Did BYU Repeatedly Wash Away Pro-LGBT+ Chalk Art on Campus?

Messages of love and support for LGBT+ BYU students appeared on or near campus in August 2021 in protest against remarks made by Jeffrey Holland, a leading figure in the Mormon church.

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Image via Courtesy of Valerie Dewey

Claim

In August 2021, Brigham Young University repeatedly washed away chalk murals containing messages of love and support for LGBT+ students.

Rating

What's True

Organized, pro-LGBT+ chalk murals were drawn at BYU in late August and early September 2021 and were repeatedly washed away overnight. As a popular Reddit post claimed, those messages were a protest against remarks made by a prominent figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which many interpreted as being disparaging towards LGBT+ people.

What's Undetermined

We have not yet been able to definitively confirm that BYU itself was responsible for repeatedly washing away the pro-LGBT+ murals, and if so, for what reasons.

Origin

In August 2021, a controversy emerged at Brigham Young University, when protesters, several of them alumni of the college, demonstrated in support and solidarity with LGBT+ students, leaving rainbow-themed chalk art on the sidewalk on or near campus in Provo, Utah. 

On Reddit, one popular post included a photograph of people leaving the chalk messages on the ground, and the following description of the controversy: 

After a Mormon leader gave an anti-LGBTQA talk at BYU, people have been filling the sidewalk with chalk art expressing love for the queer community. BYU washes it off every night and people return everyday to chalk up it again.

There’s no doubt that organized, pro-LGBT+ chalk murals took place at BYU in late August and early September, and that those demonstrations were inspired, at least in part, by remarks made by a prominent figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church) which some interpreted as disparaging towards LGBT+ people.

Furthermore, the chalk messages have been drawn on what appears to be university property, and regularly washed off, so it stands to reason that, as the Reddit post claims, BYU itself has been repeatedly washing away pro-LGBT+ chalk murals. However, BYU did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Snopes, and so we cannot rule out the possibility that the murals were washed away regularly by a third party, and not by BYU itself. As a result, we are issuing a rating of “Mixture.”

What Provoked the Pro-LGBT+ Murals?

The episode began on Aug. 23, when BYU President Kevin Worthen used the occasion of his speech at the annual University Conference to announce the establishment of an Office of Belonging, which would “strive to create a community of belonging composed of students, faculty, and staff whose hearts are knit together in love.”

Worthen added that the office would aim to combat “prejudice of any kind, including that based on race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, gender, age, disability, socioeconomic status, religious belief and sexual orientation.”

At the same event, Elder Jeffrey Holland — a leading figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a former BYU president — made several pointed references that were interpreted by many observers as being critical of a more tolerant approach to sexual orientation and gender identity, and disrespectful to LGBT+ people.

In his speech, he tearfully pleaded with the university to remain “unquestionably committed to its unique academic mission and to the Church that sponsors it,” and went on: 

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?

That reference was a swipe at Matty Easton, who made headlines in 2019 when he came out as gay during his valedictory speech at BYU’s commencement. 

Furthermore, Holland described LGB people as “those who live with this same-sex challenge and so much complexity that goes with it.”

In response to Holland’s remarks, several people, some of them BYU alumni, organized an event on Aug. 26, to “support LGBTQ BYU students.” At the event, participants composed pro-LGBT+ chalk art on the pavement, primarily at the intersection of 200 East and 800 North streets in Provo — the location shown in the Reddit post, and on Google Maps, below:

The demonstrations continued at that location for the ensuing five evenings. On Aug. 27, protester Amber Sorensen recorded video of a young man pouring water on one of the chalk murals and — using a slur for gays — saying, “F—— go to hell.” 

In response, BYU issued a statement in which it said: “We unequivocally condemn behavior and language that is disrespectful and hurtful. There is no place for hateful speech, or prejudice of any kind, on our campus or in our community.” According to the university, the incident was “under review.”

Valerie Dewey, one of the organizers of the chalk vigil, told Snopes that the demonstration was moved one block south from that location, beginning on Sept. 1, after Provo Police Department informed the protesters the patch of sidewalk they had been using up until then was, in fact, BYU property. 

According to Dewey, Provo officers had themselves told her on Aug. 26 that the location in question was public property, but were later “made aware” it was private university property. Snopes asked police whether it was BYU that had informed them that the location of the vigil was university property, and whether the school had also asked police to move the protest elsewhere, but we did not receive a response in time for publication.

Dewey told Snopes she had not personally witnessed BYU staff washing away the murals, but said she had heard from other participants that university staff did just that at around 4 a.m. each night, between Aug. 26 and 31. 

It stands to reason that BYU was responsible for washing away the pro-LGBT+ murals, given that they were regularly cleaned, and took place on what appears to be university property.

Snopes asked BYU for confirmation of whether the location in question was indeed university property, whether the university had been responsible for washing away the murals, and if so, for what reason. Unfortunately, we did not receive a response to those questions, and a staff member in BYU’s communications office told Snopes the university “appeared” to be declining to comment. If we receive relevant clarifications from BYU, we will update this fact check accordingly. 

Without confirmation from BYU that it was responsible for washing away the chalk messages, we can’t rule out the possibility that that was done by a third party, and we also don’t know why the murals were repeatedly washed away, or whether they would have been removed regardless of their content. As such, this component of the Reddit post remains unverified, for now.