Judy Finch, who is featured in one of the video clips posted on the LDS website MormonsAndGays, recently gave this talk at a regional Young Single Adult fireside in the Bay Area. This speech is also published at Affirmation.org.
Making the Video
I am grateful to President Stewart for inviting me tonight. I feel happy and honored to be with you. The video got its start nearly 3 years ago when my dear Stake President, Dean Criddle, told me the Church was looking for people with a special interest in gays for a possible video and website, and asked if I would be interested in being interviewed. Soon after, Church videographer Mark Marriott arrived at our house nearby and we enjoyed a good conversation. My grandson, Simon, then 17, was living with us at the time and Mark asked Simon if he would be willing to be interviewed, as well. Simon agreed and the three of us spent nearly the whole day together in our home and in the surrounding regional park. When he completed the filming, Mark said he would be in touch. Maybe a month later, Mark phoned and said the video was finished and he was quite happy with it. “When do I get to see it?” I asked. He explained that he could not let me see it, it was the property of the Church, and that he had no idea about what would be done with it.
Two and a half years later, last September, I received an email from President Criddle’s sweet wife, Nancy, saying she had “enjoyed the video.” “What video?” I wondered. Then more emails came and I put things together, realizing what video it was, and became excited to see it myself. My husband and I watched it together that evening. Mark is pure talent; he asked just the right questions and filmed us in just the right places. He made us look more beautiful than we are, and he made us sound more intelligent than we are. His editing is art.
Struggling to Accept It
Looking back, I can see how my previous experiences prepared me. As a girl in a non-member broken family, I was interested in all variations of human beings. In the mid-fifties no one talked much about different races or about different sexual orientation. I found myself naturally drawn to every sort of person irrespective of their differences and because of their uniqueness. In high school, I was quite close to two guys who “came out” our senior year. We have remained friends since.
My children’s father and I were converted to the Church when we had two little children. Our son and daughter were precious to us, and later we had another son. Gradually, we became aware that our oldest son, who was fully active and became an Eagle Scout, showed some differences from other boys. Jeff was and is unusually creative and talented, and interested in most artistic areas, and not in more traditionally male ones. He was always exquisitely sensitive. We worried and felt guilty that we were doing something wrong as parents. It seemed to us we loved all three of our children equally and provided the same experiences for all of them. We could not understand why Jeff was different. He began to suffer many unkindnesses, bullying and abuse from the other kids, particularly at high school. We did not know what to do. We felt guilty and confused and desperately wanted him to change.
This whole thing was extremely difficult for us as parents; so much so, I do not recall a single conversation we had about it. We divorced when Jeff was in high school. After Jeff moved out, he delivered a book to me about being gay. He explained regretfully, “Mom, I can’t ‘be straight.’” We were both heartbroken. Hearing those words was excruciating; it formalized what all of us had known, but never spoken: Our dear Jeff was gay. I had no idea what to do. I cried and put the book on a shelf in the closet and do not remember ever reading it.
About that time, along with my three children, I became inactive in the Church. I always believed the gospel was true and that I would reactivate, but I did not know how or when. I had no idea it would take me ten years. Shortly after I reactivated (my Bishop then was also Dean Criddle!), I met and two years later married my dear husband, Richard Finch. We blended our family of six kids and now have 11 grandchildren and soon to be 4 great-grandchildren. As my children grew to be adults, I maintained close contact with them and involved myself in their lives as much as I could. My daughter married her high school sweetheart. She reactivated and they raised their three children in the Church, even though her husband never converted. My youngest son is a professional musician now married to an artist.
As Jennifer’s children grew, we noticed in her oldest son the same patterns as Jeff’s. Paul was our treasure. He always had the sweetest, most loving nature. One day I observed a particularly beautiful thing he said. I asked, “Oh, Paul, you are such a sweetheart. How did you get so sweet?” He looked at me with his large brown eyes and replied seriously: “It’s love. I have lots of love; it’s from Heavenly Father.” Like Uncle Jeff, Paul was extremely sensitive, creative and artistic always, with little interest in or concern for the usual young boy pursuits. Again, Jennifer and I could see nothing environmentally different between the children; we sensed Paul had come into our lives exactly as he was. I remember one horrible incident in a department store when Paul was about three. He found (among a hundred pairs of shoes on display) some pink ballet slippers. In an instant, he had his own shoes off and those pink ones on and was prancing and whirling and leaping in ecstasy in the aisles. I recall the anguish for all three of us when Jennifer removed them off his feet and replace them with his own shoes. That simple gesture meant everything: “It is WRONG for you to do what you would love to do. It is WRONG for you to be YOU.” There we were, re-living the horror and pain of Jeff, now with our precious Paul.
We struggled to accept it. Jennifer did some consultations with a therapist in Utah who specialized in working with gay boys. She followed his suggestions to no avail. Later I learned that what was referred to as “reparative therapy” for gays is now illegal in California and other states. In high school, Paul “came out.” Jennifer’s bishop at the time had excommunicated the gays on their ward list. She refused to be part of a church that inferred that her son was in any way deficient and with her children, left the church. I respected her position and do so now. Paul became pro-active and established the first LGBT student group at Grant High in Portland, Oregon.
