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BYU student unveils rainbow flag inside graduation gown protesting school's anti-LGBTQ policies

Jillian Orr realized she was bisexual halfway through her diploma at BYU and the school is homophobic.

BYU student unveils rainbow flag inside graduation gown protesting school's anti-LGBTQ policies
Image source: Facebook/jillianroseorr

Jillian Orr, a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, made a bold statement after revealing a rainbow flag inside her gown on stage during the graduation ceremony. Orr is bisexual and her university is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and prohibits LGBTQ students from dating or showing signs of affection while enrolled at the university. LGBTQ students face the risk of being disenrolled if they were to express themselves. Jillian Orr sent a strong message after collecting her diploma and then unveiling the rainbow flag stitched into the insides of the gown, reported TODAY. The graduation ceremony was being shown on a large screen and the moment made it to the screen as well. It was her older sister who had helped stitch the rainbow flag onto the insides of her gown. 


"Today I showed BYU my true colors. It’s hard being gay at BYU. 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. Today I took a chance and sent a message to other students — you can make it too! Be authentic, brave, and unapologetically you!" she wrote on Facebook. The 28-year-old said that she had been raised in the Mormon Church and had even served an 18-month church mission in Oregon. She came from a very orthodox background and it blocked her from realizing her true self. It wasn't until she was halfway through her diploma at BYU that she realized she was bisexual. “I started to realize my actions and beliefs were not lining up and there was a lot of preconditioned shame and guilt around it,” she said. “But I came to the realization that this is who I was and it was beautiful.”


Orr said she chose BYU because of its strong psychology program and affordable tuition. Orr said the pandemic proved to be a blessing in disguise as she got to complete her last two semesters of school virtually. She noted that the university also incorporates homophobia into its programs. In one specific incident, she recalled taking a class about marriage and family to fulfill her general education requirements. One question of the quiz from the class asked, ‘One who truly loves LGBTQ people will ______," leaving students to fill in the blanks. Among the options, she chose "Love them unconditionally and accept whatever they want as what's best for them" only to be told the answer was wrong. She also shared the quiz on TikTok and called it the most “homophobic thing I’ve seen at BYU.”


Orr's older sister asked her what she planned to wear for her graduation ceremony and suggested the idea of wearing a flag on the inside of the gown. “She knew I wanted to honor what I’d been through and what I had to face,” she said. Her sister helped stitch the flag in her gown and Orr posted a video of it on TikTok with the onscreen text reading: "At BYU, it's against the honor code to be in a homosexual relationship. If you are discovered to be dating, or just holding hands, there are severe consequences. They threaten to take away your degree and kick you out of the university. Students are afraid to be who they are. So they hide out of fear until they get out. I will be seen in front of the whole school."


Orr's other sister drove to Montana for the ceremony after being let in on the plan. Orr revealed she was nervous as she walked to the stage. “I could see the rows in front of me go. Five rows left, four rows left, three rows left,” she said. She can't remember much after handing her name card to the announcer. She went on stage, raised her hands and revealed the rainbow flag underneath her gown as the announcer read her name. “I swear I blacked out. I texted my sister and said, ‘What happened? Did I just do it?’” she recalled. She shared the images on Facebook. It went viral immediately, garnering more than 15,000 likes. 


The 28-year-old is hoping her act can inspire others to express themselves. “I hope that they recognize that the sooner they live their life authentically, the sooner they can tap into true happiness,” she said. “The faster you do the scary thing, the sooner you can be free.”

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