Jennifer Bowman is married to her best friend, David. They have six children who entertain, challege, and inspire them daily. A history teacher turned stay-at-home mom, she enjoys community service in her spare time.
I have known many gay and transgender persons. They have been both family members and friends. Knowing and loving these people has taught me how lonely their world can be and how un-Christlike the “devoted” often act. I would like to share my story about the first gay person I ever knew and how he changed my life. The story is a painful and heartbreaking. I have removed names to protect the identity of the family members involved. This is MY story not theirs; until I have their permission, I would feel uncomfortable using their names in a public way.
When I was a young child in the 1980s, a great uncle (who was a bishop at the time) came out. He admitted that while he tried to live the gospel by marrying and having a large family and by carrying out his priesthood responsibilities, he could no longer deny who he was nor could he deny his secret partner of the past 12 years. He was excommunicated. He and his wife of many years divorced. Their children (all adults and in their late teens) decided to reject their father. Our family stopped speaking to my uncle and he was cast out. My uncle and his partner moved to San Francisco to find refuge. I always remembered his genuine kindness and charity and was perplexed how someone so good as my uncle could be “evil.” My uncle believed the gospel and diligently labored on its behalf. I knew that his being gay was not his choice. He didn’t want to be gay. There was sufficient proof that he had pretended not to be.
My uncle did not come to my great grandfather’s LDS funeral, as Grandpa’s dying wish was that his gay son would not desecrate his funeral or the chapel it was held in. When my great grandmother passed away, my uncle was invited to attend the LDS funeral. Everyone acted as though letting this son mourn his mother was generous. My uncle attended the funeral without his partner. I was 19 at the time and remember thinking how difficult it must be to mourn the death of your mother, without your partner, in a room full of family and religious people that reject you. It broke my heart…and still does.
My’s uncle’s ex-wife and children would not speak to him or look at him. None of the family gave him more than a brief, awkward hello. The ward he grew up in would not acknowledge him. I was amazed at how he greeted each person with compassion and no sense of animosity. It was abhorrent to my soul to watch each and every person turn away. Christ would not shun my uncle and neither would I. I sat by him at the services, stood with him at the grave dedication, and ate with him at the ward provided lunch. After the funeral, my uncle hugged me goodbye. To my knowledge, after my grandparents’ estate was settled, he never spoke to anyone in the family ever again. He changed his contact information and I do not know what has become of him. I often think of him and wonder how we as a church and family were so hateful toward someone who never showed anything besides charity to his fellow man.
My uncle was my first wake up call that our LGBT brothers and sisters were being abandoned and mistreated. I have lost my uncle. My memories of him and remembrances of cherished stories fuel my desire to rebuild the burned bridges. With Christlike love and acceptance, LGBT individuals can be and should be part of our communities, our families, and if they so choose, our congregations.
While I never give up hope that I will find my uncle, the trail has certainly dried up. I know that I will see him on the other side of the veil and it will be a happier day than the last time I saw him.