Jesus Said to Love Everyone: A Lesson to BYU-Idaho Students

By: Alex Harrison, 2013

Keith Trottier is a sophomore at Brigham Young University-Idaho or BYU-I. He’s five semesters in, and he’s studying advertising. Like a large percentage of this campus, he is from the liberal state of Washington. However, there is one thing that sets him apart from the average LDS Young Adult population.

“I’ve always known I was gay,” said Trottier. “I came out publicly this last spring.”

The reactions varied.

“My family’s responses were supportive. I had some friends who were in shock.”

There is a number of students at this school who are LGBT, a term that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. In regards to this statistic, several students voiced their confusion on the subject.

The biggest issue between Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people and the Latter Day Saint church, is that many members don’t understand that though the Church has the Proclamation of the Family and Leviticus 18, there are members of the church who are born with same gender attraction.

Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin

“The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people,” says Mormonandgays.org. “The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

For a socially conservative and traditional family style culture, the issue of having an LGBT person at a church school is quite the surprise. However, there is an abundant amount of resources to help those who don’t quite understand how LGBT people can have a place in this church.

“I didn’t think gay students were allowed to come here,” said freshman, Peter Shumway.

This is an understandable statement, as the school is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a religion that does not endorse gay marriage.

Love and Respect

Cody K. Howard, bishop of the Rexburg 84th Student Ward said, “Jesus said love everyone. Treat them kindly too. Heavenly Father is the ultimate being, and He discriminates against no one. We need to follow in His footsteps and love like He does.”

Although Bishop Howard expressed the need for more open mindedness, LGBT students still feel this is a huge problem, and that they are not being represented enough on campus and feel that because members are taught not to support gay marriage, they shouldn’t support the people. This results in some members leaving the church. President Uchtdorf counsels the following:

Leaders of the church have spoken not only on loving those who are homosexual, but embracing them and accepting their differences and what they have to offer.

President Uchtdorf said in his October 2013 General Conference talk, Come, Join With Us,“Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church.”

Elder Holland expresses Christ’s main theme, when he says, “Life’s too short not to love one another.”

The USGA chapter at BYU-Idaho lives on the quote, “We should look out and take care of each other because that is the love of Christ.”

Representation

Blake Oakey, a sophomore who is studying International Studies said, “I feel like the school should offer more classes or educated seminars. I wish it was brought up in forums and Q&As with President Clark. I think it should be taught in classes, because people might get married here and have a gay child and not know how to deal with it.”

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

There are also USGA groups (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) on campuses like BYU and BYU-Idaho that embrace the “it gets better” tagline that the Trevor Project videos started.

The BYU-Idaho group meets Thursday evenings in the Smith building and discusses the topic of same-gender attraction. Members here learn to embrace their sexuality while still following the Honor Code and living the standards of the gospel.

Keith Trottier is the President of this group, and led a discussion on how as LGBT students attending BYU-Idaho, can help other students who may not understand the paradox of this all. This was the list they made:

●     Pray about who you want to come out to.

●     Be informative.

●     Stop the mystery.

●     Show your support.

●     Dismiss prejudices respectfully.

●     Explain that this is NOT a choice.

●     Love one another.

●     Avoid gossip.

●     Teach with love.

●     Don’t segregate.

●     SHOW what respect really is.

●     Don’t judge,

●     Be open and honest.

●     Share your story.

●     Give everyone a chance to understand you.

●     Understand that there is a double standard.

●     Don’t force views on others.

●     Choose words wisely.

●     Look long term or at the bigger picture.

●     Sometimes people just don’t understand or don’t want to accept. That’s okay.

●     Be tolerant and accepting.

●     Don’t treat it as a disease or addiction.

●     Don’t give up on people.

This list represents how the gospel is implemented in each one of these ideas. The spirit of contention, hatred, bitterness, and stiffneckedness does not ride in any of these. Instead, one can sense love, understanding, faith, hope, and inspiration.

Mental Illness and Suicide

“Students with LGBT here on this campus are a huge minority and they feel afraid. Some students have mental illness, and because they feel so different, they feel alone and then their depression worsens and leads to suicide. They learn to deal and swallow the rhetoric because there is no other outlet,” voiced many students involved in BYU-Idaho’s chapter of USGA.

Although there may be other schools, BYU-Idaho has more factors for these students where they feel like this is their only option. It seems to them, that there is a lack of compassion in a lot of people’s eyes. Many of the members at USGA are afraid to tell their roommates that they are gay because they worry that their roommates would treat their situation as a perverted thing.

