PROVO — Orange-and-white sawhorse barriers, each painted with a block-Y logo in the center, blockaded the entrance to the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center for a few minutes Tuesday morning.

No cars or pedestrians were allowed in or out, and church security officers stood behind the barricade as about two dozen gay Christians marched down Temple View Drive directly toward the MTC.

The group didn't cross 900 East to approach the MTC entrance. Instead, the marchers paid no attention to the building, the barricades or the security guards. An MTC security guard used a traffic box to secure a walk signal for the group, which turned south toward Brigham Young University.

The barricades, quickly removed by security, were a sign of extensive preparations made by BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to minimize the potential for confrontation and negative publicity surrounding the visit of the Soulforce Equality Riders.

Another was the decision to have BYU police officers wear suits and ties instead of uniforms, considered by some a public relations masterstroke. BYU knew the demonstrators would stage a "die-in," falling one at a time to the ground as if dead, and that officers would then inform them they were under arrest and escort them without handcuffs to a waiting, unmarked van.

Photographs and videos of the event showed an officer kneeling over one of the demonstrators. He appeared non-threatening, which might not have been the case if he were in uniform with a utility belt and gun.

"That's a pretty smart decision in my mind," said Laurie Wilson, who teaches public relations in BYU's communications department. "Things like this that happen at BYU have a real knack for getting into international news. Often all that gets into international news is the picture, not a balanced article with both sides represented, including BYU's. If you're going to have a picture viewed worldwide, you don't want a picture of a person lying on the ground with an armed police officer over them. You'd have people drawing their own conclusion that a police officer had knocked a student to the ground."

Wilson said some might fault BYU administrators for trying to manage the story.

"You may have people criticize that they were trying to spin the story, but so was Soulforce. They made it clear they wanted to be arrested."

The picture created a favorable image for one man who said his BYU student job in the early 1970s was as an undercover informant to help expose gays on campus. Joseph Morrow said it remains the "most regrettable and shameful actions of my life."

"I must congratulate the BYU security officers for their restrained, even kind treatment of the demonstrators," Morrow told the Deseret Morning News via e-mail on Wednesday. "That picture of the security officer kneeling next to one and talking was very impressive. Back in the 70s, that was not the case."

BYU is still criticized for its treatment of gays. Last year, the Princeton Review ranked BYU 10th on its list of the 10 schools with the lowest acceptance of the gay community, based on surveys of 110,000 students nationwide.

BYU public communications chief Carri Jenkins said the university's preparations for the Soulforce visit began in January. That's when university administrators learned BYU was on the itinerary for the national bus tour to conservative Christian and military colleges and universities the group considers hostile to gays.

Planning included rare mass e-mails to faculty, staff and students, contact with at least one campus police force at another school included on the tour and advice from LDS Church Public Affairs and church security.

Soulforce provided BYU with a list of initiatives. "We told them we could not accommodate them," Jenkins said.

BYU set clear guidelines for Soulforce weeks ago. Jenkins said a letter was sent that included a map marked with restricted areas, including the MTC. While Soulforce agreed to avoid those areas and had a track record of abiding by such agreements during visits to other campuses, BYU and the church took no chances of an incident at the MTC, where hundreds of men and women are studying in a strictly controlled environment during the first weeks of two-year proselyting missions to countries around the world.

BYU's student life vice president Jan Scharman sent two e-mails to BYU faculty and staff. In the second message, she said BYU informed Soulforce it could have no access to classrooms, administrative offices and residence halls.

"If Soulforce members do come uninvited into your office, classroom or residence hall, please simply remind them that they do not have access to your area and that this restriction has been communicated in advance to Soulforce leaders," Scharman wrote.

Scharman sent an e-mail to students asking them to be respectful, and it turned out they were. On Monday, Soulforce members engaged students on campus in civil, small-group discussions monitored by BYU police and public communications officials. On Tuesday, as Soulforce marched to campus, the plainclothes police officers positioned themselves along the route in unmarked vans and cars. Most went unnoticed by the marchers.

Prior to the march, BYU Police Chief Larry Stott explained to the demonstrators how they would be warned and then arrested for trespassing. Both sides worked together to choreograph the event, which was poorly attended. Only about 20 people gathered to watch the march and demonstration.

The event's newsworthiness grew because of the one wild card the university couldn't completely control — five of its students joined the march and were arrested.

"BYU does not like the media attention this brings," said one of the marchers, gay BYU student Emil Pohlig.

It is possible the students who participated in the Soulforce demonstration will be subject to a review by the Honor Code Office.

"We're looking into it," Jenkins said Wednesday.

BYU's Honor Code prohibits any implicit advocacy of the gay lifestyle. The LDS Church, which owns and operates BYU, teaches that God reserved sex to be between a married man and woman.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com