Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Being an 'Us'

Some other bloggers have referred to an article in the Daily Universe that quotes me describing some of the things that happened in BYU's campaign for prop 8. The author quotes me as a "gay student."

Honestly, I wasn't expecting her to refer to me as a gay student so bluntly, especially when it wasn't as relevant to the quote as some of the other things I said to her in the interview. In fact, the night the paper was printed I got a somewhat frantic message on my voicemail saying that she was having second thoughts about the article because she realized she hadn't expressly asked me if she could refer to me as gay in the article. She told me to call her back as soon as possible at any hour that night and she'd try to fix it if it was a problem. I didn't get the message till the papers had already hit the stands, but I'm not upset about it.

The day the article ran in the school paper, I thought no one would read it. Who reads page 9 of the school paper? Apparently everyone who knows me, including my whole work crew, freshman ward, and fellow art students. It has actually been really nice. There is no more angst regarding who knows and who doesn't and whether or not I need to tell so and so. It's all out in the open now. (It partly motivated me to restart this blog)

While I enjoyed what Kemsley said in the article, there were a few things I had told her that I felt were important but weren't included in the article. One of them was an attitude I have felt at BYU both from my gay friends and those that backed prop 8. The campaign seemed to create an "us vs. them" attitude.

I don't know if any of you at BYU have noticed the language we use when we talk about prop 8 and the protests and anything related now--it's very much us vs. them. I think three things contributed to this attitude.
1. Mormons were perceived as acting as a single large group rather than as individuals in their fight for the proposition. Because the command to donate time and money came from the top, and Latter-day Saints are largely an obedient people, they acted as one. It was intimidating for me to feel like all of the Church was against me. This feeling was compounded by Elder Ballard's request that young adults go "viral" in spreading the message of prop 8 on facebook. BYU students did just that. They banded together in large facebook groups, again, coming across as an intimidating mass of people all fighting the same thing--me.

2. Gays at BYU remained largely faceless and unknown-- essentially being in the closet allowed other BYU students to think and say things they wouldn't have if they'd known that they knew us. I made my opposition to 8 clear, but people who didn't know I was gay tried to persuade me to support 8 by saying negative things about gay people!

3. Both Gays and Mormons felt persecuted by each other. Nothing brings a group of people together like persecution. Mormons have always felt persecuted by the world, and protest at Church temples brought out those feelings. Ironically, though, I personally witnessed and felt persecution as a homosexual by the Church and its members. It drove my group of gay friends to each other. We stopped trusting straight people because we didn't know who would hurt us and who wouldn't. We became an Us, and they became a Them.

I think that this attitude is going to hurt both us and them for a very long time. I think that it will make BYU administrators less compassionate towards gays, and we will see a rise in hate speech amongst the students. I think it will also cause more gay people to leave the Church and to be antagonistic towards it. On both sides it will fester bitterness that hurts everyone.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Censorship in the HFAC

My friend, Michael Wiltbank, recently had a fine art project on display in the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU. I was one of the models portrayed in the project, which depicted 8 portraits of BYU students. Some are gay, and some are simply supporters of those who are gay. They are not labeled because it shouldn't matter which is which.

Michael's goal was to show "that there are gay and lesbian individuals not only in the Mormon culture, but also at BYU" and to create "a vehicle for tolerance, support, love and change."

As soon as the work went up on display in the HFAC, complaints were made and the artist statement was vandalized. As complaints mounted over the next 5 days, the art department and administrators met to discuss the issue. Almost all of the art department, and most of the administrators supported Michael's show as an appropriate and timely invitation to dialog. The Chair of the department agreed to leave the show up until one particular dean pressured her to remove the show last minute. When the show was taken down, Michael wasn't notified, nor was his teacher. The censorship hit the blogs, and then national and local media.

Dan Savage was one of the first to promote the story. In an anonymous comment on his blog, I explained to him why I had participated in the project. I said:
I thought his project could reach out to others who were struggling to accept their orientation [as I had]. I felt it sent the message that a. It's ok to acknowledge/accept the fact that you are gay and b. There are people at BYU who will support you. My participation in the project was safe because school policy states, "One's stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue."

. . . I am proud to have participated in the project and hope that others at BYU struggling to accept themselves can find the peace that I found.

As pressure from the media shook up the administration at BYU, they contacted Michael Wiltbank and allowed him to put the show back up. He did. BYU released an official statement that unjustly hung the art department out to dry. Deseret News reported:
BYU spokesman Michael Smart said a miscommunication between administrators in the College of Fine Arts and Communication led to the removal.

"When the action became apparent after the weekend, college administrators reviewed the decision," Smart said. "Because the project does not violate BYU's honor code, the project was rehung Tuesday afternoon."
I want to go down on the record as a supporter of this project and of the College of Fine Arts and Communications at BYU for hanging the project. I am in that college, and it may be one of the only reasons I still like attending BYU.

I have really enjoyed standing on the 5th floor balcony watching people bring their friends to see the infamous censored project on the 4th floor. People's reactions can be very telling! I think as a whole this project was beneficial to BYU because it opened the doors to dialog, made a clear statement about what the Honor Code actually forbids and what it does not, and created a stir that brought a lot of viewership to Michael's project. Maybe some of those viewers were able to get from the show what I hoped and can now accept their own sexual orientation with less fear.

Returning to the Moho Queerosphere

I'm sure that most of you readers (if any remain) were shocked and devastated to see my blog disappear the better part of a year ago. ;-) I was also saddened by it because I was forced to remove the blog by a Bishop who felt it constituted apostasy.

A lot has happened since then. Honestly I was glad for the reprieve from the blogging (I still read other blogs and commented). There was a huge burden removed when I stopped blogging. It allowed me over time to come up with several realizations that have enabled me to come back to blogging with a changed attitude.

1. Secrecy/Anonymity isn't a shield or protection for me. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
2. It is not my job to change other people or to fix the injustices of this world/culture/society. I don't need to lead the fight.
3. My opinions don't jeopardize my education.

I return to blogging not because I need support or because I need a place to vent or rant, but because I feel like I need to establish how I feel about things. I've been kinda in the lime light, and I felt a need to clarify. Nothing that I feel is secret--I have shared it with friends and faculty at BYU--and nothing that I feel puts me at odds with the Honor Code, which only defines actions. Granted, blogging is an action, so let me state that this blog in no way advocates homosexual behavior, nor does it aim to fight against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.