Brigham Young University removed pamphlets with off-campus resources for LGBTQ students from welcome bags for incoming freshmen late last month.
Created by RaYnbow Collective — a nonprofit group that founder Maddison Tenney, a BYU student, says focuses on education and allyship for queer students — the pamphlets offered information about 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. Students at the university, in Provo, Utah, about 45 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, are restricted by university rules from dating or showing signs of affection toward members of the same sex. Violating the 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 lip balm tube, an item that was in her freshman bag, and thinking she could have used so much more than lip balm to get through that time in her life.
RaYnbow Collective worked with BYU's student newspaper, The 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 in line 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 got an Instagram message from a friend, who is also a resident assistant, telling her that she had been told to go to every room where the welcome bags were placed and pull out the RaYnbow Collective pamphlets, Tenney said.
Tenney said that after she reached out to various departments at BYU to find out who was giving the direction to remove the bags, the Office of Student Life that it made the decision to remove them because they went against the church.
Asked by TODAY.com why the pamphlets were removed, BYU said in an emailed statement Friday that it "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 Office of Belonging in August 2021, saying it would “focus primarily on coordinating and enhancing belonging services and efforts on campus.” But the office did not have a physical location until Monday, Tenney said.
“It’s hard to say what they’ll do," she said of the new 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 spoke at the Utah campus about defending the doctrine of the family and marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Tenney said since the speech, she has received numerous violent threats and had to pull her contact information from BYU’s directory. She said that while she is hopeful the new Office of Belonging provide support for marginalized students, such support has yet to be seen.