Kiefer OUT Portrait.jpg
There are people at BYU who will accept and embrace who you are, as you are. Do whatever you can to find them. Hold on to them and treasure them. Tell them how important they are to you.

Kiefer H

BS Economics, '14

Describe your BYU experience:

I was a freshman at BYU the first time I was ever called a faggot. I was walking to class at 10am with sleepy eyes and head down, wearing my all-black uniform of chelsea boots and a long trench coat that was much louder than the v-neck tee and cargo shorts uniform of the other men in the student body. I remember locking eyes with the boy who said it as we passed each other on the stairs. I remember stopping mid-step, turning around and looking back, astounded that it had actually happened – I’d made it through the jocks and bullies in middle school and high school, but somehow here it was, coming from a grown 24-year-old returned Mormon missionary on a campus tied to a religion that preached love and acceptance. I went to class, but I was barely there. I was replaying that moment on the stairs in my head again and again and again, wishing I had said something to make him realize how incompatible that word was with the religion he so proudly preached.

I remember the second, the third, and the fourth times I was called a faggot on BYU campus, too – each time going through those same steps, each time letting the word hit me with no response, each time unable to retaliate for fear of losing everything – my education, my friends, my community, my religion – to a single word. After the fourth time, I lost track.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I think I always knew I was gay. Queerness wasn’t that rare: classmates came out beginning in early high school. And while there were ever-present bullies, a lot of my classmates, including most of those in my friend group, accepted it. A significant amount of my closest friends in high school later came to identify as queer. My friends, queer and non-queer, actively participated in the politics against Proposition 8, working in phone banks, joining marches in San Francisco, standing on street corners with handouts. My parents had gay friends, coworkers, and neighbors. And because queer people weren’t foreign, I noticed it in myself pretty early on. But knowing it and admitting it were two very different things.

I finally admitted that I was gay around the age of 12 – but only to myself. Due to my Mormon upbringing, I was constantly worried of disappointing my parents, worried of failing them, for being gay. I had been taught that being gay was wrong within the context of Mormonism from a very early age. Being Mormon in California, you were taught to do everything you could to be a part of the righteous community, to be a part of the Church, to follow the leadership, to be an example to the outside world – and being gay stood for the opposite of all those things. And then when I was 15, I watched as the Church actively campaigned for Proposition 8 – as members were told to volunteer to canvas, as my own family placed a “Yes on Prop 8” sign on our front lawn.

Once I received the acceptance letter to BYU, everyone in my life — my friends, my family, my classmates — simply assumed I would attend. I had been talking about it for years. My grandmother had attended college there, my parents met and fell in love there, and all of my aunts and uncles and cousins had received their educations from BYU. It was an achievement to join their ranks — yet one I secretly hoped I wouldn’t actually achieve. I wanted the decision to be made for me — I didn’t want to have the conversation with my parents about why I didn’t want to go to BYU. I didn’t want to see the look of confusion and then apprehension and then eventually understanding of why I was avoiding continuing the legacy of holding a degree from BYU.

I ended up attending, thinking I would be able to make the most of my experience, and transfer if absolutely necessary. The first few months at BYU were surprisingly blissful — I made friends, dove into my studies, skied Sundance weekly. But it wasn’t long before this happy-go-lucky, always positive, smiling, laughing, extroverted 18-year-old fell into a deep depression. There were countless days where I was unable to leave my bed in the morning. I contemplated suicide, yet knew I would never actually be able to follow through. Instead, I hoped that I would get horribly sick or land in a hospital after a bad car accident so that, once again, the decision could be made for me. I had no one to share my pain with for fear that they would figure me out and eventually report me to the Honor Code office, resulting in my expulsion. That spring, I came out to my parents, who were understanding, although scared and confused. I was breaking away from the mold and they had little knowledge of where to go next or how to handle it. At the same time, I also told them I wouldn’t be going on a mission — which I think was harder for them than my being gay.

It was around this time that I stopped attending church altogether. I was tired of hearing about how it was my absolute duty, above all else, to begin dating in order to find my eternal (female!) companion. I was tired of learning about a religion who not only ignored me, but actively hoped I simply did not exist. Queer people were a thorn in the side of both the school and Church. They willed us into submission, and ultimately silence, rather than open their arms and listen. I was hurt and exhausted and drained.

And yet, come sophomore year, I returned – when all of the other men from my freshman year were on their missions. The questions from concerned classmates began immediately: “When are you going to put in your papers?” “Why haven’t you left yet?” “Do you have a medical reason for not going?” “Is there anything I can do to help you?” I was the elephant in the room: I was a sophomore and I wasn’t on my mission – something was obviously wrong. It was alienating. I hid from classmates, sticking only to the handful of friends I had come out to, trusting they wouldn’t overreact or shun me. They kept me alive that year.

