New graduate Jillian Orr sent a strong message to underclassmen coming up behind her at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Orr was there to receive her degree in psychology, and for the first time since being a student at the Y she decided to share her truth while also protesting against the school’s LGBTQ policies. Orr had sewn a rainbow flag into her graduation gown and as she walked across the stage to receive her degree, she opened her gown revealing the flag to the audience and cameras.
A private research university, BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the school restricts LGBTQ+ students from dating or showing signs of affection toward a same sex partner while enrolled. Students risk being disenrolled from the university for violating this policy, which also allows other students to report same sex dating to the school. For Orr, this wasn’t something that directly affected her until about halfway through her time there when she came to realize that she was bisexual.
The psychology student grew up in the Mormon Church and completed an 18-month mission trip in Oregon, but things changed when she was honest with herself about her feelings. Orr told TODAY “I started to realize my actions and beliefs were not lining up and there was a lot of preconditioned shame and guilt around it, but I came to the realization that this is who I was and it was beautiful.”
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BYU’s policy on LGBTQ students is written in its honor code, where showing homosexual inclination is deemed as dishonorable. Students who desire to express who they are in a school environment are not doing so to bring any sort of dishonor, because being a part of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t dishonorable. Being able to show affection to your partner while walking to class or frequenting a campus hangout shouldn’t evoke feelings of fear or shame, but policies such as these cause students to hide their true selves giving them no place to feel truly safe. Private universities and schools are able to set their own policies and it’s typically up to the students and their families to decide if their policies align with what they would like to follow, but it makes you stop to wonder about the kids who don’t feel safe enough to come out at home, which can happen for many reasons.
People who grow up in strictly religious households may hold more shame and fear coupled with a lack of support at home and within their friend group around their sexual orientation. This can lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, but the fear around coming out may keep them attending institutions that are in direct contrast of who they are as a person. While this doesn’t appear to be Orr’s case, her daring to show an LGBT pride flag while crossing the stage was a clear nod to other students letting them know that they can make it through being authentically themselves.
Orr told TODAY, “I hope that they recognize that the sooner they live their life authentically, the sooner they can tap into true happiness,” she said. “The faster you do the scary thing, the sooner you can be free.” Orr said she hopes that students at the school who are hiding their sexual orientation will feel less alone by seeing her bold act.
If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line: 741741.