The following two young men have been awarded the ‘Sit with Me Sunday’ Scholarship that is awarded to LGBT Mormons to help them continue their education.
“My name is Peter and I’m a gay Mormon. My coming out story is a little different than others as my family situation is unique. At about age seven my family and I moved overseas to the island of Saipan. It’s the largest island in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean. We lived there for a year and towards the end of that year, my parents’ marriage began to fall apart. We moved back to the states where they got a divorce. A few years after the divorce, they both found new partners and remarried. I now have a Step-Mom and Step-Dad along with four half siblings. I first knew I was different around 11 or 12. While all the other boys wanted to play sports I wanted to sing and dance. I got involved with musical theatre in my community and have kept with it ever since. In middle school while all the other boys were saying which girl they had crushes on I was just wondering why I didn’t feel any attraction towards girls. I tried to just ignore it and instead focused on school and other pursuits. When I got to high school everyone seemed to be dating and going to dances. I of course went to dances with girls, however I mostly just went for fun, not because I was really attracted to any of them. Around Sophomore year is when I first came to the realization that yes, I was gay. Unlike many people from a a religious background who try to pray to become straight I never really did that. I knew I was gay and I really didn’t see any problem with it. During high school I never dated anyone (guys or girls) but did have several gay friends. I did have people ask me if I was gay but I just said no and shrugged it off. Being out in high school can be very hard. As I finished up my senior year I continued to feel increased pressure to go on a mission right after I graduated. I knew I needed to come out to my parents soon. I first came out to my Dad this past April, 2013. He was very supportive. From there I was able to tell my Step-Mom, Mom, and Step-Dad. My Mom has definitely taken it the hardest. She loves me and accepts me however I don’t always feel comfortable talking to her about much as she always seems to turn it into a Sunday school lesson. I do regret that I waited so long to tell my parents after I knew. I probably could have had a better, more honest relationship with them sooner. As I told them that I was gay, naturally the issue of the mission came up. I felt, and my parents mostly agreed, that a mission might not be the best thing at this point of my life. I have also come out to some close friends, most of whom have been very positive towards me. I’m still fairly active in the church. I attend a singles ward in my area. I truly feel blessed and grateful that I have such a supportive network around me. The biggest way being gay and LDS has impacted my life is through my perspective of others. I am a lot more loving and understanding of others and what makes them unique. One thing I have learned through extensive discussion with my parents and others is that yes, I’m gay however, being gay is only part of me. It’s only a piece of my whole person. I am so much more then my sexual orientation. I think that’s something that helps put things into perspective for myself and for others. One of the things I’ve chosen to do in dealing with the fact that I’m gay and LDS is use it to be an activist. All my life I’ve been an activist in some way. Whether it’s been politics, social causes, environmental or educational goals, I’ve chosen to speak out and do something. One such way was my participation in the 2013 SLC Pride Parade & Festival. Since I have only “been out” for a few months now, and only to some close friends and family, I was very nervous for my participation in the Pride Parade. However, my fears were quickly dispelled as I heard and felt all the outpouring of love and appreciation from the crowd as we marched. People cheered very loudly when the Mormons For Marriage Equality and the Mormons Building Bridges groups came down the parade route. Later that day I was also able to help out with the Mormons LGBT booth. I met some amazing supportive people and was able to tell my story of the love and support my parents have shown me. In terms of my career and professional goals I’d like to study interior design & possibly architecture as well. Right now I’m working on my General Education courses at Salt Lake Community College. After I finish my generals I plan to transfer to either the University of Utah or Utah State to continue my study of interior design/architecture. After I attain my Bachelors I plan to work towards a Masters in either Architecture or Interior Architecture at the University Of Oregon. My hopes for the future are somewhat broad. I don’t really know how active or inactive I’ll be in the church. I do know though that I really want to meet a guy, settle down with him, and have two kids. I already have the names for them, Carter & Owen. I hope to be living in the Portland, Oregon area where I hope to be working for a design firm. Eventually I’d love to own my own Architecture and Design firm.”
Russell Baughman lives in SLC. He is from a large Mormon family and served a mission in Brazil. After his mission he served in the National Guard as a field medic, but was forced to leave the Military when he came out because of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. He was able to be discharged honorably because of the decency of his superiors at the time who recognized the excellent service he had given.
Since coming out he was honest with his church leaders. As he was no longer allowed to hold callings in the church he stopped feeling like he had a place there. He has maintained a connection with his Mormonism by attending the weekly Tabernacle Choir broadcast, which he incorporated into his life as his worship service. He states that he feels no negative feelings about the church, but feels that he does not have a place there at this time, but he really hopes to maintain his connection with the church, and plans to participate in LDS Family Fellowship and Affirmation activities..
He has been out for the past three years. He has been in a relationship for the past year. He describes his family as being very supportive. He describes coming out to his family, which includes 9 siblings within a few months of realizing that he was gay. He really enjoys his relationships with his family, including his 25 nieces and nephews, and feels very supported and loved by his family.
He plans to finish his Associates degree at Salt Lake Community College, then get a degree in Health at the University of Utah. He then hopes to attend Medical School, and would like to enter a surgical specialty. He enjoyed his medical experience in the military, and this inspired him to pursue this path as a lifelong career.
He states that he has always had a strong conscience and appreciated the differences in people, but he feels that being gay has helped him develop more compassion and appreciation for human diversity and difference. He also is thankful that God has blessed him with spiritual experiences and a confirming affirmation that he is loved by God as a gay man.
Sit With Me Sunday Scholarship
The Community Foundation of Utah has partnered with Bill and Sherri Park to create a scholarship for LGBTQ members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Called ‘Sit with Me Sunday,’ the scholarship was established to cover tuition at community colleges and two-year degree programs.
The scholarship was created so that young adults who have been baptized into the LDS faith and who identify as LGBTQ know that there are funds available to help them reach for higher education, and that there are individuals in the community who support their educational goals.
The Community Foundation and the Parks hope that the scholarship will attract other donors who share a commitment to the LDS Church, to education, and to equality.The fund will award its first scholarships in 2013 with gifts of $1,000 for two degree programs in Utah. For more information on the Sit with Me Sunday Scholarship at the Community Foundation of Utah, please write firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are accepted at www.utahcf.org.”
Scholarship Founders, Bill and Sherri Park
We are Bill and Sherri Park, parents of three and grandparents of six. We were very moved by the suicides of gay young men in 2010 and 2011. We joined with others in marching in our first gay pride parade in SLC in 2012 and 2013. We had no knowledge of friends or family who were gay prior to that time. We wanted to do more to help. My husband suggested the scholarships as a way to show love and acceptance to the LGBT community. We also have a firm commitment to education. We were encouraged by our families to go to college but we had scant financial support. We both started out in community colleges which is why we decided to make the awards on that level. In short, we want to help make a difference in the lives of young people. We plan to continue the scholarships for many years to come.