Matt Easton, a senior at the Mormon Brigham Young University, says he was inspired by openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

By Diane Herbst
Rick Bowmer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, condemns those who act on same-sex attraction and are in same-sex relationships.

So to many, it came as a surprise that Matt Easton, a 24-year-old senior at the Mormon Brigham Young University, came out as gay during a graduation speech before thousands of people last Friday.

“I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God,” said Easton during his convocation speech for the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

The news was met with screams, cheers and rounds of applause, including from his mother, who is suffering from terminal cancer.

“I am not broken,” he said. “I am loved and important to the plan of our great creator. Each of us are.”

“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.”

Easton tells The Washington Post he was inspired by openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has spoken passionately of his Christianity and sexuality.

He pointed the Post to Buttigieg’s speech criticizing Vice President Mike Pence, in which Buttigieg said: “That’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: That if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

“My generation, and even more so the generation after me, we’re changing the way we talk about our identity and who we are,” Easton told the Post. “It’s okay to be different, or not fit the norm.”

Easton was raised by a Mormon family in Salt Lake City, and out of high school he served a mission for his church at 18 in Sydney, Australia, he told KUTV. He then enrolled at Brigham Young, majoring in political science with a minor in professional writing and rhetoric.

“During my time at BYU was the first time I came to terms with my sexuality, I think I kind of blocked it out or compartmentalized it as best as I could,” he told the TV station.

At times, Easton said, he wasn’t sure if he belonged at BYU. The school’s honor code, while not banning gay students, says one will be in violation of it if they commit “homosexual behavior” that “includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

About two years ago, after opening up to his parents, some friends and faculty advisers and receiving their support, Easton gained confidence, he told the Post.

With a 4.0 average, he was selected as one of the valedictorians to speak at graduation. Easton eventually decided to include discussion of his sexuality, but first he needed approval from the dean’s office. Administrators gave him the thumbs up, saying, “Go for it,” the Post reports.

“The dean’s office saw and approved Matt’s speech before our college convocation,” Dean Ben Ogles of BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences tells PEOPLE.

“I’ve never come out publicly before,” Easton told KUTV. “Only my close relatives and my close friends, not even all of my family knew.”

Since coming out, Easton has received a groundswell of support, including a shoutout from actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth on Twitter.

“I’m very proud of you. As a straight Christian woman, i stand beside you!! I say to you: YOU ARE LOVED!!!!!” wrote Chenoweth.

“I just felt more support from such a large body than I’ve ever felt before, and I think that everyone deserves to have that feeling,” Easton, who will work in data analysis before going on to grad school, told KUTV.

As for his future in the church, that is more of an unknown.

“There comes a time when I’m going to have to start thinking about these questions, you know? Am I going to get married? Am I going to have children?” he told KUTV. “What are these pressures that my family and my parents want for me to do? Are they a reality for me? Those are some pretty hard questions and I don’t have the answers to all of them.”

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