Why I Stay

Talk presented at Sunstone Symposium on August 1, 2014

My husband and I both come from very active, conservative, multi-generational Mormon families. There has never been a time when the gospel wasn’t front and center in my life. Tom and I were married in the Los Angeles Temple in 1995. We have 5 children. Our oldest, Jordan, is 16 and gay; something we discovered 2 ½ years ago when he was just 13.

The emotional and spiritual upheaval of this revelation has been intense. It turned our neatly-ordered Mormon world upside down. But Jordan’s coming out was also a spiritual event for us. We feel that all the clues and inspiration that led us to know he was gay were guided by the Lord. When we finally asked him if he was gay, it was after he had just received a priesthood blessing from his dad and I had my arms around him. I held his face in my hands and made him look me in the eye and told him how much I loved him, how proud I was of him, and how this changed nothing for us.

The next few months were critical as I searched desperately for accurate information in the polarizing world of LGBT issues. One thing that was repeated in multiple priesthood blessings I received during this time was that I would be blessed with the power of discernment and I would know truth when I found it. So as I researched and read through mountains of materials both inside and outside the Church, I knew almost instantly if what I was reading was true and would benefit my son, and I also knew if something wasn’t right and would be a detriment to him.

This happened to me again and again. It felt like our son’s coming out, and the way we have been led to handle it, have been orchestrated by the Lord, and is a testament to me of the power of prayer and personal revelation. We haven’t done everything right, but I would have been utterly lost without the Savior’s help.

The answers to SO MANY of our hard questions lie in our ability to be open to truth when we are presented with it. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is by President Uchtdorf. He says:

“Church members are wonderful in their desire to be obedient and follow the Lord. But sometimes, in spite of our good intentions, we delay doing what we should do or we misunderstand what we were taught. As a result, inspired words of counsel might not have the promised effect. Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t seek revelation or answers from the scriptures because we think we know the answers already. Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. HOW OFTEN HAS THE HOLY SPIRIT TRIED TO TELL US SOMETHING WE NEEDED TO KNOW BUT COULDN’T GET PAST THE MASSIVE IRON GATE OF WHAT WE THOUGHT WE ALREADY KNEW?” 1

There was so much that I THOUGHT I already knew about homosexuality. I was wrong on the majority of it. The Spirit couldn’t help me until I was willing to listen and be guided.

Being guided in this way allowed me to literally flip a switch from being a Prop 8 supporter in California to being a fiercely proud Mormon mom of a gay son whom she unconditionally loves, protects and fights for, as well as becoming an LGBT ally and advocate.

Having a gay teenager and staying active in the Church is a challenge my husband, our children and I face daily, but ESPECIALLY ON SUNDAYS.

Most of the heartache and difficulty I experience is not from HAVING a gay son. It’s how people treat me BECAUSE I have a gay son who I unconditionally love, protect and advocate for.

Having a gay son and being an LGBT ally have challenged all of our relationships, including those in our family. This experience has affected my relationships with every one of my siblings as well as my parents, and I doubt they will ever be the same. In addition, I have lost many people I thought were my friends. I have lost the close association and friendship I once had with many people in my ward community. We have even had to change wards because things became so unbearable. As a result of all that we have been through, my faith has taken a severe beating.

Through all of this, I still believe Mormons tend to be good people who genuinely try to do what’s right. I doubt they even realize that what they are doing or saying causes pain. Maybe they feel they are defending their religion or bearing their testimony. But they don’t understand that for families like mine, it feels like a constant attack on my heart to hear negative cultural misinformation about LGBT individuals and their allies. Some days, I sit through three hours of church knotted up inside, waiting for the next judgmental comment or lesson, sending me the clear message that my family no longer belongs here.

We all fall short of the ideal. We are all wrong about some issues. But none of us are relieved of the obligation to be tolerant and patient as we peer darkly through the glass of our own individual perspective, and try to discern between the conflicting voices we hear.

Those who know our story ask us all the time, “Why in the world do you stay when you’ve been treated so badly?” Now that you all know a bit more about us, you may be thinking the same thing. But before I talk about my reasons for staying, I want to make it clear that what works for me may not work for others. I am in no way here to guilt or pressure you to do what I am doing. Each person’s journey is their own. So I honor and respect you, regardless of where you are in your own path.

