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Matthew Jelalian: Let’s not get triggered by one gay speech

May 5, 2019

Everyone has probably heard of Matt Easton by now. If you haven’t, he’s the BYU graduate who gave the now-viral valedictorian speech where he declared that he was “proud to be a gay son of God.”

If you haven’t seen the speech, I would recommend listening to it. The whole thing is on his YouTube channel. I highly recommend you listen to the talk. This kid might not be Arthur Brooks but he’s still pretty impressive.

Besides, the whole speech is six minutes long. Despite Easton’s short delivery, his speech’s impact is large and far-reaching. Every time I think this local is about to settle, suddenly a new group of stories crop up about it.

And the discussions are all the same. I swear it’s as if two opposing think tanks built a program to have thousands of bots comment the same thing on every one of these stories.

So, in the spirit of not repeating myself, I decided to put all of my thoughts down here so I don’t have to rehash the same thing every time someone decides to rehash the same arguments about this man’s speech.

There are three basic arguments I’ve heard about why it was a bad speech.

First, the fact that he chose to mention that he was gay made the speech about him and he was selfish to do that. Who has ever heard a graduation speech that wasn’t about them? Or at least partially about them? Who has never heard someone mention their spouse or a dearly departed relative or their roomies during a graduation speech?

That’s the point of these speeches. You’re supposed to draw from your experiences to make greater points that those around you can relate to.

Sure you might not be gay, but have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? I know I felt out of place when I attended BYU. Up until I got married, my roommate was a UVU student who I’ve known for years. And my wife was at UVU at the time I met her. Try as I might, I never felt like I was ever really part of BYU’s culture. But I’d hate to make this op-ed about me.

Also, this line of thinking presupposes that there are no other LGBT students graduating alongside Easton. Do you think they felt like he was making it about him? They were probably grateful to know they weren’t alone.

For all we know, his speech could have had a very real “leaving the ninety and nine and reaching out to the one” effect.

The only way he could possibly be making his talk about him is if you assume that nobody else in that room was gay and that everyone felt like they belonged all of the time. Anything short of that, there’s a lesson to draw from his life experience as a student at BYU.

Second, his speech wasn’t the time or the place for a talk about sexuality. My first question when I hear this line is, when would be the right time? I assume most would say that if he wanted to come out he should have done so privately to his close friends and family. But why?

Do we expect the straight person not to mention their spouse because we don’t want to know what he or she does in the bedroom? Do we expect the single person to avoid saying they’re single?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an official website called “Mormon and Gay.” It very much encourages homosexual members that there is a place for them in the church. All Easton did was reaffirm that that teaching applies to everyone. It’s really that simple.

If we’re going to say a gay man can’t even do something as simple as repeat gospel truths to fellow believers, how can we really pretend that we really think there’s an appropriate time to come out?

At what point are we really just saying, “I’m OK with gay people in theory, just not in practice.”

Third, why should I care about this? Isn’t it a personal matter? If you’re a Latter-day Saint, you should care that everyone understands that God’s plan includes them and they should be part of it. That alone should make you cheer anytime someone says “I’m an X child of God.”

If you live in Utah, or anywhere else, you should care because our society depends on you learning how to live with others. For good and for bad, we live in a pluralistic society. It’s not enough to theoretically recognize that different kinds of people exist. We have to learn how to actively allow people to exist in the same spaces we are in. Especially when we have conflicting interests.

We need to think less about safe spaces and more about the marketplace of ideas. If this is hard to swallow, just remember, Easton’s speech was pre-approved before he gave it. And if BYU, a school that, for no good reason, stubbornly refused to sell caffeine since time immemorial, is cool with Easton’s speech, maybe you should be too.