The valedictorian of Brigham Young University’s (BYU) class of 2019 spent most of his graduation speech congratulating others, but when it was time to focus on himself, he turned heads by making a short, but bold statement: “I am proud to be a gay man of God.”
The crowd erupted in cheers when Matt Easton, a 24-year-old Mormon political science major, came out in front of his entire graduating class and others who were in attendance.
Easton said during his speech on April 26 that he came out to some of his closest family members and friends during his time at BYU, which is located in Provo, Utah, and administered by the Mormon Church.
“However, this is the first time I have publicly declared it,” Easton said. “I felt it was important to share both for myself and for the LGBTQ+ community at BYU.”
The eloquent speech went viral on social media, where LGBTQ stars like Ellen DeGeneres were joined by other celebrities including Kristin Chenoweth and Jamie Lee Curtis in heaping praise on Easton. But his words also drew attention because of the unconventional nature of a student coming out publicly at a school that continues to reject same-sex marriage and sexual activity between LGBTQ people in accordance with Mormon Church teachings.
Still, BYU officials approved his speech — even the part about coming out.
“Four years ago, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would come out to my entire college,” Easton said. “It is a phenomenal feeling and it is a victory for me in and of itself.”
The Mormon Church has signaled a willingness to evolve — at least to some degree. In April, the Church announced that children of same-sex couples would be able to be baptized and that gay couples would no longer be viewed as “apostates,” which refers to people who deviate from Mormon teachings.
But the Church still maintains deeply conservative positions regarding LGBTQ people. Same-sex marriage is described as “a serious transgression,” and the Church’s website stresses that sexual activity between people of the same sex is not only sinful but undermines “the divinely created institution of family.”
Easton did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.