Brigham Young University students who surveyed campus attitudes towards homosexuals say 42 percent of the students questioned believe same-sex oriented students should not be allowed in school, even if they obey its honor code, which prohibits homosexual behavior. School policy allows same-sex oriented people who follow its guidelines of behavior. "BYU has a general policy that any student who has a current ecclesiastical endorsement, good academic standing and is abiding by the honor code can attend the university," said Janet Scharman, dean of students. "The Church (of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) sets policy for us."
As part of a project for their English class, Sam Clayton, Dale Franklin and Melanie Dinger conducted the school-approved survey to 420 students in randomly selected classes on campus.
Clayton, a senior sociology major from Toppanish, Wash., said, "It was not directed at changing any policies, just clarifying and publicizing already-existing policies."
He feels the results show a substantial amount of intolerance and prejudice among students towards same-sex oriented people. Clayton, who says he is gay, points to the 42 percent of students who are ignorant of or opposed to the school's policy. He also said that while 91 percent of those surveyed said they were familiar with the church's stance, only a third actually were.
Respondents had four choices to answer the question "What statement do you think best describes the church's stand?" Thirty-three percent chose "Accepts in full fellowship homosexually oriented persons who live the Church's law of chastity." Forty-one percent chose "Accepts homosexually oriented persons as long as they change their sexual orientation?" Ten percent believe the LDS Church excommunicates homosexuals regardless of sexual activity, and 10 percent marked "other."
A 1991 directive from the church's First Presidency details the policy: "Sexual relations are proper only between husband and wife appropriately expressed within the bonds of marriage. Any other sexual contact, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior is sinful . . .. There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or an homosexual behavior. However, such thoughts and feelings, regardless of their causes, can and should be overcome and sinful behavior should be eliminated."
In a September 1995 speech to a General Relief Society Meeting, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters. However, we cannot condone immoral practices on your part any more than we can condone immoral practices on the part of others."
BYU statistics professor Howard Christensen questioned the validity of the survey's ability to accurately represent the entire student body. Administering the questionnaire to randomly selected classes rather than randomly selected individuals is called cluster sampling and raises the possibility that the same student could have been surveyed twice, he said.
It also has a tendency for the results of particular classes to be more alike than they would be if taken separately. "I doubt if they took into account the cluster sampling when computing the margin of error," Christensen said of 3.25 percent to 5 percent error margin claimed by the student pollsters.
Clayton said he and other interested students, gay and straight, simply want a more open discussion among students about the issue. "We want them to acquaint themselves with the issue, to not be scared to address it and understand there is a place in the church and the community for homosexually oriented people," he said. Thirteen percent of those surveyed know someone same-sex oriented at BYU. Clayton knows 40 such individuals. Administrator Scharman has been meeting with Clayton and other students to discuss their concerns. "Any groups or individuals who have concerns about anything related to their BYU experience are welcome to meet with me," she said.
Asked about the debate surrounding the question of altering one's sexuality, Clayton said, "For an overwhelming majority of people, whether gay or straight or somewhere in the middle, their orientation isn't going to change. But regardless of their orientation, people can choose their behavior."
Almost 80 percent of respondents would not live with a same-sex oriented roommate. Clayton has told a total of 10 roommates about his orientation, and "there have been no major problems," he said.
Approaching each roommate individually, Clayton says, "I tell them 'I'm gay, and I live the honor code' and ask them if they have a problem with that, and if he does, we talk about it. No one has moved out because of it."
While Clayton was being interviewed near a well-traveled sidewalk on BYU's campus, a student overheard the conversation. "I just wanted to tell you I think you guys are doing a great job," he said to Clayton. "There's so much ignorance on this campus it's pathetic."
Such a comment is typical, Clayton says. "Most people I have contact with are open-minded. They are eager to have an honest and open discussion about the issue. The positive experiences I've had far outweigh the negatives."
Indeed, survey respondents who knew a same-sex oriented individual were more likely to be willing to live with a gay or lesbian roommate and agree that those who keep the honor code should be allowed to attend BYU.
Jon Hubbard, a sophomore business major from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, says he knew several gays before attending BYU. "If people have the desire to change, that's great," he says. "But for them to say 'I'm gay and there's nothing I can do about it' is almost a slap in the face to BYU students and the school."
Hubbard says he understands "it's a problem for them" but after choosing to attend BYU and live by its honor code, he expects not to have to live with a gay roommate or have gay men in the locker rooms on campus.
Richard Bailey, a senior in finance from Rome, N.Y., welcomes same-sex oriented people to BYU "as long as they aren't acting on it. There are people here with various different problems or temptations," said Bailey, adding that he has a good friend who "overcame same-sex attraction" and is now engaged to be married.
Alecia Maher, a senior from Mission Viejo, Calif. majoring in art, spent her high school years living with her lesbian mother and her mother's partner. "When I first came to BYU, I didn't tell anyone but my very close friends," said Maher, a heterosexual. Since then, she says, she "grew up a little" and became more comfortable discussing her background. "People have been really positive and genuinely interested." Maher calls for a group that can be publicized on campus where students, whatever their orientation, can discuss same-sex orientation openly to "help relieve the stigma."