SANDY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Andy Winder transitioned from female to male while he was a student at BYU; he says as soon as he began to live in his authentic skin, his grades improved and he made more friends.
He also says he received very little pushback from faith leaders and educators about his transition. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU, has taught that birth-assigned gender is an eternal characteristic and should not be tampered with.
But Winder, who lives in an apartment with his dog Yoda, says he knew when he was a teenager that he was trans.
“It was very painful just because I did feel this disconnect between my gender identity and how I saw myself and my body,” he said. “I was reminded of it every day when I looked in the mirror…heard my voice. It was something that brought me a lot of sadness.”
While a student at BYU, he was a resident assistant (RA) at Helaman Halls, a women’s dormitory. He said that experience forced him to reckon with his gender identity. Shortly after, he made the decision to transition with the help of a nurse practitioner in Provo, who was hesitant to provide hormone therapy for him.
“She was very hesitant about starting me on them because before then, neither of us knew any trans people who had taken hormones and also stayed at BYU,” said Winder.
The school’s Honor Code requires students to follow principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Recently, students have been speaking up about the way the Honor Code is enforced, claiming predatory and abusive practices.
Still, knowing his education was on the line, Winder confided in his bishop to help him through his transition. Even though he says his bishop knew very little about trans issues, he said the bishop was supportive of his journey and did not push back. Winder, who finished transitioning his senior year, said no one ever threatened his ecclesiastical endorsement to attend BYU.
He said he was lucky, as he knows several trans people who have been disciplined by the school and by the Church for transitioning. He says results vary in the Church and at BYU. Recently, another trans student faced expulsion for having surgery to combat gender dysphoria.
“It’s definitely a school that if a trans person was thinking about going [to BYU], I would tell them to think about whether that’s the best option for them,” Winder said.
But he holds both of his identities together.
“My gender identity is something that is very important to me but also my spirituality is also a strong part of who I am,” said Winder, whose apartment is filled with books, including many religious texts – including the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon.
“I’m proud to be a trans person but I’m also proud to be a Latter-day Saint,” he said.
Winder is also a member in good standing with the Church, and said he plans on renewing his temple recommend.
Recently, a BYU valedictorian came out as gay during his commencement speech, drawing both praise and criticism. Matt Easton’s speech highlights a change in culture at the Latter-day Saint-owned university, known for its many conservative students and faculty members.
Winder said Easton’s speech shows just how much has changed at BYU since he graduated in 2018.