All posts by byuusga

Final Speech – President Addison Jenkins

Good evening everyone. Today is the last USGA meeting I will attend as president.  Over the past few days and weeks I’ve been reflecting on the past two years of my time in the presidency – I decided that I would regret not using the opportunity to address all of you in a more organized fashion.

Serving as President of USGA has been the most challenging, frustrating, meaningful, and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. I can’t think of something more impactful I’ll be able to do for the foreseeable future.  Martin Luther King famously said  “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.’ What most people (including me, until I looked up this quote for this speech) don’t know is that King was actually quoting 19th century clergyman Theodore Parker, and that Dr. King’s full quote reads “Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’” Dr. King’s assertion was that yes, good will eventually prevail, but not without significant setbacks and injustices.  If you believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you ascribe to the belief that there was a great Apostasy, where for nearly 2,000 years, or close to a 3rd of human spiritual history, God allowed his children to wander in darkness.  Progress is not always linear, it does not always follow a logical progression, and it frequently is followed by setbacks and sorrow.

I had so hoped that I would be able to stand before you all today and announce that big, bold and meaningful changes had happened at BYU.  That I would be able to tell you that, like our video said 5 years ago, that it had gotten better at BYU – in tangible, and demonstrable ways.  I’m disappointed to say that while there has been some progress, there has not enough.

What I’ve learned along the way is that life is complex and difficult and messy and nuanced.  I don’t know that I believe that there are good people and bad people, but more likely most people are trying to do their best with what they have.  But I also know that often, someone’s best is just simply not enough.  It is a sobering realization, perhaps part of anyone’s journey into adulthood, that people will disappoint you and let you down – sometimes in a small and inconsequential ways, and sometimes in ways that are profound – that have real and reverberating impacts on your life.

The frank reality is that BYU is not an emotionally, nor sometimes physically, safe place to be an LGBTQ student or member of the Church.  There are real, not fabricated, not exaggerated, real reasons our university is consistently ranked as the largest and one of the worst universities in the country for LGBTQ students.  My inclination here is to soften that statement by qualifying it or explaining it, I do that too often personally, and we do that too often as a community.  So for now I will let that sit.  BYU should be the best, the safest, the most welcoming school an LGBTQ or SSA member of the Church could attend, but all things considered, it simply is not.  I wish it were.

A couple of years ago, I tried out for Divine Comedy – BYU’s sketch comedy group.  I almost made it my first time, but got cut in the final round of auditions.  A year later, I had been appointed USGA president and knew that my time and energies were limited.  But I thought about the potential impact I could have as an openly gay member of a visible BYU performing group.  I wasn’t sure what that impact would actually look like, but I thought it was worth the try. As an audience member I had sat through sketch after sketch and joke after joke that was heteronormative, and focused on the common themes of straight dating, courtship, and marriage at BYU.   I was grateful, but apprehensive when I was selected to join the cast.

Last semester we chose The Prince of Egypt as the musical headliner for one of our shows.  All of us know the story of Moses and the escape of the Israelites from their Egyptian captivity into the promised land from the Bible.  It was not a story I had given much analytical thought to, until confronted with needing to satirize the movie into something our audience of BYU students would find funny and entertaining for 15 minutes.  While thinking about the plot, it became apparent to me that this classic liberation story actually told the importance of privilege and sacrifice.  Moses was born a jew, but miraculously rescued and raised in the most privileged upbringing imaginable.  Prince of Egypt and 2nd in line to the throne of the world’s most powerful civilization at the time.  But upon learning of his true heritage, Moses world was turned upside down.  He spent a time learning about his people – his lineage and his calling in life.  When he returned to Egypt it was to use his privilege – his personal relationship with his step-brother who was now Pharaoh – to ask and then demand for the release of his people.

As Divine Comedy looked for parallels to BYU campus and it’s culture, we briefly considered casting Moses as a gay BYU student who fled to the University of Utah and then returned to free his LGBTQ brothers and sisters.  But we didn’t consider it for very long, because we knew that topic and the implications of that plot line would likely make out audience too uncomfortable.  Instead of laughing they would probably be cringing.  The final iteration of our satire cast the Israelites as downtrodden art students who are never paid for their work, and exploited by their malevolent Business school and BYUSA overlords.  Common campus clichés that are rooted in a kernel of truth.  Moses wound up as an unknowing MDT major, and a few lines indicated to any audience members paying enough attention, that Moses was likely gay and discovering his sexual orientation – clichés in their own right.

