Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stand up! Come out! Speak out!

After reading a blog post and subsequent comments this morning, I couldn't help but feel a little riled. Sometimes it just gets wearying to hear people disgorge over and over that the LDS Church is responsible for nearly all the gay-hate the world has to offer--particularly as it relates to young people.

As a totally out and very happy former bishop of an LDS student ward, I think I've got a pretty good handle (at least for me) on the subject of young gay men and the LDS church. I had a number of queer men and women in my ward--at one time as many as 19 (that I knew about), and every one of them struggled with their sexuality. That struggle, surprisingly, was only tangentially related to sex.

What straight people fail to understand is that being queer impacts nearly every aspect of my life, from what I think about when I first wake up in the morning to how I relate to people to what I do for a living and how I approach life in general. It's not just about who I love or who I choose to sleep with.

Having spent most of my life outside of Utah and having had students in my ward from all over the world, the issue isn't just the Church (which a few individuals in the MoHo community who thrive on spewing hate and bigotry would like everyone to believe.)

The problem is with our society at large as well as our religious sub-culture. (For example, young gays from outside the Mormon community are struggling just as hard with their lives as queer Mormon boys; the Iowa House of Representatives just voted to overturn gay marriage in Iowa; the US Congress continues to support DOMA.)

We all know from the time of our awakening that we're different. Like nearly every young person, we don't want to be different. We want to be like our peers. We want to fit in, be accepted, be loved.

As a queer teenager we know we're different, we don't fit in and can't fit in.

Struggling gay people, young and old, in and out, married or single need to find that there are other people like them--that they are not alone.

Now I ask, what are you and I doing personally to ensure these young people know they are not alone? What are you and I doing to help queer men in mid-life know they are not alone? What are you and I doing to build credibility and acceptance for the gay community?

While the Church has done a terrible job dealing with queer issues, it is moving forward. It recognizes that it has a responsibility to somehow support its gay members. President Hinckley acknowledged that.

In an organization designed at its core to promote and maintain the status quo, change takes time. Change regarding queer equality will take time, but it will take place.

To facilitate that change we, the faithful who happen to also be gay or gay-friendly, must step up and continue to be heard regardless of the impact on our lives.

Those of us who have had powerful spiritual experiences about and within the Gospel community have difficulty denying those experiences. While we may not be in sync with every church tenet (or even with what others might think are the most important church tenets), we still choose to remain a part of the Gospel family because of those experiences regardless of the opposition. (And we will not be bullied from the Gospel family by those standing on the inside or the outside of the Church organization.)

Change will continue to take place as it always has. With regard to homosexuality, the pace of change will continue forward as a new generation with more experience and fewer prejudices move into positions of leadership. That's how things are done in the church. Anyone who doesn't understand that (and there are many inside and outside who don't) needs a lesson in organizational dynamics.

Rather than whine, call names, and gnash teeth, we should be standing up in our wards, speaking out in our communities and doing whatever we can to teach our friends and neighbors inside and outside the church that they have nothing to fear from their gay neighbors, that they have nothing to fear from giving gay people civil protections the rest of society enjoys, that they have nothing to fear from gay marriage, which will only add stability and safety to our society. And for our gay brothers and sisters, we should stand up as beacons of hope and pillars of faith.

If we want to keep our gay youth safe, if we want to help those coming out in mid-life, if we want to enjoy fellowship as Latter-day Saints, if we want to promote change in our church and society, we need to step up and speak out, kindly, clearly and with love.

If the 20th Century taught us nothing else, it taught us that through love, "We shall overcome!"


  1. A very powerful post, with which I wholeheartedly, for the most part, agree. A friend who has provided me with much useful advice since I started my process of coming out has pointed out to me that blogs such as yours and mine and many others are important voices that can speak to other gay members of the Church, particularly young ones. There is much we can do, regardless of where we fall on the spectrum of Church activity/belief.

  2. Clive,
    I'm sure your POV having been a bishop and being around other leaders who were as loving and caring as you gives you the strength to want to conquer with love. Maybe with your experience and network it can help facilitate a training to the LDS leaders or something.

    Sadly my personal experience with this issue was different. The first time I heard my own bishop talk about a kid who was dealing with "SSA" as he put it he mocked the kid and berated him horribly in a bishopric meeting and I was just a lowly clerk who was horrified to hear him speak like that, same with rumors of another member who was said to frequent gay bars and clubs --granted that was a few years ago--and my own experience telling my bishop at the student ward of my struggles and his pat answer of "just get married, once you have a sexual outlet your attractions will stop" didn't leave much to be desired for so the last thing I ever wanted to do was to air my dirty laundry in front of my leaders.

    I think the biggest issue for me is that many leaders--and members for that matter--don't have the huevos to speak and act their mind, even if it just means a small show of unconditional love in word and deed because it could mean that they might get in trouble with their own leaders--again another byproduct of having lay clergy and not being adequately trained with issues like this. I agree with you that something has to be done but honestly I don't know if it is realistic because leaders don't dare speak up and make the church a true place for sanctuary.

    In my ideal world where we'd all love and care for one another and would always think: "What would The Lord Do?" I could see that happening and I'm sure there are small steps being made now thanks to the Carolyn Pearsons and others like her, thankfully that's why a lot of kids don't feel so afraid of staying in the closet, but in my mind we're still a few generations from seeing that in the LDS church, very likely we'll never live to see it.