Tuesday, December 9, 2008

There Are Were Gay People at BYU

[Censorship] BYU art student J. Michael Wiltbank knew his entry in a student art show might be controversial--but he didn't know school authorities had quietly removed it from the exhibition until a classmate told him. His photo portraits were stealthily taken down, and the remaining entries carefully redistributed throughout the gallery so as not to leave a noticable gap.

"I wish that they would have asked me to remove it, or at least had the courtesy to ask that I remove it or discuss it with me prior to its removal," Wiltbank wrote on his blog. "It seems that censorship is favored over support and love. This really saddens me."

His subject was a series of photo portraits. Each pair of portraits depicted a gay BYU student, and a friend or family member who provided that student with love and unconditional emotional support. (Neither portrait was identified as being either "the gay one" or "the supportive one.")

We can expect the campus secret police to go into action now, tracking down the subjects of Wiltbank's portraits. Neither member of each pair is safe, of course. Naturally, being gay is a violation of BYU's infamous honor code. But, then, so is "advocacy"--defined as "promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable." That means even offering unconditional support and love for a gay family member or loved one could get you booted off campus. I wish all these people good luck.

Stories of academic suppression emerge from BYU with predictable regularity. Around these parts, they're generally told with a roll of the eye and a measure of cynicism ("Well, what do you expect? After all, it is BYU").

But cynical acceptance is still acceptance. And it is widespread acceptance that allows BYU's dishonest academic policies to continue. A typical excuse is that BYU is privately owned and can therefore do as it likes. But this doesn't wash: Is BYU not an accredited institution? How can other universities accept credentials issued by a university which, time and again, has clearly demonstrated that it does not honor the basic principle of academic freedom? If BYU wishes to practice blatant censorship, it may do so. But, in doing so, it risks losing the respect of the academic community, and forfeits any claim that this loss of respect has anything to do with religious discrimination.

Rather than cynical acceptance, maybe it would be more sane to express something real, something sincere. Dismay, shock, outrage. Mild irritation. Searing anger. Venomous spite. Hell, anything. This world-weary act doesn't work anymore in this weary world. Perhaps the time has come to sincerely seek revocation of BYU's accreditation.

Do you have any problems with BYU's take on academic freedom? I'd say the NWCCU deserves to hear about it.

BYU's accreditation is under the aegis of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities every 10 years. According to Standard Nine on which NWCCU grants accreditation:
Hence, institutions may hold to a particular, social, or religious philosophy, as may individual faculty members or students. But to be true to what they profess academically, individuals and institutions must remain intellectually free and allow others the same freedom to pursue truth and to distinguish the pursuit of it from a commitment to it. [Emphasis mine.]
Was Wiltbank allowed the "freedom to pursue truth"? Perhaps--his camera wasn't destroyed outright, his legs weren't broken and he wasn't actually imprisoned. But was he allowed to "remain intellectually free"? Um, no. Were his fellow students and others who attended the art show "allowed to pursue truth and to distinguish the pursuit of it from a commitment to it"? No, absolutely not.

In fact, it seems clear the university does all it can to remain technically close to the line while violating the principles of academic freedom left and right. The photos were removed quietly and without any statement because university officials know they are skating on thin ice, and they wanted to leave as little documentary evidence as possible.

Do you have any problems with BYU's take on academic freedom? I'd say the NWCCU deserves to hear about it.

(Brandon Burt)

P.S. If anybody's curious where I learned about this story, it was from Dan Savage on SLOG. Yes, that Dan Savage: the one who supposedly was in charge of the whole Proposition 8 Utah boycott. He ended up seeming a bit less demonic during his KRCL RadioActive! interview with Troy Williams. And, frankly, he seems to do a damn good job at covering gay issues in Utah. (In other words, this is a mia culpa: Where the fuck was I?)


  1. This is appalling. That they had to rearrange the exhibits in order to hide the fact that Art was removed is even scarier.

    If I am understanding the correctly, the word gay or homosexual or any words implying as much did not appear anywhere with the artwork?

    I hope somebody can keep track of what happens to the students that were in the photos.

