Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Lisa Marie, left, and Bromwen Beechum perform at a gay-rights rally at Provo's Kiwanis park.

PROVO — In many ways, Matt Kulisch is a typical Brigham Young University student.

He's been active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all of his 23 years, two of which were spent preaching church principles as a missionary in England.

His hair is neatly trimmed above his ears and he's clean-shaven.

He's also gay.

Kulisch shared his experiences of being a homosexual at a university at which he says his orientation is looked down upon and discriminated against during a Soulforce Equality Ride rally Monday evening at Kiwanis Park.

About 200 people attended the event hosted by Soulforce Equality, a group of young Americans whose professed mission is to put an end to religious-based bigotry against sexual minorities — gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

BYU was the 13th on a 20-stop tour to institutions of higher learning that Equality Ride organizers say discriminate against GLBT students.

"We really feel that these students don't understand our message," said Jacob Reitan, 23, co-director of the Equality Ride. "They have gross misconceptions about what it means to be gay, what gay and lesbian people are seeking in this country. We need to address those misconceptions."

Though Monday evening's rally was held off campus, Reitan and other Soulforce members took that message on to BYU's grounds earlier in the day. That visit resulted in five people — including Reitan — being escorted off campus by BYU police.

Reitan said he could not reach an agreement with BYU officials that would let him give a speech on campus, so he did so without their permission. The result, he said, was being arrested.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the Soulforce members were issued citations for trespassing and transported back to their hotel. No handcuffs were used, she said.

Reitan said he feels the importance of the message outweighed the risk of getting into trouble at BYU.

"There should be a place for an affirming gay person to speak to the students, to challenge their thinking on this issue," he said. "They're not willing to give that place, so we're here to force the issue.

"Too many gay students are being kicked out, too may gay students are being made to feel like they're second-class people in the church, in this society, and we need to be able to defend our humanity."

The fact that BYU is a private institution owned and funded by the LDS Church doesn't excuse it from such discrimination, Reitan said.

"As long as this school doesn't receive any sort of government funds, it has the right to discriminate," he said. "But just because you can discriminate doesn't mean you should. It doesn't make it morally right."

Speakers at the rally included gay and lesbian former BYU students and graduates, as well as parents of GLBT people. Kulisch was the only current BYU student to address the crowd.

Another Soulforce Equality Ride event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. today outside the BYU sign on the corner of Bulldog Boulevard and Canyon Road.

Occasionally interrupted by chants of "shame on you" or honking horns from the handful of protesters at the rally, Kulisch spoke about a lifetime of struggles — internally as he tried to understand why being Mormon and being gay both felt right to him, and externally when he decided to share his homosexuality with family, friends and church leaders after receiving his mission call.

Kulisch spoke about traveling home to Spokane, Wash., with a brother and sister after attending a Mormon pioneer re-enactment in Utah. He was riding in the back seat, his brother was driving and his sister was in the front passenger seat.

The siblings, tired from the pioneer trek, all fell asleep. The car veered off the road and down a steep ledge. Remarkably, none of them was injured.

When he got home, Kulisch said, his mother told him it would have been better if God had taken him from the Earth rather than leave him here to be gay.

"The sad part is," he said, "I believed her."

Today, Kulisch said he deals with being treated by some as less than his fellow students because he is gay. Still, he continues to attend BYU because, despite his sexuality, he feels it's where he's meant to be.

Kulisch said he abides by the BYU Honor Code, which requires that all students conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the principles of the LDS Church. Even though he is gay, he said, his behavior does not contradict those standards.


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