I was proud to be a part of a cast that was willing to take at least that many risks in the exploration of comedy.  But I was also sobered by the realization that my reality as a gay BYU student was too edgy for people to laugh at in a campus comedy performance.  No faculty adviser asked us to strip the overtly gay references (thought they likely could have).  We knew as performers and students the limits our audience would go with us.  Too often within the Church and at BYU we think of LGBTQ issues instead of LGBTQ people.  Gay friends. Queer classmates. Lesbian Relief Society Presidents and Trans roommates.  Issues are easy to ignore. To explain away. To minimize and justify.  People are much more real than issues.  People shouldn’t be afraid of me. People shouldn’t be afraid of you.

As LGBTQ students at BYU we’re used to having our narratives and lives erased from the institutions we serve in.  We’ve watched comedy sketches of straight dates, seminary videos about temple marriage, seen peers and leaders at BYU celebrated for their relationships and righteousness.  As a university we are content to let our gay students sing in Vocal Point, act in our plays and musicals, run the Political Review, College Republicans, be the President of BYUSA, do ground breaking research in mathematics, display our art and our faces in the HFAC, and the innumerable others you all contribute to campus every day.  But so far we’ve been asked to largely leave our stories at the door.  And what are if we if not our stories?

Sing and dance they say, but don’t take off that mask.

As part of the Prince of BYU headliner we did, I had to sing a parody of the song All I Ever Wanted. Our version was lighthearted – making fun of a business major who’s known nothing but J Crew and networking events.  But practicing and listening to the original lyrics a hundred times, I became acquainted with emotion behind the song.  Moses upon realizing he doesn’t belong with the family that raised him, that his heritage and destiny are different from everything he’d ever imagined, sings “All I ever wanted – this is my home.” Not ‘this was my home’ but ‘this is my home.’ How much do we resonate with that sentiment? I do.  It is sobering to be at the university your parents always dreamed you would go to, experiencing all of the life milestones you’d expected to achieve, and then have it all dissolve in front of you.  Whether you think of Moses as a historical and spiritual figure, or a cartoon character, I know how painful it is to be faced with the idea that the only home you’ve ever known – spiritual or physical – isn’t yours anymore.  We’re told, too often, that as queer people we don’t belong here.  We’re not welcome. This isn’t our home.

You all deserve to have people listen to your stories and validate even your mere existence.  We all deserve to have someone tell us that we matter, that we have a home here.  That has been the work of USGA since its founding nearly 7 years ago. To save and improve the lives of LGBTQ and SSA students at BYU by providing a space where they feel at home, where they feel welcome and acknowledged.  Before I decided to apply to be president of USGA, I looked into running for BYUSA president, solely because I wanted to be in a position to represent and tell the stories of queer students, and to tell them that they mattered.  I wish someone more important were here to tell you this today. But for now, that responsibility falls on me.  You all matter.  Your experiences are valid.  Your narratives are real.  BYU is your home just as much as anyone else who was admitted to this campus.  Not in spite of your sexuality or gender identity, but with it and because of it.  I deserve to hear that. And you deserve to hear that.  It may not always feel like it, but it is your right as much as anyone’s.  Whether you’ve been to USGA a hundred times, or you just see this speech on Facebook, you deserve to know that you belong.  I know and remember what it’s like to feel alone on this campus and in the world.  I’ve served in a hope that that period of isolation won’t be as long, or as deep, or as dark for the next generation of queer students at BYU.  The work of USGA will continue in that direction until it is no longer necessary.

I hope that this message has been not just sobering but also inspiring.  As hungry people, I think we have started off begging for a loaf of bread.  I have gone to administrators numberless times to say “my people are hurting – please help me help them.” They said we couldn’t have a loaf of bread. So we asked for a slice.  They said they couldn’t give us a slice, so we asked for crumbs.  Today we are living off crumbs.  Never lose site of the loaf of bread.   You can’t live off of crumbs.  When told no, ask again.  When told no, ask why? When told no, turn the other cheek – not in submission, but in example.

