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2 gay students at Y. are forced to leave

PROVO — Two students have been pressured to leave Brigham Young University for alleged violations of the LDS Church-owned school's strict moral code.

Richard Escoto, 21, a sophomore from Los Angeles, was suspended for two semesters March 13 for reportedly visiting gay-friendly Internet chat rooms, going on same-sex dates and romantically embracing another male on campus, according to a copyright story in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Matthew Grierson, 21, a senior from Dallas, told the Tribune that he was given the option of withdrawing or being suspended. He was confronted by BYU officials with the allegations one day before Escoto was reprimanded.

Rather than face suspension for two semesters, Grierson, who was on a full academic scholarship, withdrew.

Both men deny they violated the school's honor code, which prohibits students from engaging in "homosexual conduct." They say they were not sexually active and therefore did not warrant discipline.

Escoto said the school relied on the false testimony of other students. Grierson admitted to holding hands with a man in a public place but nothing more.

Michael Smart, a BYU spokesman, declined to release specific information about either student. Federal privacy laws prohibit the school from releasing details about individual cases of student discipline.

It is unknown how many students — either heterosexual or homosexual — are suspended or expelled for sexual misconduct. Smart said BYU does not keep statistics on violations that occur at the university.

Among other things, BYU's honor code prohibits students from living with members of the opposite sex, consuming alcoholic beverages, smoking, taking drugs and having premarital sex.

Smart told the Deseret News that 2 percent to 3 percent of BYU's 30,000 students are referred to counselors at the Honor Code Office each year, mostly for minor infractions of the honor code involving how students dress and groom.

Gay students may attend BYU if they abide by the teachings of the LDS faith — which denounces gay relationships — and "as long as they don't act on the same-sex attractions," Smart said.

Smart said the honor code is an "outgrowth" of the principles of the 11 million-member church. Students should be familiar with both the teachings of the church and honor code requirements when they arrive at the school, he said.

Faculty aren't exempt from pressure to leave if they publicly acknowledge their sexuality. Thomas J. Matthews, who taught at BYU for five years, left BYU in 1996 to join Weber State University's faculty.

At the time, Matthews said he was not told to leave but felt like he needed to move on.


Contributing: Deseret News staff