Those of us here tonight are the first circle of support for the Family Acceptance Project. This film is beautifully affirming of what we already know: that research tells us how to drastically lower the incidence of risky behaviors in LGBT teens; that the family is the answer to protecting our gay and trans kids. But I would like to speak to how we can widen this circle of support; let’s think about who isn’t here tonight. How do we reach out to the people who need this information the most–conservative Mormon families who think that gay outreach is not their issue, that suicide awareness has no relevance to them,–people who are uncomfortable with the term LGBT. People like Jordan’s family before he came out to them. What can we do to start this dialogue around supporting our gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans youth, so when the opportunity comes for them to see this film, or they are handed an FAP pamphlet, they will be willing to push through their fear and judgement and listen?
First, even those among us who are LDS and grew up in the culture need to remind ourselves how faith works in our lives. We pray with our families daily, we regularly study our sacred texts. We are encouraged from a very young age to gain a personal conviction of the truth of God and Christ’s existence, the sacred story of the founding of our religion, and the belief that twelve white men in business suits are modern-day apostles led by a prophet. We believe that these people love us and instruct us on how to be happy. Jordan’s mom put it so well when she said that as a Mormon you are brought up to make sacrifices and follow your leaders, knowing that blessings will follow. Many of us have made those sacrifices–have given our time, talents and resources to the church and felt blessed for it. These things are precious to us, and if we tell a devout Mormon that the only way she can support her gay brothers and sisters is to give these things up we will lose her, and tragically we may literally lose the life of her gay child.
The premise of the Family Acceptance Project materials is that families can discontinue their rejecting behaviors and learn accepting behaviors in a way that is harmonious with the most important tenants of their faith. This is the message we need to send our LDS neighbors–and if they’re not ready for the FAP I would encourage you to use the resources in the recently released church website: mormonsandgays.org.
For many of you, I know, the stories and statements represented on the website are woefully inadequate. But for those of us who’ve felt at times hopeless that LDS persecution of LGBT people would last forever, it is a great leap forward. Having a member of the Council of the Twelve go on the record saying being gay is not a choice and being gay is not a sin is huge. Elder D. Todd’s Christoferson’s message to gay mormons “Stay with us…..as we listen and strive to understand….things can only get better”, is incredibly encouraging.
But what I find discouraging is that since the site went live in October, the church does not seem to be using this content to get the new and hopeful message to the membership. My very unscientific research tells me that most of bishops haven’t even looked at it. As a result the vast majority of membership is out of sync with church policy; they are living in the world where Spencer Kimball compared homosexuality to the sin of murder, a world where if you came out to your bishop you could plan on being excommunicated, a world where families felt it was the loving thing to do to kick your L,G,B, or T child out of the house, the world Jordan found himself in. Are the cynics right when they claim that mormonsandgays.org was only a public relations ploy to repair the Prop 8 damage to our image? Well, I won’t let them be, and you shouldn’t either. If it’s not moving from the top down, let’s push it from the bottom up. Mormons– ask your bishop to present the material on the website in a joint relief society/ priesthood meeting. If you teach a class work it into your lesson–even if you’re topic is food storage! This has the endorsement of the First Presidency; in using it you are above reproach. Non-Mormons: watch it all the way through (taking deep breaths when necessary) and then tell your LDS neighbors about it. There’s no better way to start a conversation with a missionary-minded Mormon than “I saw this lovely video your church produced online today”.
Using the church website is only one of the many tools we have to start the dialogue. The bottom line is if we communicate with respect, and focus on what we share–perhaps the desire to be the best possible parent, or the conviction that God loves all his children–I believe we have a shot at bringing the most fearful hardline mormon to a place where he can listen to the message of the Family Acceptance Project, and the power of the Mormon family can be unleashed in keeping our LGBT kids safe, healthy and hopeful for the future.