“I was that kid that would make you smile because he was so darn gay.” Those are the words of Adam White in the “It Gets Better” video made specifically for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) students while attending Brigham Young University. White, a Senior, is president of the Understanding Same-Gender Attraction (USGA) group at the Mormon-owned university.
The group was started in 2010 to create a safe place for LGBTQ students who felt alone and lost on the socially conservative campus. The “It Gets Better” video they made has been viewed over 500,000 times on YouTube and was covered by the New York Daily News and Time Magazine. Now, White is being honored as this year’s “Youth Innovator” at the Trevor Project’s annual Hollywood Dinner.
The Youth Innovator Award, as described on the Trevor Project’s website, “honors a young LGBTQ or straight person under the age of 25 who strives to support, inspire and empower LGBTQ youth to reach for their dreams.”
When White learned he would be receiving the award, he was still lamenting the less-than-progressive remarks regarding homosexuality made by church leaders at the most recent LDS General Conference. “Hearing that I received the Trevor Youth Innovator Award was a very emotional experience that picked me up and boosted my resolve to be a voice for LGBT Mormon youth and young adults,” he said, “There are low points in living and sharing the LGBT Mormon experience, but this moment was certainly a reminder of the importance of sharing and having that visibility.”
White has been busy with many projects in raising awareness about LGBTQ Mormon youth and young adults. This year, he joined the Trevor Project’s Youth Advisory Council, giving him the opportunity to address suicide prevention awareness in his immediate community. In addition to serving as president of USGA, he participates in Question and Answer panels at BYU where he and other LGBTQ students tell their stories and answer any questions their peers might have. In June, he oversaw a suicide awareness and prevention workshop for the BYU and Provo community. “That was a very inspiring thing,” he said, “over a 100 people came and we had a panel of LGBT young adults speak to the experience of being at-risk for suicide.”
White produced the “It Gets Better” video in collaboration with local filmmakers as well as the “Just Be There” video, which was just released in October.
“The most rewarding aspect of this work,” said White, “is watching people literally transform as they come to know themselves and learn how to thrive despite the dissonance they may feel between their religion and their identity. So many have come to USGA feeling very afraid and very alone. Providing a community that values these individuals the way they are, that doesn’t pressure them to change or conform in ways that feel inauthentic to them is so important. The result of being in such a community and being presented with a message of unconditional love is tremendous. Lives literally change and lives have been saved because of USGA and our videos. I’m so grateful for that and it’s a very humbling experience to be a part of.”
White may be receiving the spotlight for his efforts, but he’s quick to acknowledge the “many brave souls who are fighting for the space to be seen and heard in their faith community that do so without public recognition.” What’s evolving in the cultural landscape at BYU, White says, is “the general understanding of what LGBT Mormons really want in the Mormon community. More and more members of the LDS faith are taking note that LGBT Mormons simply want to belong and be loved at Church.”
White maintains a hopeful demeanor about the future of the LGBTQ cause within Mormon culture. “‘How do we embrace diversity and inclusivity as LDS people?’ That’s a really exciting question being asked more frequently and publicly these days.” The Trevor Project’s Hollywood Dinner will take place on December 13th, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.