Bridey Jensen is a student at Brigham Young University. She's also a lesbian. The 23-year-old knows some of her peers see these as mutually exclusive identities, but next week, she hopes to clear up any misunderstandings about what it means to be gay and a devout Latter-day Saint during a panel discussion on her Provo campus.
"Both of these things are just a fundamental part of me that I never chose," said Jensen, one of three students expected to be part of the panel. "Just because I accept [that I am gay] doesn't mean I believe in the gospel any less."
LDS Church teachings condemn sexual relationships between members of the same sex. But in recent years, the church-owned BYU has adjusted its Honor Code to allow for students who experience same-sex attraction but don't act on those feelings. The code does not impose sanctions on gay students as long as their behavior remains chaste and they don't advocate homosexual behavior.
Sociology professor Charlie Morgan is organizing the forum, set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. The event has been advertised with fliers describing it as "Everything you wanted to know about being gay at BYU but were too afraid to ask."
The event will be held in conjunction with a handful of sociology and psychology courses and has not been cleared through official channels as a public event, according to university spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.
"It's not a campus-wide event or open to the public. It's limited to the classes," she said.
The fliers seem to invite the interested public and do not specify any course listings, indicating only that it's sponsored by the sociology department and will be held in a lecture hall in the Thomas L. Martin Building. Morgan and sociology chairwoman Renata Forste did not return phone messages.
Joining Jensen on the BYU panel is Adam White, a 21-year-old theater arts major from Washington, D.C., who began telling people he is gay about a year ago.
"Talking to people about the panel, it becomes really apparent that a lot of people just don't know that there are gay people at BYU or that it's OK to be gay at BYU," White said. "There are a lot of people who still don't know how to approach this kind of conversation. Opening up this panel allows people to get a dialogue started in ways that aren't volatile. It also puts a human face to these issues."
Such a gathering likely wouldn't stir controversy on most university campuses, where discussion of divisive or complex topics is generally encouraged as an integral part of the college experience.