Jennifer’s second son, Simon, is in the video. We were completely shocked, stunned and in denial when Simon announced being gay. It just seemed too much. But you have seen him in the video! You and all of us know he is a wonderful person, as are Paul and Jeff and others who are gay. They are unique children of our Heavenly Father just as each of us here is. Our Heavenly Father loves each of us.
Coming to a Place of Peace
Time has helped our society as well as our family become more accepting. Things are much safer and healthier now than when Jeff was in school. Simon, who “came out” in middle school, has always been the most well-liked student in any school he has attended. His being gay is irrelevant to the good and excellent person he is, cheerful, kind and loads of fun. He thankfully escaped many of the struggles and pain endured especially by his uncle and some by his older brother, and the rest of his family. Paul, who is preparing to enter medical school, is in a stable love relationship now with Drew, who also grew up LDS. All of our family is happy for them. Paul’s and Drew’s decision seems to me consistent with their purpose here in this life. I believe this quotation from President Boyd K. Packer:
“Romantic love is not only a part of life, but ultimately a dominating influence of it. It is deeply and significantly religious. There is no abundant life without it.”
As we have come to place of peace with being a family with gays, we see humor in some of it now. When Paul was a student at the University of San Francisco, he and I with his friend Carly went window shopping at Macy’s. One of the mannequins, ostensibly dressed for an evening out, was wearing a pink tutu. “Oh, look at that!” I said, “NO ONE would wear THAT in real life.” Carly smiled and said, “Paul would!”
I have a private psychotherapy practice with predominately LDS clients. These same issues surface in the therapy room. When I am with one of these beautiful young people is are in agony because of being gay and unable to change, I assure them that it is not their fault and they have done nothing to cause it, and neither did their parents. I tell them I do not begin to understand it, but I honestly believe that they are the way their Heavenly Father created them, unique and perfect in their own way. I avoid giving advice, but I urge them to make their choices as honorably and honestly as they are able.
I have grieved with a young mother of four who is currently seeing her three-year old son exhibit these same non-traditional gender behaviors. She believes her son is a perfect creation of her Heavenly Father. She wept openly, shaken, saying she cannot rectify that he would be denied marriage and a family temporally or eternally. She cannot bear the pain, and for herself, sees serious questions as a member of our Church. Her testimony is at risk. I provide hope and encouragement and I pray for her and her children.
After the video release, I received a phone call from Lorne, who lives in Jasper, Canada. He got my phone number by freeze-framing the video at the shot of a table in my office and using a magnifying glass to get my phone number from my business card. We had a great talk and he mailed me his story to share with you this evening. Here is Lorne’s story:
“I was a good kid, never got into any trouble and just wanted to do well and have a family. I first went to the LDS Church in grade 12 and joined when I was 20. My mom died when I was 18, and when I heard about “the plan of salvation,” it all seemed to make sense. Unfortunately my dad figured I had rebelled when, as a youth, I got my hair cut and went on a mission! For the 18 months I was in the mission, I never heard a word from my dad. Ironically, he was the architect on three LDS churches in and around our area in Canada. Strange. My friend who baptized me was gay, I had three gay teachers at the MTC, and a very obedient gay companion. My mission president had a son who was the first AIDS-related death in Utah.
“Later my church years were spent trying to make up for bad behavior. The more gay I got, the more Mormon I got, memorizing scriptures, perfect home teaching, etc. My last year in the church, I gave the mission office 48 referrals. Even after I was disfellowshipped and excommunicated, I still had two friends join the Church and my boss. Ironically, the Church grew because I felt so guilty about being gay.
“Actually, I first leveled with my Bishop on my 40th birthday and started seeing an LDS therapist. The hourly fee seemed worth it if it would cure me. But of course it didn’t. However, it was an unbelievable relief to finally talk to somebody and just feel safe and hopeful. He was surprised to hear I was celibate until I was 32. Part of that was the Mormon RM thing, (you know, “staying worthy”) and part of it was my super insecurity. When I finally crossed the line, I thought I was going to kill myself. I almost drove off a mountain cliff. There was this mixed sense of euphoric-doom. It was like being torn apart in two directions. That day was the start of my franken-missionary obsession.
“On a trip from Seattle, I gave away an entire case of copies of the Book of Mormon. I’d meet someone working in a gas station or restaurant, get their name, and sit in my truck and write a nice letter-testimony in the cover, and go back and give it to them. In the years to come, I absolutely perfected the art of member missionary work and three of my cousins joined the Church, and my boss. As things progressed for the next eighteen years, I became super Mormon by day and (acting-out) gay by night. It’s tough living two lives.
“I was finally excommunicated at 50, four years ago. I was fine with that, but still cried in the High Council room. Some of them cried, as well. It was very emotional, but for three hours they listened to every word I said without interruption. They stood up each time I entered and left the room. I’ve never been treated with such respect.
