Brigham Young University recently dismissed star basketball player, Brandon Davies, from the men’s basketball team for violating the school’s honor code. Brandon had sex with his girlfriend. BYU is a Mormon school and the honor code reflects the church’s conservative views on sex and sexuality. After hearing about this, I thought about what it must be like to be an LGBT athlete at BYU. If premarital heterosexual sex is not tolerated, what would the school think of gay sex? Not to fear, the honor code has it covered:
“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. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.
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One's stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”
In a nutshell, gay and lesbian students and staff are “welcome” in the university community as long as they don’t engage in any “form of physical intimacy that gives expression to homosexual feelings.” You can say you are gay, according to the honor code, but you are expected to commit yourself to the law of chastity, just like all unmarried heterosexuals on campus are.
On one hand, given Brandon Davies’ dismissal from the basketball team, it seems that BYU takes the sexual conduct part of the honor code seriously no matter what the sexual orientation of a student is. On the other hand, the honor code devotes an entire section to “Homosexual Behavior” making it clear that even holding hands with someone of the same sex could be grounds for an honor code violation whereas heterosexual couples need to actually have sex in order to violate the code.
What must it be like to be an LGBT athlete at BYU? I am sure they are there. We are, as the slogan goes, everywhere. Outsports asked this question recently and several readers made comments about LGBT athletes they know who have been students at BYU.
Students who enroll at BYU know what they are committing themselves to, but many young people do not identify themselves as gay until after they are in college. What must it be like to come from a Mormon family, identify as a Morman AND be lesbian, gay or bisexual?
As a private school, BYU has the right to determine and enforce its honor code. It certainly is clearer than the ambiguous and unspoken “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that got soccer coach Lisa Howe in trouble at Belmont University. This difference notwithstanding, the insistence that being LGBT and being a devout and honorable person of faith are completely incompatible often leads to dishonesty and secrecy.
That is some burden for a young person already dealing with the academic, athletic and social challenges of being away from home for the first time. Who could you talk to? I doubt if BYU has an LGBT Center or that campus counseling services include gay-affirmative staff. Even though you can identify yourself as gay without violating the honor code, it must be difficult to do so. Given the Mormons’ condemnation of homosexual behavior, how could you feel good about being lesbian or gay?
I was recently contacted by a reporter interested in doing a story on this topic who wanted to know if I had any contacts with LGBT athletes at BYU. I don’t. Neither do Jim or Cyd at Outsports. The BYU closet is too deep. The message to LGBT athletes from Brandon Davies’ dismissal from a team headed for the post-season is this: If they would dismiss a star heterosexual athlete for having sex with his girlfriend, there is no way it is safe for an LGBT athlete to come out, much less have a relationship at BYU. All it takes is for one teammate or one classmate or one coach to find out and tell on you and it is over.
The truly sad thing is that even in public universities where LGBT students’ rights are supposed to be protected, all it takes is to have a coach who believes that being LGBT is morally wrong or a disruption to the team and an athlete’s career can be just as much in jeopardy. It happens in women’s sports all the time. Coaches can and do act on their personal prejudices even when school policies and state laws should protect students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Too often administrators look the other way or back the coach. At least BYU is being consistent with the values the university and the Mormon religion espouses. We don’t have to like it. As a private religious school, they have the right. I am more upset about public schools that enable, condone, ignore discrimination against LGBT coaches and athletes even as they claim to be committed to protecting the rights of LGBT people on campus. That kind of hypocrisy is really difficult to see and just as painful for the young people who suffer because of it.