Thursday, April 19, 2007

BYU, Honor Codes, and Police Cops

I wrote a post a while ago about social change that came from a chance talk with a leader in the Black community, and I didn’t expect it to be much more than something I wanted to remember, here.

To sum up, this woman explained to me that all social movements with minorities seem to have their good cops and bad cops. The bad cops are outrageous and demanding; they do stuff like try to get arrested and other theatrics (fake funerals, you know the stuff...). The good cops are much more reasonable; they see the other side and give it credit. And “The Man,” well, he’s motivated by the bad cop, but can never appear to give in to such tactics. Even if they do give in, in reality, it has to be for another reason to their minds. And that’s why the friendly good cop is so useful. The powers that be will talk to the good cop, feel much more like he’s one of them, and can compromise and change for the good cop. And that’s how societies change to treat minorities fairly, despite the differences in strength.

It strikes me that the recent change in the wording of the BYU honor code may be an example of this woman’s theory. There was no way a group like Soul Force, or any big out and proud gay group was going to get anything on its own. No way. But such groups are part of how the world for gays, all gays, has changed. By decades of social progress, there can now actually be visible good cop gays at BYU; they are, in fact, our fellow bloggers. As long as they are modest in their steps and stay in bounds, they can group together and be heard and effect positive change. This would not have been a decade past.

But where this woman’s idea deviates from the depictions in crime dramas is in the fact that the players here are absolutely sincere. These good cops don’t honestly want, say, me to be able to attend BYU, with my husband and kids in approved housing (No worries; neither do I :-)). They don’t want to be able to walk the campus with their arm around the man they love (unless they’re lesbians, I guess… what a world! :-)). They are in opposition to the bad cops. They are even motivated to speak up in order to show those in power they’re not all bad cops, and are also invested in downplaying the effect of the bad cops on their mutual audience. Let me be clear, these reactions are both done without any duplicity but they are both important parts in this machine. The machine doesn’t work without them.

I know the good cops do it in good faith because this is the role in this theory I naturally fall into with regards to other gay issues. I’m not a fan of hate crime law; I’m all for a person’s right to teach that I’m an abomination; I don’t want there to be, say, hiring quotas for gays, or some other stuff I’ve heard of. I don’t like protests and I’m more of a bridge builder when I interact with elected officials. I recognize in this event with BYU my hostility towards my bad cop’s actions, and I recognize my past assurances that they don’t represent me and that it’s absolutely not the bad cops playing a constructive role. I too am by nature in this role which I must assume is why I, not a member of our bad cops, have the positions I do, and have had the hand in the positive changes I have had. Simply, looking back, I can now see how this idea may have played out in many instances in my life as a reluctant activist.

The thing that strikes me here though is how out of our hands it really is. I’ll not step over the line I see in the sand. Neither will this group of gays at BYU. Nevertheless, we bring the other side closer to our line, in play with the bad cops. Sometimes we bring them so close that another group of good cops, once bad :-), will help our culture past our line. To me, that’s kind of what’s happened in certain countries where preaching that gays are abominable has become a possible legal issue. In those countries I’d feel obliged to try to pull society back, but it went where it went, for good and bad cops more radically gay than I.

Like it or not, the LDS church took a small step here, and there are more than a few members who do not like it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to keep always in mind about our opponents, it’s that they ain’t stupid; pay attention to what exactly sets them off. They can see what this can mean for the future of gays in the church as well as anyone, despite official reasons about the change (which I do certainly think the BYU officials believe). If you listen to them, it’s clear, it doesn’t matter to the opposition if this is only a “clarification”. The clarification, they know, makes gays more comfortable and open, and they know that any group of even loosely-organized gays on campus, even slightly open and unafraid is a problem.

