On Wednesday night at Brigham Young University, a panel of three self-identified homosexual students and one bisexual student talked openly regarding their struggles with their sexuality and how they have coped with their same-gender attraction along with their Mormon faith. All four students were attending BYU and had committed to living Church standards and the BYU Honor Code.
On university fliers for the event, the forum was advertised as, “Everything you wanted to know about being gay at BYU but were too afraid to ask.”
Held in an upstairs auditorium of the Martin Building (MARB), the university-sanctioned panel-discussion for gay, lesbian, and bisexual BYU students was met with perhaps more success than its organizers anticipated. The seating was full to capacity a half-hour before the event was scheduled to begin. More students, professors, and visitors found spots to sit on the floor or stand against the wall. The event was officially for BYU students only, and several visitors were turned away. BYU police were maintaining security at the forum.
Reactions after the event were overwhelmingly positive. When the panel was finished, those in attendance gave the speakers a standing ovation. One student who attended told me,
“These four students [in the panel] have some of the strongest testimonies and wonderful relationships with Christ. … I hope that those who are struggling with same-gender attraction may see these four strong individuals and realize that they don’t have to choose between being honest about themselves and who they are and in being a member of the Church.”
One non-Mormon visitor who was not able to find seating at the event said that though disappointed he couldn’t personally hear the panel, he thought it was “nice to see so much interest in the subject” at Mormon-dominated BYU.
A few minor reactions were less positive. According to some there were at least three attendees at the forum from a group called the “Standard of Liberty,” an organization composed of Latter-day Saints based in Pleasant Grove, Utah, who had been attacking the planned event earlier in the week. The Standard of Liberty had sent out an e-mail claiming the BYU forum on homosexuality would aid in destroying traditional values and would violate the BYU Honor Code. Stephen Graham, the group’s president, wrote,
“[The BYU forum] will be harmful, harmful to the souls of those giving the talks, harmful to those young minds listening who will be supported in covering both inward and outward sins and initiated further into homosexuality, and harmful to all those these people come in contact with.”
Others dismissed the “Standard of Liberty” group as being outside of mainstream Mormonism.
What Was Asked and Said during the Forum
No recording, video or audio, was allowed at the event, so there will be no official transcript, but much of the event was live-tweeted by Shirley Grover, a reporter from the Student Review, and from others in the audience. I was not in attendance; my narrative of the panel discussion below is based on the collective accounts and statements given by many of those who were present.
The panel was opened by Dr. Renata Forste, head of BYU’s sociology department. After introductory remarks, the panelists were introduced: Brandon Bastian, a 2nd year law student; Bridey Jensen, a 23-year-old statistics major; Adam White, a 21-year-old theater arts major; and Nathan Paskett, major unknown; and they then respectively spoke about their unique stories.
Brandon Bastian tells of how he came out to his bishop when he was a senior in high school, not long after he had come to terms with his sexuality. At BYU, Brandon met a girl and ended up marrying her, noting that they connected on every possible level except physically. He told her about his sexuality and left it up to her. They now have a daughter. Brandon says the physical attraction did eventually come for him, but notes that he thinks his story is very atypical. Having a good foundation and genuine love for the person that was not based on physical intimacy was essential for their marriage working out, Brandon notes.
Bridey Jensen remembers being confused about her sexuality even as a young girl. She says always believed it would change and that once she hit high school she would have a sudden rush of hormones that attracted her to men. It never happened. She remembers loathing herself and believing that she had done something wrong. After coming to BYU, Bridey fell into a deep depression and eventually become suicidal. Feeling depressed and unaccepted, Bridey eventually returned home, but, she says, she felt a prompting to return to Provo, which she eventually did. Back at BYU she met Brandon Bastian, who sat with her on the panel Wednesday night, and who was a great support for her. You can listen to Bridey tell her story of being lesbian and Mormon elsewhere here on this video.
