In response to recent changes and clarifications to the CES Honor Code, LGBTQ+ supporters gathered at an intersection just outside of BYU-Idaho’s private property to support LGBTQ+ rights.
Protests, which began March 4, continued March 5-6 and 9. Their first rally brought around 12 supporters but over the next few days, and with increased social media support, crowds supporting LGTBQ+ have reached over a hundred and included some counter-protesters.
Nate McLaughlin, a sophomore majoring in general studies, used his Twitter page to organize the first protest. With its rise in popularity, he joined forces with other members of the community to continue to grow their following for each successive protest
“I just hope that people understand that there are LGBTQ people on campus and they want to feel safe, they want to feel loved, they want to feel like this is a school for them and we want to make sure people know that this is a school for them,” McLaughlin said.
Split between two corners with a crosswalk in between, protesters doubled their numbers from the previous day to include over 80 people.
As ralliers shouted “Support the gays” and “Honk for us,” it captured the attention of cars stopping at the intersection by the BYU-Idaho Center. Many honked their horns and waved in support of protesters.
“We’re completely okay with the Honor Code,” said Alexa Arndt a junior studying recreation management. “We’re okay with abiding by it as far as we can hold hands and kiss and date someone of the same sex, as long as we’re being held to the same standard.”
As vice president of USGA (Understanding Sexuality, Gender and Allyship), an off-campus support group meeting weekly in Rexburg, Arndt came to protest in order to ask for a more straightforward policy.
“We’re really just trying to spread awareness right now and we’re hoping that the changes will stay as far as them taking homosexuality completely out of the Honor Code,” Arndt said. “People were posting about it, coming out even, and they felt really safe and then a couple of days ago they sent the letter out saying that even kissing, handholding, or just dating someone of the same sex is not okay, but it’s still not listed in the Honor Code as being wrong. We just want equality and we want to be treated the same.”
With about four police cars coordinating with university Public Safety near the scene, protesters were encouraged to stay on public property and not obstruct traffic on sidewalks and crosswalks.
“They have a first amendment right to demonstrate and we support that, but as private property owners, we have a right to say who can access our property and what activities go on,” said Stephen Bunnell, university public safety director. “We’re just saying ‘you have a right to do it, you have to be on public property and please, please be safe.'”
The protests themselves helped students connect with each other as they chanted, gave each other hugs and listened to music.
“People think protesting is such a negative thing, but this is how people come together and I’ve seen a lot of people in support and it’s showing you can support the love without being a part of sin,” said Megan Peterson a sophomore studying nursing and one of the protesters.
Many protesters come from different backgrounds. Some reported struggling with personal sexuality for years, while others felt motivated based on the experiences of friends and family members.
“There’s probably five years of reasons,” said Rose Klein, a junior studying art. “So many people grow up learning to hate gays just as I grew up learning to hate Mormons but at the end of the day, who does God love? I don’t disagree with doctrine ever, let the doctrine stand because the doctrine comes from God, but the policy, on how we do things or why we do things, needs to change. I joined because this is a matter of school policy, not even church policy, but school policy and a matter of doctrine that we haven’t seen yet.”
Those who wanted to support the LGBTQ+ community in protesting came to join with organizers, fellow students and locals in a common cause.
“It’s a beautiful day out and I thought I couldn’t miss it,” said Trey Thatcher a senior studying political science. “Personally I have a fiancee, I’m going to be married to a woman, and I can’t imagine other people feeling shame or feeling like how they feel is wrong for feeling that way about someone they care about. I just think everyone should be able to be themselves and go to school without having to worry about getting turned into the Honor Code Office.”
Protestors were willing to talk with those who asked questions and some students circled up a few feet away from the main group to explain their position to people walking by.
“I think it’s important that the school gives very clear direction of what they expect from the students, that way there’s no confusion on that,” said Michael Watson, a junior studying mechanical engineering. “I think it’s good that they’re at least asking for clarification and fair rights. The question of whether homosexuals and heterosexuals should have the same rights, that’s a whole other question, but I feel like it should be very clear what’s expected of students.”
