This past year has been quite a journey for my family and me. Learning about our teenage son’s sexual orientation was life-changing. The heartache, questioning, and confusion was intense. But oh – the blessings that came! I feel my Savior’s hand in my life often – teaching me how to love unconditionally, how to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and bear up the hands that hang down. I like the “new” me so much better! I have changed and grown more in this past year than at any other point in my life. I think my Savior is proud of my progression, for I feel Him closer to me than ever before.
Our testimony and belief in the core of the gospel has not changed. But some of our assumptions and beliefs about what it means to be Mormon have changed. And the way other people perceive us has changed drastically. People now view us as “fringe” or even “apostate” because we have a gay son who we love and accept completely. This change has left many uncomfortable, and unsure of how to be with us. This saddens me. I feel an aching loss when I think of how past relationships used to be, and wonder if they will ever be that again.
We have been the recipients of much love, understanding and support. But we have also received harsh criticism, judgment, and ugliness. Most who have been harsh to us probably don’t even realize that their words and actions are being perceived that way. They view it as defending the Church or staying in line with what past Church leaders have said. But I can tell you – from painful first-hand experience – these words and actions cut deep, and often makes church feel like a hostile place instead of a refuge.
So I have compiled two lists, all based on our interactions this past year. The first is what hurts. The second is what helps. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list on the subject, just what my own experience has been. My hope in writing this article is for those that are caught somewhere in the middle and might not know how to respond to someone who is gay. Maybe they will see that you don’t have to choose between the Church and your gay loved ones. You really can love and embrace them BOTH! Our lives are infinitely more colorful and rich for having these LGBT family and friends in our midst.
- Gossiping (even if you justify it by saying you’re talking about how to help that person)
- Judgmental glances or looking at the individual as if they are deserving of your pity
- Not making eye contact, or looking away
- Being afraid/uneasy to enter into a conversation with a gay Mormon.
- Saying things like: “Love the sinner, hate the sin” or “I love you, but this is still wrong”. (Since when is someone else’s sins – real or imagined – any of our business?)
- Using terms like “same-sex attracted” (SSA) or “same-gendered attracted” (SGA) or saying they “struggle” with homosexuality.
- Trying to compare what they’re experiencing to other diseases, afflictions, defects, etc. (The only thing homosexuality can be legitimately compared to is heterosexuality!)
- Quoting prophets or church leaders (especially using outdated and faulty information from decades ago) as a way of proving you are right and shaming them into obedience
- Promising a change/cure if they just pray harder or are more righteous
- Telling them to have an eternal perspective, this life is short, your life will be better in heaven. (My son will have a good life here on Earth!)
- Telling them to read The Miracle of Forgiveness (Even the author himself said to his son he’d wished he’d been more kind in this book.)
- Acting/being embarrassed to have that person around you or your family
- Acting/talking like you know what’s best for gay Mormons
- Eye contact
- A hug
- Genuine concern
- Open conversation (questions are welcomed and even encouraged if your end goal is to gain understanding and be supportive, not to try and prove them wrong)
- Listening with the intent to HEAR, not with the intent to respond.
- Doing whatever you can so they feel welcome in their family, ward or school
- Say “I love you”. PERIOD. (Not “I love you, but …”) There should be no buts, asterisks, qualifications or conditions.
- People who say, “I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I still love you and support you.”
- Showing empathy, compassion, and validating their feelings.
- DON’T JUDGE.
- When someone reaches out to you for help, support, or a shoulder to cry on, just listen. Even if you don’t know what to say. (There is a reason God gave us one mouth and two ears. We should listen twice as much as we talk.)
- Don’t offer judgment, righteous condemnation, or criticism of their choices.
- Just listen and love them!
Some of the most in-depth coverage given to the subject of what helps and hurts is from the Family Acceptance Project’s brochure “Supportive Families, Healthy Children” for LDS families. If you haven’t read it, PLEASE take a moment to do so. It has the potential to do more good and prevent serious harm to our LGBT youth than any other resource out there. Thank you to those truly fantastic people who researched and created this booklet for us. If you are inspired by their work and would like to donate, here is a link on how to do that.
I love the beauty, dignity, faith and gut-wrenching pain that is the Mormon LGBT community, of which my son is a part. Some of my favorite people come from or are allies to this community. I have learned more about Christ-like love from them than from any Sunday School lesson or Sacrament meeting talk. I am grateful for their example. I will leave you with a quote from the very insightful Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.