Once again, the Lord’s University, BYU, is embroiled in a controversy regarding censorship and the essential values being taught there. A student entered into a photographic exhibition head shots of gay and straight students at BYU. They were paired — one gay and one straight — without identifying which was which. There was no nudity, no bare chests, no nothing, just head shots. BYU decided the display had to come down.
Several thoughts occur to me.
First, in light of the public relations nightmare engendered by the recent Prop. 8 dust-up, it would seem that the Church, and thus BYU, would want to blunt some of the criticism and put their words of understanding and tolerance into action. Allowing this display would have put some meat on the claim that they don’t hate gays, they just disapprove of homosexual behavior. Instead, this precipitous action seems to put their whole argument to the side, saying in actions what they’re not saying in words. How exactly do you feel about gays? Aren’t there gays at BYU? Don’t they deserve the same respect and dignity as straight students? It’s hard to fathom.
But there’s a second line of thought here, and I welcome your thoughts on this. Parents send their students to BYU and other Mormon-owned schools, in part, because they want to provide a “safe” environment for them. Secular universities are seen as hotbeds of anti-religious sentiment, and are to be avoided, if possible. BYU is “safe” precisely because it is governed by men who share their values. It seems to me that, when BYU is faced by situations such as the current one, they should stop, take a breath, and ask the question, “Does this action, this display, make our students less safe? Are they put in some kind of danger if we allow this to happen?”
This is exactly what they would think if their priorities were centered in the needs of the students. Instead, it seems that BYU follows a Church-driven agenda — a desire to please the higher authorities and cater to their agendas — rather than a plan to serve the student body in the best way possible.
Just a moment’s thought will convince most that the photographic display threatened nobody. No student would be less “safe” by the display of these head shots. No straight student would be tempted to become gay. It would, instead, reflect a kind of tolerance that the Church, and BYU, should be teaching.
Sigh. I guess the powers-that-be think that the Lord’s University is made safer by teaching INtolerance. I’m not sure the Lord would agree.
Do you have a link or more information?
What you describe is consistent with a certain aspect of the Church’s response to non-heterosexuals. While the Church will use inviting language in press releases and other statements the truth is there is no way for gay and lesbian saints to be seen or heard, that is, there is no way for them to participate in the LDS community as gay or lesbian people. The Church requires them to be invisible and silent unless they are willing to participate in the narrative that makes their sexual orientation a pathology that they are fighting against. If the photo exhibit did not make an overt value judgement regarding human sexuality that in and of itself was probably too much for BYU.
Did the students photographed know that the photos might be used in that manner? If not, I can see the straight people complaining that a “cloud” has been placed over their reputations, and the gays complaining that they’ve been “outed” in a hostile environment. Either could expose the University to legal action.
I agree that many (most?) parents send their children to BYU “because they want to provide a “safe” environment for them.” But I would hope that by “safe” they don’t mean free of all controversy. Rather I would hope that they would welcome controversial discussions/debates and consider them “safe” because they are held in an environment that fosters faith, with people who share core LDS values.
I believe more information is required to have a productive conversation. One important piece of information needed would be what BYU states is the reasoning behind pulling the display. If it is because some of the students involved were not comfortable with their photo being used in the display then it nullifies a lot of points made in this post. I think we should at least give BYU the benefit of the doubt until we have more information. No?
“A student entered into a photographic exhibition head shots of gay and straight students at BYU.”
Are there gay students at BYU? If there are, and if they are identified as such, they will be kicked out of the school. In a way, those photos are like wanted posters.
I don’t think it even matters that they are straight or gay. The photos in the display show people who are in “serious transgression.” Another display right next to it could read “half of these byu students have premarital sex” and have the same effect. The display is a great way to destroy/alter a bunch of peoples lives.
I was going to comment, but I think I’ll back carefully away from the firestorm that Nazenail has almost certainly just ignited …
Is being gay “a serious transgression?” Or is it the sexual expression that is the transgression? If the latter, why assume that the gay students are any more sexually active than the straight students?
Here are the censored photos:
“These portraits are of BYU students who identify themselves as homosexual and a person that supports them. This support person could be a family member, friend or may also identify themselves as homosexual and both people may provide support to each other.”
I have been unable to find a reason for the censorship; I’m sure news outlets will have BYU presenting one soon.
