Profile in Courage: Matt Easton

Watch this video of Matt Easton, valedictorian of the Political Science Department, giving the convocation speech for BYU graduation in the Marriott Center and announcing, “I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God.” 

“I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God. [cheers] I am not broken. I am loved and important in the plan our Great Creator.”

“Four years ago, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would come out to my entire college. It is a phenomenal feeling.”

The whole speech is wonderful and worth a watch. (The homebrew phone production values can be forgiven for how tender it is to hear the voice of the camerawoman–I assume his sister?–bursting with pride saying to a small child, “Is that uncle Matty?”)

His faculty adviser, Prof. John B. Holbein, gave a lovely and supportive tribute on Twitter:

Rise and shout, Cougars. This is a joyful and proud day for BYU.

Comments

  1. This inspiring and beautiful. We are not broken. God knows. One day keys may be used to open the doors of love. Thank you Brother Easton. Thank you Cynthia for the report.

  2. Profiles in courage.

  3. It’s interesting to see how, in the absence of official theologies of sexual difference, the younger generations of Church members are articulating their own. On the one hand, it’s sometimes nice to have lacunae untouched by authorities’ hands; on the other, it seems like, on these issues, they might lose control of the narratives they don’t tell.

  4. absolutely amazing. when my brother John was a gay BYU student in 1970, there was no place for him. i love the shifts in history, driven largely by brave people like Matt Easton and those who have gone before. Sam Dylan Clayton, for instance, the first openly gay man to graduate from BYU

  5. Bravo!

  6. In 1970 saying something like that would be exceptionally brave; when the majority response from the public is going to be a giant pat on the back, it’s not clear that courage is necessary. Maybe there was courage involved, or maybe it’s virtue-signaling, or attention-seeking, or maybe it’s neutral. If he’s valedictorian at BYU I’m sure he’s a great guy; in our current climate though assuming a statement like that is courageous seems unwarranted.

  7. Well, that is certainly one take, Steve LHJ.

  8. Well done. It seems courageous given that just 4 weeks ago the exclusion policy was still in place and in theory his membership record would be notated to alert future bishops be was gay. Also courageous because- not sure if this type of speech is prescreened at BYU – but his mic could have been cut off. Just this week my stake president reminded me that if someone comes out in sacrament meeting we are to shut off the mic.

  9. What a transcendent young man. Hour he becomes the first gay — and married — General Authority.

  10. The speeches must be pre-approved, and this one was. But yes, it does call to mind the terrible way 12-year-old Savannah was treated when she came out at the pulpit.

  11. Great young man. An example of the thoughtful nature of today’s youth.

  12. I don’t this man well ( I graduated a couple years ago and I believe we had a couple classes together), and I won’t speak for him about his motivations, but even today at BYU this takes nerve today especially so publicly. I attended both BYU-I and BYU and on multiplied of occasions I heard people express levels of homophobia that shocked me. Everything from casually used slurs to “those people” aren’t welcome here and we should do something to about the “situation”. I have friends who did not come out fully until after they graduated from fear. I have a social science degree and my department the envelope on a lot of topics, but sexual orientation was rarely discussed, because Professors and TA (I was one for four semesters) know that the administration would likely stand with student complaints about “inappropriate discussions”. There is no officially/sponsored alliance on campus, though there was one endorsed event LGBTQ+ about topics during my time at BYU. Also, I would bet all the money my account that he will get negative consequences from this. In 2019 should this should not be remarkable, but at BYU where it is still a mostly taboo topic (I’m stunned this was approved) it is definitely is.

  13. To Steve LJH’s point, the BYU Honor Code still includes:

    “Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

    In other words, gay students can still be expelled for holding hands, hugging, and similar behavior that would never be a problem for straight students. It is absurd to say that it didn’t take courage just because most of the rest of society outside BYU is accepting. Even in the rest of society, it’s hardly all rainbows and roses. There are many states where it is legal for an employer to fire an employee for being gay. The Supreme Court is expected to rule shortly on a case that would affirm the constitutionality of leaving gays unprotected from employment and housing discrimination.

