It’s hard to express your feelings about something that is deeply emotional and connected to negative experiences as a youth. So, I am not entirely sure how to say what recent actions by the LDS church mean to me. I will – however – try, and I will begin by telling you that I am angry. I will also try to be measured.
Recent policy by the LDS church stipulates that children of parents in same sex relationships can no longer be baptized into the church until they reach the age of 18 at which time they must disavow “the practice” of same-sex “cohabitation.”
Recently I was asked to speak at a rally for Love, Equality, Family and Acceptance that was meant to support those people inside and outside of the church who were affected by the recent policy. It was an experience that affected me deeply. The voices and stories present were powerful – were empowering – came from a place of love and hope for understanding. It was not just the speakers, it was the listeners, the people who came up to us afterwards to talk. And while oftentimes I sat awkwardly struggling to talk to people individually, their words showed the profound importance of this issue and that we were all a part of it.
My main concern is the message that this policy sends to impressionable youth who oftentimes bully their peers over the biases they are introduced to as children. LDS policy lists homosexual relationships as sins equivalent to murder and rape, punishable by banishment from the church. These policies tell youth that the worst thing you can possibly be is something other than straight and cis-gender.
Growing up in a religious environment, this was something that I was highly aware of. I knew of my attraction toward other males my age, and I buried it in the hopes that it was a phase, that I could pray and my feelings would be taken away, and that if I found a woman I loved enough everything would be OK. I did this, because I knew [or wrongly thought] that the worst thing I could be was gay, that the worst shame I could bring to my grandparents, to my parents, to members of my church and community was to admit that I had feelings for people of the same sex. And so I could not even admit to myself that I was gay, I could not do that until I left for college and realized that – whether or not I was in a relationship – hiding something that was important to who I was caused suffering.
I never want to tell people that no matter the circumstances – coming out RIGHT NOW – is the best decision they can make. It is an individual process, it can only be done when you deem it to be the right time. It’s hard to tell when that is for some. For me, I knew my sophomore year of college. I knew that my parents would love me no matter what (and they do, my mother said, “well, are you still going to do the dishes?” and my father I think always knew), and I knew that if and when people would reject me I did not need their affirmation. I was above their rejection, it had no bearing on my condition or values. But that is not something that many children are likely to learn in their youth, and it is reflected in the high homelessness and suicide rate of LGBT children and youth.
Even before coming out my peers knew that I was not like them. My freshman year of high school I was walking home from school, and an entire bus of kids – some of them my friends – rolled down their windows and yelled “fag, fag, fag,” pointing at me as they drove by. How could they know the effects that this would have on a young child struggling to understand why they were “different?”
In high school basketball, the locker room was an uncomfortable place as people shared stories of sexual conquests and joked about “faggots.” I would stare into my locker, hoping that no one would notice how uncomfortable I was when they said these things, that they wouldn’t be able to pick out the fact that I wasn’t dating girls our age, and that I maybe I had a crush on the boy that sat in front of me in my English class. At prom, I would take two girls. Maybe that would shake their suspicions? I couldn’t tell girls that liked me why I was uninterested, because then they would know – then my biological father (who I was living with) – would know. Then my family would know.
Why were these kids so cruel? It was because they didn’t understand what their words and actions meant, it was because they grew up in a culture that taught that if you were different, something was wrong with you. It was because our parents grew up in that same atmosphere.
I say none of this to point out that certain individuals or even cultures are hateful – I believe that deep down all people are capable of good. Individuals change, in college being out wasn’t a problem. As a resident assistant with student athletes, international students and people from all over conservative states like Idaho and Utah living on my floors, I rarely felt the sting of bigotry or hatred. Instead I found support and love. As a for the school paper I was able to express why Michael Sam and Jason Collins meant so much to me, to show why expressing support within athletic teams is important and to hear student athletes having positive conversations about how to support an LGBT teammate. All of this in small town Idaho. To this day, people that I never expected to be my friends once I told them are still in contact with me, and still supportive. People change when they find out that someone close to them is LGBT, they realize the impact of their words and actions. That is something that I hope my experiences illustrate.
Since speaking at this rally, many of our words have made it in the news. Responses have obviously been varied. Most inside and out of the church are supportive, and I believe that this event will lead to greater outreach and understanding among regular members of the church. That does not change the fact that the message this policy sends is ultimately a negative one that will increase targeting among youth as some learn that others among them are guilty of one of the greatest sins. This affects people outside of the church and so – yes – our criticism is fair and valid. It also affects many in the LGBT community who are still – for the time being – members of the church. Officially, I am still a member of the church although I am working on my resignation paperwork. I have not been active since high school , nor do I believe in their doctrine. But I have seen the social power that this institution holds, especially in Utah where the most social power in the state lies with a prophet of god. I have heard those in the church speak of their pain.
I want that prophet to hear me now, and to understand the hurt and suffering the culture his church created causes among LGBT youth. Please, establish policies in love, treat others like normal people. Encourage members to interact with those outside the faith, and ask yourselves what you are doing to help LGBT youth. Don’t support reversion therapies like the ones offered by BYU-Idaho just this past month.
It is time to move on, to pronounce victory for those that have been oppressed, so celebrate their voices, their experiences. I hope that you remain open to all voices, that you hear the unique experience of trans people and LGBT people (especially people of color, because many of them face even greater hurdles due simply to the color of their skin) — and that after hearing them you can show greater love and appreciation for the beauty and diversity we have in our world. Most of all, continue fighting when you see oppression, continue this fight, continue all fights which result in the expansion of rights and tolerance.