Nazenail, I want to think that your comment is unbelievable. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
I prefer to see Nazenail’s comment as satire. Otherwise, it would just be sad, like Ahmadinejad in front of the U.N. earlier this year.
Actually, the artist described the display like this: These portraits are of BYU students who identify themselves as homosexual and a person that supports them. That doesn’t say anything about actually engaging in any kind of sexual activity. A person can identify as homosexual without actually having sex.
There seems to be a heightened sensitivity to giving exposure to “sympathizers” right now.
Clay and others-
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the church took this stance on homosexuality: There is no such thing as a homosexual (noun), only people with homosexual tendencies. So with that in mind, a person cannot be gay without having performed homosexual activity.
Not trying to heat things up here. Just trying to gain understanding.
I was kicked out of BYU twice and find most of this extremely interesting.
“Did the students photographed know that the photos might be used in that manner? If not, I can see the straight people complaining that a “cloud” has been placed over their reputations, and the gays complaining that they’ve been “outed” in a hostile environment. Either could expose the University to legal action.”
If the photographer had them sign a standard photo releases (as he should have) they would have no say at all regarding the use and distribution of the photographs. Releases make it possible to do photographic and film / video work. This is an issue I deal with on a daily basis. even without a release the nature of the photos suggests that the subjects consented to have the pictures taken so while people will take legal action over just about anything, being successful in that action would be a long shot.
“The display is a great way to destroy/alter a bunch of peoples lives.”
Or it’s a great way to raise awareness.
Nazenail: Sorry about the earlier comment. I’m glad you cleared it up. Writing comments on blogs is difficult because its hard to interpret the tone of a person’s words very easily. Cheers.
BYU and PR are like sodium and water. If they had ignored it or moved it into a less visible display area, there might have been a minor whispering campaign in Provo about the pictures. [Now, featured at the Monte L. Bean Dead Animal Warehouse… The Senior Photog Project)
Now, there’s multiple blog posts (and LOLcats) up on it all over the internet. Epic PR Fail.
Sorry, but as a diehard fan of a rival school, including “The Lord’s University” in the headline made it impossible for me to read the rest of the blog posting.
Yeah, that is WEIRD that the church run school is almost acting as if it is controlled by the church. I just don’t get it.
“Instead, it seems that BYU follows a Church-driven agenda.” Ummmmm, I think there are a lot of people that would argue that that is the entire point of BYU.
I still don’t understand the need to apologize for having an unpopular (though apparently not in the state where it was counted) opinion. I certainly don’t understand picking this to criticize, of all things. That BYU would censor this is only surprising to somebody who has never been (it would seem to me). This would have been censored long before the prop 8 mess, I seriously doubt it was censored because of it.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the church took this stance on homosexuality: There is no such thing as a homosexual (noun), only people with homosexual tendencies. So with that in mind, a person cannot be gay without having performed homosexual activity.”
Nazenail, this is from the most recent church publication on the subject entitled “God Loveth His Children”:
Perhaps BYU took liberty with the idea of people who “identify as homosexual” to mean that they don’t just feel attraction, but act on it. The artist’s blog says that no one from BYU contacted him to clarify, ask him to take it down himself, or even notify him that it had been done.
I thought BYU had recently amended its Honor Code so that it did not prohibit people from identifying as gay (so long as they abided by the behavioral standards set forth in the Code, of course). Was I mistaken?
In any case, I can’t help but feel that BYU’s action here appears to be quite disappointing and shameful.
17. Steve M
Can we really feel this way when we don’t know the facts?
This is what the honor code says:
“Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.
One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior and/or advocacy of homosexual behavior are inappropriate and violate 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. Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.”
The artist’s website says, “These portraits are of BYU students who identify themselves as homosexual and a person that supports them.” Identifying yourself as being homosexual may be the issue for BYU. I wonder if these would have been taken down if the artist had said “People who stuggle with same-sex attraction” or something like that (I assume there was some kind of plaque next to the photos that said what the photos were about). This may be an issue of semantics and some may identify themselves as being homosexual or gay who have never acted (and don’t plan to act on) their feelings. This raises an interesting question, Is homosexuality part of your identity or not? How that question is answered probably is different from individual to individual.
Of course BYU follows a “church driven agenda”. The Church pays their salaries. Tuition is a drop in the bucket by comparison.
