PROVO, Utah — A gay BYU student shocked a packed graduation ceremony Friday by flashing rainbow pride colors while accepting her diploma.
As Jillian Orr walked across the stage at the Marriott Center on Friday, she opened her gown to show the colors stitched inside. She said she made the gesture to protest the school's policy which essentially bans same-sex relationships.
"I wanted to give the message to other students that I made it through and that they can make it through," said Orr.
While saying she had positive experiences at the school during her time in Provo, she said there were many moments when she felt increasingly uncomfortable.
"There were situations where teachers or courses or information that was shared that made it very clear and very evident that we were not to be seen. And that we were not as equal as those who were heterosexual," shared Orr.
As her final semester wound down this spring, Orr said certain experiences in the classroom started to become painful; claiming there were quizzes on how to interact with the LGBTQ community that she didn't agree with and having to write papers on how marriage was only between a man and a woman.
"Once I started getting through these classes and through these experiences, I had this feeling that, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm finally escaping,' like I'm finally getting out and I can be authentic," Orr said.
BYU graduate Jillian Orr explains below what led her to wearing pride colors in her graduation gown
During her time at BYU, Orr was aware of the risks of being caught in a same-sex relationship.
"It was always scary," said Orr.
It was ahead of last week's graduation when Orr decided she should make a statement.
"I wanted to give the message to other students that I made it through and that they can make it through," Orr said.
It was Orr's sister who first suggested she wear a rainbow dress under the gown, but Orr said that wasn't her "energy." Her sister then came up with putting the colors on the liner, which her other sister quickly sewed the day before the ceremony.
As the hours clicked down until the big moment arrived, an anxious Orr wondered what kind of response she would receive from school officials.
"Are they going to tackle me? Am I going to be taken down? What's going to happen?," asked Orr.
Before Orr took the stage, she said her sisters texted, saying that if she didn't go through with the "flash" they would understand and still loved her. But Orr said she was determined not to back down.
"I did this knowing I could lose my degree, because I wanted to be seen and wanted those who are going through what I went through to be seen as well."
After first getting in the wrong line and almost getting lost, Orr finally made it to the stage and flashed open her gown, showing off the colors of the rainbow to all in attendance.
"I don't remember what happened after that! I just blanked!" exclaimed Orr.
She said she instantly received support from the students around her, including one who stopped her to say their girlfriend had seen the moment on live television and wanted to say thank you.
"I was like, it's already impacted somebody. Somebody has already been seen and felt seen because of what I did," Orr said.
Orr says that no one with the school has contacted her after her "flash," and that it wouldn't matter as she already has her degree certificate.