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 nonprofit 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, who is gay, said she wanted to create the pamphlets because she 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 of Salt Lake City, 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 unenrolled.
“I remember sitting in my white dorm room with these cement walls and breaking down,” Tenney said. “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 BYU’s student newspaper, Daily Universe, which puts together 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.’”
Then, on Aug. 23, Tenney received an Instagram message from a friend, who is also a resident assistant, telling her that she was told to go to each room where the welcome bags were placed and pull out the RaYnbow Collective pamphlets, Tenney said.
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 by TODAY.com why the pamphlets were removed, BYU said in an emailed statement on Friday that the university “would like our students and employees to utilize our new Office of Belonging as their primary resource in these efforts.”
“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,” the statement continued.
BYU announced the creation of the Office of Belonging in August 2021, stating 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.
“It’s hard to say what they’ll do,” Tenney said of the newly formed office.
BYU did not respond to a question about what resources the Office of Belonging provides for LGBTQ students.
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 said she’s hopeful the new Office of Belonging will be successful at providing support to marginalized students, she said such support has yet to be seen.