According to the artist’s blog (http://jmichaelwiltbank.blogspot.com/), his work was removed from the exhibit without so much as a notification to him. He didn’t even find out that his work had been taken out until one of his friends who had attended the exhibit told him. That sounds quite shady.
Granted, we only have one side of the story. But given BYU’s history of censorship, forgive me for suspecting that the University does not have a particularly compelling reason for removing the student’s art.
” Is homosexuality part of your identity or not? How that question is answered probably is different from individual to individual.”
Why not ask: is heterosexuality part of your identity or not?
If you listen to your family and friends and coworkers, the people you know in the community who are gay, what you are likely to learn is that both heterosexuals and homosexuals experience their sexuality the same way: as an inherent part of who they are.
As an aside, since the “honor code” is pretty chilling, both gay and straight people are seeking relationships that feed them, relationships defined by emotional and spiritual intimacy, we are all are seeking relationships defined by trust and that are safe places to be vulnerable and the potential to grow and learn. Naturally physical intimacy is also part of it as well but all the elements are there for both hetero and homo individuals. The emphasis placed on one area or the other will obviously be different from individual to individual as you suggest. But the truth of the matter is that homo and hetero are two different aspects of the same ontological status. Sooner or later the Church is going to need to realize that hetero or homo is not a moral issue, but denying people the ability to accept who they are, and to be open and honest about who they are, denying people the ability to enter into relationship that allow them to be emotional and spiritually fulfilled, these are moral issue.
Anyone ever get the sneaking feeling that the CHURCH is sometimes following a BYU driven agenda?
Thanks for the links, Clay. I tend to agree with the thoughts of number 14. I’m old enough to remember the big news with BYU pulled Boy George records from the shelves of the store and it became national news. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just sell the stock they had and not reorder? The pictures posted (although now somewhat difficult to appreciate with the word “censored” over the faces) depicted wholesome appearing clean cut young men. The challenge to the observer is to decide which one is the homosexual and which one is not? One could either see this challenge as a positive that teaches you not to look for stereotypes in judging appearances or as a negative in the mode of National Enquirer type exposes of “Who’s Gay/Who’s Not” that are frequently disrespectful in their tone. As an outside observer looking in, the perspective may be different from those who go to school with and know the individuals pictured.
#23: I had a good response written up, but decided it would be more concise to just say that you are a complete douche.
I didn’t see the link to the artist’s blog. Sorry for asking for more information when it was already provided. I must say this artist’s blog is very cool and his display is amazing. It is extremely thought provoking. I think the opportunity to see his work is the best part of this post.
My brother that is one of the most beautiful explanations I have had the privilege to read. Thank you.
“The challenge to the observer is to decide which one is the homosexual and which one is not? ”
That’s one way to read the photos but not the only one. I tend to read the photos as critical of that very idea.
How Christlike of you. If my comments above make me a d***** I am totally fine with that.
#28 Thanks Captain.
I am going to open up and share something about myself. Some of you may laugh at this and blow it off but it is something extremely important to me. The last straw in me leaving the Church was the Church’s position on homosexuality. I am straight and don’t have many gay friends. But the continued bigotry and discrimination the LDS Church and mainstream Christianity continues to show homosexuals (just as they did against women and blacks before them) is too much for me to bare.
Of course, I recognize that point of view. I wasn’t asking if homo/heterosexulity is part of your identity in a moral sense, but rather how individuals view their sexuality and how it fits into their identity. Different parts of people’s idenitity are important to them in different ways. For example, for a given individual issues of gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality etc may take different degrees of prominence in how they define themself.
But you did just bare it.
Please, O sage of wisdom, #26 Nigel, enlighten us with your wisdom, logic and grace.
I and my minions stand in eager, silent anticipation to read the pure fonts of gladness that trill from your fingertips.
It’s something that has always bothered me about some gay people. “Gay Pride” or being a “Flamer” is just as tacky as those lifted pickups with the naked women silhouettes on the mud flaps.
I suppose it also bugs when people have their identities centered on the race or gender. I just can’t imagine running around talking about being white, being a man, and putting stickers on my car showing that I’m attracted to females. It’s really quite reducing and belittling to have one’s self all labeled up like that. It’s sort of like all the jr high students with their t-shirt with the massive AMBERCROMBIE writing across them.
