Nathan Kitchen is president of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families & Friends, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ individuals and their families as they navigate the intersections they occupy in life, including the ways they interact with the Mormon church, whether they’re members or not. Kitchen, an alumnus of BYU, spoke with me to discuss the changes and ambiguity in the honor code, its impact on students, and what could instead be done to create a safer and more loving environment for LGBTQ individuals.
As I began my drive, I viewed the hillsides, fields, and woodlands here in upstate New York. Such scenery has become my chapel of holy reflection, and I was lost in the beauty of my surroundings. Despite the fact that the snows have only just receded and the color scheme is still tawny, slate, and charcoal, I still see God’s creation in all of it. I find God in nature, and God finds me there, too.
There is no mention in Church policy of any prohibition of any form of physical intimacy for unmarried couples of any sexual orientation outside of abstaining from sexual relations. It’s not unreasonable that living a chaste and virtuous life at BYU would mean anything different than what has been expected of students their whole lives as active and worthy members of the Church.
How do I handle this anger I’m feeling and still be authentic? How do I bridle these passions, and channel this anger so I can feel Christlike love again? The Lord and I talked it over quite a bit in the past week, and I’ve found an answer. It’s not everyone’s answer, but it’s mine.
All students have the right, regardless of sexual orientation to enjoy chaste, affectionate public behavior without any fear of reprisal. LGB students are worthy of the same rights, protections, and freedom of loving expressions which are afforded their heterosexual peers.
BYU released an updated honor code, removing all references to homosexuals or same-sex relationships. Instead, the code now calls for students to, “Live a chaste and virtuous life, including abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman.”
Are hugs okay? Hand holding? Kissing? Cuddling? It’s unclear. What is clear is that these activities are not prohibited for straight students. In fact, BYU’s reputation for not only being a place to get an education, but also a spouse, is an argument that these activities are encouraged; but only if you’re straight.
The challenges of embracing both my experience and identity as a gay man and my 28 years in relationship with my husband Göran, at the same time as I embrace and affirm my love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my testimony of and love for the Church of Jesus Christ have taught me invaluable lessons about faith, about trust, about patience, about life, about community, about relationship, and most importantly about God, and my own divine nature and relationship with him.
Those caught in this transition period as the Brethren work things out have the continued and real possibility of trauma, rejection, and suffering as they stand at the intersection of their Faith. This is why LGBTQ led organizations such as Affirmation are so necessary to support our LGBTQ peers during such changes.