Although no official counter-protest had formed by the third day of protesting, some students were uncomfortable with the level of demonstration. Some people engaged protesters in trying to understand their cause but couldn’t fully support their movement.
“I feel like we need to be for individuals, not the movement,” said Devin Harp, a sophomore studying biology and a passerby. “They’re advocating for things which are contradictory to science and I feel like this is very dehumanizing and bad. What they were just trying to talk to me about by saying ‘they want these people to feel like they are accepted,” you know, we already accept them, we just don’t advocate for their lifestyle.”
Harp went on to say that he doesn’t believe the protestors understand love because otherwise, they wouldn’t advocate for things that are untrue. He said the truth is hard but if you truly love someone, you’ll tell them this isn’t right.
An hour before the protest ended, a lone figure carried a sign and stood across the street. His sign read: ‘God Needs Us. Support the Family: A Proclamation to the World. Support God’s Prophets.’
Brigham Keys, a junior studying agricultural engineering, saw the protests and felt the need to defend the position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“For me, the fact that I was alone wasn’t really a variable in the equation, I just feel like there has been a great deal of martyrdom throughout the church and I don’t want it wasted.”
Keys felt that both sides needed to be represented and felt that the protesters were very respectful despite differences in opinion. A few people from the LGBTQ+ supporters came over to talk civilly and gave him hugs and shook his hand.
“Mostly I just wanted to defend the gospel and the Family: A Proclamation,” Keys said. “I don’t want people who support the family to feel like they’re alone. I want loyal members of the church to know that they are not alone.”
After the protests ended around 4:30 p.m., people went home but social media remained active. Tweets and posts announced future plans to protest and sparked announcements for an official counter-protest movement planning to read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” across the street during the LGBTQ+ planned protest time.
As people arrived on scene to set up for the protest, LGBTQ+ supporters took the two corners closest to the university while counter-protesters began to show up on the corner just outside of Alder.
With their highest turnout yet, those in the LGBTQ+ community and allies grew to over 120 members, including many people who traveled from Utah to BYU-Idaho to show their support. Over ten people traveled from Utah and many locals came to join the cause.
“This is something that has been weighing on me all of last week; I have so many people that I know, family and friends, that are suffering from the back and forth that the Church is sending them,” said Serena Maxwell, BYU-I alumna. “I’m privileged because I’m not an out person in the LGBTQ community so I’m able to push that back, but for other people, this is something that is breaking their hearts every single day. I can stand up for it in Utah, but this is my home ground, this is where I came from, this is where I went to school.”
With boundaries set up to help with traffic flow, protesters did their best to not block traffic and to control where their members stood. They held signs, blasted music from speakers and even used megaphones to chant ‘Love is love!’ and ‘CES fix this mess!’
Many of their signs quoted scriptures, shared things about love and used references to pop culture.
“I’m surprised how many of their signs that we don’t really disagree with,” said Cody Lundberg a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies and counter-protester standing in front of Alder. “The difference is in where you’re oriented. If you’re trying to follow Christ, if you’re trying to become like Him, then you’re going to renounce sin. I’m not perfect, I have my own struggles with all kinds of different commandments that I struggle with to a certain degree and I strive to remove those weaknesses from me. I don’t try to identify myself with my sins and struggles, I don’t let those things define me; I define myself as a disciple of Christ.”
Throughout the roughly three and a half hours that protesters gathered, there were multiple times when traffic slowed or seemed backed up. Some cars even waved rainbow flags out of their windows in support of LGBTQ+ people.
University Public Safety monitored the scene to ensure that all parties remained safe and to ensure that there wasn’t a need for manned traffic control.
