Saturday, February 20, 2021

Context of the Feb 2011 change to the BYU Honor Code

BYU's LGBT association which I co-founded, USGA, recently posted The History of BYU and LGBTQ Issues to their blog. I reached out today to one of the authors with the below, providing additional context on that change.

hi Gabi, 
I just finished your/Hayden/Elijah's excellent article, The History of BYU and LGBTQ Issues! Would you be interested in additional context behind the Feb 2011 honor code change? You may wish to add a line or two to the article, or perhaps publish a dedicated article on the subject. I'm one of the original founders of USGA, helped with the BYU LGBT history Wikipedia article, and have some insight into that change. 

In November 2010 I finished a draft of my book, Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student's Perspective. I shared that draft with several of my professors, friends, and with my bishop, asking them for feedback. Shortly after I was contacted by an emeritus general authority who wrote "Members are free to hold their own opinions on the issues involved, but it seems very unwise to publish them unless you have been asked to do so by leaders.  I hope you will not publish the book for your sake and for the good of the Church that is handling the issues in the manner the Prophet and his associates feel is morally right.  Church leaders undoubtedly know about the book and have great concerns, not about your views which you have your agency to have and hold, but about publishing them and sharing them.  If you value my counsel, please lay this aside and keep your views private."

My bishop Jan Meilsoe also expressed his concerns about the book; from his comments it seemed he didn't understand what I had written, and when I challenged him about that he confessed he had only skimmed it but that the stake president was concerned and asked him to take action. Bishop Meilsoe emphasized his hard line against homosexual conduct and reminded me of the temple recommend question about sympathizing with those who oppose church policies, including same-sex couples.He said that if I publicly advocated for acceptance of same-sex marriage in the book, I would be subject to church discipline (with the associated risk of expulsion from my grad programs- I was in a dual JD/MPA program at the time at BYU Law and the Marriott School). 

The emeritus general authority contacted me again, this time saying "There is enough concern about your book that the President of the University, your priesthood leaders, and General Authorities are worried about it and my counsel remains even stronger that you need to put it aside and let anyone know to whom you have sent it that you are going to let the Church handle the issue as its leaders feel inspired to do. In no way do you want to end up in a disciplinary situation." A BYU stake president pulled me aside to condemn my book and actions and warn me that Satan was "separating me from the herd" so he could take me down. An influential BYU professor wrote "you are not free to dictate what the reaction of Church leaders will be towards it. I would suspect (having interfaced with the General Authorities for many years) that they are not going to take kindly to your book which will, because it is logical and well-written—lead many people away from the Church’s mainstream teaching. If I were to counsel you, I would say to put the manuscript away until the Church changes its stance." Two law school deans confronted me about the draft and reminded me they have no power over the Honor Code Office (HCO).

To keep a long story short, I nevertheless persisted in publishing the book the next month (December 2010), and sold copies to several libraries and the BYU Bookstore (where it sold out). QSaltLake featured me on the cover of their 3 Feb 2011 edition, including articles about (1) my book and (2) the Feb 2011 honor code change. My book included a chapter entitled "A Moral Case for LDS same-sex marriage" that explored moral arguments for and against same-sex marriage in the context of a thought experiment. 

A professor of mine who was on the honor code committee shared with me his belief that the honor code was changed to make it more difficult for conservative voices to succeed in ensuring I was publicly disciplined (on the basis of violating the removed "advocacy of homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code...Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable" language). 

This professor proved more cognizant of the risk of HCO enforcement than I was. Shortly after the QSaltLake article, one of the trusted friends I'd shared my book with for feedback turned me into the HCO. I later obtained my honor code office file and learned the language my friend used: "I have a friend of mine that I am quite worried about. I would like this to be totally anonymous please. He has been getting deeper and deeper into homosexuality ideas, groups, etc. Please contact me and I will give more details." 

Linda Rowley from the HCO responded to the email and arranged a phone call. The HCO called my friend and subsequently opened an investigation. The investigation included a review of my personal blog and YouTube channel, as well as an analysis of the QSaltLake articles. The HCO analyzed whether my book was sufficiently orthodox, including commentary such as "notice he did not say he believed in latter day prophets" from HCO staff member Kristine Long. It also stated (incorrectly), "Much of the book contradicts teachings from the First Presidency of the LDS Church." Because the HCO didn't contact me, I don't know what role the Feb 2011 honor code change played in their decision: but ultimately the dean of students and VP of student life decided "that no action was necessary at this time" and I graduated normally two months later.

Hope that helps,
Brad Levin (formerly Carmack, I took my wife's surname when we got married)

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