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Jillian Orr bravely reveals her true colors at her graduation from notoriously homophobic Brigham Young University. Screenshot from Jillian Orr.

How You Like That

Abby Zimet

In a small act of courage at a hostile time and place for it, Jillion Orr chose to "show my true colors" - rainbow-hued, it turns out - at her graduation from Utah's Brigham Young University, the Mormon, notoriously homophobic school whose draconian rules demand students live a "chaste and virtuous life" and church leaders have proclaimed same-sex romance Satanic. Based in Provo and affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU explicitly bans queer dating or displays of affection under an unholy Honor Code that also forbids alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, presumably thong underwear and "sexual relations outside a (duh, male/female) marriage." Recent pronouncements from the largely old white men who lead the Church include a call to take up "intellectual muskets” to defend the doctrine that marriage = a man and a woman, and the charge that LGBTQ+ activism, which "comes from Satan," seeks "to confuse gender, which is eternal." BYU has reiterated those ungodly beliefs, with the feds recently ruling they can practise bigotry while taking federal money thanks to, praise the Lord, a religious exemption. To date, BYU's most visible, dazzling dissent came in 2019 from valedictorian Matt Easton, who declared at graduation, "I stand before (you) to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God. I am not broken."

Neither, it seems, is Jillion Orr, a 28-year-old psychology major and practising Mormon who halfway through her otherwise contented time at BYU fell in love with a woman, realized she was bisexual, and began to confront "the pre-conditioned shame and guilt (when) my actions and beliefs were not lining up." She stayed - the program was good, the tuition affordable - but endured grievous assignments like writing a paper on why marriage between man and woman is "God's plan" (she refused to agree). Nearing graduation and weary of "feeling I had to hide myself," she "knew I wanted to protest in a civil manner that showed we will be seen (and) recognized, that this is who I was, and it was beautiful." Fearful of getting rushed off the stage and deciding she had to be "a bit sneaky," she got her two sisters to help stitch a rainbow flag inside her graduation gown; a massive video screen caught her smilingly crossing the stage and throwing it open to the glory of God. The image went viral on social media; she also posted a Tik Tok of her making and modeling it, to the Blackpink song "How You Like That," that's gotten over three million views. Newly celebrated as a "badass" and "bisexual seamstress queen," she still faces uncertainty - BYU could revoke her degree - and the hard task of navigating a "rocky road" ahead. But having conquered her fear she is far happier: "I can finally live authentically," with both her sexuality and faith intact. "It's just sad to see that other people in the church have a limit to their love," she says, "when the church says their love is endless.” Can we get an Amen.


Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: azimet18@gmail.com

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