April 9th, 2012
06:52 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN)-– The students featured in a video about being gay at Brigham Young University are not in obvious violation of the honor code, according to Carri Jenkins, an assistant to the president of BYU.
Jenkins went on to say that for the video alone, the students would not be punished. The honor code, Jenkins said, is “based on conduct, not on feeling, and if same-gender attraction is only stated, that is not an honor code issue.”
All BYU students sign on to the honor code upon enrollment. The code outlaws premarital sex and breaking the code “may result in actions up to and including separation from the university.”
“Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the honor code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings,” reads the honor code.
The 9 minute, 37 second video features a number of gay, lesbian and bisexual students around BYU and is part of the larger “It Gets Better” video campaign started by writer Dan Savage. The project was started in response to a rash of suicides of teenagers who were bullied for being gay. The goal of the videos is to let people know they are not alone and that life gets better.
“It is very different to be gay and Mormon because it feels like neither community accepts you completely,” said Bridey Jensen, acting president of the group Understanding Same-Gender Attraction. “We put out the message for youth that are going through this and we want them to know that we were them a few years ago and it gets better and there is a place for you.”
Jensen’s organization is not recognized by the university, but she did say that professors and administrators have been supportive of what the group is trying to do.
The BYU video is unique in the fact that it discusses being gay at a university that has consistently been ranked as the most unfriendly campus for LGBT students in the country, according to Princeton Review.
Brigham Young is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and many of the school’s board members are also church officials.
In 2007, the honor code was changed to state that it is based on conduct, not on feeling. Jenkins said, however, that the university observed that policy even before the rule change.
“One's stated sexual orientation is not an honor code issue,” was added in 2007.
Throughout the video, students speak of the hardships they have encountered. In some instances, students talk about their thoughts of suicide.
"I thought that eventually maybe it would be better if I died," said one unnamed male student, "so I did everything I could to really be that perfect Mormon. I thought that was going to cure myself."
Jenkins said what concerned her most about the videos was the talk of suicide.
“I hoped they would use the services available to them and that they would take advantage of the professional services that we have,” Jenkins said, speaking about the university's counseling services.
Though Jensen acknowledged the hardships of being gay and Mormon, she said that in her leadership of this unaffiliated group she has seen an unexpected changing attitude among Mormons toward gay rights.
Jensen said she believes that while church doctrine has not changed, feelings toward LGBT members of the church have.
“I am not sure how much the doctrine or policy within the church will change, but there is definitely a changing of how they treat the issue and how they treat the people who are gay,” Jensen said. “It is definitely getting better within the church. They are not so quick to judge. They understand that they don’t understand everything.”
Richard Bushman, a pre-eminent scholar on the doctrine and history of Mormonism, echoed Jensen. He says the fact this debate is even allowed to occur is a signal of liberalization in attitudes toward homosexuality in Mormonism.
“The last 10 years have been a huge sea change in terms of willingness to accept homosexuals,” Bushman said. “Gay kids are still going to have a tough time in the church, but this level of acceptance and acknowledgement, that is really that last decade I would say.”
Even within the last decade, however, the church has had a confrontational history with gay rights. When Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage illegal in California, was challenged, Mormons contributed half the $40 million war chest that was used to defend the proposition, according to TIME magazine. Mormons made up 2% of the Californian population.
During the Proposition 8 debate, the church leadership penned a letter that was to be read to all congregations on June 29, 2008.
“We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman,” read the letter. “Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”
The response from gay rights activists was fierce; many accused the church of bigotry and blind religious obedience.
Jensen, however, as a gay Mormon, took a more nuanced look at the Proposition 8 debate.
“I think that what Prop 8 was all about was the church has a stance that eternal marriage is between a man and a woman,” Jensen said. “As a religious institution, they have every right to protect that.”
Jensen said that while the church defended that position, congregants at large “don’t view us [LGBT Mormons] any different.”
In the video, the students state that 1,800 students at BYU are members of the LGBT community. According to Jensen, those numbers were extrapolated from national numbers that show between 6% and 10% of people have homosexual urges at some point in their lives.
With around 34,000 students at BYU, Jensen said they figured around 1,800 would have experience homosexual urges.
Jenkins disputes those numbers, stating that the university has never collected data on the number of LGBT students at BYU. Those numbers are not “scientifically valid,” Jenkins said.
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