When I was a boy, my grandparents lived a short distance from a rancher who kept a hawk in a coup next to his chickens. He had found the bird as a chick while wandering the Wyoming back-country. Rather than leave it to die in the brush he took the raptor home and built a coup in which he kept it as a pet.
For the entirety of its life the hawk was confined by the boundaries of the coup and only experienced the company of the chickens in the adjoining cage. As time passed and the bird grew, it failed to grasp that it was a hawk. It had no interest in flight and pecked for its food in a way that was not too different from its neighbors. It had never experienced the joy of flight, let alone the opportunity to soar among the clouds and feel the overwhelming thrill of freedom. I’m sure it felt the urge to ascend to the heavens and dive to the earth. Instead of acting on these urges, the hawk accepted a passable existence within the walls of the coup, unable to fill the measure of its creation.
Today, this would never happen. You and I easily recognize the mistreatment inherent in such a situation. We understand that to force a bird of prey to live a life counter to its nature is not only cruel, but also immoral.
As a closeted gay man living in a mixed orientation marriage I often felt as though I were that hawk trapped in a coup of someone else’s making, never able to spread my wings to achieve the measure of my creation and ultimately find joy.
Mine is the typical Mormon story of the 1970’s and 80’s. While I knew I was different from other boys before I started school and realized what that difference meant as I entered puberty, I believed with all my heart that if I lived righteously, keeping the commandments diligently, with fervent faith, I would eventually be blessed with a miracle and be healed of what I had been taught were "degenerate and perverted" desires.
But the miracle never came.
After serving faithfully as a missionary, marrying virtuously in the temple and fathering five children one after another, I realized that I was what I was, a gay man struggling in what at times felt like an overwhelming situation, one that despite a wonderful and supportive wife left me feeling lonely and impure.
I could go into detail about my life as a closeted Mormon man, but my experiences are not that different from those of my brethren. Fortunately, I was able to stay faithful to my wife and children despite the loneliness and isolation that resulted. This reduced somewhat the heavy burden of guilt that so many of us tend to carry and provided at least a sense of fidelity that I otherwise found difficult to feel.
I must admit that at times, the isolation, the anger, and the self–loathing were overwhelming and the only thing what kept me from taking my life was simple fear.
It wasn’t until I came to the realization some years ago, that I was not broken, that I was inherently good, and that God loved me for who I was, not despite that fact, that I started to understand the powerful declaration of Father Lehi, "men are that they might have joy."
I can still remember praying after a particularly difficult period and feeling an overwhelming sense of calm, of comfort, of peace. I finally knew with every fiber of my being that I was acceptable to God, not because I was keeping the commandments while cloaked in the guise of a straight man, but because I was a gay man striving to find Christ and feel comfort and support in what I knew were his outstretched arms.
It was that experience that eventually gave me the strength and courage to finally be honest about who and what I am, to open the door of congruency and be the person God created me to be. It enabled me to finally find peace and feel the fullness of joy Heavenly Father envisions for each of his sons and daughters.
I want to bear witness that I know that God loves me and accepts me as his son; that he created me, a gay man, and loves me for that reason.
Adapted from the keynote address given by Allen Miller at the
2012 Salt Lake City Circling the Wagons Conference.