BS Neuroscience ('15)
Describe your BYU experience
BYU was a blessing for me because it allowed me to come to the USA and study here. I always wanted to get my degree abroad, as I did not think that staying in my country (Guatemala) could provide the same type of opportunities for growth. I was aware of my sexuality when I arrived to BYU, but I saw BYU as an opportunity to "fix my life" and "never be gay again." After a semester there, I felt it necessary to go on a mission. Although I understand missions are not for everyone, I am very thankful for mine. I was called to serve in San Francisco, where, for the first time in my life, I met members of the Church who were LGBT and active. Meeting so many amazing individuals helped me see that I was not broken nor cursed, and it was thanks to their exemplary lives that I was able to accept myself and envision a future where I could also have an exemplary life. Upon returning to BYU, I decided to get fully involved in LGBT issues, and I became President of USGA. It was at USGA that I had the most rewarding experiences of my time at BYU. I made the best friends and I met the most amazing individuals. I also faced the greatest challenges: I developed heavy anxiety and depressive episodes, I was reported to the Honor Code Office under false accusations, and my grades dropped. Despite these challenges, I was able to graduate and move on with my life. I am thankful for the professors that provided a safe space for me, and for all those allies who stood by me in so many different ways.
Describe your experiences post-BYU
After graduating BYU, I worked for a year and then was accepted into a Master's of Public Health (MPH) program at Columbia University. This also meant moving out to New York City. I graduated in May of 2018 and I am now working in Public Health. My experiences at BYU showed me how very little Church leaders or University administrators actually cared about LGBT people. It also gave me first-hand experience in realizing that this lack of caring was more than just inter-personal, it was institutional and theological. I realized that I could no longer accept teaching, doctrines, or people who would treat me as inferior to others due to my sexual orientation. I decided to leave the LDS Church. Although my choice to leave the church was due to the realization that it is toxic for LGBT people, I also recognized the many historical fallacies and social missteps the Church has created, which have further confirmed my decision to leave. After leaving BYU, I also started dating a wonderful man. We became engaged in November of 2017 and will hopefully marry soon. Life is still difficult at times, but it is much better. I am glad I have lived through my life and I am happy to be where I am.
What advice or wisdom would you share with a current LGBTQ+ BYU student?
If you can get out, do it. I could not do it because I was an international student and BYU was the only school I could possibly afford. I understand there may be other non-international students who would also not be able to leave due to financial issues or other limitations. If this is you, then hang on tightly. Go to USGA. Find friends. Find people who will value you for who you are and who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated: like a human being. Refuse to believe the lies that constantly come from pulpits on campus; you know, those that insist in your inferiority, your unworthiness, or your lack of value or potential. Refute those lies as you practice self-care, surround yourself with people you love, and get out of BYU as soon as you can.
Are there any other thoughts or experiences you would like to share?
BYU's policy towards LGBT students places them at danger. LGBT people have been at BYU for decades, and they will continue to come. They will come as terrified freshmen who have never told a soul about this secret that is eating them alive. They will come as struggling individuals, teenagers, who need someone to talk to--not just anyone--but someone who has been through the same and someone who has the proper training and tools to help them. BYU needs to provide this place. Doing so can save lives, help many struggling individuals, and promote more tolerance and acceptance among students.