  14. Bob Powelson says:

    Now, I have two removals of a contrary comment on this thread. Is being opposed to gay conduct a crime?

  15. Bob, if you have insightful commentary that is virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, feel free to add it at any time. Trite rhetorical grenades that do nothing to enlighten others or enrich discussion will continue to be deleted.

  16. GEOFF -AUS says:

    Is it significant that he waited to graduate to come out?
    We are having a federal election here, and one of the trends is to get rid of every politician who opposed legalizing gay marriage. There is even an ex prime minister who has a margin of 15.3%, who may go. Those who oppose gay marriage, usually are anti muslim, and anti climate change, and want immigration reduced, and racist.
    We had for our priesthood lesson today Elder Oaks talk about thinking about the consequences of our actions. One of the consequences of our opposing gay marriage is that we are in bed with racists and haters. Of course we could not discuss politics and consequences of our vote in priesthood.

  17. Geoff, I would be very surprised if he wasn’t already out to those who know him well, but obviously this is a much wider audience than that.

  18. Bob, I would also point out that all BYU valedictorian speeches must have their full text submitted and approved in advance, and his was, so you’ll have a very hard time arguing that Easton or our support of him here are against doctrine or theology.

  19. How can there be negative consequences if his speech was pre-approved?

  20. People like Bob making his life miserable?

  21. Taking a HUGE risk in submitting it for pre-approval, that he might be denied and possibly his opportunity to speak at all rescinded, and worst case his valedictorian status rescinded too?

  22. “you’ll have a very hard time arguing that Easton or our support of him here are against doctrine or theology.” Right… he is theologically sound, pre-approved, following well established social norms/trends, and almost definitely knows that anyone who says anything negative about him will get DESTROYED on social media. Sure, it takes bravery to say this, but public speaking is scary for most people, so saying ANYTHING to a large crowd takes some bravery. If this had been something he left out of his pre-approved speech and he threw it in anyway, then THAT would have been an act of noteworthy bravery. But asking for permission to say something, being told it was fine to go ahead and say it, and then having the “bravery” to say it??? Not that remarkable.

    Note: what he said (the text) was noteworthy and deserves attention/discussion… just not the “bravery” to say it.

  23. Funny how all our commenters who:
    — oppose any and all progress on LGBTQ rights or acceptance (in society or in the church),
    — believe gays are an existential threat to families and civilization,
    — would strenuously oppose any school district’s plans to tell their kids that gays exist and there’s nothing wrong with that

    are the exact same commenters now falling all over themselves to say that nothing could be more normal or obviously universally welcomed than a BYU student announcing that he’s gay and there’s nothing wrong with that to an audience of many thousands, including many many children of all ages.

    What’s up with that, guys?

  24. I think that those who doubt whether it required courage to do this do not really understand BYU’s culture. Coming out as proudly gay in a BYU convocation speech is not very different from coming out in a sacrament meeting talk. Of course, defining one’s identity like this in a public forum takes courage anywhere, even in places that are sympathetic to gay identity. It is a major personal decision. But this man has done so in a place where it is absolutely against the grain. To a great many people at BYU and in the Church who will resent him or fear him or even just see him as different and weird, it will not matter that his speech was approved by authorities or that he has support on social media. This is a courageous man. It seems petty to question that.

  25. Truckers Atlas says:

    Cynthia, count me among the commenters who see Easton’s act as something unremarkable. I also happen to support gay marriage wholeheartedly. I applaud Easton for proudly announcing who he is, but I see your post as over-celebratory and emblematic of the no-risk activism common among progressive Mormons re: LGBT rights. When it comes to BCC in specific, I recall many OPs in the past denouncing the 2015 POX, but I also recall BCC quickly pulling/editing the one post that asserted that President Nelson was cruel for having endorsed such a policy.

