and potential expulsion. When I hug my best friend who is male, I am breaking the honor code. When shaking the hands of men in my ward, I am breaking the Honor Code. When I am sitting directly next to a male, even if I’m not touching them, I am breaking the Honor Code. When my dad hugs me, I am breaking the Honor Code. When I get a priesthood blessing, or am doing baptisms for the dead at the temple, I am breaking the Honor Code. I could name endless examples of how I break the Honor Code every day of my life.
I am going to be honest… I have defended BYU in the past. I have believed in and supported the Honor Code. I have tried to help people who have misunderstood it. But I’m pretty sure I am not misunderstanding what I just read. I did the research, I looked up definitions. I went to the source. And to be totally frank and honest, I am shocked and disappointed, even angered. I feel little loyalty towards BYU right now. If I knew about this change in the Honor Code, I may have honestly looked elsewhere for schooling, and I may still tell others who are considering BYU to look elsewhere. But, on the other hand, I am thankful I am enrolled right now, because I am going to do whatever I can to get this grave mistake corrected.
Right now, according to the Honor Code, if you are a gay, bisexual, or even a heterosexual who sometimes admires same sex peers bodies or personalities, you must live your life as a college student as an outcast. You cannot let anyone of your same gender look at you for prolonged periods, have deep intimate conversations with you, sit next to you, and certainly not touch you. According to the Honor Code, you must completely isolate yourself from every single person of your same gender. If you are a man, you can never receive blessings, you can never be baptized for yourself, or for the dead, you can never shake your bishops hand, you can’t even look into your bishops eyes. Are all of those things not obviously ridiculous and even blasphemous? They obviously weren’t for whoever wrote that part of the Honor Code…
I usually hate using the word discrimination, because I feel like in today’s culture it’s often a misused and abused word. But I’m going to use it. I honestly feel like the current Honor Code is discriminatory to any student or staff member who experiences same-sex attraction. I feel the Honor Code does not at all represent how Christ lived His life, or how we should live ours. I feel the Honor Code is incredibly damaging and isolating to a group of people that need a lot of love and understanding. I feel that the Honor Code needs to change.
To be honest, I feel that the same blanket statement they used to severely limit social, spiritual, and physical interaction of same sex attracted individuals should also be applied to heterosexual people. After-all, what the Honor Code is banning for same sex oriented students and staff isn’t all sinful in nature, so why not apply the same to everyone? That way, at least, it couldn’t be labeled as discrimination against any specific group. Maybe heterosexual students shouldn’t be allowed to be physically intimate with one another. Maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to shake hands, or hug, or cuddle, or look into each other’s eyes. After-all, those things could potentially be arousing, or could be done with sexual motives in mind, right? I don’t think heterosexuals would be very happy or accepting of a rule like that.
To recap, if I am at all physically intimate with another man, simply because I am same sex attracted, and even if our intimacy is nothing more than a hand shake in greeting, I can be expelled from BYU. If Christ Himself came and hugged me, I could be expelled. But if I was heterosexual, and shook the hands of other men, cuddled with other men, hugged other men, so long as I wasn’t attracted to them, and they weren’t attracted to me, there would be no Honor Code violation.
As a gay member of the Church who attends BYU-Idaho, I’m expected to go out of my way to avoid ANY interaction with men. If I follow the Honor Code, I can’t shake anyone’s hand at church, unless they’re a girl. I can’t look at my bishop, or the Sunday school teacher. I can’t sit next to anyone in Elder’s Quorum. I probably can’t even take the sacrament from the person passing, because I’ll be too close to them in proximity. I better never perform baptisms for the dead again, either, because I’ll be breaking the Honor Code…
But I’m feeling vitriolic right now, I’m feeling betrayed, I’m feeling discriminated against and mistreated…
I’m not going to follow that part of the Honor Code. I’m going to fight it. I spent too many years of my life denying myself any physical interaction with men. It destroyed me from the inside out. I need men in my life. I need physical, emotional, and spiritual affection from men. I don’t need sex. I don’t need romance. But I do need love. I spent too many years suffering by keeping myself from it. I spent too many years lying to myself and those around me. I spent too many years attempting to conform to toxic Mormon culture that isn’t even consistent with doctrine. I’ve spent too many years experiencing those pains, and I will not allow myself to do it again because of some blasphemous Honor Code.
Next time I see my best friend, I’ll be sure to give him a big hug, tell him I love him, look him in the eyes, and just enjoy the closeness. Because I love him. Because I love myself. Because I love God and the gospel. And because when I am intimate with my best friend, or other men, and even with some women, I feel closer to God. And I need to feel close to God.
