Audience Response to BYU Valedictorian Coming Out as Gay During Commencement Speech Was 'Heartening to See,' Student Says

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Students at Brigham Young University are staging a sit-in on Friday to continue advocating for reforms to the Honor Code Office. Google Maps

During his commencement speech at Brigham Young University's graduation on April 26, political science valedictorian Matt Easton told the audience he was gay.

While that might not warrant a blink at some colleges, at Brigham Young University (BYU), which was founded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the atmosphere has historically not been accepting of nontraditional orientations.

Students at BYU must abide by an honor code, and failing to do so can result in expulsion. The honor code does not prohibit homosexual feelings or attraction, so students can state their same-gender attraction, but homosexual behavior is "inappropriate," as stated on the university's website, and violates the honor code.

For one BYU junior, who identifies as lesbian and asked to remain anonymous for this story, Easton's speech was a moving moment not only because of his admission but also the audience's reaction.

"I think it's such an important thing to say, and really brave, too. It was a powerful statement, and the reaction from the audience—the applause and cheers—was heartening to see," the student told Newsweek. "I think a lot of the students at BYU are ready for change and trying to push the administration forward. I hope that his message helps any LGBT+ at BYU who feels alone."

Easton focused his speech on the "small victories" he achieved at BYU. The first two experiences Easton described were being pulled to the ground by a deer, and his mother being in the audience three years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Easton's third victory required him to fight and battle in prayer with his maker. Through the pain, Easton said, he triumphed by coming to terms with who the "Lord has made me to be" instead of who he thought he should be.

"As such, I stand before my family, friends and graduating class to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God," Easton said.

Following his statement, the audience clapped and cheered before the college senior continued.

"I am not broken," Easton told the audience. "I am loved and important to the plan of our great Creator; each of us are."

One Twitter user, Darz with the Starz, who posted on the social media site that she was in the audience at the convocation, wrote that "the spirit he spoke with was completely tender and inspired for this moment."

Easton posted on his own Twitter that he was "overwhelmed" by the positive support he received.

Another confession Easton made was that four years ago, as a freshman on campus, he couldn't imagine coming out in front of his entire college. Doing so, he said, was a "phenomenal feeling" and another victory.

"Perhaps there are those of you here today who are afraid or uncertain with how to deal with the unique challenges that you face," Easton told the audience. "I hope that my stories can serve as a reminder that BYU has given us the foundation to face difficult problems, both secular and spiritual."

He concluded his speech with the reminder that every one of the graduates was important and had victories worth celebrating.