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When It No Longer Feels Safe To Be Gay On BYU Campus

Photo of Carrillon Tower.
Ken Lund, CC via Flickr,

Last week, after some back and forth, Brigham Young University doubled down on a campus policy forbidding any romantic behavior between students of the same gender. And the decision has left some LGBT students wondering if they should transfer schools. 

KUER’s Lee Hale spoke with one student who came to that conclusion more than a year ago. 

A warning, this story does discuss sexual violence. 

Chris Taylor wasn’t out as gay when he started school at BYU in 2016. He had just finished a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints, which owns BYU. 

Chris Taylor: I tried the dating women thing for a while. I tried not dating for a while. And I found that my mental health was really suffering. I was in a really rough place. And so my last semester there, I started dating men.  Lee Hale: While you were still at BYU?  CT: Yes LH: Which is a risky thing to do.  CT: It is absolutely a risky thing to do and also against the honor code.  LH: Describe the risk for somebody who might not be familiar.  CT: The honor code as it was written then and it appears as it is written now forbids any kind of homosexual activity. That means anything from kissing or hand-holding. Really chaste stuff. And obviously any kind of sexual activity. 

Going on a date can put a gay student at risk of getting kicked out of school and their BYU-sanctioned housing. Because of this, Taylor dated secretly. He would meet guys on dating apps and they would avoid public places when they went out. Which he knew was dangerous. 

CT: I went on a date with a man and he raped me. Then later he messaged me saying that if I didn't continue to have sex with him I would be reported to the Honor Code Office. That was really the experience that prompted me to leave BYU. I knew that this is no longer a safe place for me. Also, I didn't go to BYU planning to break the rules. And it was really sort of eating me up from the inside. It was a combination of frustration and guilt. I didn't even really think of it as rape first because I thought it was my fault. I went on a date with a man and I wasn't supposed to. And it took me months to even process that as rape.

Taylor later realized that his attacker, who wasn’t a BYU student, could not actually report him. And that he may have been safe going to the Title IX office on campus. But even taking that into consideration — he didn’t feel there was anyone he could truly confide in and he didn’t feel he was being honest with himself. So he went to tour the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. 

CT: It was weird at first there were things like smelling coffee, seeing beards. And then I saw gay couples on campus. And that was honestly, I want to say that it was happy, but it was really just disorienting at first. LH: Tell me about the disorienting feeling. CT: I've heard a lot of people talk about, you know, this like Mormon guilt that you sort of internalize. And I think it's something to do with that. It's this feeling that gay couples don't belong outside. That gay couples shouldn't be seen holding hands or cuddling, things like that. It's nothing sexual, but you feel sort of averse to it, even though it's something you desperately want. It's a really strange feeling.

Despite being a little overwhelmed, Taylor decided to transfer to the University of Utah. It meant leaving behind a full-ride scholarship — but thanks to the U’s Victim-Survivor-Advocate group — he was able to get it back. He says he rebuilt his world. And now he’s working with the OUT Foundation to help other students do the same. They help queer BYU students with funds for transfer fees and other unforeseen costs.

Taylor says he feels really fortunate. He’s now a senior, he’ll be graduating this spring, and he says that initial shock of seeing open gay couples on campus did eventually wear off. 

CT: I was able to, you know, go on some really wholesome dates that didn’t have this sort of fear. Go hiking together. Go to a restaurant together and that’s it. And that was a really beautiful thing for me.

Lee Hale hosts the podcast “Preach” for KUER and covers religion. Follow them on Twitter @leetroyhale

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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