PROVO — Allies and members of the LGBTQ community at Brigham Young University will wear rainbow colors on campus Thursday, marking the one-year anniversary of confusion surrounding the school's Honor Code.
The effort, called Rainbow Day, was created by Color the Campus, a student-led initiative dedicated to supporting LGBTQ students and faculty at any schools in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' educational system. BYU student Bradley Talbot created the group and has since held several Rainbow Days to, well, color the campus.
"Even within the community, we're still learning how to be better allies to one another," Talbot told KSL.com. "So that's kind of its main purpose, it's just a visual demonstration for that."
However, after photos of a flyer posted around a campus began circulating on social media, confusion began to surround the movement.
The flyer incorrectly said the LBTQ community at BYU was planning to hold a protest against church teachings on Thursday. The flyer said students "seeking shelter from the storm," should show their support for The Family: A Proclamation to the World by wearing BYU gear and holding umbrellas. The proclamation is a 1995 statement from top leaders of the church defining the church's stance on gender identity, marriage roles and sexuality.
It wasn't immediately clear who distributed the initial flyers or if an actual event was planned in protest of Rainbow Day. However, no such event has been approved by the university, according to an emailed statement from school spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.
The flyers were also not approved by the university and were subsequently taken down, Jenkins said. Additional flyers will also be removed.
"The university has not received any requests for public expression at this time, and, with the on-going pandemic, the BYU administration has approved very few in-person gatherings for the safety of our campus community," Jenkins added. "There are no school sanctioned events approved for tomorrow."
To uphold COVID-19 health guidelines, no in-person event is taking place on campus affiliated with Color the Campus or Rainbow Day either, Talbot said. Instead, allies of the LGBTQ community are encouraged to show their support by wearing rainbow colored items and sharing sentiments online.
Additionally, Talbot clarified Rainbow Day is not a protest at all — even though some well-intended supporters mistakenly believed it to be on social media. Rainbow Day is also not sponsored or organized by BYU.
"It's not and never has been a protest. Protests are directed towards BYU, trying to get them to change," he explained. "We're facing the LGBTQ+ community, we're talking to them. Protests are kind of the opposite direction. So Rainbow Day is just for the LGBTQ+ community as a public visual representation of letting them know that we're there for them no matter what."
He described it as a "proactive moment of love" aimed at creating an open environment for LGBTQ individuals at schools in the Church Educational System.
"It's to create that safe space so you can be a student at BYU, at BYU Idaho, BYU Hawaii and be a member of the LGBTQ plus community because we are creating that space," he said.
Rainbow Day will take place on Thursday, one year from when a letter from Elder Paul V. Johnson, commissioner of the Church Educational System, clarified confusion surrounding "misinterpretation" of the removal of "homosexual behavior" from the Honor Code.
The confusion began when the university updated its Honor Code last February in conjunction with a new handbook focused on a ministerial approach to administrative procedure released by the church the same day.
The update to the Honor Code was made in an effort to "be in alignment with the doctrine and policies of the church," a statement from the school released at the time read.
As part of the code's update, the school removed the section on "homosexual behavior," which previously stated that "homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code." While "same-gender attraction" is not an Honor Code violation, all forms of physical intimacy "that give expression to homosexual feelings" are violations, the former code read.
The updated Honor Code instead requires students to abstain "from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman," among other requirements that existed before the change.
After the change was made, students were left confused about if dating relationships between those of the same gender was no longer a violation of the code. Several even reportedly were told by Honor Code officials that same-sex dating was permitted.
However, later that day the school said in a statement there had been a miscommunication about the changes and that the "more prescriptive language" had been removed, "the principles of the Honor Code remain the same."
The school also said the office would handle questions on a case-by-case basis.
"For example, since dating means different things to different people, the Honor Code Office will work with students individually," BYU officials said in a tweet at the time.
The March 4, 2020, letter from Elder Johnson clarified further, saying: "Same-sex romantic behavior cannot lead to eternal marriage and is therefore not compatible with the principles included in the Honor Code."
While Talbot personally would like to see changes and further clarification from BYU on the Honor Code's rules for same-sex relationships, he emphasized that Thursday's event is about support for the community.
"That is just to kind of reclaim a very painful event for individuals because it was a very traumatic experience for a lot of people on campus," he said. "So, it's to just further emphasize on a painful day that we are still here. We still remember, we're going to support to all those things, definitely; but it's not a protest."