Mormon-owned Brigham Young University has eased its punitive policy on gay students, a small but significant change one student said would help to relax a "Gestapo atmosphere" on campus.
Prompted by gay BYU students, the university last week changed its honor code to read, "Sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity," the Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday.
Previously, the code read, "Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature . . . violate the Honor Code."
Staff and students at the school owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are expected to follow the code or risk probation or, in rare cases, "separation from the university."
Last year, a BYU philosophy instructor who wrote a pro-gay newspaper editorial saw his teaching contract lapse as a result.
The code has long been a target of Soulforce, the Virginia nonprofit that tours the country to end religious discrimination against LGBT people, and Soulforce activists were quick Tuesday to praise the change.
"The words are still violent toward the LGBT community, but it's no longer hush-hush," Soulforce media director Brandon Kneefel told Gay.com. "The ambiguity was the most harmful thing."
At some schools where Soulforce protests, closeted students have been expelled simply for having gay content on their social-networking pages. It's important, Kneefel said, that BYU now names sexual orientation as real and intrinsic. "They used to say, 'We have counselors, we have help for you.'
"Because what is 'homosexual behavior'? To realize their discrimination, they first have to spell it out."
Last year, the group held a mock funeral at BYU's Provo, Utah campus -- followed by 24 arrests -- for students who have committed suicide out of anguish over their sexuality.
BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins told the Tribune that the policy change was not related to Soulforce.
Nick Literski, a gay blogger and BYU alumnus, told the paper that it reflected "a growing disconnect between homosexuality and what individual members are coming to see. As more and more members of the LDS Church are coming to know individuals who are gay and finding out that they're human . . . it becomes difficult for them to demonize homosexuality the way the church positions do."
Equality Ride activists were scheduled to hold further actions Tuesday in Idaho, Kneefel said. Instead, to respect the national mourning of the Virginia Tech shooting victims, they did community service, helping clean up and restore a local nature area.