Gays cheered at Brigham Young University – millennial Mormons are increasingly tolerant of same-sex attraction

During a recent valedictorian graduation speech, student Matthew Easton came out saying he is “a gay son of God.” His admission was met with loud applause from the audience.

What makes this unusual is that Easton is a student at Brigham Young University, the flagship educational institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids any form of same-sex intimacy.

What does this coming out as gay mean for the church and modern-day Mormonism?

Coming out at BYU

In recent times, coming out at BYU has been increasingly accepted, if not always cheered.

Charlie Bird, who wore BYU’s cougar mascot costume “Cosmo” from 2015 to 2018 and became the face of Brigham Young University, came out just a few months ago.

Last year one of BYU’s official Instagram accounts was turned over to student Kyle Manwaring for one day, who talked about what it was like to be gay at BYU.

A student group at BYU, “Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship,” has become a resource for many LGBTQ students there.

As a scholar of Mormonism and sexuality, I would argue that what made this possible was a change in the honor code in 2007.

The honor code at BYU since 2007 explicitly states: “Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards….One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an honor code issue.”

While still prohibiting homosexual “behavior,” this revised code is accepting of same-sex attraction.

Under this code, students could take on LGBTQ identities but not kiss, date or show other forms of physical intimacy that are allowed for straight members.

‘Don’t say gay’ policy

That the church has become accepting of LGBTQ labels needs to be seen in its historical context to understand how big a change this is from a previous era.

Historian Gregory Prince writes in his book “Gay Rights and the Mormon Church” that starting in the 1960s, LDS church leaders believed that homosexuality could be “cured” and that it had certain social and psychological causes.