Editor’s Note: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.
More than 150 people gathered for a candlelit vigil in support of BYU’s LGBTQ community in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.
The “Bury Your Weapons” vigil was organized in response to a speech given by Jeffrey Holland, in which he condemned BYU faculty and students who have advocated for LGBTQ issues on campus. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke out against what he called “divisive” rhetoric, including a 2019 graduation speech during which BYU valedictorian Matt Easton came out as gay. He also urged church members to aim their metaphorical “musket fire” at those who oppose the church’s teachings.
Many in the LGBTQ community have forcefully pushed back against Holland’s remarks, saying they endanger an already vulnerable group. According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are nearly five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. Historically, suicide rates in Utah are higher than much of the U.S. — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only five states had a higher rate of suicide than Utah in 2019.
Others worry that Holland’s words may encourage aggressive behavior toward those in the LGBTQ community. In the days following Holland’s speech, a man was seen uttering a homophobic slur while defacing a sidewalk pride display in Provo in a widely circulated social media video. BYU has since announced they condemn the behavior and are investigating the situation.
As people gathered at City Creek Park, just across the street from the church’s office building, organizers passed out rainbow-colored face masks and candles. Before the vigil, people were able to submit their personal experiences of being queer in an online forum to be displayed during the event. The testimonials were printed out and hung from signs along State Street.
“I am not a threat to any family or union,” one sign read. “You do not need to defend yourself from me.”
“I can choose not to be Mormon,” read another. “I can’t choose not to be gay.”
Another simply read, “No member of the LDS Church has taken their life from the words of the LGBT community.”
Easton, whose graduation speech was singled out by Holland, headlined a group of queer students who addressed the crowd on Saturday night. Easton shared the story of a fellow BYU student who took his own life after coming out as gay.
“Being 20 years old, and the first person that I knew at BYU who was gay ended up taking his own life, it was hard for me not to see myself in that,” Easton said. “It was hard for me not to feel like if I ever came out, if I ever lived authentically or shared my truth, that that’s where I would be driven to go as well.
“That’s a dark place. And I know that I’m not the only one that’s been there.”
Easton said he felt inspired by the spirit of God, and realized he could use his platform to try to make BYU a more inclusive place.
“There is a place for us,” he said. “We do belong. At places like BYU … it’s not just that they can learn to tolerate us, but they need us. They need our voices, and our ideas, and our creativity. That is what makes a community beautiful.”
Following Easton’s remarks, the microphone was turned over to any queer individuals who wanted to share their thoughts or experiences.
“Love is not divisive,” said Kris Irvin, who spoke at the vigil. “Love is unity. In 2013, Elder Holland gave a talk in General Conference entitled, ‘Like a Broken Vessel.’ I want Elder Holland to know that so many of us are broken vessels because we are fired at constantly with your musket fire.”
Ryan, a former BYU student, said that he transferred to UVU and began school there last week.
“My therapist at one point, did indeed try to put me through conversion therapy while I had devoted my life to serving the Lord as a full-time missionary,” he said. “I know that’s not what God wanted for me, because I know that my creation was not a mistake. I know that we are all here for a reason and that reason is to share our light with the world. If you are part of that LGBTQ community, you are made to perfection.”
“The God I believe in would not create me to be alone,” said another speaker, who identified as non-binary. “I want to remind people like Elder Holland … that while your musket fire may be metaphorical, its danger to our lives is still very real. It still has an impact on our safety and on our well-being. To those who are still in the closet … there is a community here, and they are strong.”
One transgender student who is currently attending BYU told The Review they would love to see a change in culture at the university, but aren’t sure that change will come anytime soon.
“Honestly, I don’t know if it’s realistic to have any hope for things to change,” they said. “I think that the remarks that were made were very distasteful, especially when [Holland] referenced gun violence. Current students at BYU, we know what the stances are, and to constantly be beaten with comments like that is hurtful. They made their point, if they could just lay off of that for a bit it would be great.”
Another former BYU student said she was involved in a leadership role with Understanding Sexuality, Gender, and Allyship (USGA) while in college. She said the advocacy group has been pushing to be allowed to meet on campus, although they are not affiliated with the university.
LGBTQ students and church members can reach out to Mormons Building Bridges, Provo Pride, Utah Pride Center and Encircle Together to find resources and assistance. UVU’s LGBT Student Services also provides counseling, support groups and community activities.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko is a junior at Utah Valley University where he is studying journalism. He has been with The Review since 2019, where he has covered the UVU men’s basketball team and the softball team during his time as Sports Editor. Bridger has also worked as a producer for ESPN 960 AM. Aside from sports, Bridger is an ardent cinephile, and loves reading fantasy and science fiction novels.