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.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.
"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 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.