I have enjoyed serving these past two years with wonderful friends as vice presidents – JD and Gina and Zoie and Lyman are exceptional people who care about this community a lot and sacrificed so much to help us all.  The members of leadership have toiled thousands of hours over the past two years to provide this safe and welcoming space.  Be kind to JD and Liza and Gabe as they take over as the presidency for the next year.  They will face pressures and decisions that are hard to imagine until you’re in those positions.  They will be doing the best they can with the resources they have.  I know that they will do an amazing job of leading this organization over the next year and beyond.  If you feel up to the task – join leadership. We can always use your help.

While the structural forces that make life as an LGBTQ student at BYU remain difficult – the current Honor Code wording that is not based on current doctrine or Church practice, and the lack of on campus resources  – things have begun to improve.  I have said that BYU is not now a safe place to be an LGBTQ student or member of the Church.  I do not say that because evil or hard hearted men and women run this university.  They are not.  The administrators that I have met and worked with over the past few years, I believe to be good and hard working people.  They intend to do good.  Too often they have acted, or not acted, out of fear, out of misinformation, and out of ignorance.  Things are changing.  Last semester the Resident Assistant classes added a unit on understanding and responding to LGBTQ students in their residence halls.  After a decade of asking, the Counseling Center is now allowed to run LGBTQ specific therapy groups – there are currently 2 authorized to meet about ¼ of the demonstrated demand.  Last week the BYU chapter on NAMI held the first event open to students on campus about LGBTQ students’ experience, not in a basement class room, but in Wilkinson Center in the middle of campus.  President Worthen has asked a Task Force of top-level BYU administrators to meet and explore the experiences of LGBTQ and SSA students and to propose ways the university can improve.  In that way the university’s aims and USGA’s are moving in parallel.

These improvements are all still band aids, not cures.  They are still crumbs not loaves.  But there are more than ever before.  Someday, I hope, we will see more improvements and concrete, tangible steps by the university.  I pray that day comes soon.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to serves as president of this genuinely amazing organization.  The best student run anything I’ve ever been a part of. The organization that has made the most difference in the most people’s lives that I’ve ever worked in.  If you have come to understand, to be understood, to find empathy and compassion, and to build community, you’ve found the right place.

May God bless us all in that endeavor.

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Whoredoms and Homosexuality

Some years ago, as an exuberant and rather naïve freshman at BYU, I signed up to take my first religion class on the Book of Mormon. Our professor was a large man who towered over his students, and he had twice as much energy as his graying hair would suggest. Every now and then I would roll my eyes at his enthusiasm for the chapter we were studying, certain that he was putting just a little too much relatability into the dry pages of ancient scripture.

One day we came across a prophetic warning against the many sexual iniquities that would afflict people in the latter days: our days. The professor asked us what “whoredoms” were, and we all giggled because our BYU religion professor had said the word “whore.” He then sent a student to the board to act as scribe as we called out all the different whoredoms we could think of.

“Fornication!” one student yelled.

“Adultery!”

“Pornography!”

“Masturbation!”

“Homosexuality!”

“NO!” boomed our professor’s voice. “Homosexuality is NOT a sin!”

The room got very quiet and uncomfortable. This was 2009, only a year after the Church’s battle over Proposition 8 in California. I remember seeing graffiti on campus in a bathroom stall condemning homosexuality. Editorials still came out in the school paper to the same effect.

“The same rules of morality apply to everyone,” the professor continued. “There is nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality. Take it OFF THE LIST!”

The scribe quickly erased homosexuality from the board.

I wasn’t out as a gay man yet, even to myself. I had been swept up in the polarized discourse that accompanied the subject of homosexuality and, sad to say, had said a few unkind things myself in high school. But now my 18-year-old brain was scrambling to reconcile everything I knew about homosexuality with what my religion professor had just said. How could homosexuality not be evil? Wasn’t that the whole reason we had passed an amendment to the California constitution to prohibit gay marriage? Didn’t that imply that there was an inherent and unequal difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality?

I never found the answers in that classroom. Only after seven years of agonizing self-reflection, questioning, and reconciliation between my sexuality and my faith during my own coming-out process did I at last understand what our professor was trying to say that day. He knew about the private struggles of the kids in his classroom, knew of the isolation and pain they would face. He knew that kindness and self-acceptance could make the literal difference between life and death.

