Saturday, December 06, 2008

Art at BYU and the Worth of Words

With the recent backpedaling of the LDS church on the issue of "certain rights" for our families, my view of the organization has changed. I once viewed the organization as just a bunch people in a tough position under yet another strong meme's weight, trying to do what's right. History is full of such folks and I've a hard time blaming them.

It seems some wrong, though, in one way or another, is being consciously excused now. It seems they did a political calculation and decided they had to throw us a bone in some states so as to not appear against equal rights even when they were, for PR reasons. That leaked internal LDS memo already revealed as much, I guess, and I should have known. It's just difficult to actually see people act that way, particularly when you know first hand how well people of various and diverging groups could get along in a straight forward manner.

I guess the annoyance is that the harmful political actions are more than enough. The refusal to take responsibility for how they so directly hurt families and then to claim the organization is fine with some rights for our homes in CA and then refuse to live up to those words where it's not politically necessary to do so, here in Utah, is added to injury. It's an attempt to use the appearance of good, pro-equal rights, in order to do legal harm and I'm sure many Californian LDS voted for Proposition 8 under the impression they, as their church told them, were not hurting anything but, possibly, some percentage of the gay community's feelings; I've read several of such account.

Now, though, I'm beginning to look at their talk of love and inclusion the same way as their talk of rights and respect.

I just read this blog post by Michael. It's about his art project at BYU:
"These portraits are of BYU students who identify themselves as homosexual and a person that supports them. This support person could be a family member, friend or may also identify themselves as homosexual and both people may provide support to each other. I have not included labels with these portraits as I feel that labels only create separation and division and further ungrounded stereotypes. We never know who may identify themselves as homosexual and I felt that not labeling these images would force us as a society to question what it is to be homosexual."
The message behind such an exhibit seems to be quite a smart and potent message of love and inclusion, two things the LDS press releases and pamphlets have been ostensibly offering gay members. These were not images advocating gay sex or anything near that; to me, they just seemed to say gay people exist and they are part of our community.

The message behind its censorship by those in charge, though, is another potent message.

The LDS organization has gotten good PR out of their moves away from their harsher past, even in the gay community, but when the actions don't match the rhetoric, it seems to show the nice rhetoric to be a simple tool of PR; "love" along with "certain rights" are used to deny equal rights and to continue promoting the idea that merely being gay is something you don't want in your group. It's a tragedy when words like love, respect, and civility are used this way.

I should say, I'm sure this is changing. I'm sure some Bishops are great nowadays and many other members are too; I know and very much respect such folks. It is just becoming more and more difficult to hear the official press releases without increasing skepticism, without wondering if even the person composing them believes what they say in the carefully selected words regarding homosexuality.

Personally, I'd bet those in charge who decided to censor this work did so because they are afraid of the consequences of BYU's new inclusion of gay individuals; they want it in sentiment but practice is another issue. I suspect what I said might soon be coming last year after their change in the Honor Code with respect to gays is right on time--I should have put money on it :-)--the fact that such an exhibit made it up at all may be evidence of that. They probably can see they are being pulled by a power bigger than any one person or organization or community, and I'm pretty sure it'll bring them where they, for now, don't want to end up, at unqualified love and equal rights.

So, actually, maybe such a bit of resistance is, while I'm sure it hurts, a good sign? It is a sign that they see what we see; it's not just me. Open gay people, even if they follow all the LDS rules and support the LDS organization completely, are a threat to the old guard and old way; they are a step along the way and, again, as I posted in April of 2007, the line has been moved and is moving; there are new good cops and new bad cops now. But putting them back in the closet would be putting the genii back in the bottle.

It will just be interesting to see how this and future conflicts play out.


Guy said...

I'm embarrassed to tell people I graduated from BYU. Once, let alone twice. I didn't learn enough the first time, I guess, though I did rush to get out and away the second time, that's for sure (as I'd finally met someone else gay and came out)...

Scot said...

Hey, there's a many a man in this town who met their husband at BYU; it can't be all bad :-).

Guy said...

That's true, yours truly included, although we were such clueless "late bloomers" that we each didn't know the other was gay until 10 years later. And the educational experience was actually pretty good, I just can never imagine being there ever again.