Portrait by Spencer Ruiz

Portrait by Spencer Ruiz

My time at BYU was very much centered around learning and accepting who I am. Everything after BYU has been about putting those learnings into action.

Zachary W

BA Graphic Design ('15)

Describe your BYU experience

My life had reached a standstill. I’d come home from my mission, jumped back into my education at a local college and was living a pretty comfortable life as closeted gay man. However “comfortable” does not make you the next Oprah, Michelle Obama, or Emma Watson (Confession: I’ve always been drawn to iconic women). So I applied to all the BYUs with the hopes of tricking at least one of them into letting me in. BYU was the first to reply, so I went.

I entered BYU as a “straight” man, which meant that while education was technically my top priority, I was also trying to find a wife in order to multiply and replenish the earth. All that changed when I discovered the internet and began meeting other men who found themselves in my same situation. I met most of them during late night trysts; a personal coming out of sorts. When I was asked if I was “out” I’d reply, “I’m just experimenting.” This went on until my “experimentations” were becoming almost a nightly ritual. This was the pivotal moment when I first came out to myself. This self acceptance led me to try and turn my late night rendezvous into something more meaningful and start trying to date, an effort that led to even more disappointment. I decided to cast my ‘dating net’ north to SLC.

While exploring this new pool, I met a handsome and charismatic man I later learned was a fabulous drag queen. My love for clubs, nightlife, and entertainment blossomed from there. I would go see my queen perform every weekend. Escaping my bubble of prove and getting my gay on in the CLURB, OKKKKKKAYYYY!

As fantastic and wonderful as my double life had become, I was still enrolled at BYU. Everything I was learning about gay culture and being a gay man was coming from my nights in Salt Lake City. What was I supposed to do when I returned to the bubble? I needed to rethink my home base, as I was still living as a ‘straight man” with straight (but amazing) men. Welcome to my “gay house” chapter. An acquaintance informed me of an open room in an apartment where all the roommates were openly gay men (or as open as one could be in Provo/Orem Utah). I jumped at this opportunity to find my tribe. I made lifelong friends in this gay house, and even end up moving and creating my own gay house. Very good and memorable times were had meeting and exploring life with my new tribe.

Back at BYU, I had landed a job as a graphic designer for the closet thing to the Honor Code I could find, BYUSA. Maybe I’m intrigued by playing with fire, but this job was another pivotal moments in my career life, as I gained many life experiences and portfolio building projects. I still had to protect my rainbow flag from flying all over the BYUSA office, I never forgot who I was at my core. A person who loves people, making beautiful things, and being involved.  I thrived while working for the BYUSA because I had a job that gave me purpose and made me happy. And just between us, I had a project about the Honor Code, where I used one of my ‘gay house; roommates as a model. Humor was a big helper in getting through my time at BYU.

My design professor was my ultimate champion. After dropping out of BYU (before finishing my degree), working at my ‘dream job,’ then realizing it was anything but, this professor reopened the gates of opportunity to me and helped me finish my degree, finalizing setting me up with an internship in NYC. I no long attended church, although my name is still on record (bless my parents and the many phones calls they ignore asking about my current location). I am out to everyone in my family, but because they are all still very active my relationship with them is very “don’t ask don’t tell." I hope that one day they will accept all aspects of my life and not just the ones they want to focus on.

Advice to current LGBTQ+ BYU students

Use BYU as an opportunity to find your allies within the staff/faculty and students, cultivate a habit of hard work, and enjoy all the resources the campus provides (for me that was the library, Print Lab, and the BFA studio).

Anything else you’d like to share

My time at BYU was very much centered around learning and accepting who I am. Everything after BYU has been about putting those learnings into action. Overall I would say that my biggest take away from BYU would be to be kind to everyone and work hard.

Posted May 2018