Adam White remembers having strong feminine tendencies as a child, and for much of his youth wondered when the day would come that he would suddenly be attracted to girls. He remembers his first kiss with a girl and having the immediate reaction of, “No.” Adam says he felt stuck in a lie. Adam eventually spoke with his bishop who encouraged him to attend a “sex addiction group.” After finally meeting other gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints at BYU, Adam says that when he finally came out openly about his sexuality, it was like all of the mental health problems he had been having washed away over night. Adam noted that he had not served a mission because his stake president instructed him that if he could not get his “gay issue” under control, he could be a threat to his companions.
Nathan Paskett remembers knowing he was bisexual ever since he hit puberty. Unlike the other three panelists, Nathan is sexually attracted to both men and women. Nathan says he was not extremely worried about this while he was younger because he understood that as long as he didn’t break any of the commandments, he would be okay. He felt uncomfortable, though, that in the Church it was such a taboo topic that he could not speak openly about what he was going through. Nathan eventually served an LDS mission to Hawaii. He remembers being very careful not to allow companions to be naked around him at the MTC and on his mission, and he remembers being angry at the Church for putting him in the situation of being around naked men where he would have inappropriate thoughts. After coming to BYU, Nathan began being open about his sexuality to girls he was taking on dates, and he notes that the reactions were surprisingly neutral. Nathan says his mother encouraged him not to talk about his bisexuality, but Nathan says he couldn’t imagine keeping a secret like that in a marriage.
Panelists noted that 6% of the U.S. population is homosexual. If the national ratio is the same at BYU, then that means the campus enrolls approximately 1,800 gay students. That means that in every BYU student ward there is an average of 15 gay Church members, and in a BYU class of 50 there are an average of three gay classmates.
Panelist Brandon Bastian stated that calling homosexuality “a choice” was offensive. They also discussed another issue that arises with gay Latter-day Saints: the idea that if they are good, and they keep all the commandments, God will heal them. A gay teenager might find himself asking God, If I graduate seminary, if I go to BYU, if I serve a mission, if I marry a good girl in the temple, if I keep all of the commandments as best I can, will you take these attractions away from me? The panelists noted that, in Mormonism, God does not heal every invalid or cancer patient. The panelists also stated that telling someone that they are homosexual because they lack faith or have broken a commandment is the ultimate self righteousness.
During the Q&A, someone asked how the panelists reconcile their “gay lifestyle” with the Church. Adam White retorted that there is no homogenous “gay lifestyle,” and that the 9th article faith speaks of “great mysteries” that we don’t yet understand. Brandon Bastian was asked about how his wife views his homosexuality. He responded that she is very supportive, but that she is currently on a medication that represses her libido, joking that now he is probably more attracted to her than she is to him. He admitted that their relationship is very unique but they are also very happy with one another. Nathan Paskett was asked if his mission president required him to confess his homosexuality to his companions. Quite the opposite, he said: The mission president actually told Nathan not to tell a certain elder because they were still “working through [that one elder’s] homophobia.” Conversely Brandon says his stake president had told him not to tell any of his companions.
Bridey Jensen was asked if she always imagines herself as being single. She said that when she imagines being in a happy relationship, she imagines it being with another woman, and she doesn’t know how she will reconcile that with the Church’s teachings. Adam stated that while he has a very firm testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he cannot imagine himself ever dating women. He openly stated he could see himself having a family with another man, but if so, he said, he would ensure that they still attended the LDS Church together.
The final question asked was,
“I am gay too, but I feel like I can never be happy in eternity or in a temple marriage. What can I do?”
Adam told the questioner that while he understands and has had similar doubts, one should trust in God and listen to his instruction through prayer. A heterosexual marriage, Adam says, might bring you happiness, but it might not. Bridey stated that she did not truly begin feeling happy again until she began building her relationship with God.
In the group’s final remark, Bridey stated that while she does not know everything, she does know that God is there and he has not left you alone.
After the panel ended the group received a standing ovation from the overflow crowd.