A former Brigham Young University student has gone viral for flashing a gay pride flag at the school that was founded and remains financially supported by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jillian Orr shared what she did on social media, in a TikTok video that has now been viewed more than 3 million times in the last three days, and in a more in-depth Facebook post, where she wrote in part, “It’s hard being gay at BYU. I didn’t know I identified as bisexual until halfway through and it’s scary to live with the fear that any moment they could take away your degree. You can’t be in a relationship unless you’re hetero and most of my classes spoke of the ‘evil’ that I was born into.”
Members of the church, also known as Mormons, follow various church teachings, including the law of chastity, which prohibits same-sex relationships and marriage outside of one between a man and a woman.
Orr told “Good Morning America” that she used to be a devout Mormon and when she decided to go back to school to further her social work career, she chose Brigham Young for its religious ties.
“I was like, ‘Oh, let's go to BYU’ because they have the best psychology program in the state. It's the most affordable for those who are LDS members. It's cheaper for those of that religion. And so I started going to that school and I actually had a positive experience,” the 28-year-old said.
“I had really good professors and it was a pleasant environment. It's a prestigious school. And then halfway through my experience, I started to discover more and more about my sexuality of being bisexual and having and falling into this relationship with this girl that I really loved,” Orr continued.
The Bluffdale, Utah, resident said she started realizing she wasn’t straight, something she said she used to think, in the spring of 2020.
“I was confident and I was proud of what I had discovered and learned about myself, but it was painful that I was in an environment that taught something that was against what I knew is true and what our basic rights were,” she said.
Orr told “GMA” she came out to her family at the time but kept her true identity hidden from others at school and in her local community. She said switching to online classes when the COVID-19 pandemic began felt like a blessing in disguise.
“It was hard to be on campus with that knowledge and knowing my lifestyle, but I wasn't even allowed to live that lifestyle outside of BYU for fear of other church members who would turn me in and so it was really a secret for just me and my family,” Orr said.
“I realized that BYU does not - it's against their policies and against their rules, their codes for homosexual individuals to act on those feelings, and to be in relationships,” she added. “And if you do, they will threaten to kick you out of the school or remove your degree from you and so it's really scary to be in that situation of potentially losing everything that you've worked for.”
Brigham Young’s honor code specifies that same-sex relationships are not permitted.
“Any same-sex romantic behavior is a violation of the principles of the Honor Code,” according to an informational page on the university’s website. In February, the U.S. Department of Education also dismissed an investigation into the school’s disciplinary procedures of LGBTQ students, saying it didn’t have the authority to do so, according to the Associated Press.
“GMA” has reached out to the school for comment but has not yet received a response. Orr said she hasn’t heard from the university since the incident yet either.
Orr said her last two semesters at the school were especially difficult and credits her sisters and girlfriend for being there for all the ups and downs.
One of Orr’s older sisters, Rachel, would go on to help her sew the rainbow pride flag on her graduation gown, and her younger sister, Hope, accompanied her to the commencement ceremony last week and captured photos for Orr while she walked across the stage, proudly displaying the flag.
“I didn't know what was gonna happen, if I was gonna be escorted off. I didn’t know if I was gonna be tackled and I mean, I am putting a lot of things at risk right now. I'm putting a lot of things on the line and I understand that,” Orr said, adding that aside from putting her undergraduate degree in jeopardy, she suspects she may receive further backlash from other Mormons and friends she used to be close with.
“It's just sad to see that other people in the church have a limit to their love when the church says their love is endless,” Orr said.
Despite the possible repercussions, Orr said overall, she is happy with her decision to come out. “It has been a super rocky road of trying to navigate everything happening and trying to identify how I will navigate how things are but honestly, I feel so much happier now and so much more free because I can finally live authentically.”
Orr, who dreams of becoming a public speaker in the future, said she hopes others in the LGBTQ community can be inspired by her defiant act. “We often let fear drive our actions … but the moment that you start making your decisions by what you feel is right and true to your heart, you are able to live a happier life. When you start running at fear and you take it down and you face your demons, that's when you recognize that it is your power and your strength and that's when you recognize that you will be freed and live such a happier life when you're authentic.”