A dozen people dressed as angels surrounded their LGBTQ+ peers and allies at a “Back to School Pride Night” event Saturday in Provo, Utah, shielding them from a crowd of protesters that yelled anti-LGBTQ+ slurs and held up handmade signs quoting the Book of Mormon.
Community members sporting wings made of white sheets draped over PVC pipe stood hand-in-hand to block the messages of the protesters, who had gathered at Kiwanis Park to object to the off-campus Pride event organized by students at Brigham Young University (BYU).
Protesters yelled hateful slurs at the group of LGBTQ+ students and allies that attended Saturday’s celebration, calling them “pedophiles” and “groomers.” Many attended to voice their opposition to a drag show that featured current and former BYU students as performers.
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A post shared by The RaYnbow Collective (@raynbow.collective)
Under BYU’s Honor Code, which students agree to live by as part of their admission requirements, same-sex relationships are strictly prohibited and LGBTQ+ student groups are not permitted to meet or hold events on-campus.
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The religious school, operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, was praised by students and LGBTQ+ advocates in 2020 when it removed a rule from its Honor Code that banned “homosexual behavior.”
Just three weeks later, however, officials clarified that students in same-sex relationships who engaged in public displays of affection like hand-holding or kissing would be subject to disciplinary action.
Students and community members say they dressed as angels not only to protect LGBTQ+ students from protesters, but also to push back against the university’s policies.
“I’m doing this because I want our LGBTQ community to feel like they can be themselves and know we have their backs,” Sabrina Wong, a BYU student and ally who stood as one of the angels, told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Late last month, LGBTQ+ student groups including the RaYnbow Collective, an off-campus organization that supports BYU’s LGBTQ+ community and organized Saturday’s Pride event, said the university had removed resources for queer students from welcome bags given to first-year students.
We are saddened by the actions BYU has taken against its LGBTQ students, and are in the process of working through this. Full statement, for easier reading, is in the thread below: pic.twitter.com/GCzzEKVOe5
— The RaYnbow Collective (@The_RaYnbow) August 26, 2022
The groups in a statement said the school’s decision “follows a consistent pattern of BYU breaking its promises and agreements with LGBTQ+ students.”
“No student should feel alone, and no student should feel rejected by their university because of their identity,” the groups wrote.
Todd Hollingshead, a spokesperson for BYU, at the time said the university “loves and welcomes” its LGBTQ+ students and employees.
Students on Saturday challenged that claim, comparing the chants of the protesters at Kiwanis Park to the stigma and contempt they often face on campus.
“This is the kind of stuff we have to deal with here,” Carolyn Gassert, the president of Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship (USGA), told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s not just tonight. We hear these comments in the classroom.”
In February, the Education Department dropped an investigation into BYU over its controversial ban on same-sex relationships, claiming the university is entitled to a number of exemptions from Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination, because of its religious affiliation.
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