BYU’s Honor Code Office And The Gay Witch Hunt
APRIL 5, 2019
It has taken me 12 years to share this story. I guess part of me is still dealing with what happened.
For one to understand the full spectrum of damage done from the story I have chosen to share, one has to understand the scope of what it means to be kicked out of Brigham Young University.
One has to understand the shame and cultural ex-communication that comes with a boot from BYU, or from being sent home from an LDS mission due to sinning. One has to understand that throughout our entire lives we’ve been taught that anything that might result in either of these two actions as a young Mormon boy meant facing total expulsion from one’s family, friends, and community. I’ve heard the gossip trailing these poor guys for years after their early return home from a mission or after being kicked out of BYU. These are difficult circumstances to recover from when Mormonism or BYU is your entire world and God’s love is seemingly conditional. It is even more difficult when all eyes are on you from a prominent Mormon family.
There are substantial repercussions that come from being told that not only your reputation will hang in the balance, so will the chances of you being able to spend eternity in a figurative heaven with your loved ones. It is damaging to a young mind. It is heavy. It is the kind of heavy that weighs on young Mormons who are at the Honor Code noose. Sometimes these outings result in terrible outcomes for the soul suffering through the criticism.
An outsider may think, “Couldn’t he see through this and realize how much bigger the world is? Can’t a young BYU student see that these small minds or policies are ridiculous?” The answer to that is “NO.” Most of us in our formative years can’t understand that God’s love is much bigger than this, because it’s all we know. It’s all we’ve been told to believe from the first words we can remember hearing.
I was 18 years old and getting into BYU was my main goal. I worked hard for many years to be able to get into the university and audition to be a “Young Ambassador”, BYU’s musical theater performing troupe. I did well on the ACT with extra prep and study and was selected as a freshman to join the once prestigious performing group. I had wanted this from the day I learned they existed many years prior.
I was young and admittedly a bit arrogant. I was honing my performing skills to one day make it on Broadway. I was hard at work on my Musical Theater Degree. I was also hiding who I was. I was incredibly ashamed of my sexuality. I had known for some time that I did not fit the Mormon mold. I wanted nothing to do with women other than to be their best friend and confidant but feared if I didn’t pursue them I would be found out. I was also very depressed.
I didn’t see how my future was going to play out. I wanted God’s approval but I wanted to be happy. I kept convincing myself that if I prayed hard enough and consistently asked God to change me, that I would, in fact, be changed. I trusted he was a God of miracles and this was a temporary burden that would certainly go away.
I was wrong.
Still, I did my best. I made my church meetings. I fought the temptations. I did a pretty bang up job minus a few small “slip-ups” here and there. I resented the couples who could walk hand in hand on campus or kiss. However, I was continually told that with all my blessings, having “gay tendencies” shouldn’t be something that I focus on when everything else is so good (thanks Bishop). And then it happened.
Now, it is important to me that a reader keeps in mind that when this phone call came, I had NOT dabbled into the pool of homosexiness with any severity. There were a few backseat, kissy, over the jeans type situations prior as a teen but the guilt was so heavy I could never continue. I was trying to remain “worthy”. I kissed and dated all the girls I could in the meantime to try to literally and figuratively get up the excitement to proceed with one into the bonds of marriage so I could fulfill my responsibilities as an LDS male member. In general, I was a GOOD BOY dammit. I really was. I can’t tell you how hard I tried.
That’s why what follows was so incredibly painful.
Disclaimer: I would LATER that year fully throw cares to the wind and explore my dark, hidden sexuality and in all the wrong and unhealthy ways. It was always followed by oppressive guilt. However, for this record, it is important to know that up until this phone call I was what any good Mormon Bishop would consider “still worthy”. Keeping the packaging from the underwear my mother would buy me from Target with the beefcake on the front was NOT. A. SIN. Furthermore, the tell or be told on culture perpetuated all of us to talk about who might be gay or who had had “experiences”. Somehow, it made you less of a suspect if you could share why you thought someone else was. The discussions were had. Part of me was hoping maybe someone else would come out first and lead the way. But, most of us had enough respect for one another to never share our suspicions or stories with the Honor Code.
My freshman year at BYU would present many difficulties for me, but none would top being called by the Honor Code Office one gray winter’s day. My phone buzzed in my pocket during Book of Mormon class one Tuesday. I ignored it.
My phone beeps, showing me I have a voice mail. I listen to it on my way out to the courtyard: “Taylor, this is the Honor Code Office. We need to see you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.”
