This Mormon valedictorian came out to 10,000 people in a stirring graduation speech.

On Friday, April 25th, Matthew Easton gave a commencement speech at Brigham Young University to 10,000 people that included a rather unexpected declaration: he came out as gay.  

“I stand before my family, friends and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God," he said. His words were immediately met with deafening cheers from people in the audience, including his sister, who momentarily dropped the phone she was using to record his speech in her excitement.

“Four years ago, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would come out to my entire college,” he continued in the speech. “It is a phenomenal feeling. And it is a victory for me in and of itself.”


“I am not broken. I am loved and important to the plan of our great creator. Each of us are.”

His announcement comes at a significant moment at BYU when students are taking a stand against the university's strict and archaic "honor code" which declares homosexual intimacy and relationships forbidden.  

However Easton, like the activists fighting against the honor code, made it clear that his declaration is by no means a break from the Church of Latter-Day Saints, in fact, quite the opposite. It's more about reclaiming his faith as the person he's always been rather than keeping his inner truth hidden because previous generations of Mormons are having a hard time embracing differences.

“My generation, and even more so the generation after me, we’re changing the way we talk about our identity and who we are,” Easton told the Washington Post. “It’s okay to be different, or not fit the norm. When I started at BYU, I didn’t think that. I thought that I had to be what everyone before me was. I do feel from my own experience that this is changing, or maybe I’m changing. I hope that our country, my faith, my community will follow in a similar fashion.”

But Easton's speech was much more than a personal declaration. He's paving the way for other LGBT people who might be at odds with their religion to stand up and embrace who they are.

Representation in the public spotlight matters. In fact, another gay man who's been getting a lot of media attention lately is part of what inspired Easton in the first place.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana and presidential candidate who's been making waves in the democrat pool, has spoken numerous times about the intersection of his faith and his sexuality. He's also stood in support of younger Christians who are speaking out against the more traditional, often bigoted teachings of their church, and thus protesting having Vice President Mike Pence speak at their graduation ceremonies.

“That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: That if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me,” Buttigieg said earlier this month in his speech at the LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Easton was thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive response his speech has garnered, not just within BYU, but around the world. He's still got a long way to go in terms of his personal journey, but coming out publicly was a big step forward.

"To have a group that I had for so long thought would hate me or ostracize me actually celebrate and accept me, it was awesome."

Watch Eaton's whole speech here:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Library of Congress

This article originally appeared on 03.09.20


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