As time went on, I only felt like more of a pariah. I wasn’t comfortable sharing any aspect of my life for fear that people would ask questions and from those questions, figure out that I was gay and interpret that to mean that I was breaking the Honor Code. I actively avoided people in classes, in unfamiliar social circles, my roommates. I don’t even remember my roommates’ names from my sophomore and junior years because I did anything and everything I could to avoid them. Everyone I met on campus represented a person who might turn me in to the Honor Code office – I had plenty of friends who had never broken the Honor Code, but whose names had been submitted simply because being gay insinuated that you were breaking the rules. That meant that everyone was a threat not only to my social circles, but to my education and my goals. I became introverted, quiet, and careful. Even my studies dragged as I struggled just to keep my head above water and try to seem “normal” – as much as was possible on that campus.

And then I found “Understanding Same Gender Attraction” (USGA), a group of 9 queer people who met unofficially on campus. I attended weekly, using it as a lifeline, watching it grow from nine people to 75. I was absolutely terrified that being a part of that group would implicate me with the Honor Code office, but in that moment, I needed to make connections with others going through similar struggles. I found a respite in that group, although a temporary one. I vividly remember hearing of the hate crimes in Salt Lake City that year, where men had been savagely beaten after leaving a gay club. USGA was helpful, but also a reminder of the prison I was in. We were all stuck and depressed and suicidal. According to a survey taken that year, 74% of queer BYU students had contemplated suicide – and 24% had attempted it.

By the time I reached junior year, I had become numb. My close friends were my only ties to reality. I went through the motions of school, but had lost all desire to excel; I went onto campus only when absolutely required. I became a night owl, doing as many errands as possible after 10pm in order to avoid as many people as possible. I tried dating other gay men, although I didn’t really enjoy it. I didn’t find love or excitement – only more anxiety. I watched as friends and people I knew were dragged into the Honor Code office, and I could do nothing but hope that they would be okay, that their entire college career wouldn’t be jeopardized because they held hands with a person of the same sex or were seen hanging out with a queer friend by the wrong person. I watched as friends became more depressed, leading to addictions to alcohol or drugs or sex because they had no other outlet and no control over their own lives when they were in BYU's hands.

Things began to change my last year. I found two gay roommates, one of whom was Craig, and we lived in off-campus housing. It was one of the best decisions I made while at BYU, and one of the only reasons I was able to finish my education. I was able to freely be myself within the walls of that house, whether it was the three roommates collectively learning the choreography to Beyonce’s “Grown Woman,” or binging the entirety of Will & Grace – it was finally a place that felt like home after so many years of feeling disjointed and other and aimless. In order to feel safe, the doors remained locked and the curtains closed at all times. Craig and I dreamt of buying that house one day and turning it into a queer shelter for queer kids of Provo, just blocks from the looming campus of BYU, so they could feel this freedom we had found. We became best friends throughout those months, quietly awaiting the moment when we would finally be free to publicly live the lives that, while in Provo, we could only live within the walls of that house.

Finding freedom in that house also reduced my anxiety around dating. It was at this time that my best friend of two years became my boyfriend. We began dating, finally finding a safe space to be close with one another. He would come over to the house every single night so that we could make dinner together and have conversations that we weren’t able to have outside of that home. We would frequently meet on campus to study together or in downtown Provo to grab dinner, all the while ensuring we weren’t overly affectionate for fear of being seen as a couple, which was officially breaking the Honor Code. We made sure to never hug, or get too close to the other’s personal space, or talk about anything intimate. We were forced to appear as friends everywhere except within the boundaries of that house.

When it was finally time for graduation, I avoided the ceremonies and the celebrations. I had never felt a part of that school, of that community. I left for back home, to go back to a place where I felt I belonged, where I could be myself authentically and without fear. Receiving my diploma in the mail was like receiving the key to a jail cell. I had lived with this anxiety in the months after I left campus, worried that my diploma would be withheld because someone had mentioned my name to the Honor Code office in the last few weeks of school.

Describe your post-BYU experience:

I officially resigned from the LDS Church in 2017. I couldn’t in good conscious have my membership used as a number to convert new members after what I experienced at BYU. It was one of the healthiest decisions I have made. Distancing myself from a religion that hurt me so much allowed me to let it go.

The boyfriend I met at BYU is now my partner, and we live together in the Bay Area. We’re extraordinarily lucky that both of our respective families have not only accepted, but embraced us.

I work in marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business and pursue a passion of photography on the side. I never take for granted how lucky I am that I can be completely out as a gay man at my job.

Advice to current students:

There are people at BYU who will accept and embrace who you are, as you are. Do whatever you can to find them. Hold on to them and treasure them. Tell them how important they are to you.

Posted June 2018