It seems remarkable to me now that a BYU religion professor would take a stand on my behalf, even when I didn’t know at the time that he was speaking up for me. And yet what else should one expect from a disciple of Christ? In that moment he was not only teaching his religion; he was living it. He used his charisma and influence to put up a shield around the downtrodden, to prevent yet another micro-aggression that could eventually add up to death by a thousand cuts.

One decisive voice against the murmurs of disapproval; one light amid th’encircling gloom; one small act of kindness to rebuff the crushing cruelty; these are the acts of one who knows the Savior.

And when that professor and I stand before the final judgement bar of God, I will gladly testify before the angels of heaven that he is a hero, an exemplar of Christ’s love.

 

The Need for Radical Love

I admit I am writing this just hours after hearing the news of the massacre at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Information is still pouring in, many questions remain unanswered, and right now we are operating under rumors and supposition as much as facts.

However, right now, I want to talk about what we do know. We know (at the time of writing) that last night 50 people were killed, and at least 53 injured by twenty-three-year-old Omar Mateen. We know it is the worst mass shooting in American history.

We know the shooter’s father says his son “was not driven by religious ideology, but did grow upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago.

Right now, we are all trying to comprehend what happened. Perhaps we feel rage, sadness, compassion, and perhaps we even feel a little numb, a little jaded in the face of “another shooting.” Perhaps there is even a sneaking, shameful thought that, if these people were keeping the Lord’s commandments, they would not have died.

No matter our reaction, we need to remember that no matter how hard we try, none of us will ever comprehend what we just lost.

If truly “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God[1]” and “even the very hairs of [our] head[s] are all numbered[2]” then the taking of one life, one soul, the losing of all the good, bad, and indifference that soul would have brought to this earth, is a tragedy greater than human expression. Today, we have to multiply that tragedy by 50.

Today, we all mourn. We shake our heads and wonder how anyone could do such a thing. We pray for the victims’ families. We put the flag at half-staff and maybe have a moment of silence in our wards, in our meetings, and at our dinner tables.

This is all good. This is all important. But, for a moment, I want to talk about what we were doing yesterday, and what we will do tomorrow.

Yesterday, the Pulse, by Mormon standards, was a “den of iniquity” that glorified some of the worst “worldly” trends. It celebrated, even glorified, a group that supposedly threatens the heart of our faith and our society: the family. Yesterday, if Mormons had talked about that club, and, more importantly, the people who frequent it, I think many would have said that they love them as children of God, but what they’re doing violates His commandments.

It is the age-old adage of “loving the sinner, but hating the sin.” Unfortunately, in my experience, this phrase is used more as a justification to “hate the sin,” rather than an injunction to love, and to love fully, completely, and without reservation.

As I’ve discussed my experience as a gay Mormon, I have often been asked, “How do I show a gay loved one that I love them, while still saying I support the Church’s standards?”

My answer is usually, “We always know that you support the Church’s standards, we never know that you love us.”

We say that “faith without works is dead[3].” I submit the same is equally true of love.

We must not use love as an excuse to shun, judge, or think less of someone. We shouldn’t focus so much on someone’s “sins” that we forget the incomparable, inimitable, incalculable value of who they are as human beings.

We should not think that just because someone is gay, or trans, or has left the Church, or is in some other way “failing to meet God’s standards” that they have nothing to teach us, nothing to offer us, that they do not know something about the nature of life and the nature of God that we don’t.

We should never be afraid of loving too much, of being too empathetic, too understanding. We should never allow our love for the Church’s standards impede our ability to meet the second great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I should not have to describe the years of self-loathing, of the depression, and of the suicidal ideation as I came out to gain the sympathy of my Mormon friends and family.

We should not need the massacre of fifty innocent people to gain sympathy for the LGBTQ/SSA community.

So let me say this clearly. I am hurting today. I am hurting today because when Omar Mateen killed 50 people this morning, he told me that because I am gay, I deserve to die. My community is hurting because tonight we lost 50 of our siblings. Today we were reminded in the most horrific way possible how much hatred and discrimination our community faces.

The thing is, yesterday I was hurting too. I was hurting because I was still too afraid to discuss my sexual identity with many people in my life. I was hurting as I watched so many of the people I love face rejection from those who should have been their greatest allies. I was hurting as my religious community cared more about if I was sinning than if I was healthy. Yesterday my community was also hurting as, despite the progress we have made, we still faced systematic, and often overt, homophobia and transphobia every day.