“Everybody, all the people demonstrating are being really good, they’re doing everything they’ve been asked to do,” said Stephen Bunnell, university public safety director. “They’re trying to stay out of the way but we have people walking to class and walking home and those are the people I’m concerned about right now.”
Andy Woltjen, a junior studying psychology and one of the organizers of the counter-protest in support of the family, explained their goal included defending the values supported by the Church and was not meant as an anti-LGBTQ movement.
“I think they have some valiant causes and they don’t want to feel excluded or marginalized, but I feel that advocating for sin on campus and condoning that behavior is wrong,” Woltjen said.
Woltjen, along with his wife, hoped their side would uphold traditional family values in the spirit of love and that they would serve as a reminder of the values that the Church stands for.
“If we follow our leaders and our prophets, we know that anything that doesn’t lead to eternal marriage, especially homosexuality and behaviors that are becoming of it, then they should know that that’s wrong,” Woltjen said. “It’s not that they’re wrong, I’m sure they’re wonderful people. I have family members that identify as gay, but we’re just here to say, ‘Come back to the fold, don’t condone sin, don’t marginalize yourselves by creating your own little group; be part of us.”
Multiple people on their side expressed that the changes to the Honor Code weren’t actually changed because the principles remained the same. They feel that there was some disservice given to LGBTQ+ students as clarification from the Honor Code wasn’t provided sooner.
“If we truly love our brothers over there on the other side of the corner, we’re not going to hate on them, we’re not going to yell at them, we’re just going to be here as a prompt reminder that if you follow the prophets you won’t go astray,” Woltjen said.
Eventually, their group read The Family: A Proclamation to the World. Each of them passed a microphone and took turns reading different paragraphs. Overall that had a little over fifteen people standing with them on the corner in front of Alder.
Justin Garner, Alder building owner, came out to watch some of the protestings and to talk with people standing outside.
“I was sitting in my office and I heard people screaming like it was a pep-rally and I thought it was our TV and I came downstairs and they were there,” Garner said. “It doesn’t affect me, I think everyone has freedom of their voice but their protesting the Honor Code and so if you’re a student up here, I think you should just obey the rules and move on.”
As a former student at BYU-I, Garner believes all parties involved should follow the Honor Code just as he did while he was attending.
“I don’t understand why we’re fighting, I mean the Church hasn’t changed their stance,” Garner said. “Obviously we want everyone to feel welcome, we want everyone to feel good, but you’re fighting the Honor Code which you signed.”
A fourth group joined the protest in the corner adjacent with Heritage with views and signs very different from the messages of the two original groups.
“I’m a huge supporter of the birds aren’t real movement, so while these people are putting up these signs for what they believe, I’m putting up what I believe in,” said Tyler McMurtrey a freshman studying political science.
McMurtrey and his friend originally held up signs saying ‘Birds aren’t real’ and ‘Put Avatar on Netflix.’ They soon gained a small following of about seven people carrying signs supporting more random causes for the last hour of the protest.
Although most of the protests had different viewpoints, multiple people went to visit with people on opposing sides. While some conversations were unfriendly, others helped to promote greater understanding and love despite differences.
“I believe that if social change is going to happen, people need to build bridges, not walls,” said Spencer Sanders a sophomore studying communication. “We have so much more in common than people often believe 95% of both messages is that charity and love is important and we need to uphold that in all communities.”
Steven Layton, a junior majoring in international studies, went to visit with friends and supporters on the LGBTQ+ sign even though he held signs in support of defending the family.
“I do think it’s really important that we be here to support the family and I think it’s also important that we be here to support our fellow students because they do need to realize that they are loved even though we have some different beliefs than they do,” Layton said. “We love them and they are more than welcome here. We hope that no one would ever mean them malice and we hope the same thing for all of our students.”
Layton and Sanders came together for a picture to show unity from opposing corners.
LGBTQ+ protesters ended their day with a dinner and a meeting at the community library. Plans for future protests are set for March 10 with the possibility of including the 11 as well.