The coming out process is a continual journey
by James Brinton (cross-posted from The Affirmation Messenger, a weekly newsletter from Affirmation)
The coming out process is a unique journey for us all. To each of us is given the freedom to expresses our spirituality and beliefs in a unique way, and I felt a desire to be back in the pews. After a period of time not attending any meetings, I began attending a very open and friendly ward in Washington DC. However, I longed to really know and associate with the Latter-day Saints in my neighborhood, to have the visit of a home teacher, and to participate in service and worship near my own home.
In my own journey, after the Circling the Wagons conference in Washington D.C. in 2012, I experienced a gut feeling that it was time for me to take courage and start attending the family ward where I was living in Virginia. I yearned to walk my spiritual path in more honesty without hiding myself from others. I wanted to serve, love, and be loved. I knew that attending a ward would eventually follow with member visits to my home and the opportunity to authentically be myself around them, just like I had learned to be with my own family when I came out of the closet. I told myself: Whatever my experience is at church, I will be honest about myself and my orientation when people ask about my personal life.
In true Mormon fashion, they did ask about my personal life—and pretty quickly too! On my first Sunday, I was invited to dinner at the home of a lovely couple with a group of other visitors. Upon learning that I was in my 30s and unmarried, two different people tried to set me up on dates with women they knew. I was flattered! Needless to say, when I cleared my throat and told them I was gay and returning to church, all conversation at the table stopped. Everybody listened. Was I really doing this? Sure, it was a little awkward at first, but my story was met with humor, understanding and apologies—they just didn’t know! I think some were a little shocked too (by the look on their faces)! I stayed true to the promise I made to myself and was so glad I did!
As time passed, the Elders quorum presidency met with me to welcome me to the ward, and I was assigned a wonderful home teacher. I was also given an assignment to home teach people in my neighborhood, as well as a calling to serve in my ward. People soon met my partner at home and church, and showed love and interest in our lives. With that said however, I knew that meeting the bishop carried risks: Would I be welcomed? Would I be disciplined and kicked out? Would I quietly be counseled to return to more LGBT friendly congregations so as to not “rock the boat”?
I was willing to take these risks for the chance to honestly walk my spiritual path. Eventually my Bishop asked to meet so we could get to know each other. I went to the meeting prayerfully and with a handful of current resources to share if he was interested in receiving them. Our meeting was refreshing and full of love. He sought to understand my experience, my testimony and my perspective by asking many thoughtful questions. He expressed that there needs to be a place in the church for all people, including LGBT members who want to attend. He welcomed me and my partner to church, as well as any others who wanted to be there. He was proud of my journey and decision to be true to my inmost understanding of truth. He counseled me to stay close to the Lord in my life, so that I can receive guidance through the Holy Ghost. I left the meeting in awe and gratitude that I was welcomed as I am!
Soon after, the LDS church launched their new website approaching LGBT issues within Mormonism (MormonsAndGays.org). In my own family, this new website had been the catalyst for much needed conversation, apologies, and an increase of love. To me, the website (although a small step in the right direction) can be a catalyst for conversation in our homes and congregations, where there has been little to no conversation before. Subsequently, I decided to take up courage and share my thoughts with my ward family. I shared some of my thoughts in testimony meeting, and in turn, came out to my ward. After Sacrament meeting, I was met with tears, hugs, stories, congratulations, and gratitude from many people in the ward. For the first time, I really opened up to them, and they opened up to me, creating deeper bonds of friendship and honesty.
I know I am fortunate to be welcomed where I am attending church. I also realize that no two wards are alike in regard to handling LGBT issues, and many wards and individuals may not be ready to integrate LGBT individuals into their congregations as smoothly. For me, I knew the time had come to open up to people, just as I learned I must to do with my own family in my journey of coming out. If you would like to share current resources with your bishop or family, and need a few ideas for materials, please visit affirmation.org/packet.
James Brinton is a native of Arizona and has been a life long member of the LDS church. After serving a mission in Japan, he pursued an education and moved to the east coast, where he works with individuals with disabilities in the Washington DC metropolitan area.