by Roni Jo Draper, Ph.D
BYU education professor
BYU has again been ranked as the No. 1 Stone Cold Sober school. That’s cool. Sobriety deserves celebration. BYU has also been ranked as the No. 4 LGBTQ Unfriendliest school. This should give our community pause and cause us to reflect on our values and treatment of others.
I teach a multicultural education course at BYU. The primary purpose of the course is to prepare teachers to teach all children regardless of ethnicity, family income, gender, sexuality, ability or language. As such, we talk about the fair treatment of youth who do not conform to gender norms (for example, boys who act and dress in ways that we associate with females) and transgender youth. We also discuss the need to create safe spaces for kids questioning their sexuality or who do not identify as heterosexual.
These are sensitive topics. Many here at BYU believe that standing up for what is right means rejecting or disassociating with LGBTQ individuals. They justify these actions by citing scripture and Church-produced texts to explain that deviations from heterosexuality or traditional gender norms are sinful and wrong. While I understand these interpretations of our sacred texts, these interpretations are not helpful in determining how to treat one another. Thus, rather than use sacred texts as weapons to condemn the actions of others, we should use them to learn how to love and befriend others.
Christ invited us to love. He didn’t put conditions on who we should love. He didn’t say, “Love people who believe the same things as you,” or “Love people who want the same things in life that you want.” He never even qualified it by saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” He simply said, “Love one another.” This includes loving our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
The For the Strength of Youth standards say, “Be a good friend. Show genuine interest in others; smile and let them know you care about them. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, and refrain from judging and criticizing those around you. Do not participate in any form of bullying. Make a special effort to be a friend to those who are shy or lonely, have special needs, or do not feel included.” This serves as prudent guidance for how to befriend our LGBTQ peers.
I am the mother of a queer son. He is a returned missionary and a graduate of BYU. Despite living the Honor Code, he did not always feel safe at BYU. The effort he spent trying to protect himself from people who professed affiliation through Christ took a heavy toll on him. Some days he believed that he would be better off leaving this life and even made plans to do so. It terrifies me even now to recall this dark time in his life. As a mama, I continue to feel the stings of pain when I hear words said in hate or even misunderstanding about LGBTQ people — it simply doesn’t feel friendly.
As an LDS community we can be better. Let us lean on the Atonement of Christ that unburdens us from judging and condemning others. Let us lean on the Atonement of Christ and seek the strength necessary to love everyone. Let us lean on the Atonement of Christ that provides us the way to be better.
Let’s do this because BYU can be a sober school and BYU can be an LGBTQ friendly school, too.
Roni Jo Draper, Ph.D
Department of Teacher Education
Brigham Young University