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LGBTQ at BYU: Alex Orton

BA Communications (’12)

Describe your BYU experience: 

I always knew I wanted to be a Cougar. My parents met at BYU, and I remember going to basketball games in the Marriott Center with my dad. He and my mom would often tell me stories of their time in Provo, and I wanted to have a similar experience. When it came time to apply to college, I didn’t really consider any other options. In hindsight, maybe part of it was wanting to make my parents proud of me.

Whatever the reason, in the summer of 2007, I packed my 1997 Nissan Altima and headed off to Rexburg for my freshman year at BYU-Idaho. After completing my first year in Rexburg, I applied to BYU and was accepted as a transfer student.

When I arrived in Provo, I viewed it as a clean slate. While I had excelled academically in Idaho, I was now a 19-year-old male who had decided not to serve a mission. Nearly every time I would introduce myself, the first thing people would say to me was, “So, when are you putting your papers in?” and I’d have to make up yet another excuse for why I was still around campus. The truth is, I really didn’t want to serve a mission. I had no desire. But I had to play the part.

Shortly after transferring to BYU, I met some great friends at my off-campus job. We would hang out outside of work. I ended up getting very close to one of them in particular. Let’s call her Jane. After about six months, I decided that if a relationship were going to work with anyone, it would probably be with her. We started dating, and eventually, she asked me a very terrifying question: “Are you gay?”

Now, growing up, I knew something was different about me. I knew that all my best friends had been female, and I knew that I fit some of the stereotypes associated with gay men. I mean, I could practically recite the entire movie “Legally Blonde” from memory. Not to mention my extensive collection of musical soundtracks. But I had never admitted to myself that I might actually be gay.

I immediately denied it and threw myself deeper into the closet. After all, being gay is a choice, right? That’s what I was raised to believe.

Fast-forward another 12 months, and we were saying “I do” in a backyard wedding in Washington State.

Describe your post-BYU experiences:

Probably unsurprising, but after a little more than three years of marriage, Jane and I were filing for divorce for “irreconcilable differences.”

The night that I finally come out to Jane in our D.C. studio apartment, I felt like my entire world was crashing down. For the previous two years, I’d been experiencing extreme depression and anxiety, and I’d reached a breaking point.

I’ll never forget her response to me: “It’s okay. I love you just the way you are.”

We ended up divorcing a few short months later, and she eventually moved to New York City. I could finally be who I was and present myself as an out gay man.

While Jane and I were able to move forward (somewhat) amicably, it was a different story for my family. It took two years of counseling and therapy to repair the relationship with my parents. And now I can say we finally have a positive relationship.

After nearly seven years of working in communications for nonprofits, foundations, and government clients, I’ve now moved out of D.C. I’m currently working as a public high school teacher and living in West Virginia with my partner of several years.

I don’t regret my decision to attend BYU. I learned many important life lessons, and more importantly, I learned who I am as a person.

Advice for current LGBTQ+ BYU students:

Follow your heart, and don’t be ashamed to be who you are. Your family will ultimately come around.

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