Voila. Just like that, I had a magic appointment with the Honor Code Office, which is really the worst thing possible for a student at the University. It means you’ve committed a fairly substantial crime against the policy and the university and often results in a student being thrown to the curb, or even worse: UVU down the street. Oof.
I called back immediately.
“Hi, It’s Taylor Frey. I just got a call from you guys about an appointment. Is there a mistake? I don’t think this is for me.” I said, short of breath.
“No, it’s for you. You were reported on Friday for having broken the honor code.” They replied.
“But, how? I mean, who? Who was it? What did they say? What am I being reported for?” I asked astounded.
“You’ll have to come in and we can discuss it. I won’t speak about it on the phone.” The man blurted.
A deafening click.
Fear struck me. The only thing I knew is that people who were reported to the Honor Code office and found guilty were often gone with the wind in a short manner of time. No transfer of certain credits, no time to finish tests, just a swift goodbye. I racked my brain over and over about what I could have possibly done that warranted this. Who would have called and reported me? What did they have to report? I was an 18-year-old virgin who had never even a seen another present human in their full and glorious nudity aside from convincing my teenager buddies to streak with me.
I sat in a stupor for the rest of the day and locked myself in my room. I was fearful of what tomorrow would bring. I did not sleep one wink. I was completely terrified. I also had finals the next day and let me tell you this terror was not helpful for those exams. Yes, I did end up with a C in Art History from being so tired I wasn’t able to remember who painted what, so thank you, Honor Code.
The idea that I had been reported and was being accused of something that not even I could pinpoint did not make much sense to me. I had no one to talk to about this because I was so ashamed and embarrassed. What if my parents find out? Then they’ll know I’m gay. I can’t tell any friends because they don’t know I’m gay either.
I hurried to the office the next day and entered like a little lamb to the slaughter. They brought me into a conference room where the investigation began. I am serious when I say it felt like I had murdered someone. It felt that serious, it felt that heavy.
“Taylor, last week we received a call from a student here at BYU that believes you are breaking the Honor Code. I’ll just come right out with it: you are being accused of homosexual activity.” He said.
Look, I want to make jokes here. I want to say “Ooooooo” or “Oh snappppp”. But it wasn’t funny. It was terrifying. My heart broke in that very moment. I had seemingly been found out somehow but not based on any truth.
I went through my small Rolodex of gay experiences and memories, which had not even occurred at BYU and had already been discussed with my Bishop. I immediately realized I had been turned in on a lie or a rumor by someone who had the balls to deem it true and come forward with it. And come forward they did. My mind was racing, but I still couldn’t get any words out.
“We’ve been told you have been having sexual relations.” Replied the fifty-five-year-old gentlemen in a full suit and tie. I remember looking at this man thinking, “This is your job? This is what you do for a living?”.
“Ok….” I stuttered. “Can I know who reported me? Maybe if I knew who is telling you this I can figure out where they might have gotten this story. But, it isn’t true, sir. It really isn’t. I am not guilty of this.” I made a plea.
“The student who reported you doesn’t seem like one to make up a story. She’s the daughter of a Stake President. They’ve stated you and a John Smith have been secretly having a sexually oriented relationship”. He sternly stated as he sized me up as if I was Lucifer himself, chilling opposite him.
I felt helpless. John Smith, we’ll call him, was a good friend of mine. We had never in a million years had so much as a flirtatious interaction. He didn’t even go to BYU! I was also confused as to why this man was giving me details about the girl who reported me, stating that she was the daughter of a church leader. He had also now made it clear she was a female. My Sherlock Holmes cap immediately went on. What’s funny is my initial thoughts on who it could have been were so, so far off from who I eventually found out it was. Oh, by the way- I found out.
“As you know, homosexuality is a sin against the nature of mankind and the progression of man towards a Godly state. Homosexuality will not be tolerated at BYU.” The man continued.
“Sir, I did not participate in any relations with John. I swear it. I promise on my life. This isn’t true. Whoever called this is in is lying to you.” I testified.
“Why? Why would someone report you with such a serious accusation if it isn’t true?” He argued.
“I don’t know but I am telling you I am innocent. Anything I have had to deal with in regards to homosexuality I have cared for with my Bishop and I really am clean of it and worthy to be at the school.” I hate to admit this, but yes, I did tear up and cry. They got me. I bawled. This wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. And after all the work I had done to NOT act on my natural desire to date boys? Man, I would like to have a conversation in the afterlife with the Salem Witches.
“The reporter suspects substantial homosexual activity between you and John. I will be calling his Bishop over in his ward as well. Do you have anything to share here?” He said.