There are five main reasons why I stay:

• I stay so other gay people, especially youth, know they have a friend sitting there with them. Statistically speaking, there are dozens of LGBT youth and adults in every stake. Most are either inactive or are still hiding in the closet. What a sad commentary on us as a Mormon people that we have perpetuated the belief that this is how they must live. For fear of ridicule, ostracism, shunning, or judgment, many are either too uncomfortable or too afraid to show their true selves to their ward family.

I had an experience at church a few months back. Sacrament meeting had just ended. I stood up and was walking towards the back of the chapel to go to Sunday School and a young man approached me. He was older than my son, probably 18 or 19. I had never seen him before and haven’t seen him since. He came up to me and gave me a hug. And he didn’t let go. He held on for what felt like a LONG time. He never said a word to me. When he finally let go, he turned and walked away, still saying nothing. I never saw him again. He didn’t have to say a word. His hug conveyed his gratitude. I stay for boys like him.

• I stay so other parents might have a positive example of how to love, accept and support their gay children, instead of shunning and rejecting them. I have traveled extensively in the past 2 ½ years and have met hundreds of gay Mormons. I have wept with them as I have heard their sad and painful stories of being seen by their families as sinful, deviant and unworthy. They have been cast out of their homes and congregations. These sweet gay children are some of our most vulnerable spirits and we are wounding them in irreparable ways, injuring their souls and breaking their tender hearts.

MANY are driven to SUICIDE. My own son spoke often of suicide when he first came out to us. My husband spent his 40th birthday talking my son out of suicide. We need to be better at loving and supporting them. Tolerance is not enough. We need to CELEBRATE who our LGBT children are. Celebrate their beauty and diversity.

• I stay because this is MY Church, too! From my earliest memory, Mormonism is the language I have used to communicate with my Heavenly Parents. As time goes by, I’m less sure about a whole lot of things, but I feel I have greater faith. I no longer say, “I know.” Now I use words like, “I hope for” or “I believe.” I stay because the most meaningful relationships in my life have the common thread of Mormonism. While many of those whom I love so dearly find themselves facing away from the Church, I am determined to stay and make room for them should they choose to return. If they do not, I will be a voice calling for respect of their agency.

• I stay because I feel God in my work as an LGBT ally, and as I advocate that ALL voices be heard. Some of my most profound spiritual experiences have come as I have marched in Pride parades and attended Mormon LGBT conferences like Affirmation and ALL Arizona. I stay because the WORTH OF SOULS IS GREAT – straight souls, gay souls, transgender souls – ALL souls.

Just because I don’t know exactly what God’s plan is for my LGBT brothers and sisters doesn’t mean He doesn’t know, and hasn’t ALWAYS known. I stay because I need to help BE the change I want to see in the Church.

• I stay, because in my heart, I believe in the core doctrine of the gospel. I believe that despite its flaws, the church is a vehicle leading me toward Jesus Christ. I love Him. He is very real to me. He is my friend. I hope He considers me His friend. He has carried me through some of my darkest days. And when I’m lucky, some days I find him here – in this Church.

In her “Why I Stay” presentation at last summer’s symposium, Carol Lynn Pearson said, “Where I do not find love, I have the opportunity to create love.” I feel like the most unselfish, Christ-like thing I can do is stay and look for ways to create love for those who might not otherwise feel it in our meetings, even if that means I am sometimes uncomfortable and discouraged.

I want to end by sharing one of my favorite scriptures. It comforts me when I think of my son and the pain that can come from being both gay and Mormon.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:18), he says,
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Yes, there are sufferings happening now, and it is heartbreaking. BUT IT WILL NOT ALWAYS BE SO. The suffering of our gay and lesbian members and our suffering on their behalf will seem small and incomparable with the glory that will be revealed in us. I have seen glimpses of the glory of my son’s soul, and it is magnificent.

I cannot wait for the day when the rest of the Church can see and share in this glory. Until then, I will be here – working from within to make this beautiful dream a reality. To me, this is what Zion will look like.

This is why I stay.

1: https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-leadership-training/2012/01/acting-on-the-truths-of-the-gospel-of-jesus-christ?lang=eng

7 comments for “Why I Stay

  1. Suzzie Bradshaw
    August 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Our son came out the month before he graduated from high school. We were in shock as we had no idea that this extremely masculine, athletic, spiritual young man was anything but heterosexual. We have gone through this journey with him and have loved him and his partner as Christ would have us do. They are a very important and treasured part of our family unit and are the most loving, caring people we have ever met. Have we met adversity. Yes, we have had people in the Church and outside the Church express how they could not handle such a situation as we have. We have seen his Mormon gay friends be shunned and disowned by their families. We have seen his Mormon gay friends live 2 lives because of fear of family reaction. He has had a friend who came out to his family suggest brain surgery to change his sexual orientation. We had a family reunion picture posted on Facebook with all of us including our “gay uncles” or the Guncles as we lovingly call them in the picture and received comments on that. We love our son! He is a child of a God and so is his wonderful partner. We are not going to disown them nor will we hide them. There is a large community of gay Mormons out there that need to know they are accepted and loved. We really appreciate the sharing of this story. If more LDS people were to tell their story, there would be more stories to tell than we believe we know exist.

