LGBTQ+ people and allies are absolutely everywhere—and that includes religious spaces and higher education. One example of this comes to us out of Brigham Young University (BYU), a school operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Provo, Utah. You might remember we covered the brave story of graduate Jillian Orr, an openly bisexual woman who went viral for revealing the Pride flag under her commencement robes. We’ve also covered how students show up for Pride even in spite of the school’s restrictive and archaic policies.
Sadly, however, the campus is far from a safe space all the time. As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, for example, 100 protesters took to the campus to harass and disparage LGBTQ+ students returning to campus for the fall semester, including calling them groomers and pedophiles—insults we know have long been flung at the queer community, but that have taken up more prominent residence in the last year or two thanks to Republican fearmongering.
In spite of all of this terror and hatred, brave folk dressed as angels created a barrier between protesters (some of who appeared to openly carry weapons) and students, creating an emotional image harkening back to the 1990s when allies protested back against the Westboro Baptist Church, who brought disgusting signs to the trial of the two men who murdered gay college student Matthew Shephard in a hate crime. The angel concept also appeared at the funerals for victims of the Pulse massacre in 2016.
This historical context is important for what happened recently at BYU. The protests and counterprotests happened during a Back to School Pride Night held at Kiwanis Park in Provo. As Daily Kos has previously covered, the school technically bans clubs for LGBTQ+ students from meeting on campus, so a yearly welcome for queer students instead occurs at a local park off campus. And apparently, queerphobes just couldn’t let people feel safe in peace.
One person with angel wings made out of white sheets and pipes told the outlet she was participating because she wants the queer community to know she has their back. “I’m doing this because I want our LGBTQ community to feel like they can be themselves and know we have their backs,” said Sabrina Wong, a current student at the university.
Sadly, not all students are progressive, much less allies. Thomas Stevenson, a senior at the university, told the outlet the event shouldn’t be at a public park. The event this year includes a family-friendly drag show featuring both current and former BYU students. As Daily Kos continues to cover, conservatives are coming out hard against drag shows and drag queens even when the events are decidedly family-friendly, like reading events at libraries. Sadly, this one was no exception.
Stevenson told the outlet he thought the event was a “social contagion with gender dysphoria” and that he and his peers, who are members of the BYU Conservatives group, were protesting kids being present at the event.
(If you’re assuming BYU Conservatives can have meetings on campus, you’d be right, by the way.)
Fellow BYU senior Maddison Tenney told the outlet religion has been “weaponized” against queer people for a long time. Tenney, who is also the founder of the RaYnbow Collective at the school, added that she believes there’s nothing more “divine” than who she is as a “queer child of God.”
Sadly, people filled with hate really, really want to see queer people disappear, whether they’re religious or not. The infamous Libs of TikTok account run by Chaya Raichik, for instance, shared a clip from the drag event on her Twitter account. Guess how much anti-trans hysteria and fearmongering that one video garnered—it’s more than 400,000 views.
Oh, and that conservative group on campus? They also used social media to try and stir outrage over the event, writing in part on Instagram: “We want you to show up and peacefully protest at 5 pm. Nobody in their right mind would allow children to be put in front of a drag show. We can’t let what has happened other places happen to Provo.”
That post, of course, includes hashtags like “gr00ming” alongside “peacefullyprotest.”
This anti-queer hysteria certainly isn’t limited to religious groups or spaces, but we can’t ignore those groups either. Queer folks are in all social circles, and we deserve protection and support even if we aren’t in blue states or progressive bubbles. We can’t leave anyone behind, and one way to work hard at bringing everyone forward is to make sure we show up to vote whenever possible.
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