This past summer, my wife and I made the most difficult decision of our lives. After decades of a mixed orientation marriage, she the straight wife and I the gay husband, we decided that divorce was our only option. We love each other and had built our relationship on a foundation of integrity and fidelity, but the emotional and spiritual cost of sustaining that relationship had become too great.
Several days before our planned meeting, our bishop invited us to meet with him. After cordial introductions, he informed us that if we continued with our gathering, he would consider us in apostasy and would initiate disciplinary action against both my wife and me immediately.
This came as a shock. My wife and I were devoted members of the Church and had served in a variety of leadership positions including relief society president and bishop. We had in no way said or done anything to bring us at odds with Church doctrine or leadership.
When pressed about his reasons for this ultimatum, the bishop’s answer was direct. He told us that it would be permissible to hold the meeting to tell people that we were divorcing, but we could not tell people that I am gay. Saying the word “gay” in a personal context was entirely unacceptable.
Last month my friend finally mustered the courage to bear his testimony in Fast Meeting. He had attended his ward intermittently for over five years and had found spiritual solace there in a way that provided him comfort and sustenance. He wanted to share with these friends and neighbors why he didn’t attend with them regularly. Standing at the pulpit, he candidly admitted that he at times didn’t seem to fit in and as a result felt uncomfortable. “And why don’t I fit in?” he asked. His answer to the rhetorical question was simple and to the point. “I don’t fit in because I am gay,” he stated softly.
A week later my friend was asked to meet with his bishop. In a brief interview he was told he could not speak in church, lead public prayers, nor sing in the ward choir. He was advised that until things “blew over,” he could participate in no meaningful way in his congregation’s spiritual life. He too had said the word “gay.”
While I believe general church leaders when they say there is room for all of God’s children within the Latter-day Saint community, that message is not communicated in practical terms when it comes to those of us who are gay members of the Church. Not only must we be able to answer the temple recommend questions appropriately, we must also promise to never use the word that describes much of what we are. Instead we are told to use euphemisms like “same sex attraction” or “the sin against nature” or simply “sexual deviant”.
The problem with this is that words mean things. If I am going to have a place in the Church and our community, I must be allowed to say what I am so that others may know who I am. So long as the word “gay” remains the ultimate obscenity, ignorance about gay people will continue to proliferate and hate will inevitably abound.