  2. Lisa Glad
    August 24, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Thank you, Wendy and Suzzie both. I certainly never would have imagined that two of my three daughters would be queer (middle is lesbian and youngest is non-hetero-normative & asexual) (nor would I have imagined USING SUCH TERMS), but I would not change THEM nor give back the growth in my heart and my spirit in learning to accept them just as they are. I agree, this is also MY CHURCH, and I cannot deny the spiritual confirmation of that through my life. But neither can I deny the absolute spiritual confirmation that I have received that my Savior loves my kids ABSOLUTELY, just as they are, and that I should continue to love them and keep them close, trust them with their spirituality, and be patient. The internet and finding like-minded people and the ability to share our concerns and heartaches and the ability to support each other has been the most valuable thing in my life after my family and the gospel. Thank you for sharing and for being here!

  3. andrew h
    August 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. You have given strength to me and I am sure to all who heard this talk or who will read it. I was at Sunstone as you gave this. An individual who was with me was texting as much as he could to his wife and she was touched by it even though she was getting it second hand. Very powerful

  4. Chris P
    August 24, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I greatly appreciate this article. A friend passed it on to me. I am much like you. I am active in the church and a return missionary, married to my dream man and we have 8 children. One of our sons is gay. At first it was devastating and we hid as well. As the years roll on however, I am not so devastated. I feel like he is such an amazing person, such a kind and smart spirit and he has complete love from us!
    I hope to one day start a mother’s support group for LDS women. LDS women hide. We don’t know what else to do, so we hide. It is so sad. I hide a lot less. My son is openly gay and in a loving relationship with a man we think is also amazing. Funny thing, this man is part of the “plan” for us! I know that.
    I am in my middle fifties now. I know a whole lot less than I used to know about life. I am more mellow now and I don’t wish to try to save the world anymore like I used to. I simply now wish to love others. Being gay is extraordinarily complicated! It is not just something that can be “overcome.” While I do believe it is part of my son’s journey, I suppose being gay is not the end or all that Heavenly Father has in mind. For now however, it is where we are. I wish to be a support person in my son’s life. I adore him. He is a good son, he is loyal to us and he is fun, and amazing to me.
    I wish for every parent to feel peace with this. It is a hard thing. Once we are on the other side of this issue and we just accept and love, it becomes a whole lot easier to deal with. We are not here to force our children to do anything. My job is to love, as the Savior would love, that is all.
    One agreement that my son and I have is that we both allow the other to say what we believe. He is VERY good about this with me. I tell him my beliefs. I believe that one day he will be allowed to have this removed. When he is ready, and if he wants it removed. Until then we are happy. We are loving, and we are supportive. Again, it is complicated and there is not just one answer. My son was never abused, never neglected or raped by some man. He simply is just gay.
    I love our son, I hope he always and forever feels that love from me and my family.
    His spirit is huge and his love is intense. He cares for mankind in a deep and tremendous way that reaches my soul in ways that are too hard to even express. I am so very thankful the Lord was kind enough to bless me with such a wonderful person to parent!

    • katie trone
      September 11, 2014 at 1:35 am

      Chris, Thank you so much for posting. I appreciate your words. I too have a son who is gay and feel the same way ..my privilege is to love..he is my gift, thank you again.

  5. EmilyK
    August 26, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Thank you so much for this. It brought tears to my eyes. I am a straight young woman growing up in the church and a very conservative family and community. In the last few months, I have learned more about what it means to be LGBT. I feel torn between the church’s stance, knowing that it causes so much pain, and what seems to be the side of love and compassion.

  6. Shannon Hill
    June 28, 2015 at 12:34 am

    I am greafull for my son and i love and support him always, unconditionally im there for him. I also would not change him. I felt very alone and confused about our church for not accepting my son. But i have seen many church friends who are caring to our family and im greatfull for them. Thank you all for letting others know we are not alone.

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