Did the conservative Brigham Young University (BYU) update its student code of conduct and loosen restrictions on homosexuality … or not?
Reports last week announced that the updated honor code was less restrictive about same-sex behavior among its nearly 34,000 students. BYU, which operates on four campuses in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii, is a private, not-for-profit school governed by the religious doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), also known as Mormons. Nearly all BYU students belong to the LDS church.
“We have removed the more prescriptive language and kept the focus on the principles of the Honor Code, which have not changed,” wrote BYU spokesperson Todd Hollingshead in an email to VOA. “We did this to align the Honor Code with the doctrine and policies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Hollingshead said the university is trying to be more inclusive to its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students. The updated policy took out any negative connotations regarding homosexuality.
“We believe that removing the more prescriptive language from the Honor Code is helpful for our LGBTQ students,” Hollingshead wrote. “We want our LGBTQ students to feel welcome and included on our campus.”
But the existing guidance and honor code on the BYU website and approved Feb. 12 is definitively hetero.
“Be honest. … Live a chaste and virtuous life, including abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman. … Encourage others in their commitment to comply with the Honor Code.”
There are numerous references endorsing relationships between a man and a woman, but sexual relations are restricted to married church members.
While the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints defines “same-sex attraction” as “emotional, physical, romantic, or sexual attraction to a person of the same gender,” it does not condone it.
“There may have been some miscommunication as to what the Honor Code changes mean,” stated the official BYU Twitter account. “Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”
Some students celebrated the initial announcement.
“I’m here, I’m queer and I deserve to feel safe,” Matty Easton tweeted. “Girls and gays, we did it!”
Less than a year ago I joined my student body in protesting BYU’s honor code, a policy that banned same-gender romantic relationships.— Matty Easton (@easton_matty) February 19, 2020
As of today, homosexual relationships are now treated the same as heterosexual ones at BYU :’)
Girls and gays, we did it! ❤️🌈 pic.twitter.com/67VGLC3mgU
Others say the policy toward LGBTQ students remains unclear.
“Hey @BYU. If I wrote an essay with the same vagueness as your Honor Code, my writing professors would give me an F,” tweeted Andy Denison. “If you’re going to make an point, you must state it, not be vague about it so you can claim it might be there when it’s convenient to you.”
Hey @BYU— Andy the Dog 🌈 (@andy_denison) February 20, 2020
If I wrote an essay with the same vagueness as your Honor Code, my writing professors would give me an F. If you’re going to make an point, you must state it, not be vague about it so you can claim it might be there when it’s convient to you.
LGBTQ students and their supporters claimed the rule was unfair, since it was not required of heterosexual couples. In the past, students criticized language that barred gay couples from holding hands, which is permitted for heterosexual couples. The university bans all sex before marriage for all students.
Behind the policy changes are complaints from students about the way the honor code is enforced. BYU has an honor code office to which anonymous charges can be made about student behavior on or off campus that violates the code. The office conducts an interview and investigation that may result in dismissal.
Students posted their disagreement with honor code office policies and actions to Instagram last year, where they created @honorcodestories. Posts compared BYU sexual assault investigations to victim-blaming and shaming.
“The goal of this Instagram account is to give students a voice and to let them know that they are not alone. We are here to shine a light on what goes on within The Honor Code Office."