BYU students join nationwide walkout against ‘queerphobia’ at religious schools
More than a hundred Brigham Young University students, alumni and community members protested the discrimination of LGBTQ+ students at religious universities and called for an end to Title IX religious exemptions.
The Oct. 11 walkout was organized by the Black Menaces, an activist group started at BYU known for their viral TikToks, and the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. The “Strike Out Queerphobia” protest mirrored others that took place at religious schools across the country.
Students and community members gathered south of BYU’s Provo campus for the rally. Speakers stood on the bed of a pickup truck and spoke through a megaphone. Several of them shared their own experiences as queer students at BYU and the changes they’d like to see in the community. Some also read the experiences of queer students who wished to remain anonymous.
One of the speakers was sophomore Dallin McRae, who showed up in an “I heart Mormon Boys” t-shirt. McRae said that the purpose was to send a message to BYU and to people making decisions on a federal level.
“So at BYU specifically, we're asking them to end discriminating policies against LGBTQIA+ people,” he told KUER. “And if BYU won't willingly end that discrimination by themselves, then we advocate for the end of Title IX religious exemptions for all religious universities.”
Title IX is a federal statute that prohibits schools receiving federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. Private schools run by religious organizations can be exempt from parts of Title IX that are “inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization,” according to the Department of Education. Because of those religious exemptions, BYU is allowed to ban students and employees from dating someone of the same sex.
McRae said some people, both within and outside of the school, say that if queer students do not like BYU’s policies, they should just leave.
“That just shows they don't understand our situation. We love our community,” he said. “We love our church, most of the time. And we even love BYU. We love the people that it brings together.”
McRae said he felt good after the protest and enjoyed being with the crowd.
“I felt love, a love that I don't often get from BYU. And I love that we've come together as a community and we've made that love ourselves when we haven’t received that from the administration,” he said.
While McRae said he’s always hopeful that BYU will make changes, he suspects the university won’t change its policies until changes are mandated federally.
Brigham Young University did not respond to KUER’s requests for comments.
Nate Byrd, a founding member of the Black Menaces and director of the group’s public relations, said they helped organize the protest as part of their goal to empower all marginalized communities.
“We believe in religious freedom, but we also believe that religion shouldn't be used as a weapon to discriminate against any one group of people,” he said.
Brigham Young University is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As an institution, the church is opposed to same-sex marriage and acting on same-sex attraction. A church apostle recently called on BYU staff to hold firm to that principle.
But Byrd thinks it is possible for the church to change its policies to be more inclusive of LGBTQ people.
“Within the church, things change,” Byrd said. “And so we know that this is something that could also change because there's no specific doctrine that prohibits it. It's just religious culture at this point. And so, we know that things can change and we're trying to give them that nudge.”
During the protest, speakers repeatedly reminded the crowd to stay off of the sidewalks to avoid being on BYU property. Provo police cars blocked off the block of 800 North where protesters were gathered.
Byrd said the Black Menaces purposefully chose to hold the protest off campus to avoid anyone getting in trouble and so they didn’t have to follow BYU’s rules for protesting. There were no visible counter protesters.