Special Report: Straight at BYU

BYU student Nick Soto knew there was going to be trouble as soon as football season started.

“Every time there was a game on, I couldn’t help but watch it,” said the 21-year-old engineering major. “It was only a matter of time before my roommates caught me.”

His roommates did catch him, and Soto was subsequently suspended from school because of something he says he cannot change: He is a heterosexual.

“This is who I am,” he said. “I’ve always liked women and watched sports. If I weren’t LDS, I would drink beer and read Playboy. I am who I am.”

His roommates, however, could not accept Soto’s lifestyle.

“We’d come home and find him watching ‘SportsCenter,'” said Chad Christensen, one of Soto’s roommates. “We tried to look the other way, but you can only take so much heterosexuality. It makes you sick after a while.”

The last straw, said Christensen, came when he arrived home one evening to find Soto on the couch, making out with a woman. A videotape of “Die Hard” was nearby. Christensen called the Honor Code Office the next day.

“I hated being a snitch, but it was for his own good,” Christensen said. “Besides, we couldn’t live with a hetero in the apartment, exposing us to all his hetero diseases like mono.”

Christensen stressed that he has nothing against straight people. “I’m not a bigot,” he said, adding that one of his roommates is Caucasian and he’s fine with that, too.

Soto is angry at his roommates for turning him in, but angrier at BYU for suspending him for simply being himself.

“I know a lot of straight people here, and they’re all afraid to talk about it openly. As soon as anyone knows they’re straight, girls start trying to marry them immediately. It’s a nightmare.”

“It’s very hard when you see a cherry-red Corvette convertible drive down the street, and you have to be careful not to let anyone see you looking,” he said.

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said the Honor Code does not make heterosexuality against the rules, only heterosexual behavior.

“If someone has opposite-sex attraction, we sympathize with that,” Jenkins said. “And as long as he doesn’t act on it, he can stay at BYU.”

But what constitutes heterosexual behavior? Soto denies making out with a woman, saying he only held hands with her. And while he admits to playing on the intramural basketball team, he claims he was never very good.

“I went through the motions, really, because that’s what some of my straight friends were doing,” he said. “But I never went all the way — you know, slam-dunks and that stuff. A couple of lay-ups, that’s it.”

Jenkins said BYU does not plan to make the Honor Code any more specific. “We feel students know where the line is,” she said. “We’re not going to make a list saying that Schwarzenegger movies are OK but not Jackie Chan, for example.”

Soto said he plans to move to an area where heterosexuality is more widely accepted. “I’ll probably go to Cleveland,” he said. “They watch a lot of NASCAR there. It’s mecca for straight people.”

Some background. A couple weeks before this, a BYU student was suspended for homosexual behavior. His roommates had turned him in, alleging they'd caught him making out with a guy on their couch. The student, Ricky Escoto, said he was indeed same-sex attracted, but that he hadn't done anything wrong, and that his suspension was therefore unfair.

Subsequently, he went to the media, saying he'd been kicked out without good cause. The media likes things like that -- especially when the word "homosexual" is involved -- and the Daily Herald ran a front-page three-part series April 9, 10 and 11.

Daily Herald readers, who prefer not to think homosexuals even exist, let alone go to their BYU, were outraged 1) that we would showcase a gay man on our front page, and 2) that he had the gall to complain when BYU kicked him out. (Other readers, taking another tack, were angry that we would exploit this poor guy's problems for our gain -- even though he agreed to several lengthy interviews and posed for a picture and clearly was NOT a victim of the Daily Herald.)

Those three stories became three of the most-read stories in Herald history, and three of the most-commented on the Web site, too. The reader comments disappeared when the site changed formats a few years later, so they have tragically been lost forever.

By the end of the series, my bosses, Mike and Mitch, had received many angry phone calls from readers. They were relieved the stories were ending. So at the news meeting that day, I joked that for my next column, I was going to begin a three-part series on homosexuality at BYU. Mitch said, "You should do one on being straight at BYU." The idea clicked. I said, "Yeah, show what it's like to be straight at BYU -- girls always trying to marry you and stuff." We all laughed at the idea. I wrote the column that night in less than 10 minutes, with some additional refining the next day.

Also: Yes, I know this is similar to The Onion, which also does news parodies. I'm pretty sure The Onion invented news parodies, which means I must have copied them. (The same way Dave Barry invented humor columns, making everyone else who writes funny words in newspapers a Dave Barry wannabe.)

Finally: The real-life student was named Ricky Escoto, of which Nick Soto is a variation. Another student was suspended at the same time as Ricky, allegedly just for holding hands with another guy in the mall; that's where my reference to holding hands came from. Chad Christensen is a good generic BYU name, with the added bonus of "Chad" being my standard name for gay characters. (I was originally going to write it so everyone was gay except the hetero guy -- a complete reversal of real life, in other words. I decided against it because then the message would have been a pro-homosexuality, "See how absurd it is when we turn the tables?" kind of thing. And that wasn't the point I wanted to make.) Carri Jenkins was the real-life spokeswoman for BYU. I never heard whether she was amused by her fictitious portrayal here.