Love is not a trite platitude. Love is not a word to disguise hate and discrimination as charity. Love is not a fleeting thought. Love is not a hasty prayer.

Love is radical. Love accepts people as they are, where they are. Love stands beside the sufferer. Love has no ulterior motive. Love does not fear the judgment of others. Love is action.

So I am pleading with you, in this time of desperate need, LOVE the victims of this tragedy. LOVE their friends and family.  LOVE the LGBTQ/SSA community. Mourn with us because this was an attack on the Queer community.

Comfort us. Stand with us. Walk with us. Walk with us the extra mile. Not just today. Not just tomorrow. For as long as we need you. Without fear, without hesitation, without qualification, LOVE US.

[1] D&C 18: 10

[2] Luke 12:7

[3] James 2:20

BYU Bronicorns!

It’s no secret that life as an LGBTQ/SSA student at BYU can be stressful. While there are plenty of healthy ways of blowing off steam, sometimes the best way to relieve that stress is to laugh it off. Perhaps that was part of the motivation for Aaron Austin and Nathan Cunliffe to create their brief webcomic Bronicorns!

The comic follows brothers Ben and Caleb, who are students at BYU. Ben is a more stereotypical man who likes sports, while Caleb is more interested in clothes and baking. While the comic does not deal directly with homosexuality, it does examine masculinity in a lighthearted way. Caleb’s antics are usually gender nonconforming, and Ben loves him anyway. And as the comic progresses, we learn that Ben isn’t afraid to show interest in what would traditionally be considered “feminine” either.

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The comic is only 10 strips long, which makes for a quick and enjoyable read. It’s persistent themes—that it’s ok to be yourself and that fraternal love can persist through differences—are sure to lift you spirits.

You can read the comic here.

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The Secret Life of Demisexuals

PLEASE NOTE: USGA seeks to create a respectful dialogue that encompasses multiple view points on the topics of faith and sexuality. The views and opinions of the following article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect USGA’s official policy or position.

I remember clearly the first time I realized I was different from the other boys in my school. I was fourteen and my family had just moved from a large city to a small town in the middle of nowhere, the kind of town where everyone has known each other since the day they were born. Being the new kid in school made me interesting. It made me exciting. It made me the target of what I’m sure was an unspoken and unplanned competition to see which girl could get me to like them first.

There was one girl in particular who was very forward about her attempts to get me to like her. It was clear to me that she had no real attraction to me, but she was, I’m told, the ‘hottest girl at school’ and as such was accustomed to all of the guys liking her. She needed me to keep that true. Her advances became progressively more aggressive for about a week before I became irritated and told her in no uncertain terms to leave me alone.

When I was finally free of her, another, equally annoying barrage began. The other guys at my school began to chide me. Was I blind? Couldn’t I see that she was the hottest girl in school? How could I pass up a relationship with her? Any of them would have given anything for that chance.

All of these questions confused me. The hottest girl at school? I thought she was hideous. I gave a non-committal answer about not dating until I was 16 and the whole thing blew over within a few weeks. There were other similar instances throughout my years in high school that confirmed to me that I was different, that I just wasn’t attracted to girls in the same way that the other boys were, but this one has always been the strongest to me.

By the time I was eighteen I had figured out what was different about me. I describe it as my eyes working differently. I realized that how attractive a girl was to me was directly linked to what I thought of her as a person, how close I was emotionally to her. I didn’t have a name for it, and I didn’t know that anyone else would experience this same phenomenon, but I finally understood my sexuality.

Or so I thought. My next personal shock came when I realized that I had begun falling for one of my LDS mission companions. We were only together for a short while, but he was and is a wonderful person, one of my best friends to this day. I didn’t realize it while we were serving together, but I had begun to develop feelings for him. It was then that I finally understood that I was not straight with a weird perception of beauty. I must be something else. It wasn’t until I was 21 and married that I found out that there are others like me, enough so that we have a name: demisexuals.