    Brandon, you mention "where the fuck was I?" What if you follow up with the affected students over the course of the next month or so and make sure that none of them 'quietly' get expelled or harassed. For those that are under pressure maybe you can provide them a public voice so that BYU will be too shamed to pull a stunt like going after the students involved.

    I would not put it past BYU to try something like that. This story would make great reading for the main section of slweekly because this could potentially affect our community on a grand scale.

    Thanks for sharing this information.

  2. A university is not obliged to post anything anybody decides to point a camera at.
    Wiltbank chose to use the project to make a political statement, in so doing he demands that it be judges as a piece of political theatre and not art.
    America is becoming a place where the only truths that may be pursued are those the militant homosexual thugocracy approve of.

    Speaking of independent thought; Brandon, we see you've got your lips planted firmly back on Dan's ass, we can only imagine how painful the past weeks have been for a SavageFanboy like yourself. Are we all kissed and made up?

  3. It will be interesting to see if NWCCU can be true to what they profess and allow BYU to remain intellectually free
    if they will give in to political pressure from the homosexual community still smarting over their defeat at the hands of California voters.

  4. I grossly disagree with Anon.

    Just because an institution of higher learning is not obliged to play to social norms or ethical norms does not make it right when they exercise their right to practice censorship and then hide the fact that they have done so.

    The schills and the sock-puppets seem to show up to work early. I guess they get paid quite well.

  5. The fact that "Anonymous" used the term, "militant homosexual thugocracy" shows the climate our so-called Christian nation has created. There's nothing Christian about hating a group of people for arbitrary reasons. BYU has repeatedly shut down any resemblance of thought and academia but want to be recognized as a legitimate institution of learning.
    This holier than thou mentality should disgust everyone. If you're not angered by this, you are not intellectually capable of being an adult.

  6. The Radical Left's version of academic freedom is to boycott you to economic ruin and strip your accreditation if you disagree with their political theology.

  7. The term, "militant homosexual thugocracy" reflects the reality of homosexual activism post Prop 8.
    If the term stings then don't be an intolerant thug.

  8. The term, "militant homosexual thugocracy" describes the reality of post Prop 8 homosexual activism.
    If the term stings then quit being intolerant thugs.

  9. BYU actually is an island of independent thought in a sea of Leftwing academic zombies cowed into towing the PC line.
    True respect for diversity of thought would recognize and cherish that, not seek to strip it's accreditation.

  10. Poor sad Michael.
    His stunt is not about 'love and support'.
    It is a transparent ploy to continue the homosexual assault on LDS institutions following Prop 8.

  11. You're right,
    1:16am is pretty early
    for a Savage shilling suck-pupprt to be out.

  12. Brandon-
    Rallying the Brownshirts again, I see.
    Can't win in a fair competition in the free marketplace of ideas (aka 'democracy')?-
    don't worry- just destroy those who disagree with you!
    Strip their church's tax status!
    Pull their university's accreditation!
    Typical bully intellectually coward response.

  13. All the above criticism of BYU, both in the B. Burt note and the comments, is founded on factual error.

    B. Burt writes: "Naturally, being gay is a violation of BYU's infamous honor code".

    That statement is, simply, not true. Do your homework, Mr. Burt.

  14. there was an update in (of all places) today's des news that the photos have been re-hung and that the exhibit can be seen by the public again.

  15. Brandon,

    I most often do give you the benefit of the doubt... but you really are sounding like a sore loser now.

    Pulling the artwork is censorship, but this should be a first amendment discussion, not a continuance of Prop 8.

  16. Hey, you said it. This is BYU we're talking about. You don't like censorship? Don't got there. You're giving your money to people you are complaining about, you are supporting them as they "oppress" you. Go to another school or stay and quit whining.

  17. BYU is BYU. Get over it and go somewhere else. Why all these issues continue to be forced onto BYU is beyond me. Everyone knows what BYU is and isn't. The vast majority of BYU faculty, students, and tithe payers are in complete support of it. These extremely minority issues get way too much attention. Let it go.

  18. It's interesting how this report differs significantly from this DesNews article...


    Who to believe? I think I know which one I trust more.

