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As audacious and bold as demonstrations go, this one takes some beating. A group of around 40 students and allies, holding 76 flashlights, lit up Brigham Young University’s famous ‘Y’ logo on the side of Y Mountain, Utah, in rainbows last night.
The mountainside overlooks the city of Provo and the Mormon-owned university. The ‘Y’ can be seen for miles around.
The stunt took place to commemorate the date (March 4), when the university issued guidance in 2020 stating that same-sex attraction was not compatible with the university’s teachings.
RISE AND SHOUT THE COUGARS ARE OUT! pic.twitter.com/5wcFBGS6a8
— Color The Campus (@colorthecampus) March 5, 2021
A month previous to this, the university has quietly removed a passage from its ‘Honor Code’ handbook banning, “all physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” LGBTQ students took it as a sign that they were now welcome and able to hold hands or kiss on campus. Some chose to come out as a result.
However, on March 4, 2020, the university clarified that although the passage had been removed, nothing had changed. Same-sex relationships were still “not compatible” with the university’s way of life.
LGBTQ students were dismayed, and subsequently chose to mark March 4 as ‘Rainbow Day.’ They encouraged people to wear rainbows on campus to mark the university’s actions, but kept details of the Y lighting a closely-guarded secret.
On March 4th, 2020 Church Headquarters released a letter clarifying changes to the February 12th, 2020 Honor Code.
This act of negligence, betrayal, and discrimination has not been forgotten and still impacts LGBTQ+ individuals one year later. pic.twitter.com/29gYvyPzA0
— Color The Campus (@colorthecampus) February 20, 2021
Bradley Talbot, a gay student who organized Thursday’s lighting, told the Salt Lake Tribune it wasn’t meant as a protest, but as a commemoration and condemnation of the March 4 statement from BYU, and as a way of saying, “We’re here. And we’re part of this institution. We should have a place at the Y.”
— tia fights for the revolution (@tiamammamia_) March 5, 2021
“That day felt like a betrayal for a lot of LGBTQ students,” Talbot said. “It was traumatic. So this was a day for us to reclaim that and try to turn it into something positive.”
Talbot told the newspaper that the stunt had been well researched and planned, with those involved allocated a specific spot on the 380-foot tall ‘Y’, where they held flashlights. They managed to illuminate it for around an hour from 8pm onwards. Getting to the ‘Y’ had involved a one-mile hike from the nearest car park, after dark and in the cold.
Those involved did not cause any damage to the sign, and as a condition of having the ‘Y’ on the mountainside, the university has to allow public access to the land.
The stunt quickly gained attention across the city, leading Bringham Young University to take to social media to state that it was not involved with the illuminating gesture.
“BYU did not authorize the lighting of the Y tonight,” it posted to Twitter and Instagram stories. “The Y is BYU property and any form of public expression on university property requires prior approval.”
The Y is BYU property and any form of public expression on university property requires prior approval.
— BYU (@BYU) March 5, 2021
Talbot told the Salt Lake Tribune: “It’s a display. We’re not vandalizing anything. We’re not breaking the law.”
It remains to be seen whether the university will take action against the students involved.