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Southern Utah University’s choice of LDS Elder Holland for commencement divides seniors

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to faculty at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Aug. 23, 2021.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to faculty at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Aug. 23, 2021.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland will be the commencement speaker during the graduation ceremonies at Southern Utah University in April. But many LGBTQ students and their allies are upset about the choice.

Holland is an ordained member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2021, while speaking to Brigham Young University faculty and staff, he used a metaphor of “musket fire” to encourage the defense of the church’s teachings on same-sex marriage.

The furor in the wake of the remarks is why SUU seniors have mixed feelings about the choice of Holland.

Hannah McKeever said it shows that the university doesn’t care about the LGBTQ community on campus.

“As a member of the LGBTQ community, it does really kind of break my heart,” she said. “I don’t want to have to walk out of my own graduation in protest, but I feel that I have no other choice.”

Others were excited, like Macy Day, who said she was “a big fan of his talks” or Anna Jenkins who said Holland was “a great inspiration to everybody he speaks to.”

“His religious background is just a testament to how much he actually cares about people,” she said.

It’s the obvious religious connection, even in a deeply conservative state like Utah known for its ties to the church, that raises flags for other students. Kai Almodova doesn’t want a religious leader speaking at his commencement, “especially not someone that has talked openly about his opinions about the LGBTQ community here.”

Reece Whitaker said Holland would be a better speaker at the church-affiliated BYU, which is 3 hours north in Provo.

“I don’t know how someone high-ranking in the LDS Church even got considered for our student body because it just doesn’t work here.” is circulating an online petition to prevent Holland from being the commencement speaker. The petition has over 16,000 signatures, although people don’t have to be faculty or students to sign it.

Equality Utah, the state’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, has also weighed in. In a statement, the organization said it “disagreed vehemently when Elder Holland deployed the metaphorical use of ‘muskets’ to defend traditional marriage. It was disheartening and painful to hear.” The organization also believes in the principles of freedom of expression. It said that means “even those with whom we disagree are entitled to express themselves, especially in an academic setting.”

A statement from SUU said it is still reviewing the feedback they have received. The president and the Board of Trustees chair and vice chair hosted two campus listening tours on March 20.

As student Cody Dirks sees it though, the university’s hands are tied.

“If they change a commencement speaker, they’re going to upset half our student body,” he observed. “And if they don’t change it, they’re going to upset the other half.”

Southern Utah University student Aria Ferrin contributed reporting from Cedar City, Utah.

Kristine Weller is a newsroom intern at KUER. She’s only been a journalist for a year but is excited to see what the future holds.
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