But these gay students, regardless of where they draw that line in the sand on gay behavior, moved the line for their culture. And now I can’t help but bet they will move it further in the coming decades, even if inadvertently. Knowing the bounds, more gay people will be more open. More people on campus, from students to faculty, will actually see gay neighbors, students, and friends. They will follow their lives to celibacy, to marriages and families with men or women and note how they work out. They will watch the real life version of these blogs, and be affected. And the students of BYU will become the leaders of the LDS church.

Think about it, there’s a very good reason these angry folks wanted gay kids on campus to not be seen or heard, or given any audience or consideration or clarification, no matter the issues or the gay student’s strong testimony or obedience. Obedience is not the point for such folks, as they know the power in what will come from comfortable gays of any sort on campus. Eventually, there’ll be a new group of good cops; there may already be. Even though the current group may adamantly disagree with them, the current group has now merged into next generation’s “The Man”. The line in the sand has been moved behind their wants, to include them, but they did move it that much closer to the next group’s wants as well.

I now wonder if this was as much a concern for folks who helped with this change as it can be for me. I wonder if they agree with this view from my vantage point of the situation. So, if anyone involved cares to tell me… :-)

Edit: I see Soul Force is taking some credit for this, on A Changing Countenance’s blog, here. They need to keep their motivation up too. I’m beginning to feel I need to track that woman down again and take in more for her ideas :-).


Brady said...

Very interesting post, made me think a lot. I hadn't quite realized the impact of having openly gay (but not practicing) students on BYU campus. Several of us could even probably start a gay student's union or something of that nature. Imagine that! Although it might have to be called the "SSA student club" or something. The fact is that, with recent changes, "one's stated orientation is not an honor code issue." So you're right, it's okay to be open about being gay now. That's the most significant aspect of the change, and it does represent a moving of the line in the sand.

playasinmar said...

It's true! One's stated sexual orientation can't be "stated" unless it is out loud.

Not long ago the church would excommunicate anyone who self-identified as gay.

Later they realized they had to fix the selfish, "sinner gays." Gays who were not to congregate or else.

Then the church's university said, "We have counselors that can fix you with experiments."

More recently the church said, "Some people will struggle with this all their lives."

And now this... open dialog on the campus. Openness at BYU!

playasinmar said...

From the Deseret News:

"The effort was instigated by student Glade Bauman, who with other students drafted a letter to BYU President Cecil Samuelson. Samuelson forwarded the letter to Vice President of Student Life Jan Scharman, who met with the students in late February."We knew this group Soulforce was coming to protest at school," said Robby Pierce, a member of the group. "We felt they didn't represent the voice of actual students who deal with homosexuality on campus."

"[Carrie] Jenkins said Soulforce has sought media coverage, not dialogue, and was not the cause of the clarifications. " emphasis mine

Sorry Carrie, sounds like SoulForce gets the credit after all. :)

Chris said...

If I've learned anything about myself since I've come out, it's that I'm a bad cop. :)

D Christian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Silus Grok said...

Brilliantly said, Scot.

As for Soulforce getting credit... only inasmuch as one part of an equation can get credit. Two doesn't get credit for five... but two and three do. And I think that any statement by either side that ignores the role of the other is dishonest.

Scot said...

Several of us could even probably start a gay student's union or something of that nature. Imagine that!

Oh my! That sounds like a big step. Or maybe not… I’ve heard some things about certain organizations on campus; I’ll not name names and promote the stereotypes :-).

“Sorry Carrie, sounds like SoulForce gets the credit after all. :)”

That’s the beauty though ;-), they can’t have any credit to those who made the change. I'll not give it to them either, or the machine will stop.

“If I've learned anything about myself since I've come out, it's that I'm a bad cop. :)”

That’s why we need to team up, ;-).

Thank you much, Silus.

“As for Soulforce getting credit... only inasmuch as one part of an equation can get credit.”

I completely agree. I was glad to see they didn’t try to take it all, but their claim of “galvanizing” the BYU group was a bit misleading. As a changing countenance said, they galvanized the BYU group to come out in opposition to and as an alternative to soulforce. I’ve been in the same place and it is amazing; it is like an equation.