LGBTQ+ Students at BYU
“Same-Sex Attracted” is a documentary that follows a few LGBTQ students over an academic school year at the LDS-owned Brigham Young University (BYU). The students are lovable and face the regular day-to-day life of being a college kid and the trials that come with being queer at a Mormon institution. They struggle with with questions of faith, sexuality, gender, family, love and happiness. The students and their off-campus group Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship (USGA) realize that BYU’s administration has plans to create a new, church-sanctioned GSA without the influence of other queer-led organizations that already exist. We see here the real experience of being queer at the Lord’s University from the perspective of LGBTQ students who struggle to make a positive change.
When Brigham Young University announced that the clause prohibiting “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings” would be removed from the school’s honor code, students became quite excited. But then, two weeks later, BYU students were upset to learn, as an official LDS church statement indicated, “Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage, and is therefore not compatible with the principles of the Honor Code.”
This documentary directed by Maddy Purves and Zoie Young gives us one of the most comprehensive looks at the challenges LGBTQ+ students at BYU face as they deal with a strict honor code and the efforts of the student support group USGA (Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship) to gain official recognition on the campus.
Many non-Mormons in the LGBTQ+ communities who are not just in Utah but elsewhere in the country, ask why students, who are so vulnerable to the honor code rules, would decide to remain on campus. The film shows that the honor code’s impact goes well beyond the classroom and into the student’s housing accommodations, public behavior and appearance in the larger Provo community and the possibility that their fellow students will turn them in for behavior not considered appropriate in the rules.
Many young Mormons hide their sexual identities but in this film, they are outspoken and candid. However, the circumstances with which they must contend are presented plainly. It is hard to imagine how anyone could defend these barriers as anything else but cruel, especially when the students sincerely hope to stay connected to their faith. On a larger scale, these conditions are inexcusable, in light of the reaffirmation of their constitutional and legal rights. Despite the directors’ attempts to have a BYU administrator on camera to explain the school’s position, no one agreed to participate.
Some of the strongest scenes in the film show the magnitude of interest not just among the LGBTQ+ community on the Provo campus but also their fellow students and others who are part of the church. Rooms are packed, with attendees waiting in line to enter, for meetings and public discussions. The film captures the resilience that suggests (despite the mightiest of efforts by church and university officials) that the cause will not be silenced. The film effectively shows he spirit of students and alumni who see the challenges of bringing about changes that have been unimplemented for way too long.
Because the directors are both queer, they already were a part of the LGBT community at BYU. They had already established a relationship with everybody we filmed. They participants knew that we were risking just as much by making the film as they were by being in it. There was constant communication with them throughout the production, and it was clear that they were loved, respected and safe.
There is a very tight-knit community and a misconnect between the culture and beliefs in Mormonism and the rest of the world when it comes to LGBT issues and identity. It is the aim of the film to close that gap.
The film looks at the history of anti-gay policies at the university, including a clip from a 1959 speech where former BYU president Ernest Wilkinson said society was loosening its standards and allowing for more “homosexual practices,” and then warned, “We can expect to have some of these verted individuals on campus.”
Students say they face embracing their sexuality, or maintaining their activity in the LDS Church and working to align their sexual preferences with its teachings. The documentary explores the crisis in identity and faith that comes from living in that environment.