CNN. Washington Post. Fox. Huffington Post. CBS. One Latter-day Saint's powerful valedictorian speech has been gaining traction as it reaches headlines across the nation.
During his speech, political science major Matthew Easton stated, "I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God."
Easton's message was one that reached the 10,000 people packed into the Marriott Center as well as thousands across the nation: "Congratulations to those who felt alone or afraid or uncertain while here. To those of us who have struggled with our faith and to those who have strengthened it. Congratulations my siblings of color, my LGBTQ friends, to students who are walking with mental illness, to all those who constantly have stood in the face of adversity to make our campus better for future generations. You are seen, you are loved, and today you are here to celebrate."
Easton shared his triumphs at BYU, evoking laughter and tears as he described his encounter with a rogue deer on campus as well as his mother's battle with cancer. After detailing the story of Enos and his wrestle before God in prayer, Easton shared his own battles "in prayer with my Maker. It was in these quiet moments of pain and confusion that I have felt another triumph, that of coming to terms not with who I thought I should be but who the Lord has made me."
"Four years ago, it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would come out to my entire college," he continued. "It is a phenomenal feeling. And it is a victory for me in and of itself."
By sharing his story, Easton hopes that others might find the strength to not only change the world but to change others and to change themselves. In a speech that has been viewed by more than 66,000 on YouTube alone, Easton powerfully testified, "The Atonement of Jesus Christ is perfect and everlasting and through our Savior we too can become perfect. . . . 'For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.' What could be better to celebrate."
During my time at BYU, I have slowly come out to my closest family members and friends. However, this is the first time I have publicly declared it. I felt it was important to share both for myself and for the LGBTQ+ community at BYU.— Matty Easton (@easton_matty) April 27, 2019
When Easton approached the dean's office with the idea of mentioning his sexuality in his valedictorian speech, the advice he received was "Go for it." On Twitter, Easton shared, "While I don’t speak for everyone—my own experience is all I can vouch for—I hope that people know that we ARE here at BYU, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon. I can’t even begin to name all the professors and faculty who have loved and supported me academically, mentally, and spiritually. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Thank you—you know who you are."
In response to Easton's message, many have turned to social media to share their love and support. Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth said, "I’m very proud of you. As a straight Christian woman, I stand beside you!! I say to you: YOU ARE LOVED!!!!!"
In an interview with the Washington Post, Easton shared, "I am not broken. I am loved and important to the plan of our great creator. Each of us are. . . . My generation, and even more so the generation after me, we’re changing the way we talk about our identity and who we are. It’s okay to be different, or not fit the norm. When I started at BYU, I didn’t think that. I thought that I had to be what everyone before me was. I do feel from my own experience that this is changing, or maybe I’m changing. I hope that our country, my faith, my community will follow in a similar fashion."
Easton shared the awe and joy he felt delivering this speech. "When people started clapping, it was a little overwhelming. To have a group that I had for so long thought would hate me or ostracize me actually celebrate and accept me, it was awesome."
While Easton shared with the Washington Post the cognitive dissonance he feels as a gay Latter-day Saint, he testified, "The more that I’ve understood my relationship with God, the more authentic I’ve been able to be and the more true to myself I’ve felt."