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Topics In the News
BYU Students: It Gets Better?
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/07/12
Last updated on: 04/07/12
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Still from the BYU "It Gets Better" video.

On April 6, 2012, students from Brigham Young University, the flagship university of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), posted an "It Gets Better" YouTube video, which promptly went viral, garnering more than 100,000 views on its first day. However, the reaction to the video may not have been precisely what the students were expecting.

The video was inspired by Dan Savage and Terry Miller's "It Gets Better" project, which was created in September 2010, following the suicide of a gay teenager, to remind youths who may be in despair over coming out or contemplating hurting themselves because they have been bullied that once they leave the circumstances in which they are mistreated, things will get better.

The BYU students' video, despite its title, and its apparent acceptance by the It Gets Better project, has little understanding of the intent of the project. In fact, in some respects, the video undermines the entire premise of the Savage and Miller project. Its message seems to be that instead of escaping oppressive circumstances, one should embrace them.

The video was created by an "unofficial" group called "Understanding Same-Gender Attraction," which consists of BYU students, faculty, and friends dedicated to providing "a place for open, respectful discussions on the topic of same-gender attraction."

The video recounts the painful experiences of several gay, lesbian, and bisexual students who have come out under very difficult conditions. In particular, they all seem to have subscribed to the beliefs that homosexuality is a grave sin and that to acknowledge their homosexuality is to risk not only their souls but also the love of their families and friends.

The video is heartbreaking both because of what these young people have had to endure and, equally, because they seem to have reached a spectacularly erroneous conclusion as to how to make things get better.

The students, who are uniformly attractive and likeable, were certainly brave to make the video, yet there is such a cognitive dissonance between what they have experienced and the conclusions that they have reached about BYU and Mormonism that one thinks they must have been brainwashed.

For all their apparent intelligence and eloquence, they seem unable to question or even to analyze in any depth the circumstances in which they find themselves. There is a zombie-like quality in their presentations.

Among the statistics presented in the video are the appalling numbers of BYU students who have contemplated and attempted suicide, yet no one, not even the student who says that he has spent time in a psychiatric hospital, points out that the likely source of these suicidal impulses is the teachings of the LDS Church itself.

I think it is impossible to watch this video without suspecting that these young people have been subjected to child abuse. They have certainly been victims of spiritual terrorism.

When the video was first posted on YouTube, comments were encouraged. However, as the number of comments grew that told the students that if they really wanted to make things better for themselves and others, they should leave the oppressive atmosphere of BYU and the LDS Church, comments were removed and the comments feature disabled.

Rosemary Winters in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, naively characterizes the video as "just one more sign of changing attitudes toward being gay and Mormon."

Winters reports that BYU has recently "adjusted its Honor Code to allow students to identify as gay without facing sanctions so long as they avoid physical intimacy with members of the same sex. Chastity before marriage is expected of all students."

She quotes school spokeswoman Carri Jenkins as saying that "Students who are upholding the Honor Code are welcome as full members of the BYU community."

Of course, Winters and Jenkins fail to point out that this apparently equal treatment of gay and straight students is a false equivalence since straight students can marry while gay students cannot. They fail to acknowledge that BYU and LDS policies consign gay people to a life of celibacy on the margins of the community, and that the Church not only refuses to recognize same-sex marriage but actively works to prevent the legal recognition of same-sex marriage all over the world.

One of the students in the video, Adam White, a BYU theater arts major, may in fact inadvertently give away the real purpose of the video, when he is quoted by Winters as saying, "I feel like there's been a very negative light cast on Mormons when it comes to LGBT issues. You can declare your orientation and be OK with that, and you won't get kicked out [of BYU]. That recognition is a really big step for a lot of people. It's given a lot of people hope."

I suspect that the video is actually intended less to give hope to glbtq Mormons than to improve the image of the Mormon Church in the eyes of non-Mormons. I would not be surprised to discover that in fact the Church has funded this video.

One might have thought that one way to repair the damage done the Church's image as a result of its massive participation in passing California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, would be for the Church to retreat from future marriage equality battles.

Alas, that does not seem to be the case. As Chris Johnson reports in the Washington Blade, members of the Mormon Church in Maryland are already actively working to overturn the state's recently passed marriage equality law.

Here is the BYU students' "It Gets Better" video.

Here is a video made by the Courage Campaign during the Proposition 8 battle that points out the Mormon involvement in passing the discriminatory law.

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