“I’ll walk with you” — Queer allyship in Utah

Reading Time: 2 minutes Professor Chad Emmett was a “closeted” academic at BYU for years. After recently coming out, he has some advice for LGBTQ+ students and allies.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

During his final year of teaching at BYU, Professor of Geography Chad Emmett affixed a small, pastel rainbow to the wall outside his office door. Beneath the rainbow, in thin lettering, were the words “I’ll walk with you,” an allusion to a popular children’s song in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His employer discouraged homosexual behavior, but the message was clear: This is a safe space.

On Wednesday, March 29, Emmett addressed a crowd in the Browning Administration building, speaking on his experience as a gay man in Utah. While Emmett had known himself to be gay for years, he only publicly came out in September 2022, via a retirement post to his family blog.

Emmett grew up in the 1970s in Logan. None of his friends in middle school or high school were gay, none of the characters he’d watch on TV were gay, he wasn’t gay — that’s what he thought. Later, Emmett explains, he would learn that two of the boys who had starred in high school musicals alongside him had come out as members of the LGBTQ+ community. He would learn that Robert Reed, famed “Brady Bunch” actor, was a gay man who was closeted during the filming of the show. He would understand that he was gay and that he always had been.

“There was mostly silence about it,” Emmett explained. “In hindsight, though . . . I started to realize that there were gay people that I knew. They just weren’t out.”

The ’70s, however, were a different time. “Things have gotten better. Gay people can be more open now,” said Emmett. He emphasized that “everybody’s story is different, and that’s okay. That can be in terms of timing of coming out, or whether or not you even come out.” He showed a presentation slide that outlined various strategies that LGBTQ+ people can use to stay safe, suggesting that while they ought to take steps towards arriving in safe spaces, it’s also okay to conceal yourself, to stay in the closet, when it’s necessary to stay protected.

The discussion facilitated by Emmett focused on issues faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, but his advice is also directed toward straight, cisgender individuals looking to be allies. People who are fortunate enough to find themselves in a safe space, Emmett explains, have the opportunity to create additional safe spaces. “If you are safe, gay or not gay, then it’s all of our responsibility to be an advocate for those who are not safe.”

Emmett provided guidelines and advice for allies, pointing to certain acts of kindness that he was shown upon coming out as examples of what ought to be done. Being invited to dinner was a helpful kindness, he said, as was being gifted a rainbow ornament for Christmas. More than anything else though, Emmett underscored the importance of reaching out. Being a good ally is about persistent listening, smiling and checking in when it’s been a while since the last interaction.

It’s okay if you can’t find the right words, Emmett fervently affirmed. If somebody comes out to you, or if they look to you as a safe space, “Don’t ignore them. Just be yourself, but at least acknowledge them, or be friendly or smile.”

Walk with them.

Resources, including one-on-one advising and discussion-based support groups for LGBTQ+ students at UVU, are available at Student Services.