According to urban dictionary, “[d]emisexuals are characterized by a lack of sexual attraction toward any person unless they become deeply emotionally or romantically connected with a specific person or persons. The level of connection it takes for sexual desire to form is dependent on how close the relationship is rather than initial attraction.” I feel like this is a pretty accurate description. It’s much better than the Wikipedia one, anyway, but more on that in a moment. With the definition out of the way, I can move on to talking about my experience with being a demisexual.

First things first, I actually don’t like the term demisexual. I’m glad to have a word that is growing in the public knowledge that I can use to easily identify myself to others. But the word just rubs me the wrong way and has since the moment I heard it. I am not ‘half sexual’. I do not feel that my orientation makes me any less sexual than my heterosexual or homosexual friends. I mean, if you picture the stereotypical ‘always-wants-sex’ man, that’s me. It’s just that it’s all directed at one person: my spouse. I don’t know what else I would prefer it to be called (maybe thymosexual from the Greek word for emotions), but I just don’t like demisexual very much as a word.

For much the same reason, I don’t particularly like being viewed as a subset of asexuality. Wikipedia doesn’t even have its own entry for demisexuality. We get about two sentences in the entry for asexuality. Again, I do not feel like asexual describes me: the sexual attraction and sex drive are still very much so there for me, they just have a different set of triggers. If demisexuality has to be a subset of another sexuality, I’d feel much better about being a subset of bisexuals (ideally we’d be our own thing, since there are hetero-demisexuals, homo-demisexuals, bi-demisexuals (like me), etc). That would resonate more with my experience.

That being said, I do share one of the big problems both asexuals and bisexuals face: a lot of people think that my sexuality doesn’t exist. When I talk about being a demisexual, people will try to figure out if I’m really straight or gay. They try to figure out if I really like men or women, which is totally missing the point. It’s like people asking if I prefer books or movies, when I’m talking about enjoying stories with cool magic systems. Whether it’s a book or a movie isn’t just a matter of not having a preference. It’s irrelevant. In terms of my sexuality, it’s not that I like men and women: gender is irrelevant, not even part of the consideration. This is particularly annoying when my spouse is around, which is most of the time, as people will assume I’m of the sexuality implied by my relationship and won’t believe otherwise. But even when zhe is not around, I still face this more often than not if people haven’t heard of demisexuality before. (As a side note, my spouse does have a traditional gendered pronoun that zhe prefers, but zhe agreed to let me use a gender neutral pronoun to illustrate my point: everyone wonders whether I married a man or a woman).

Being a married demisexual has its own quirks. My spouse likes knowing that I won’t have wandering eyes (demisexuality does not make someone immune to affairs, but my particular combo of demisexuality and extreme introversion makes it highly unlikely), that zhe is the only one for me; however, that also means that when zhe is feeling like zhe is not very attractive, me saying that zhe is means next to nothing. How would I know? I think zhe is attractive because I love zer.

There is a further aspect of my demisexuality that can make life in modern society uncomfortable. In reading more about asexuality for reference in writing this I came across the term “repulsed asexual”, an asexual who is repulsed by the idea of sex and having sex. I would call myself a repulsed demisexual, as I feel much the same way toward anyone who is not attractive to me through emotional connection. Given how prevalent sexual imagery is in the U.S., this leads to many awkward moments for me. The most common example occurs whenever my spouse and I go to our local mall. There is a Victoria’s Secret that we have to walk past to get to many of the stores, and I always have to look at the ground or pointedly away from the store, because the explicitly sexualized depictions that are common in the store are repulsive to me. They say that sex sells, but for me seeing anything sexualized that isn’t my spouse drives me away. And it’s not for religious or moral reasons like a lot of men from a Judeo-Christian upbringing. I just naturally find it highly appalling.

In rereading what I’ve written so far, it feels like people could get the impression that being demisexual is hard, or that everything about it is negative. Perish the thought. As far as LGBTQ+ life goes, I feel like I’ve got it pretty easy, and there are good things about my experience too. For one thing, it’s really hard to judge people based on their appearance when almost everyone looks the same to me. On a scale of -5 to 5, everyone I don’t know is a 0. Everyone might as well be department store mannequins in terms of beauty. This means that I can be more free to see inner beauty, as inner beauty becomes outer beauty for me.

I am very glad to have come to terms with my sexuality and to have found so many people who have been supportive of me. Even if it puts me in uncomfortable situations from time to time, demisexuality is a part of who I am, and embracing that has made me happier.