I usually just assume that these types are so shallow and without identity that they have to rely on these other gimmicks for a place in this world.
Thanks to all for the vigorous discussion. Great fun.
The Boy George incident mentioned above is emblematic of how censorship sometimes results in unfortunate consequences. If you allow the free-flow of ideas, the best should rise to the top. If you suppress some ideas, they become all the more enticing to inquiring minds.
I think it could be how a people who are discriminated against pull strength from each other. When you play on a sports team you wear identical jerseys. They identify your “team.” I believe these emblems that you speak of represent that uniform for african americans, women and homosexuals.
“I think it could be how a people who are discriminated against pull strength from each other.”
Kind of like CTR rings and temple ties – and clothes worn to make sure the garment line is visible?
Do you all realize that Mr. Wiltbank is talking about supporting homosexuality, and not just supporting the person who has SSA?
BYU, by removing the exhibit, shows that they prefer censorship over support and love. Apparently if you do not support homosexual activity then you do not love these people.
There are two options for interpreting the piece. One option is that it is strictly about supporting others and loving them, regardless who they are. Surely no one objects to that. That support and love equal accepting homosexuals and the associated activities is the other possible message.
I lean towards the second intention, seeing as the author will not outright disclose his purpose (I asked him on his blog but he will not respond or post my question). The link posted contains the quote:
“It seems that censorship is favored over support and love. This really saddens me. I found out because a friend of mine went to the show and said that my peices had been removed and the show had been rearranged. While I knew this topic would be controversial (in fact I expected that this would ruffle some feathers) I never thought that they would bring it down.”
Is there something controversial about loving and respecting and supporting people regardless of who or what they are? No. The only thing that could possibly be controversial in his piece is that love requires you all to support homosexual activity. This is wrong and it is good that BYU removed the piece.
For what it’s worth, it looks like the display is (or will be) put back up: An update from the photographer via his blog
austin – hot diggity dog! What else can we get our knickers in a twist over?
Uh, sorry but the Lord’s university is the U of U, where so many of the Lord’s anointed came from, such as Elder Talmage
I think that it had more to do with the artists attitude about “making a statement” that irritated people.
BYU is not the Church. I highly doubt this censorship decision was made at the level of the board of trustees (which is the level you have to get to before you can with certainty say that the Church is behind something at BYU).
Most likely this student has some sort of reputation as a troublemaker, or a dissident of some sort, and that the administration picked up the subtext that he doesn’t think much of the Church’s support of Prop 8, or the Church’s current position on homosexuality- or whatever.
Instead of stopping and considering if the subtext was actually present in the display, or considering if the display would actually spread this hidden agenda, the BYU administration probably just took the attitude of “Yeah, we know you disagree with the church position, and we know this is an attempt at undermining that position without openly opposing that position, so screw you, we aren’t going to cooperate.”
I suppose it’s possible that the student is completely innocent here but I doubt it. It sounds similar to that disastrous domestic violence “awareness” display from about ten to 15 years back. It sounded really nice, up until you discovered it was a hotbed for artistic displays implying that the Church’s patriarchal nature meant it was complicit in domestic abuse.
It’s true, the BYU administration is filled with petty tyrants, but I have little sympathy for these rebels without a cause types who are always baiting the administration.
Most of us at BYU wish the administration would be more just and stay out of our hair, but we also wish the trouble makers would shut up and go somewhere else.
41 Hawk – Well said! I’m a sucker for controversy myself, but we all kind of jumped on this one didn’t we. 🙂
Hell, anyone can be ‘Anon’ here!!!
Back on subject, they ought to expel all gays from BYU. Then at least one campus can be a clean and pure one!
I am in the class with the photographer that did this project. (#43) For the record, he is not a trouble maker. He is a good student. He decided on doing this project back in September, way before all the Prop 8 news (at least in Utah). That had nothing to do with his decision to do this project. In all the weeks of showing progress and discussing the work being produced, and the reasons behind it, NEVER was there any sort of underlying agenda to cause controversy. Just as he said, his purpose was to encourage love for people that consider themselves homosexual. I think his artist’s statement explains it pretty clearly.
Am I missing something, or did the BYU understand what was likely to happen and just did it anyway? Maybe I’m just a cynic but it looks like someone at BYU has an agenda to keep LDS homophobia in the public eye after prop 8. Or maybe they really are that dumb.
