“Commonplace at most universities, but BYU?”
That was the hate-baiting question far-right Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) posed in a tweet about a professor at Brigham Young University who shared with her students the fact that she has a transgender child.
A hateful chorus of online bullying soon followed.
One reply urged the Mormon-owned university to “send her packing.… Maybe she took too many pills while pregnant.”
Another read: “The woke/Satan mind virus has been allowed to take over/infiltrate BYU.”
A third said the headline should be changed to “former BYU professor speaks.”
Lee’s target was Brigham Young family life professor Sarah Coyne, who teaches a required course at the school on “eternal marriage.”
A critical article, which appeared in the conservative, student-run Cougar Chronicle, called out Coyne for mentioning that she has an eight-year-old transgender child, something Coyne has done consistently in her lecture, with intention, for several years.
“Trans kids have been villainized on a really awful level,” Coyne told The Salt Lake Tribune. Families like hers “have become a political story when we are just trying to live.”
A student-led petition has earned hundreds of signatures backing the professor.
Coyne expressed her support for the church and “her love of the Savior,” said George Eppel, a sophomore at BYU and one of the petition organizers. “I don’t think anyone could doubt that she’s a dedicated believer.”
In her lecture, Coyne presented data that suggests “being religious can be better for queer students than not being,” recalled Eppel, “depending on how they’re received.”
Class discussion then turned to specific ways church members could help LGBTQ+ students feel a sense of belonging among fellow Mormons. “She shared local resources for queer people.”
At the finish, Coyne talked about her transgender child as an example of why Latter-day Saints need to be compassionate.
She “has seen that need to belong in her own family,” Eppel recounted, “and the pain that comes when that hasn’t been achieved.”
Coyne didn’t “promote transitioning or any other practice that was contrary to what the church teaches,” Eppel wrote in the petition, “but instead focused on the mental and emotional pain and difficulty that have come with her child’s experience.”
According to Coyne and Eppel, that focus aligns with church teaching. A BYU spokesperson agreed.
“Class discussions about LGBTQ issues are accepted as long as they do not contradict church doctrine or disparage church leaders,” Carri Jenkins wrote in a statement. “More generally, while our students are studying and learning at BYU, we want them to feel both the love of the Savior and the joy associated with living his commandments as part of a covenant-keeping community. Faculty have a responsibility to teach both of these messages.”
In a highly politicized climate, Jenkins wrote, “When concerns do come forward, the university listens to faculty to make sure their perspective and voices are heard.”
Despite the supportive language, Mormon doctrine and the educational guidelines that follow are explicit that members not adhering to a strict male-female binary are not worthy of full church membership.
Members who transition to the “opposite gender” or who “socially transition” will “experience some church membership restrictions,” reads the Latter-day Saints’ General Handbook.
God created humans as male and female, who are defined by “biological sex at birth,” Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, told a gathering of high-ranking Church officials in 2019. “Binary creation is essential to the plan of salvation.”