Weekly Activity: Mixed-Orientation Marriage Panel

This last week USGA hosted a Mixed-Orientation Marriage panel, which consisted of opposite-sex couples where one was straight and the other was queer.

The subject is a sensitive one among USGA members, to say the least. Too often we have been pressured by well-meaning parents or local church leaders to enter into mixed-orientation marriages, even when that may not be the best option for an individual. At times this can create resentment towards such an option and those who take it. Despite this unfortunate past, USGA is committed to a neutral position where all are welcome, regardless of what life-path they may choose. We believe in empowering our members to choose for themselves, and entering into a mixed-orientation marriage is certainly a valid choice. For those seeking such a marriage, we wanted to present the tools they will need to make such a marriage successful, and we also wanted to help those who do not pursue such a marriage to develop better understanding and empathy.

Two of the couples in the panel were gay men married to straight women, one was a cisgender woman engaged to a transgender woman, and one was a gay woman who was divorced. Some had been married two decades, one five years, others engaged and others only days off their honeymoon. With this diversity of experiences, we hoped to gain a better understanding of mixed-orientation marriages and how those who choose to enter them can navigate these unknown waters.

The panel was a great success, in no small part due to the charisma of our panelists. Several times the room was engulfed in laughter or applause. We learned about the importance of honesty, openness, acceptance, commitment, and love, as well as the unique challenges that come with such a marriage. Panelists talked of their love of Christ. One spoke of the intolerance of her former spouse, the pressure to get married prematurely, and their subsequent divorce. We heard of the bad along with the good.

In the end, this panel was a reminder that all of us are on this journey together. The intersection of faith and sexuality may present a challenging crossroads, but we can all support one another as we advance on the roads of life. USGA remains committed to improving the quality of life and happiness of queer BYU students, and this uplifting panel certainly met our goal.

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Jeff and Sarah Case were two of our amazing panelists, along with Nicholas Gregory and May Rice (pictured above).

Safeguarding our Queer Brothers and Sisters

PLEASE NOTE: USGA seeks to create a respectful dialogue that encompasses multiple view points on the topics of faith and sexuality. The views and opinions of the following article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect USGA’s official policy or position.

The following remarks are an excerpt from a post to the Mormons Building Bridges Facebook page by a USGA member on March 9th. While media attention may have moved on to other stories, suicide ideation remains an issue in the LGBTQ/SSA community, and we would do well to offer our continued support.

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I want to speak of the suicides that keep coming up.

This is personal to me. I’ve had two suicide attempts since the policy change. They’ve been kept pretty private matters, but I feel that at this time, it may be best to bring them to light in order to help someone else. The first one was a close call, but I walked away from it without much physical damage done. The second attempt was exactly a month ago today, and it landed me in the ICU for a week. Had time lapsed even moments later than it did before being found, it’s possible that I would have not made it.

The pains being caused to the members of this community are real. They are serious. The lives that are being lost are not small. Even one person found in a grave too soon is too much. In fact, even one person being so incredibly hurt by things that they attempt to leave this world is too great a cost. But the reality is that I didn’t do what I did simply over Church members or leaders or policies. I did what I did because in my moment of pain, I didn’t know whom to reach out to. I was too scared of being inconvenient to ask for help, yet there are many who love me. I have friends and family. I have support. But the people who are going into their graves are not just hurt by the Church. They feel that everything is so burdening and huge that they cannot reach out. In order to get the support that they need, they need someone else to reach in.

Many allies and members of this community alike have those that they support and stand by. One person cannot tackle the world or this problem alone. But there are nearly 6,500 members in this group [of Mormons Building Bridges], and if each person took on just one person to check in on every couple days, that’s 6,500 people who are having someone seek to make sure that they’re okay. That’s a whole LOT of good.

I want to ask each person in this group to do something. Make checking in on just one person within the LGBTQIA+ community every few days a goal. In fact, make it a goal to check in, and to be someone who is consistently saying to those around you, “I don’t know who every LGBTQIA+ person is around me, but I sure want those around me to know that I’d be a hell of a lot without if I were to lose one of them.” This assures even the hidden people who are in pain that someone cares and is there. I can promise you that no one who commits suicide does so for the sake of being selfish. It is done thinking that no one will be inconvenienced by the loss of life save for a small moment in time. Encourage others to take on these same goals. We cannot change someone else’s heart if they do not want to be changed. But we can help safeguard a people if we choose to become an instrument in God’s hands. I cannot imagine a more Christ-like nor demanded thing at this time. I can promise you with full confidence that if we do this, we will see a difference in the loss of lives.