  26. Lol at people who nickel-and-dime praise and admiration. It’s ok to “applaud” but not to link to a video of a speech and call the speech “wonderful”? Look, I’d rather err on the side of being generous with praise.

    And, you know, I didn’t even include the viral tweet with the most effusive praise in my post! If you want real “over-celebratory,” try this: https://twitter.com/cIickbaitwhore/status/1121835632739774464

  27. I assume it’s both courage and a bit of baiting. He’s polisci? What a great way to make a statement and become a paid activist. If he were to get reprimanded — and wouldn’t the honor code haters love the news if they likely pull his diploma, he becomes more famous and lands a great activitist job. And if nothing happens? Well people fall all over himself, assuring the same result.

    Courage? Ya maybe, but for a calculating man it’s a win win. And he’s polisci, so it’s clear he calculates and knows how to make a statement. His professor seems interesting too…

    Truth. He’s not gay. He’s a son of God, who’s just wrong about what is identity really is. No lasting happiness will come down this path of identifying as gay. But we all get to make our mistakes. Sad he wants to publish his as virtues for emulation.

    And no, I’m not saying he’s a terrible guy, nor that anyone else here is. I have every reason to suspect that he’s hoping for the best for his fellow man and so are many others here. On this essential issue, many of you just like him are just wrong.

  28. I’m glad I read your comment, Len, before they delete it. It’s no longer tolerated here saying that there’s anything wrong with being gay.

  29. Profile in Courage: Lcn

  30. Hey; Billy Bob Powelson, LCN, my cousin Ernie (if he is reading) and all the rest of your ink:

    Show some courage and put your money where your mouth is. (All right, your keyboard dancing fingers.) Don’t pay no tuition at BYU- by forbidding your dependents from attending that newly liberal bastion. Don’t make no tithing donations to supporting institutions including the church, formerly known as Mormon (which causeth the devil to laugh).

    This is really gonna hurt. Don’t support BYU football. No watching games or pouting when they lose. The Lord will not bless their bowl prospects after this wickedness, mark my words; 2-10 this year.

  31. How much do y’all think activists get paid? I take it you’ve never done activist work? Or maybe conservative activism pays far better that liberal activism (especially liberal Mormon activism)? (This I would actually believe.)

  32. Guenevere Nelson-Melby says:

    I don’t really understand the hostility I am sensing here in the comments. The words are to the effect that it wasn’t really brave for him to do this, but the subtext is really angry. What is anger-inducing about this act?

  33. Lcn, Roy, Anon and others think telling gay people to shut up and get back in the closet is courageous.

    Their words tell us something about them, but little about Easton, except why he needed to say what he did.

  34. Speaking for myself, there is no anger. Just because we disagree does not mean we are angry; just have a different opinion.

  35. A lot of these commenters are making me very glad I resigned from the church. I wouldn’t want to be associated with your bigotry. Christ was subversive and radically inclusive. Too bad his followers are not.

  36. Wow, Cynthia. I’m sorry you got this train wreck of a thread. I think you nailed it with your comment about how everyone who likes to fight tooth and nail against any idea of gay rights is now also aggressively unimpressed with Easton’s courage in coming out in such public way. It’s almost like, even as they numerically dominate the church, such people are also now doubting their ability to make gay people’s lives miserable. I guess maybe that’s a hopeful sign?

  37. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Too often in public discourse, the issue of being gay is discussed as one of two extremes. I think the Church is trying to establish another option. In my personal interpretation of Easton’s comments he is aligning himself with that third option. He is saying he is gay. (feels same gender attraction). He is not saying he is against the church, for gay marriage, looking for a boyfriend. Too many assume that if he is out he is aligning himself with all those who are for gay marriage, etc. While others think that if he wants a place in the church he should stay in the closet and not make waves.

    I think the Church’s (and I think Easton’s??)position is that it is OK to be gay and out in the church. There is a place in the church for all those who are trying to live the gospel. I think we need more like him to give others a positive example of how that is supposed to work.

