PROVO, Utah (ABC4) — Brigham Young University (BYU) graduate Jillian Orr entered the national spotlight when she “flashed” a rainbow LGBTQ+ flag sewn into her graduation regalia at this year’s commencement ceremony. She says she did it in protest of Brigham Young University’s policy forbidding its students from participating in any non-heterosexual relationship.
In an interview with ABC4’s digital team, Orr said she didn’t expect the widespread reaction.
“I thought maybe a couple of BYU students or friends would post photos of it,” says Orr. She continues by saying that most of the responses she has received have been positive; most people have shown Orr validation, love, and support.
Orr served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church in Eugene, Oregon. She said that most of the negative attention she has received has been from people she met on her mission. “It’s shown me who’s on my island and who’s not,” says Orr.
When asked if she was scared to wear her regalia to BYU’s commencement, Orr said she was “really anxious.”
“I understood there would be consequences, but I didn’t know what they would be. I didn’t know if I would be tackled, escorted off the stage, or what.” Orr say she was also worried her degree in psychology could be compromised by her statement.
Despite her fears, Orr accepted the unknown consequences to do what she “knew was right.”
In a Facebook post, Orr comments as someone who identifies as bisexual saying, “it’s scary to live with the fear that at any moment they could take away your degree.” Orr references how violation of BYU’s honor code can result in immediate suspension of student status and even a freeze on student transcripts.
Orr hopes that BYU will change this and other policies surrounding LGBTQ+ students. She references how even open members of the LGBTQ+ community are allowed to participate in some parts of LDS Church membership, and compared that BYU’s policy is kind of zero-tolerance. Orr mentioned a friend of hers who she claims was falsely accused of being in a same-sex relationship while studying at BYU, and how he was called into the Honor Code office and interrogated for “acting on same-sex attraction.” “I feel like this violates individual rights,” says Orr.
Most Utahns are likely familiar with the rainbow flag as a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride, but may not know how the flag was created.
According to an article by Nora Gonzalez on the Encyclopedia of Britannica’s website, the design goes back to 1978. Harvey Milk, one of the U.S.’s first openly gay elected officials, asked artist Gilbert Baker to design a “symbol of pride for the gay community.” Gonzalez writes that Baker reportedly chose the rainbow because it is in some ways “a natural flag from the sky.”
Gonzalez reports the very first version of the rainbow pride flag was flown in San Francisco on June 25, 1978. Due to the flags being handmade and a resulting lack of supplies, the pink and turquoise stripes in Baker’s original design were taken out. This altered version of the rainbow flag remains the most frequently used flag to symbolize LGBTQ+ pride.
For Orr, the pride flag means “being authentic and being seen as who you are as an individual.” She said it symbolizes “being recognized for what you’re born into, and not what you choose.”
Orr says to all Utahns that “true love for an individual is more than just saying that you love and accept them.” She mentions other loving acts that should be shown to loved ones in the LGBTQ+ such as attending important life events such as weddings and allowing children to know about their LGBTQ+ identity.
Orr hopes to use her degree from BYU in psychology to pursue a career in motivational speaking. She hopes to inspire her audience to be their authentic selves.
BYU has not yet made a public statement about Orr’s show of pride.