The following is the fourth part in a weekly series detailing the community of LGBT students who attend Brigham Young University and the unique challenges they face.
After he signed it, the honor code was never a concern for Brigham Young University student Dillon Harker. Then, he realized he was gay, and suddenly the policy’s vague language on banned physical intimacy became a giant question.
“I’d say that looking at someone as being a physical expression, like, that person is cute,” Harker said. “Or even a platonic hug can be perceived by someone as being a come-on, which it’s not.”
Students agree to live by BYU's honor code as part of their admission and attendance requirement for the university, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the honor code prohibits homosexual behavior.
“One’s stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue,” the policy reads. “However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. 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.”
LGBT students at BYU say they’ve been told by the Honor Code Office that “homosexual behavior” can extend to all physical contact, including handshakes and prolonged eye contact. When asked for clarification on the policy, Carri Jenkins, a spokesperson for BYU, referred back to the honor code.
“We believe the language of the Honor Code speaks for itself and relies on students to use good judgement,” Jenkins wrote.
According to the code, straight students can hug and kiss, but gay ones cannot. While a male and female can’t be in a bedroom together, two lesbian women and two gay men can, according to the code’s current language.
If falsely reported for breaking the code, Harker said he’s afraid that if the Honor Code Office had to choose between one person, they’d believe a straight one over a gay one.
With a vague policy, Aidan Cano, a sophomore, said it’s difficult to know what’s appropriate when it comes to physical contact with others.
“I’m not sure what line to draw, because it is impossible,” he said. “I can’t do that and be a normal social person.”
Sabina Mendoza, a senior, tries to avoid extra attention from others by hiding, whether that’s blending in by looking as straight as possible or dressing down so men don’t notice her.
There’s fears that the honor code can be interpreted by those watching her to make physical contact a violation.
“According to the Honor Code Office, any display of physical affection, just like touching your hand or whatever, could be physical affection,” Mendoza said. “It could be anything, by their line.”
She has not asked the office for clarification.
“I feel like asking them about it would almost put a target on my back,” she said.
There’s not a consensus in the LGBT population at BYU of where that line is, but the students do agree it would be helpful if the policy were clarified so they know where the line is.
Before he came out, David Delbar, a graduate student, was afraid of his feelings.
“I have learned to blur out people’s faces when I was walking down the hall,” Delbar said. “I would look at my feet.”
But because the honor code relies on student reporting, he’s not very concerned about others perceiving his actions as violations when they aren’t intended to be.
“Students are a lot more afraid of it than they need to be more of the time,” Delbar said.