    Did I miss something? Am I putting words in his mouth?

  38. Ziiff, if you think this is a train wreck, you should see the comments we deleted! One *literally* busted out the ol’ “Adam & Eve, not Adam and Steve” chestnut. It’s like Poe’s Law threw up in here.

  39. The Other Brother, I don’t think we can know for certain based one way or the other about his future plans (celibacy in the church, or other options), just based on what he said in the speech. But I think what you’re suggesting is not inconsistent with his words. It’s also worth noting that everyone, gay or straight, can change their church observance plans any time, *in both directions*. Elder Christofferson’s gay brother Tom Chirstofferson was gay married for decades, and then decided to go the celibate route and got rebaptized. Lots and lots (and lots) of gay folks in mixed-orientation marriages change their minds about that later.

  40. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Cynthia. Too true. Since he was not speaking openly to one of the two extremes I mentioned, I guess I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. (or putting words in his mouth). But I think my main point still stands. The Church is carving out a position that is not at either extreme. We can debate whether it is in the middle or not, but both extremes seem fairly hateful a lot of the time, and the church is trying not to be.

  41. I teach at BYU. My children attend BYU. One of my children didn’t come out to me until after they graduated because they didn’t want to put me in the bind of protecting them at the cost of violating the “Honor Code.” This was recent.

    Another of my children has been in several classes with Matt Easton. My child didn’t know Matt was gay. And this child hasn’t seen Matt at the places that many LGBT go for a sense of safe community. So Matt wasn’t blatantly ‘out’ as some assume.

    In my imperfect attempts to show forth Christ-like charity in class, I make my classes a safe space for discussing challenges. And my college is one of the most conservative on campus, “not a bastion of climate worshipping, baby killing libtards.” The typical middle aged white guy in my class tends to take a “move along, nothing to see here” approach. While women and people of color frequently have stories of insensitivity or outright harassment. Though I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of students, never once has someone who is LGBT speak openly. BYU is NOT a safe place if you don’t fit the mold. If you vary from the male, white, upper middle class, multi-generational Mormon you will have your divine worth challenged at some point. I love the school. I love the Church. But the institution has a long way to go before it is a hospital for the Savior’s wounded.

  42. Why would I stop paying tithing? Thanks for giving me the chance to share what’s true. The church is the kingdom of God in the Earth. I’ve freely given many resources directly to individuals, I knew would make bad decisions with it, because I try to esteem them as myself. I have literally come to know God from this. He’s testified to me personally of his Son. So why on Earth, would I stop paying tithing to God’s kingdom because someone in it is wrong?

    You think I care about the money more than my love for God and my fellow man? Whomever would go straight to thinking about tithing reveals the love that is in their heart, not mine.

    God has blessed me though freely giving to know the true way to receive him. I don’t calculate like an activist with my tithes and offerings. My heart is changed through the giving regardless of what the receiver does with that opportunity.

    This brother is just sadly mistaken about his true identity. I’m sure he knows part of the truth, that we are God’s children. But he’s in the path of making a wrong turn down a strange road after partaking of the fruit.

  43. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thank you, Matt, for your authenticity and vulnerability. When I first heard of your speech, I hoped it would be unremarkable, but the comments here and elsewhere have shown that you were brave indeed to share so much.

    Thanks again and I wish you the best in starting a career and your continued discipleship.

  44. For this and many other discussions: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” —James Baldwin

  45. This does seem very brave and I’m sure was nerve-wracking for him. What GA’s were in attendance that day? Do we know? I have heard that some of them seem a bit more kind compared to others on this issue. I think about someone coming out in front of President Oaks or Elder Bednar and I don’t see that going well. Perhaps I underestimate them, but that’s the impression I get. I think he risked a lot coming out at a BYU commencement.
    I wish him the best in his future endeavors whatever they may be.

  46. Eric D. Snider says:

    Go read the comments on the Daily Herald’s reprint of the AP story about this and tell me how “not courageous” it was.

  47. Yuuup, Eric.