The valedictorian at Brigham Young University, a conservative university affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came out as gay in his commencement speech, saying he is “proud to be a gay son of God.”
In his speech, Matt Easton, a political science major, congratulated his classmates on their achievement, reflecting on those who overcame odds or obstacles in their lives, and recounting some of his personal victories, including surviving hernia surgery following a car accident and dealing with his mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis.
“It was in these quiet moments of pain and confusion that I felt another triumph, that of coming to terms, not with who I thought I should be, but who the Lord has made me,” Easton said. “As such, I stand before my family, friends and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God.”
The audience cheered and applauded Easton, who later told the Salt Lake Tribune that coming out was “a phenomenal feeling, and it is a victory for me in and of itself.”
Easton later share several clips of his speech on Twitter, saying he had already come out to his closest friends and family, but felt it was important to share his story publicly, both for himself and for other LGBTQ students at BYU.
BYU is known for urging its students to adhere to the tenets of the Mormon faith, which has not always been accepting towards the LGBTQ community.
BYU’s Honor Code Office has been criticized for investigating and punishing students, particularly LGBTQ ones, who they believe have violated the school’s code of conduct.
Last year, a transgender student was told he had to decide between pursuing gender confirmation surgery or remaining enrolled at school, based on the LDS Church’s beliefs that gender is fixed and immutable.
In February, Charlie Bird, who previously played BYU’s mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, came out, saying that when he was at BYU, he felt he had been forced to wear a “mask” by hiding his sexual orientation.
The LDS Church only recently reversed its policy deeming same-sex married couples “apostates” and barring their children from being baptized into the faith.
Easton says he’s received a lot of support from people close to him and from social media users who praised his speech and his bravery in coming out.
One of the people who showed him support was actress Kristin Chenoweth, who tweeted: “I’m very proud of you. As a straight Christian woman, i stand beside you!! I say to you: YOU ARE LOVED!!!!!”
I’m very proud of you. As a straight Christian woman, i stand beside you!! I say to you: YOU ARE LOVED!!!!! https://t.co/m5rl1zVnxR
— Kristin Chenoweth (@KChenoweth) April 28, 2019
He also said he feels lucky that BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Science allowed him to share his “authentic and vulnerable self” with so many people.
“While I don’t speak for everyone — my own experience is all I can vouch for — I hope that people know that we ARE here at BYU, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” Easton tweeted.
While I don’t speak for everyone—my own experience is all I can vouch for—I hope that people know that we ARE here at BYU, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
— Matty Easton (@easton_matty) April 27, 2019
See video of Easton’s speech below: