PROVO, Utah (ABC4 News) – Emma Gee admits she was extremely nervous the first time she asked a girl out on a date.
“I was sweating,” she recalls, admitting she has been on a few dates with women while a student at BYU. “Dating is hard for everyone,” she laughs.
Wearing her BYU track uniform and donning a pride bracelet, Gee is comfortable with all of the hats she wears: Latter-day Saint, bisexual woman, and BYU student-athlete.
“I want to be the best me I can be,” she told ABC4 News.
Recently, Gee wrote an op-ed in the Outsports section of SBNation, describing in detail the painful experience of being in love with a woman for the first time, and the hurdles she’s had to jump through to accept herself while a student at BYU.
“To anyone who feels isolated or alone…I feel you,” she said. “This year has been devastating in so many ways. I have friends that are student-athletes who don’t feel like the can come out,” said Gee, who is the only publicly out LGBTQ athlete at the school. BYU’s Honor Code forbids “homosexual behavior,” even physical intimacy like holding hands with a member of the same sex.
The steeplechase runner said she came out to family and friends a year ago, after participating on the BYU Student Athlete Diversity and Inclusion Committee and coming out to BYU athletic administrator Liz Darger, who Gee said was very supportive.
Gee said her running times improved because the weight of her secret had been lifted.
As for her relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, Gee admits she has had somewhat of a blurry road.
“Like any young adult transitioning into full adulthood, I’m trying to find my place in the religion I grew up in,” said Gee, who still attends church while a student. She said coming out, for her, was about wanting to progress in her personal life.
“I couldn’t keep trying to embody what I felt the culture expected me to be…and so it was really a way for me to take accountability for myself,” said Gee. She said she hopes coming out and owning her story will help create a more inclusive environment at the school, which has been criticized recently for how it handles Honor Code infractions and treats LGBTQ students. In recent months, BYU’s Honor Code Office has made substantial changes to the way infractions are investigated following student protests.
“It’s tricky with the Honor Code when it’s kind of inherently homophobic..it’s hard to be like ‘be you,'” she said. “Everyone should be able to acknowledge how they experience the world and be honest about it.”
Gee is unabashed in talking about her romantic attraction to women.
“Not only have I experienced attraction and connection with men but also with women…really important relationships,” she said. While she has never been turned in to the Honor Code Office for dating women, she said there is a real sense of “paranoia” at the school among LGBTQ students who are trying to balance being a student in good standing and also expressing their romantic attractions.
Gee said she wants to see equal chastity standards for straight and queer students. Currently, premarital sex is prohibited among all students at BYU, many of whom are Latter-day Saints. Still, there are heightened standards for LGBTQ students, Gee said, who are afraid of being reported to the Honor Code Office for kissing or holding hands with members of the same sex.
Gee plans to graduate from BYU in 2020.