Brigham Young University removed pamphlets with off-campus resources for LGBTQ students from welcome bags for incoming freshman in late August.
Created by RaYnbow Collective, a non-profit that founder and BYU student Maddison Tenney says focuses on education and allyship for queer students, the pamphlets had information on weekly and monthly events available to LGBTQ students as well as lists of organizations in the area that could provide therapy, safe housing, mentorship and more. The RaYnbow Collective is not officially affiliated with the university.
Tenney says RaYnbow Collective created the pamphlets because she — who identifies as gay — remembers the loneliness she felt as a freshman at the university, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the university in Provo, Utah, located about 45 miles southeast from Salt Lake City, LGBTQ students are restricted by university rules from dating or showing signs of affection toward members of the same sex. Violation of those rules puts students at risk of being disenrolled.
“I remember sitting in my white dorm room with these cement walls and breaking down,” Tenney told TODAY Parents. “I didn’t know anyone who was like me, who wanted to be faithful and embrace the fullness of themselves.”
She recalled seeing a chapstick tube, an item that was in her freshman bag, and thinking that she could have used so much more than chapstick to get through that time in her life.
RaYnbow Collective worked with Daily Universe, BYU’s student newspaper which creates the welcome bags, to submit the pamphlets. Tenney said she paid the $200 fee, signed a contract with the Daily Universe and dropped off 5,000 pamphlets on Aug. 12. The pamphlets, she said, were “very vanilla, very inline with church teachings.”
“We tried really hard to make sure it was kosher and in line with policy,” she said, adding that the pamphlets were created in collaboration with other LGBTQ organizations in the area. “We didn’t hear anything back besides it looks great.”
On Aug. 23, a friend of hers who is also a resident assistant sent Tenney an Instagram message telling her she was told to go to each room where the bags were placed and pull the pamphlets out.
After reaching out to various departments at BYU to find out who was giving the direction to remove the bags, Tenney said she was told by the Office of Student Life that the items went against the church and that they made the decision to remove them.
When asked why the pamphlets were removed, BYU gave TODAY Parents the following statement on Thursday, Sept. 1:
“We would like our students and employees to utilize our new Office of Belonging as their primary resource in these efforts. When we learned that a bag of promotional materials, which came through the advertising section of the student newspaper, was being distributed through residential buildings on campus, the decision was made to remove some materials from an organization outside of the university.
The decision to remove the materials by Student Life was based on the university’s commitment to provide support through the Office of Belonging and our counseling services and not to allow outside entities to imply affiliation with or endorsement from the university.”
BYU announced The Office of Belonging was being created in August 2021, and that it would “focus primarily on coordinating and enhancing belonging services and efforts on campus.” But the office didn’t have a physical location until Monday, according to Tenney. BYU did not respond to TODAY Parents when asked what resources the office provides for LGBTQ students.
“In a year that it has taken to get organized, we (RaYnbow Collective) have provided all those resources,” Tenney said. “It’s hard to say what they’ll do.”
The announcement of the new office came the same week church leader Jeffrey R. Holland came to the Utah campus and spoke about defending the doctrine of the family and marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Tenney said since that speech, she has received numerous violent threats and had to pull her contact information from BYU’s directory. While she’s hopeful the new Office of Belonging will be successful at providing support to marginalized students, she says such support has yet to be seen.