“No. John and I are friends. We have never had any inappropriate actions. He didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. I have my faults as a person and student but this is not true. I want to know who said this.” I said sadly.
“That is private information. We don’t share sources.” He said flatly as he closed his file. “You may go. We will have a decision about your academic future here in two weeks.”
And so I left, tail between legs. I left so burdened and worried. It felt as if I have been slapped ferociously across the face with no explanation as to why I deserved it. I left with such anxiety and concern about my current circle and who and why someone would have done this. I left deeply saddened that my future at the university I had worked so hard to get into was hanging by a thread and that if I was kicked out I would have to explain to my parents the reason why.
Every night that followed I had nightmares and anxiety. Every time the phone rang my heart would stop. I was so mentally destroyed because the accusation wasn’t even true.
I became even more ashamed of who I was. I fell into a deeper hole of darkness. I was distraught that even when trying my hardest to not be what I feared most that I was, someone STILL called me out for it. I could not win. There would be no victory here. So you know what? What am I trying for?
Luckily, just one week of torment and anxiety (not two) had passed and the Honor Code called me again.
“We’ve dropped your case. You can continue your studies at BYU Thank you for your time.” The counselor briskly stated.
And that was it. That was all I got after the witch hunt they had just put me through. No explanation on what they had learned that led them to this conclusion, and no further information on why this had all begun in the first place. I went from being worried and sad, to furious.
My faith in BYU, its leaders and the Honor Code had disappeared. There wasn’t a day that went by for the rest of the school year where I didn't try to figure out who the little miss righteous was who decided she had a story and it should be shared with the Honor Code Office from her dishonest, filthy mouth. Yas. Filthy. Now, I don’t believe in being a vengeful human…. but this one was hard to shake.
I did my own share of digging for years to come. The fruits of my labors went largely unrewarded until I was able to contact someone “on the inside”. He (now an out and proud gay, Christ-loving human) had a position there but hated the operation. He generously offered me more information about the culprit on my file. And guess what? I found out who it was, and I have a little letter for you my little storyteller:
“Dear Petty Little Liar,
I’m sorry we didn’t work out the first semester of my freshman year, it’s because I was (am) gay. I’m sorry I broke up with you and stopped responding to your texts, it’s because I was struggling with who I was and didn’t want to force another hand holding session with you. I’m sorry that somehow I scarred you so deeply that you would make up a story about me and a friend and try to ruin my academic life and position at BYU. I’m sorry you were so controlling that you scared me off. I’m sorry that when you rubbed up on me it was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to harassment or unwanted advances. I’m especially sorry that you felt comfortable stating blatant lies to fear me back into some fantasy heterosexual world where you and I ride off into the Mormon sunset. You may never know that I know who you are, but I do. And I’m sad for you and whatever hate brought you to do something so hurtful and false.”
It is unfortunate how incredibly destructive the Honor Code system is at BYU. I am angry sometimes at the consequences I would suffer for years to come from that experience. My immediate physical reaction when someone says my name with anything other than an angelic gentle tone is still alarming. I find peace of mind in knowing that the tattle tale society BYU has built is another example of what is wrong in ultra-conservative Mormon culture. I learned many beautiful things from how I was raised, but the most damaging aspects of my youth came from the protocols and policies from leaders put into positions of power who act without empathy and speak without compassion.
I feel grateful I was able to continue studying there until I voluntarily left Young Ambassadors and BYU. I am grateful I was not expelled like Maleficent from Aurora’s baby shower at the palace. It is unfortunate that something like the Honor Code Office could add to the incredibly dark burden of being a gay Mormon by carrying out a sort of “gay witch hunt,” all based on a rumor from a mini Regina George in bad church dresses.
“To The Honor Code Office Counselors:
You are not God. You do not dictate who needs confessions and who can stay at “God’s University.” Your perversion in questioning youth about their sexual exploits is disgusting. It is shameful that you often require details about sinning and who and where and how. I am embarrassed for you if this is your full time position and work field. I am angry with you for holding my university schooling over my head based on a rumor. I am frustrated you were inclined to believe the report and called me in as if it were true. I’m baffled that I am even writing this blog post over an event that is truly so cultish and insane. You are damaging people. You are not the deciders of who is good and bad. You can’t limit a young persons life experience to fall in line with a regime.”
I wish I had had a mind evolved enough to know that there would be a big, bright, beautiful world out there where humans actually do love one another. Because after all, isn’t that what Christ is all about?