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SUU students demand removal of LDS apostle Holland from commencement speech

“We are delighted to welcome Elder Holland as our commencement speaker this year,” Southern Utah University President Mindy Benson announced to the school’s graduating class. “His southern Utah roots and dedication to education and learning are timely as we wrap up our 125th anniversary year. His address will offer inspiration to our graduates to embrace lifelong learning and give back to their communities as they leave SUU and continue to build their lives.”

Many students, especially those who are LGBTQ, are not so “delighted.” They created an online petition to have the apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints removed as speaker.

“Jeffery R. Holland is a leader in the LDS church that has openly opposed LGBTQ+ individuals by calling for ‘musket fire’ toward the community. He has further disregarded the achievements of LGBTQ+ individuals within his own community and opposed the recent statements of the LDS church in regard to accepting LGBTQ+ individuals,” the petition reads. “Including Holland in the Commencement proceedings of SUU would fail to serve the student body, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community and students who do not follow the religious teachings of the LDS church.”

Holland was born and raised in nearby St. George, Utah, and was president of Brigham Young University through the 1980s. He’s been a member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1994, making him the fourth-most senior apostle.

At an address to Brigham Young University staff, Holland told a story of now-president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Dallin Oaks, who retorted “I would like to hear a little more musket fire from this temple of learning” during a discussion of the church’s doctrine of the family and defending marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Holland went on to elaborate about what he called the “metaphor” of “musket fire.”

“Musket fire? Yes, we will always need defenders of the faith,” he said. “My Brethren have made the case for the metaphor of musket fire, which I have endorsed yet again today. There will continue to be those who oppose our teachings, and with that will continue the need to define, document, and defend the faith.”

Holland also talked of students and parents being “confused about what so much recent flag-waving and parade-holding on this issue means.”

In an op-ed to the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Keith Burns and John Lindsay wrote that Holland (and others) use divisive and dangerous words when talking about LGBTQ-related issues.

“As we strive for greater unity and understanding, we should avoid portraying people who disagree with us as ‘the adversary’ and worthy of ‘musket fire,'” they wrote. “Terms like ‘flag-waving’ and ‘parade-holding’ to describe LGBTQ+ activism is belittling, condescending and ignorant. In Utah alone, LGBTQ+ people have been advocating, protesting, and expressing grievances for decades. In fact, if it were not for the ‘flag-waving’ and ‘parade-holding’ of thousands of dedicated LGBTQ+ activists, Utah would certainly not have had the advancements in LGBTQ+ legal and civil rights it has seen in recent decades.”

Holland also took former BYU Valedictorian Matt Easton to task for his 2019 graduation speech, where he called himself a “gay son of God.”

“If a student commandeers a graduation podium intended to represent everyone getting diplomas in order to announce his personal sexual orientation, what might another speaker feel free to announce the next year until eventually, anything goes? What might commencement come to mean — or not mean — if we push individual license over institutional dignity for very long? Do we simply end up with more divisiveness in our culture than we already have — and we already have too much everywhere,” Holland said.

Burns and Lyndsay wrote that Holland’s words were a “gross misinterpretation of Easton’s speech, saying it was far from “commandeering a graduate podium,” and was actually “faith-affirming, uplifting, and filled with gratitude for the wonderful experience that BYU had provided him.”

After SUU’s announcement, SUU Pride Alliance posted on their Instagram account:

“On behalf of the Pride Alliance Board, we express our sincere disappointment and absolute opposition to the decision to have Jeffrey R. Holland as this year’s commencement speaker. The decision to bring Elder Holland to campus will hurt many members of our campus community and reflect poorly on the university.”

At press time, the change.org petition had over 15,000 signors.

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