Wednesday, April 11, 2007

historic strides at byu - chapter: honor code

I was able to attend a meeting yesterday in which history was made. For years the honor code section about homosexuality has been unclear and arguably unfair - almost anything could be considered against the honor code, because so much was left open to interpretation. The homosexuality clause could easily be used as an excuse to execute judgment and impose restrictions. A group of individuals approached Jan Scharman, Vice President of Student Life, about Soulforce and homosexual issues within the BYU community. One of the things that was brought up was the verbage of the Honor Code. Upon reviewing it, Jan agreed that it was inadequate and unclear, and said that she would work to get it rectified.

We never knew it would happen so fast.

She invited the group back yesterday (plus me, since I wasn't in the original group), and she made it known that the honor code would be a (the?) key issue in our discussion. When we got there, she basically handed us a fully-approved bureaucracy-conquered new version of that section of the honor code. She wanted us to pass off on it and make sure we were okay with it before it went in, but she'd already gotten through all the red tape. It is an amazing fix, and answers the questions we had. It explains what homosexual behavior is, and what advocacy is, according to the university, and outlines clearly what is allowed. It also makes it clear that we're welcome in the community, and based on what it says, we know that we're allowed to discuss our issues with people without fear of administrative repercussions.

She asked that we not post the text online until she got it up on the website, but I just checked and there it is. So here's the text as found here:

Homosexual behavior or advocacy
Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or orientation 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 sexual orientation 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 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.

Violations of the Honor Code may result in actions up to and including separation from the University.
Unfortunately I don't have the text of the original (there's only about 12 words that are the same between the two, according to Jan, and that actually seems almost accurate), but among other things it said that any action, explicit or implicit, advocating or implying homosexual behavior was against the honor code. I have the wording wrong, but the idea is there. It was bogged down in legalese, it was unclear in its intent and execution, and generally didn't have a good feel about it. So this is huge. How many people have tried and failed to do what just got done? I feel so lucky to be part of it now, when things are happening, even if I played no role it making this step occur.

We're also planning some meetings with other key administrators that Jan has singled out. She's already cornered them and told them that they ought to meet with us, and what it's about. We're going to be branching out from there. We're pretty stoked.

More blogging later. I had to get this out now, but I have a lot more to say about this and other things.

EDIT: Thanks to Foxx for the text of the original, for comparison purposes:
Homosexual behavior or advocacy
Brigham Young University will respond to student behavior rather than to feelings or orientation. Students can be enrolled at the University and remain in good Honor Code standing if they maintain a current ecclesiastical endorsement and conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code. Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code.
Violations of the Honor Code may result in actions up to and including separation from the University.
~drex

20 comments:

Beck said...

Congratulations are in order for small step!

Foxx said...

This is good news. One of the reasons I left BYU was because of their ambiguously worded policy against homosexual behavior and advocacy. I determined that if I could get kicked out of school for hugging or holding hands with another boy on- or off-campus, it wasn't worth it to me to stay in a place where I would have to worry about who saw what I was doing--if and when I was going to mess up. It looks like that's still the case.

Also, I have the original text if you want it, here.

Stephen said...

Excitement like I can't even express. I'll be smiling for the rest of the week.

-L- said...

Oh, geez. I'm getting all choked up. Okay, not really, but you guys rock.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens
can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.

:-)

pinetree said...

Thanks for writing all of this down, Drex. You're a stud.

playasinmar said...

Not only can this event not be down-played but it can't be trumpeted loud enough!

From a loose interpretation of the old wording, one could imply that it was okay to be gay.

The new wording makes it clear that not only is it okay but separates feelings from orientation.

Does that mean the Y has officially recognized homosexuality as intrinsic or unchanging in nature?

That's HUGE!!!

Mormon Enigma said...

Homosexual behavior includes ... all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.

I'm not exactly sure what this means. Are they saying that anything two guys (or two girls) do that might suggest they have feelings for one another (hugging, holding hands, kissing, etc.) could be grounds for being kicked out of BYU?

I agree that the new wording is an improvement over the old wording. The fact that they were even willing to sit down and discuss it is huge (in my view). But, what has really been gained here?

So, you can be a homosexual (orientation) as long as you don't do anything in front of other people that might suggest you are a homosexual (behavior). Sounds to me like more of a "don't ask - don't tell" policy with an added "don't do" clause.

But, I'm not a BYU alumni. So, perhaps there is more here than I realize.

drex said...

Yeah, we're pretty stoked about the implications (and understanding), not to mention the reverberations this can potentially have. BYU-Provo sets the standard for the 3 other CES institutions (BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, LDS Business College), and the administration (and we) are hoping that the changes will be adapted directly to the other institutions. That means the changes made this week may directly influence upwards of 50,000 people, and with turnover will continue to influence thousands of new students as they come in.

M.E.: We weren't trying to change the policy, really - we were trying to get a fair clarification of what was there. Many people thought they couldn't talk about their struggles with friends, that they'd be suspended for meeting with Soulforce in a private home, or that they could be under suspicion for being friend with a gay kid and trying to support him or her. That could be implying supporting homosexual behavior, sexual or nonsexual, after all. The clarification makes provision for feelings and orientation while still drawing a moral line against behavior. I haven't personally decided where I stand on the whole holding hands bit, but I'm okay with the university being against it.

