Many in our society have long realized the power that attaches to terminology and to labels, especially when applied to groups of people. African-Americans, for example, have been, during my lifetime, referred to as niggers, colored, black, people of color, Afro-American and, now, African-American. People on both sides of the abortion issue have been referred to as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” or “anti-abortion” or “anti-life,” etc.
Similarly, LGBT persons have been referred to as sodomites, homosexuals, queers, homos, fags, and faggots before the term “gay” came to be generally accepted. The term “sexual orientation” also came to be used during the past 40-50 years to refer to the feelings of attraction that one feels, whether to persons of one’s own gender or to the opposite gender.
This past weekend, I heard a new term used to refer to those who are attracted to and fall in love with persons of their own gender: “same gender loving.” It was used repeatedly by one of the guest speakers at the Circling the Wagons Conference, Jimmy Creech.
I took advantage of the opportunity to hear Jimmy speak on three occasions throughout the weekend: first in a breakout session on Saturday morning dealing with a national perspective on gay rights within the Christian context; secondly during his keynote address Saturday afternoon; and lastly at the Interfaith Service Sunday morning.
Each time Jimmy spoke, he repeatedly referred to the dignity and integrity of each human being, including persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And without explaining himself or otherwise making a big deal about it, Jimmy introduced the term “same gender loving” to refer to those persons who are attracted to and fall in love with persons of the same gender.
To me, the use of this term was empowering. It infuses dignity, integrity, affirmation and respect into the description of persons such as myself. It refers not only to a person, but also to relationships. It conjures images of all that is good, noble, lovely, beautiful and praiseworthy about human relationships and, in consequence, affirms, dignifies and uplifts the persons in such relationships. It also not only accepts as given same-gender attraction and the ability of a man to love another man, of a woman to love another woman, it also celebrates this attraction and this ability.
The introduction of the term “same gender loving” was a small but yet very significant way that this past weekend’s Circling the Wagons Conference enriched and expanded the Mormon dialogue concerning homosexuality. This is due to the fact that the LDS Church, like other conservative churches in the United States, has insisted on referring to people like me as “same-sex attracted” or “same-gender attracted.” In fact, in the LDS world, not only are they the terms of choice, but they have achieved doctrinal status. As was pointed out by a commenter on Sunday’s Deseret News story on the conference, all faithful Mormons have a duty to use these terms when referring to homosexuality:
“All of you referring to our brothers and sisters struggling with SSA and are members of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints please remember what the 2nd Counselor, Keith B. McMullin, of the church's Presiding Bishopric said during The Evergreen Conference on September 18, 2010: ‘If someone seeking your help says to you, I am homosexual or I am lesbian or I am gay, correct this miscasting. Heavenly Father does not speak of His children this way, and neither should we. It is simply not true. To speak this way sows seeds of doubt and deceit about who we really are. It belittles, depreciates and disparages the individual.’
"Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained it this way: ‘The words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns [or pronouns] to identify particular conditions or specific persons. . . . It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.’”
I personally know of no incidence in which God refers [I assume Bishop McMullin is talking about scripture?] to people as “heterosexual.” In fact, I know of no incidence in scripture where God (himself) has much to say about sexuality. Granted, some old patriarchal men had some things to say about issues that we today would group together under the label of “sexuality” and should I be wicked enough to say that some things haven’t changed?
But I digress.
The insistence by the LDS Church on the use of these terms is only one of many doctrinal brick walls that the Church has chosen to throw up around the issue of homosexuality. There are many things that could be said about the use of these terms (and I invite readers to share their own thoughts and feelings on the matter). For me, however, it boils down in a way to this: whereas the term “same gender loving” evokes humanity, dignity and integrity, “same-gender/sex attraction” evokes animalistic urges that cannot be controlled; it evokes shame; it evokes different-ness; it is a term that by its very nature is used by a dominant group to control a minority group, primarily through the process of shaming.
Many speakers at this past weekend’s conference talked about what we as a community can do to “educate” and change the LDS Church – both its hierarchy and its membership. I would like to suggest that one very simple thing we can do is to REFUSE to use the Church’s hateful terminology of choice and instead affirm who and what we are by using, in addition to terminology in common parlance in the society in which we live, the term “same gender loving.”
In this regard, I’ll close with the words of Jimmy Creech, as written in the closing pages of his book, Adam’s Gift:
“Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people will be successful in attaining full civil and human rights and social acceptance because of those among them who believe in their inherent dignity and integrity and have the courage to let the world know who they really are.”
Let’s let the Mormon world and culture in which we live know who we really are.