The message most LGBT people get from the church is: Live chaste and celibate lives. It is a burden like any other. The obvious response to this is: It is not a burden like any other. Heterosexual members of the church can always carry hope that they will find happiness in a marriage relationship. LGBT are burdened for life (or until they reject this teaching).
I am not going to dwell on this point of the inherent inequality that this perpetuates. I am going to argue for a change in church policy and church culture that will make celibacy less deplorable for LGBT people: Start by making celibacy less deplorable for everybody.
The problem a lot of singles and LGBT people have with Mormonism is that it is very difficult to find an affirming place in Mormon communities. The system of segregating singles has some utility for young singles, but it gradually turns into a tool of marginalization. The constant message of Mormonism is that you can only assure your place with God by being in an eternal marriage. Presently, full fellowship for single Mormons can not be attained on this earth either. It is worse for single Mormons who have been divorced.
A friend of mine who was an extremely devout Mormon was in very high leadership roles in his ward and stake at an early age. He had a particular love for the temple and was actually called as a temple worker in his thirties, a job normally reserved for our more senior members. His life was turned upside down when his wife who suffered from a serious psychiatric disorder asked for divorce. Overnight he went from stalwart Mormon to pariah. He was released from his calling in the temple because of a policy against divorced people in that calling. He was not given any more callings outside of ward organist. He endured marginalization for several years, but it was especially hard because it was dumped onto him after enjoying full fellowship for so many years. And he felt that no amount of righteousness could correct the problem. He had a scarlet letter.
All single Mormons are restricted from many callings, especially those of leadership. What is it about being single that makes a man incapable of serving as a bishop? There are many single men who would make amazing bishops, and could even do so without compromising their own family, like so many bishops do.
In addition to callings that are restricted by policy, there are a lot of informal restrictions. Single men especially are considered suspect, and are not often called to positions within the young men’s program. There is a paranoia about their influence over the young people. There is a misplaced concern about pedophilia, even though every statistic shows that the vast majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by married family members.
Mormonism simply offers no routes for honor and full acceptance in their communities to its single and divorced members. They are never seen as the leaders, or stalwart members. They might be respected individually, but that is always for their silent support, hard work and participation, and almost never for their leadership and influence.
We criticize the Catholic church for its celibate clergy, and there were certainly abuses, but it has to be recognized that for centuries it gave an honorable path to people who, for whatever reason, would not or could not marry. The Mormon church has no such path.
Another big barrier to happiness for single people are the ingrained messages that start very young about masturbation. Single people have no outlook on the horizon for sexual release. And they are given such a strict message about masturbation and worthiness that it becomes pathologic for so many people. Every Mormon male and many Mormon females fit into one of three categories as an adolescent: 1) those who masturbate and confess it, which often leads to frequent ecclesiastical interventions and worthiness questions, 2) those who masturbate and don’t confess it, which leads to cognitive dissonance and compartmentalizing which is psychologically damaging, 3) those who don’t masturbate, but meanwhile are constantly fighting strong urges, which also takes a psychological toll. This trichotomy is damaging enough to adolescents, but when this situation persists into the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, it can become a fixation, and a big barrier to progress in life. Eventually some of them learn that a certain amount of masturbation is the best way to have a healthy life as a celibate adult, but this message is rarely available to mormons.
LGBT Mormons who are trying to live a celibate life face all of these problems and even more. They are restricted from even more callings than other single and divorced people. Often their membership records are annotated to restrict them even more, once again based on misplaced paranoia. Then to top it off they face even more marginalization if people are aware or suspect that they are homosexual.
Here are some of the ways that I wish the church would change regarding its treatment of it single, divorced, widowed and LGBT members:
1) Remove all restrictions to callings. Use whatever talents single people bring to the community, especially their leadership abilities.
2)Invent programs that integrate single people into the community. Follow the examples of extended families who do fully involve single people. Follow the example of other religious traditions that more effectively integrate single people into their communities.
3)Acknowledge the faithful efforts of the church’s single members, and celebrate them in church meetings and church publications. Recognize single people who make great contributions and use them as role models.
4)Create awareness among the bishops and members in general about engaging in masturbation in healthy and affirming ways, and remove masturbation as a limitation to temple, priesthood or calling worthiness (this subject alone requires much more discussion, but I strongly suggest Natasha Helfer Parkers Mental Health blog for some more in depth discussion about the issue and how to approach it as a mormon in a healthier way http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mormontherapist/)
5) Create a system of singles activities that doesn’t require segregating them for church participation. Single members should be integrating in their communities along the entire continuum of their life cycles. Once again, providing programs that can benefit from the vitality of young singles would be an important part of this. All singles, including young and older singles, would enjoy participating in their ‘family’ wards if they were given chances to use their energy and talents to contribute in meaningful ways.
Whether or not I am a fan of celibacy, I recognize that there will always be single people in our communities, and many of them will be LGBT. Why not give them full communion? Why not make it an attractive option for the LGBT people who are being encouraged to make this choice?