  19. Don't be hard on the kids at SLW-
    they're anxiously waiting for Savage's
    latest droppings so they will know
    what they think about the story.

  20. On a less important note, it's mea culpa, not mia culpa, though mea turned to mia when folks started speaking what is now Italian.

  21. I GO TO BYU AND I AM GAY ALSO.. I do not know what to think about BYU anymore.. I getting sick of it.. THIS IS NOT AN ILLNESS.. !!

  22. I think we all agree that Mr. Burt comes at this issue with a (well-known and very public) bias, so the natural tendency is to discuss his entry as one-sided rant. However, his point is well taken. BYU is definitely a patriarchal institution, not an open-learning center.
    Many of us don't speak out against such heavy-handedness because we believe the institution is directed by prophet-selected leaders and therefore can do no wrong. Others of us don't speak out against it because to do so places us in danger of excommunication - the danger is real, as we are constantly reminded by news reports of people getting dumped from the church for making calendars featuring shirtless missionaries (for example).

  23. Raymo,

    Do you believe SMU or Notre Dame are any different??? They do hold a heavy hand over the students, yet, they are also know as great institutions of learning.

  24. I read this post and was frustrated by what I read, so I asked my dad about it (he being in the faculty at BYU in the Arts dep.) This is what he had to say:

    There’s quite a bit of background to this that is not in the news and parts are not reported accurately. It was an academic discussion and the “take down” decision was made by one person. And not for the reasons stated in any of the write-ups. Decisions here are made for academic purposes. The Church had nothing to do with any of the process, though the media made the tie instantly.

    Once the conversation with the student, the faculty, the department, the college and the university continued, it was a great learning process for all, including the student who has learned a great deal about the power of audience.

    At this point, the art piece has been returned to its place in the display at the discretion of the student. I would suspect that none of the news links will report that, however.

    What we truly learned through the process is that most people don’t think to check the facts before they attack. It is unfortunate for both sides of the concerns.

    Thanks for asking.

    So for those updating the story, go and see if this art piece is there, and think about this for yourself.

  25. Raymo thinks I'm "biased" because I object to the LDS Church's efforts to marginalize not only its own gay and lesbian members, but gays and lesbians in general.

    So, Raymo: What would be an unbiased standpoint? Is it unbiased to think that gays and lesbians should be only be allowed to marry and to express themselves half the time? Or that only half the gays and lesbians should have equal rights?

    Like many nonthinking people, Raymo incorrectly believes "bias" is any opinion differing from his own.

  26. Bandon,

    Were you equally outraged when the artistic director of the California Musical Theatre resigned because of pressure after it was revealed he gave $1,000 to a pro-Proposition 8 group?

    Yeah, didn't think so.

  27. Yeah Utards! Go BYU! Hate those damn gays and everyone who is different.
    Fuck, if it were for you guys we would still be sitting in caves out of fear from the unknown, new and different instead of exploring it.

  28. The sitting in caves comment makes no sense. It is a jab at religion, but by the time Christianity came around most people were out of caves. Christian countries have had the richest median income for citizens for most recent centuries, so what is the connection with keeping one underdeveloped and "in a cave". Likewise by the time Mormonism and BYU came around nearly everybody was out of a cave. So I just don't understand your comment, other than you are upset.

  29. BYU will make itself as much the personification of H8, as LDS elders themselves have made your State.
    You will lose your Creative Class, and you will decline as a state without them, not a good decision through this economic hard times. It's your artists and your composers, who can make something beautiful out of NOTHING. no easy feat.

  30. He can take his pictures, but obviously BYU doesn't want his gay art on its campus. Doesn't anyone follow the law? See Close v. Lederle or Piarowski v. Illinois Community College, in Piarowski a public college was able to move artwork because it hinted at issues of race and sexuality that the college didn't want reflected on itself.

    BYU does not wish to have the image of being a "gay" school, or a "gay-friendly" school for that matter. Students sign an honor code and certify to the school that they do not engage in homosexual activities. Why should a student be able to lie on this form, attend the school, and still expect that the school support his lifestyle?


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