“I tell people that’s my new calling: being an excommunicated member. I have that story to share now, and, as with your video, lots of people need to hear it. Now at the age of 54, I feel like I’m on a second mission. I’m sure that you know Utah has one of the highest young male suicide rate in the U.S. –no doubt a direct reflection on the hopelessness young gays feel in ultra-Mormon surroundings. I educate people, especially members, about what gay is and isn’t. Unlike Mormons, gays aren’t out to recruit or convert others.
“People desperately want to connect with others and belong. I’ve always had self-esteem issues, but you know what I found? When I finally started experiencing physical intimacy, when I was completely naked with someone and they still wanted me to be there with them, I had this overwhelming sense of being ok and accepted. When there was nothing there to hide behind, (no suit, no name tag, no funny story, etc), when it was just plain old me, I discovered that deep down, we are who we are. And we’re ok. I had this overwhelming sense of being ok and accepted. Maybe it’s like how the apple in the Garden of Eden was the startup of Humanity.
“Well, thank you, Judy. You obviously see the beauty and value in people. I think your kids and grandkids are very lucky to have a great person like you to help them along with wisdom and light. “Your video made my day and got 2013 off to a good start. I’m glad your grandson was in the video too. He gives me hope that things are getting better.”
Commanded to Love Each Other
From the days of the Old Testament, we have been commanded to love each other. The Law of Moses states “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all the heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself. “ In the New Testament, Jesus’ example is consistent: He reaches out for people others shun; He helps those who suffer the most difficult circumstances. Jesus’ deliberate use of a Jew and a Samaritan in the parable clearly teaches that we are all neighbors and that we should love, esteem, respect and serve one another, despite our deepest differences. Surely those deepest differences include gender preference.
Hours before Jesus began the painful physical and spiritual process of the Atonement, He met with His Apostles to share the Last Supper and give them the final instructions of His mortality. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
In 1978 the First Presidency announced: ‘Our mission is one of love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, knowing we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.’ Certainly this means for our gay brothers and sisters, who are also sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father. In a conference talk entitled “Doctrine of Inclusion” in 2001, M. Russell Ballard reminded us “If we are truly disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will reach out with love and understanding to all of our neighbors at all times.” He described being a member of the Church his whole life, serving a mission, being a bishop twice, and a mission president and a Seventy before being an Apostle. He said, “Never have I heard taught a doctrine of exclusion. I have never heard the members of this Church urged to be anything but loving, kind, tolerant and benevolent to others.” Again, we must include our gays.
Gordon B. Hinckley also urged us to show respect for differences. He said, “We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance for one another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse. Concerning those, you and I may disagree. But we can do so with respect and civility.” (Teaching of Gordon B. Hinckley,1998) This is what Jesus is teaching us today through living prophets and Apostles: Love one another. Be kind to one another despite our differences. Treat one another with respect and civility. We hear this over and over and over. I believe as members of the Church we look back on some of our behaviors with regret that we have overlooked the doctrine of inclusion when it comes to the gay population. I believe it is God’s will that currently, things are changing.
Things Are Improving through Gradual Change
From the podium at a conference, maybe three years ago in my own stake, I heard my beloved Stake President say, “gender preference is innate.” I remember that at first, I thought I had heard incorrectly, because I was SURE I would NEVER hear that from the stand. Later, I verified it with someone else who had been there. I felt numb. President Criddle’s statement was hard to take in, and at the same time marvelously reassuring, healing, and true. It felt to me his miraculous message was for me personally. He validated what I believe to be true: these beloved gay ones of mine have not chosen to be gay and that it is not a sin to be gay or to be a parent or grandparent of a gay. I believe it is NOT a MISTAKE to be gay.
Yes, things are improving through gradual change. We observe ourselves coming closer to the standards and invitations we have received from our prophets and our Savior. We are taught that when we face problems, we must reason things out and formulate a plan for resolution. Then we are instructed to “Ask God, who giveth liberally and we will receive guidance. Our church is founded on that model. Maybe our Father in Heaven wants us to pray more and more seriously about our gays, our gratitude for them and for their magnificent contributions to our world, our country, our stakes, our wards. And for ways to continue to improve. I remember Mark Marriott asking me a question about me having hope. I remember feeling and saying: ‘Oh COURSE I have HOPE! We are given absolutely everything we need: intelligence, sensitivity, creativity, experiences, and the counsel of Prophets. Our Ninth Article of Faith states “We believe all that God has revealed, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Of course I have hope for continued change. In the meantime, surely we can practice what we have been taught, to love, respect, and include all others, including gays, as children of our Heavenly Father.
Thank you for being here and for listening. I am so grateful for this opportunity to be with you sharing my experiences with this important issue. I am blessed as a convert with a testimony that our Heavenly Father lives, and that Jesus Christ lives. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe that the true gospel and the true church were restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. I believe we have amazing leaders. I believe we can receive revelation for our own lives and that God will reveal many great and important things.” I leave you my testimony with gratitude and joy in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
February 17, 2013
Revised March 28, 2013