I have to say that, a year ago, I knew of only a handful of LDS families that were said to have gay members, but I knew nothing of any challenges they may have faced because of this. I had no knowledge of damage that had been done to families by the Church’s involvement in Proposition 8 in California. I was only very dimly aware of the suicides of young gay Mormons who had given up the struggle. I was basically ignorant of the whole issue, which was attributable to me being deeply in the closet myself; I didn’t consider it safe to express any interest in such things for fear it would expose me as being gay.
Now, however, I know differently (and feel very, very badly about my former ignorance and apathy), and I want to do what little I can, through the instrumentality of this blog and otherwise, to increase awareness of such issues among the LDS community in which I live locally and am a part globally.
So, speaking to members of this community, I wonder how many of you have family members who are gay or lesbian. A son, a daughter, a father, a mother, an aunt, an uncle, a grandson, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece, a nephew. Or how many of you have friends who are gay or who have family members who are gay?
If you know of someone in these categories, I wonder how familiar you may be with some of the challenges that these persons, families and friends face when, as faithful members of the LDS Church, they are confronted with the reality of learning that a loved one is gay. I wonder how aware you might be of the turmoil that exists in families in the Church over the Church’s stance toward homosexuality and gay marriage. I wonder whether you know of someone who, though not gay, has left the Church because of the Church’s stance on homosexuality.
There is much I could write on this subject. For this post, however, I want to share just a few stories of real-life people whom I didn’t know a week ago. I met them this past weekend at the Mormon Stories Salt Lake Conference. These are simply sketches, but are representative of stories that could be told, I am sure, across the length and breadth of the Church.
Sketch #1: “Alice” had traveled from England specifically to attend the conference. In getting to know her, she shared that she was a 6th-generation Mormon, some of her ancestors having been converted by Heber C. Kimball on his mission to England. She had been raised in the Church, as had her brother. He had grown up a faithful Latter-day Saint and had served an honorable mission.
This young man, however, harbored a secret: he is gay. After going through an intense struggle with which any young gay Mormon would be familiar, he went in to see his bishop to tell him that he is gay. Expecting support and help, the young man was crushed when his bishop told him there was no place for him in the Church. He returned home, devastated and broken.
Alice was so incensed by this treatment of her brother that she eventually resigned her membership in the Church. She could not be a part of a religious organization that inflicted such pain on someone she loved so deeply.
Sketch #2: “Malcolm” is a graduate student at the University of Utah. He is a life-long member of the Church – a wholesome, handsome young man who exudes a spirit of gentleness and laughter, and who also happens to be gay. In getting to know him, he briefly described to me the challenges he had faced in coming to terms with his homosexuality. Not unlike other young Mormon men who struggle valiantly – even desperately – to “overcome” their attraction to men, Malcolm had tried to “pray the gay away.” He had pleaded. He had fasted. He had gone through therapy. He had also participated in a well-known retreat program that is designed to help gay men overcome their gayness through development of wholesome bonding with other men.
Of course, none of these approaches worked. Finally, Malcolm accepted himself for who he is, and in the wake of doing so came a wave of bitterness and anger toward the church that had told him to go through what he had gone through – that had told him that if he just tried hard enough, long enough, and had enough faith, he could overcome his “weakness.” The wonder of it all was that, here he was, at this conference, wondering if he could yet forge a place for himself in Mormonism.
Sketch #3: “Jerry” was a man I met Sunday morning while attending Music and the Spoken Word with the Mormon Stories group. He and his wife had come from out of town for the conference. As was the case with others I had met over the course of the weekend, we quickly got to the point of asking each other about “our story.”
Jerry explained that he is straight, that he had been an active member of the Church for over 25 years, but that his faith had hit the wall over the issue of gay marriage. In the wake of Proposition 8, something arose within him that cried out against what he saw as the injustice and inhumanity of the Church’s treatment of gays and their campaign against gay marriage. He could no longer believe that the leaders of the Church were inspired. He eventually resigned his membership. But there he was with his wife at this conference, wondering - like Alice and Malcolm - if he could forge a place for himself and his wife within the world of Mormonism.
As I’ve said, these are just three sketches of lives of members of the Church who have been deeply affected by the Church’s stance on homosexuality. These sketches are representative of many, many other stories which will only grow in number, here in North America and around the world.
So I would like to say to my former ward members and fellow members of the Church around the world that the issue of homosexuality is not going to go away. If an LDS family hasn’t already been touched by it, it is only a matter of time before it will be .