Picture Perfect, Perfect Picture

I’ve always considered myself a fantastic storyteller. It’s not always true; sometimes I get too excited about whatever happens next and end up mumbling through the most important part of the event, covering my audience in spit or whacking them with my flailing arms. But being “too excited” isn’t necessarily a flaw, in my opinion. In fact, I’m proud of it. Storytelling is a way of connecting to people, of expressing myself to them, and of accepting each other. Even if the story that I’m telling sucks, if I allow my passion to leak out and I accidentally whack someone in the middle of a plot point, in a way I’ve opened myself up to them. I’ve showed them that yes, I am a person, and yes, I do care about this thing that I am telling you about, and yes, I hope you are listening, because I care about you too. Which sentiment is, unfortunately, becoming a lost language in the ever-expanding world of social media profiles. Ultimately (I hope), the victim of my aggressive storytelling and I each walk away feeling closer to each other. It’s a good thing.

I want to translate this into my filmmaking. I was recently admitted into the Media Arts (Film) BFA program at BYU. I’m very young in the world-wide web of filmmakers – who, by the way, are basically just professional movie buffs – and I don’t yet have the “chops” for making gorgeous, feature-length, line-running-out-the-theater-on-opening-night movies, though that is the plan. I don’t want to make commercials for Dawn, or have a YouTube channel about the movies I like. I want to make heavy-hitter documentaries about people and their stories: their daily lives, insane obstacles, overcoming unbelievable odds – real people doing real things that are really amazing. And I’m going to start by telling my story.

For the first time, though, I’m terrified of telling my story, partly because, for the first time, it really is a good story. Plot-wise, there are a lot of crazy twists and lovable characters. And theme-wise, it has several powerful messages that need to be shared. I’m also scared because I just prefaced my story by saying that I want to make films about cool people and cool stuff, and there is that part of me that thinks, “What if I’m actually not cool and I can’t do cool stuff?” which would be really embarrassing if my story turned out to be super lame and I looked like a fool. But the scariest thing of all is that I will be telling a story that is hard to tell. It has been told a thousand times (especially lately), but has never been shared.

My story, in crippling summary, is that I was born Madeline Jane Purves in Salt Lake City, raised a Californian LDS prodigy, and am gay while attending the Lord’s University.

(I tried to catch your attention. I really did.)

I always knew I was gay. My first “crush” was on one of my classmates in 1st grade, with really shiny brown hair and a “really pretty face,” who made me nervous and excited. That’s all I remember about that. Through the rest of elementary school and junior high, I never thought about it more…the occasional, drifting, fleeting soundbite of an idea that, “hey, maybe I actually like-like these girls,” but that was it. I pushed any further introspection way, wayyyy the heck down. Which makes sense, as my parents spearheaded the “Yes On Prop 8” campaign for basically all of Yolo County (yes, Yolo County) in our living room. I was, as mentioned earlier, an LDS prodigy. The perfect Young Woman, the perfect oldest sibling, the perfect student, etc. etc. Being gay would smudge that title, knock me off that pedestal, which was the last thing a positive-attention-whore like myself ever wanted. I was an emblem, a statue, a “standard of truth and righteousness,” and made sure everyone respected that, sadly enough.

So, that is the story that needs to be told: of my stepping off of my pedestal. Of my getting kicked, stabbed, trodden over, yanked, silenced, humbled, helped, loved, and, hopefully soon, accepted. I plan on coming out to my family immediately after this semester ends, and am in the process of making a film about what it’s like being a queer student at BYU. This is the story that I will share…

…so keep your eyes peeled!

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Proceeds from T-shirts sold will support Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA), an unofficial group of Brigham Young University students, faculty and guests who wish to strengthen families and the BYU community by providing a place for open, respectful discussions on the topic of same-gender attraction and LGBTQ issues. USGA is a student-run organization that operates outside any institutional sponsorship or support. Help us improve the lives of LGBTQ/SSA students at BYU.

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