Since this post was probably really controversial, and I was fairly vitriolic, I just want to make clear that this post is in no way anti-Mormon or anti-LDS. This post isn’t even anti-BYU (yes, even though I did say I may have chosen a different school and tell other people not to go). This post is “anti-one sentence in the Honor Code I take issue with”. I still very much have a testimony of the LDS Church. I have a testimony of God and Christ. I have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, and the apostles here on the earth today are ordained of God. This post was not meant to erode, damage, or destroy anyone’s testimony of the church. I wrote this post out of love and concern. Once I hit “Publish”, this post is ultimately out of my hands. I cannot control my readers, what they think, feel, or do about my post. I just want to make it clear that my intentions are to advocate for the church, even for BYU, not against.
If you want another post to read about this same subject, check out my friend’s blog post on it. He’s usually more eloquent than I am, and he’s also usually less vitriolic and more patient and loving in his posts. Plus I already read his post and thought it was great. http://gaymormonguy.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-byu-honor-code-bans-hugs-handshakes.html
*Update* I called BYU-Idaho today inquiring about the section of the Honor Code about physical intimacy. When I called in, I was connected with a woman who said she was willing to answer my question. So I told her the section of the Honor Code in question, read it to her over the phone, told her I'm same-sex attracted and also a faithful member of the church, and proceeded to ask her if, because I am same-sex attracted, I cannot hug, shake hands with, or even receive a blessing from another man. She told me that her thought of it would be that no, those things wouldn't be a breach in the Honor Code, despite the blanket statement of "physical intimacy", but she told me that she wasn't 100% sure, so she offered to transfer me to someone higher up, but I don't think she told me what his position was, so I don't know how "high up" he was, or if he really had the authority to translate or explain it correctly.
Well, when she transferred me, I guess it went to the wrong person, because they transferred me again. When I got in contact with the person I was meant to be transferred to, I posed the same concern and question to him. I read him the sentence in question, told him I’m gay, mentioned what physical intimacy entails, and asked him if, as a student of BYU-Idaho, I’m breaking the Honor Code any time I hug, shake hands with, look at, sit next to, or even receive a blessing from another man. He basically told me that those situations aren’t really what that sentence is meant to cover, and that most likely, it wouldn’t actually be a breach (at least in his personal opinion). I asked him if that meant the statement revolved more around intent, and he said yes. He told me that, in his eyes at least, the statement more applies to same sex individuals who are romantically or sexually involved, or who are displaying affection publicly (or privately) to prove a point or express romantic/sexual desire. With what he told me at first, it sounded like he believed it had more to do with intent.
As a follow-up after his explanation, I told him that I have a best friend who is male that I am very close to. I told him that I hug my friend, that we put our arms around each other when sitting together, and that we even hold hands (though not usually in public), and asked him if that would be considered a violation. He told me that hugging my best friend, and putting my arm around him was fine. He said he didn’t feel the Honor Code was attempting to erode close and healthy friendships. But with the hand holding, he said if someone found out, there would likely be an investigation. He told me that because other students would likely interpret it as sexual/romantic, or feel uncomfortable about it culturally, that action would likely be taken against it. I finished by confirming with him that it’s mainly involved with intent, and he confirmed this. But I still have concerns…
With what he said about hand holding, that because other student would interpret it as sexual/romantic, or feel uncomfortable about it, that’s just opening doors for discrimination, misunderstanding, isolation, and further toxifying the culture at BYU schools… While I appreciated him saying that it was based more on intent, and in specific cases like that, they would talk to the student about it before deciding anything, I still feel the wording in the CES Honor Code is very dangerous, especially when he added in the variable that other students’ cultural feelings and expectations can be forced on a same sex attracted student, even if that student had no intent to be sexual. And with how corrupt and ignorant some LDS members still are regarding issues like this, I see it posing a real issue… While I appreciate the guy I spoke with at BYU-Idaho for being more understanding than what I expected, I don’t think this issue will be anywhere close to resolved until the wording is changed.
I have to give that guy credit, though. I was there when David called BYU (Utah) about it, and I heard their conversation. David wasn’t lying in his blog post when he said the guy literally told him that any physical intimacy is unacceptable between members of the same-sex if one of them is homosexual. The guy I spoke to was much more understanding and looked at the spirit of the law. Maybe BYU-Idaho is just a nicer, more understanding place than BYU? Or was their answer influenced by the fact that I brought up receiving priesthood blessings as potential violations under the current wording? Either way, I don't think the guy I spoke with had significant authority to explain, interpret, or change policy, and was more-so just sharing his opinion.
Regardless, the Honor Code needs to change. I will keep looking for ways to fight it and get it corrected. Hopefully it was just someone ignorant who wrote that part of the Honor Code, and hopefully that someone, or someone else, will realize the danger that sentence poses, and be willing to change it. I still stand by everything I said in my blog post. I was thankful for the man I spoke with at BYU-Idaho, but while that conversation helped me understand his point of view, it did not validate my concerns about the cultural dangers of such a policy, nor did it give me an answer as to why it's worded that way. Hopefully God can help soften hearts. Including mine.