I’ll never forget the embarrassment I felt as I opened my Brigham Young University undergraduate application for the first time. I was sitting in my high school English class and, before anything else, I began to review the university honor code. There, in bold letters, the phrase “Homosexual Behavior” stuck out at me like a big red flag at LaVell Edwards Stadium. I quickly shut my laptop.
When I got home I reloaded the page and read that section of the honor code over and over. I was a senior in high school, and I was nowhere close to being “out.” I had no intention of pursuing a same-sex relationship and didn’t anticipate any problems complying with the honor code, but reading it made me feel weird — irregular, scared, unwelcome.
I absolutely loved my time at BYU. I progressed spiritually, made lasting friends and developed marketable skills that have helped me grow professionally. I kept the honor code and had no major issues being a gay student on campus. However, once a year I was required to renew my “ecclesiastical endorsement” and re-commit to living university standards. Each time I reviewed the honor code I was greeted by the same clause that conveyed the same not-so-subtle message: “people like you don’t belong here.”
On Wednesday, BYU updated its honor code and removed the two paragraphs that used to make up the “Homosexual Behavior” section. I called a dear friend of mine who works as a BYU administrator to verify the change, then sat outside on the sidewalk to process the news. I thought about how God grants his children the divine gift of agency and how beautiful it is that BYU’s updated honor code uses more principle-based language for LGBTQ students. I applaud that LGBTQ students can now operate more fully in the light. I anticipate a decrease in students who feel the need to lie about who they are. I anticipate a dramatic decrease in secretive, anonymous dating and cases of heartbreaking sexual assault.
Brigham Young University’s honor code has always held students to a high standard and helps set the school apart from all others. In fact, the faith-building environment it creates is the very reason I decided to attend BYU. Now, with the updated honor code, the school will better support inclusion and build appreciation for God-given agency. This will foster a safer environment where all students can feel comfortable connecting with their faith, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Next year, a closeted gay senior in high school hopefully won’t feel unwelcome or embarrassed as they apply to the school of their dreams. Instead, they will be able to look forward to a bright educational future with a strong sense of belonging. To me, that sounds like a big step in the right direction.
Charlie Bird was Cosmo the Cougar at Brigham Young University from 2015 to 2018.