“Most likely this student has some sort of reputation as a troublemaker, or a dissident of some sort” Well, this was in the HFAC. I had always understood that the HFAC and JKHB are rife with apostates, n’est-ce pas? 🙂
This is a very thought provoking subject.
He recently put up another post saying BYU put the photos back up! 🙂
Well that’s ten minutes of my life I won’t be getting back…
“The only thing that could possibly be controversial in his piece is that love requires you all to support homosexual activity. This is wrong and it is good that BYU removed the piece.”
Talk about missing the point. This is ART. What he did was show that it’s impossible to tell a gay person from one of their supporters, a friend, or a family member. Art makes you slow down, stop, think, reconsider the world around you and the people in it. What it shows is humanity. It shows that what interferes between you and loving your neighbor and you and “doing unto others” is simply perception (or pre-judging someone–from which the word “prejudice” arises). What it shows is that we are ALL human and in this world together. W.H. Auden said “We must love one another–or die.” This is a gentle and wonderful reminder of how we MUST love one another–without prejudice.
What BYU tried to do was muffle that wonderful message–through censorship and even worse, removing the artist’s freedom of expression–and freedom of speech. What BYU did is not only wrong–it’s un-American, and un-Christian. There is no other word for what BYU did than reprehensible.
I agree with everything you wrote but BYU has a significant track record of missing the point, of censorship and of firing professors, etc. I think they believe that authoritarian means can be used to achieve Christlike ends.
“I think they believe that authoritarian means can be used to achieve Christlike ends.” D&C 121: 39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
“I’ve never seen so little authority go to someone’s head before.” Jim about Dwight on The Office.
Whether the photos are seen or not the NEW MORMON BRAND is further established and defined. Who needs enemies in California and at the NYT when we do this much damage all on our own?
I sincerely doubt whether Church leaders actually believe that they love the sinner but abhor the sin.
What would happen if a BYU student produced a calendar of homosexual returned missionaries with shirts on of course?
Anyone interested in fighting this insipid form of censorship is invited to join my Facebook group, “Abolish the BYU Honor Code.”
“I am going to open up and share something about myself. Some of you may laugh at this and blow it off but it is something extremely important to me. The last straw in me leaving the Church was the Church’s position on homosexuality. I am straight and don’t have many gay friends. But the continued bigotry and discrimination the LDS Church and mainstream Christianity continues to show homosexuals (just as they did against women and blacks before them) is too much for me to bare.”
No one really addressed this very personal statement made by Captain Melody. I know that there are a lot of people both in and out of the LDS church and other denominations who struggle with this issue. Reading the LDS blogs there have been many personal expressions of grief and spiritual exhaustion regarding the fact that bias continues to find theological justification. This is a real problem, and its hard to blame folks who feel that enough is enough and that they need to go elsewhere to be spiritually fed, specifically after the theological and spiritual trauma of prop 8.
CM I wonder what you think of two different ways of addressing the issue. First, there is a common understanding among a certain type of member that the Church’s official truth claims about itself don’t tell the full story, the idea that the Church is either 100% correct, true, and good or 100% false, wrong and bad is a figment of western dualism that has little to do with the actual life, actions, and faith of the institution and the people who comprise it. Someone like Richard Bushman seems to have a well developed discourse describing how we can be faithful members without getting sucked into the simplistic institutional narratives the Church creates about itself.
Second, I have a good friend who is a lesbian and an Episcopal priest. Her church is in ongoing turmoil and there are some in her church who think that it is an abomination that a woman and a lesbian could be elevated to the priesthood, and yet despite a continuing flow of vicious personal and even institutional attacks or her character, her sexuality, and her faith she stays and continues to insist that the invitation to be in community with God is an invitation that must remain open to everyone including people who hold prejudiced views.
I take a great deal of strength from her example. Even though there is a significant commitment to maintaining bias within the Mormon community there is this idea that those of us who do not participate in that bias need to prove that the tent is big enough for all of us by staying, that by staying we can strengthen our local communities and the Church as a whole. We can be example of faithful members with strong testimonies that also reject bias and work for social and economic justice. I think that if all the members who had the vision to see the priesthood ban for what it was had left, it would have been in place longer.
Those are very brief sketches of some bigger ideas, but I wonder, CM, if they have any traction or provide any strength for you?
Just for the last word on the matter.