“By being open about it and creating that dialogue, by being authentic, it has allowed people to realize it’s okay to have a different opinion. I think just by being me and not backing down from that creates a new safe space and helps people feel courageous and stand their ground other than just hide,” Trottier stated.

What NOT to Say

“I still hear ‘that’s gay’ all the time all over campus when referencing something that someone doesn’t agree with or like,” Trottier expressed. “Why should that word be associated with negativity, especially by ourselves, when we are socially labeled with the same word?”

The term “faggot” is extremely offensive to students that are LGBT because of its origin. A faggot is a bundle of sticks used to fuel a fire. From Constantine, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, and for the next 1,500 years, Christians burned gays. Instead of burning them at a steak or tied up onto a big log, they valued the homosexuals so little that they just used baby tinder.

“We want people to understand that this is not okay,” said Trottier. “Also, most people don’t realize it, but the words ‘struggle’, ‘cope’, or ‘suffer’ makes us sound like we’re living a burdensome life. Just say ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.”

Embracing Uniqueness

There’s a lot of conformity to an excessive degree,” said Trottier.

On the contrary, several General Authorities have talked about how being different helps the Church.

In his most recent General Conference talk, President Uchtdorf said, “God created us to be unique.”

Elder Oaks has also shared that we should not let one thing like sexual orientation define us.

“I think it is an accurate statement to say that some people consider feelings of same-gender attraction to be the defining fact of their existence… People can adopt a characteristic as the defining example of their existence and often those characteristics are physical. We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us. The ultimate defining fact for all of us is that we are children of Heavenly Parents, born on this earth for a purpose, and born with a divine destiny. Whenever any of those other notions, whatever they may be, gets in the way of that ultimate defining fact, then it is destructive and it leads us down the wrong path.”

Support

The Organization North Star has a mission to “provide a place of community for Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual attraction or gender identity incongruence, as well as their family, friends, and ecclesiastical leaders. North Star serves those who desire the spiritual and social support that strengthens faith, builds character, and empowers men and women to live in joy and harmony within their covenants, values, and beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

For LGBT members, it also helps to have a peer support group- finding those who live the gospel without acting on their feelings. The Reconciling Faith and Feelings Conference does just that. It provides an outlet and safe environment for Latter Day Saints with LGBT.

“The purpose of the Reconciling Faith & Feelings Conference is to help members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints better understand issues relating to same-sex attraction. Within the framework of unreserved adherence to the established doctrines of the Church, we seek to reach out in love and ministry to those who experience same-sex attraction, their loved ones, and all who desire to better understand and respond to this issue. We strive to lift a voice of truth, clarity, and hope to all persons interested in learning how to respond to feelings of same-sex attraction in ways that reconcile feelings with faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ,” (Mission statement).

The conference is held annually and includes panel discussions and a question and answer segment.

Steve Young, former quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers and BYU graduate, and his wife Barbara, spoke at the Affirmation Conference for LGBT members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013 in Salt Lake City. The two are trying to “build bridges” between the LGBT and LDS communities. They have created a foundation- the Forever Young Foundation that, “serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges.”

At the same conference, Judy Finch, a psychotherapist for the church said, “In my role (as a therapist) I provide hope and reassurance and encouragement. Heavenly Father loves our gays exactly the way they are — exactly the way he created them. Maybe people have been praying for the wrong thing when they ask for gay people to become straight,” she said. “Instead, ask to know God’s will in ‘respect to gays’ and for the ability to fulfill it.”

The Battle between Love and Religion

The biggest thing in the LGBT Mormon community is that you have to choose between your love life and your church.

“Coming to BYU-Idaho, marriage is so stressed here,” said Trottier. “There’s a reason they call it BYU-I do. However I try to focus on my relationship with my Heavenly Father because that is the number one relationship we should be seeking and constantly working on. I want a happy, committed relationship, and that’s obviously not going to happen here.”

Blake Oakey also wants to have a family someday.

“My patriarchal blessing says I will, but that’s not why I’m here at school. I’ve put it on the back burner. It’s not my main goal like a lot of guys here.”

A Testimony of Faith

Keith has a dream for this school and anyone who is living with the feeling that they are alone.

“I hope when I leave Rexburg, and I come back someday to see it, I can look at this school and rediscover it as if for the very first time, as something new and completely different, and know the little things that I did contributed in making this a better place. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible, and it’s not something that just one person can do alone. We all have to make the choice to be better disciples and love one another. Once we reach that, maybe Zion is possible here. Maybe we can all be one after all.”

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