PS playa: I'd almost forgotten how dead-set you'd been against the secret meetings behind closed doors. Have a bit more faith in what's going on now? ^_^ Seriously, though, I'm so impressed with how open they are and how much they want to improve the situation for us. It seriously gives me warm and fuzzy feelings all over.

Charlie said...

"BYU-Provo sets the standard for the 3 other CES institutions (BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, LDS Business College), and the administration (and we) are hoping that the changes will be adapted directly to the other institutions"

Soulfource will be coming to BYU-I on Monday and Tuesday, perhaps this can happen here too soon.

Mormon Enigma said...

...or that they could be under suspicion for being friend with a gay kid and trying to support him or her

I'm flabbergasted that anyone would think that - even with the old wording. For someone to believe that BYU leadership would stoop that low seems petty and an insult to BYU leadership.

If there is anyone at BYU who thinks befriending a gay person is akin to supporting homosexual behavior then they are the ones who should be kicked out of BYU. And then they should be tarred and feathered (or, since we're the gay guys, covered with honey and feather boa's)

Unfortunately, it makes me sad to think that there probably are closed minded people like that in the church and at BYU. But, if I ever meet one of them ... (sorry, I guess you hit a nerve)

drex said...

You have to understand how pervasive the oppressive atmosphere here can be sometimes. Especially for people in the closet. For me it was never that bad, because my personality lends itself to me feeling invincible because I feel like my perspective is right, but for anyone with insecurities about it they think anything can get them in trouble.

There's also the issue that with such vague wording, the clause could plausibly be used as an excuse for action if nothing more glaring was committed but they want to impose restrictions or take action. And some people got in trouble with the honor code office for things they never did, and were never able to completely clear their names (Ty, for one, as cited in his book). The clarification gives them less room to prosecute based on unfounded claims.

Stephen said...

Precisely. For me, at least, there was a very Gestapo-esque pervasive atmosphere. Especially while soulforce was around, I was extremely nervous about almost everything. The wording was so incredibly vague that it could be used for just about anything. And big brother was watching... Paranoid, I know, but when you think you're alone, you're inclined toward paranoia.

playasinmar said...

[grumble grumble]
I can’t help but feel thrilled that I was wrong here. Ecstatic, to put it mildly. However, I’m still not a fan of secret meetings.

Also, anyone here ever defended the concept of gay relationships?
“Advocacy includes…promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.”

Silus Grok said...

Congratulations on the wonderful achievement... you and everyone else who worked on this should be lauded.

pinetree said...

I have defended the concept, but never advocated it really.

Distinguishing Preoccupation said...

I also am glad that the administration has taken a step forward.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that BYU sets the standard for the other institutions necessarily though. I went to BYU-I and they are adamant that they are a different school with a different honor code. I've even heard them subscribe to the thought that the reason why BYU-I has a more strict honor code is because they live a "higher law" that is uninforcable at BYU. I guess that comment is of little value though.

I can't help but agree with ME a little bit. While clarification is indeed important, vital, it still makes it difficult for gay students to feel comfortable on campus. At least that has been my experience. It's easy to feel like an unwelcome stranger with a big secret. That however may have more to do with the church and church culture rather than the school itself. Am I making sense? This isn't mean to be an attack on the Church or the school. I guess I should just be glad that in some ways, outreach is beginning and be concerned with what is and not what isn't.

I guess what I am saying is that when you say:

"You have to understand how pervasive the oppressive atmosphere here can be sometimes. Especially for people in the closet. "

I am inclined to believe that the atmosphere won't change a bit based on what has happened with the honor code. And isn't it the atmosphere change that we want more than anything else? And like you said, you weren't going for a policy change, just a clarification. My honest question is, what would it take to change the atmosphere?
Anyway, I hope I'm not down playing the good that has taken place because I give props to all of you and I would have joined you in a heatbeat. Seriously it's a wonderful step in the right direction and the fact that they are opening up dialoge with you is great too. Even more so that they are willing to meet again. It's really teriffic.
-Cas

JamesOrd@gmail.com said...

Mormon Enigma Wrote: "For someone to believe that BYU leadership would stoop that low (to investigate gay supporters) seems petty and an insult to BYU leadership."

In 00”-01” A support group was on campus and meeting. This group’s sole stated goal was to provide emotional support for those gays that were struggling with their sexuality. The group was not a formal club at BYU. And it did not share the same stated goals as Evergreen and was for both “strugglers” and supporters of those “strugglers.” The club was discovered by HCO and one of the members of that group was approached by HCO and was told to hand over the names of all persons who had ever attended those group meetings. The student was threatened with HCO action to include university suspension. That student then went to a minority law professor for assistance and legal guidance as to how to handle the situation which by then was escalating into an inquest. The law professor interceded on the behalf of the student making objections on speech and assembly grounds as well as several other legal arguments. HCO backed off but the students in question were scared to meet after that and were each individually directed to meet through Evergreen if they had homosexual inclinations, and were told to steer clear of activity if they didn’t have them. The Law Professor in question related the incident to me in 2003.

Does HCO conduct witch hunts. YES they do. There is no question about that. Have those Witch hunts been over seen, ordered by, or even sanctioned by seniour officials in the ASB. That is indisputable given intel provided by individuals who have worked in those offices over the years. As early as the last administration the president’s office was active in “rooting out” gays at BYU. The questions to date, are to what lengths to will HCO go in order to “root out” gays @ BYU. Have they broken the law at all? And what impact is it having on BYU’s statistically significant, larger than average, gay population.

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