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.