In this blog, I usually stay away from controversial religious and political issues and focus more on simple life lessons. But I can’t help myself in this post. In doing so, at the outset, I apologize if I offend anyone, but before casting stones in my direction, please at least read through it completely and ponder on it for a moment.
As most of you know, my parents raised me in the Mormon church, although we can’t call it the Mormon church anymore because the church’s top leader now tells us that to refer to the church as “Mormon” or its members as “Mormons” offends God. To avoid offending anyone, especially God, I will refer to the church formerly known as Mormon simply as “the Church.”
The Church has conferences twice a year where we listen to our top leaders. Many talks are uplifting and inspire us to be better people. Some, not so much. One, in particular, this last conference left me cold. The speaker, formerly a prominent lawyer and judge, presented his message lawyerly, which, as a lawyer, I should have appreciated. Instead, I kept asking myself, where is the love for these people at whom he was, at least indirectly, casting stones? His message was simple: in the Church, we believe marriage between a man and a woman (as opposed to two men or two women) is ordained of God, and gender is eternal. Thus, the underlying message was, if you are LGBTQ and act on those desires, you commit serious sin – a sin which is next to murder in seriousness in the eyes of the Lord.
A church can teach and believe whatever it wants. We, Latter-day Saints, should know this as well as anyone. In a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court in 1878, the Church argued the government could not, based on the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, prohibit the Church’s belief in, and practice of, polygamy. Ironically, the argument against polygamy by the government (the importance of the traditional family) is the same argument the Church now uses in its opposition to same-sex marriage. The Court agreed as to belief, but not practice. In other words, you may legally believe that polygamy is an eternal principle ordained of God, but the Constitution does not guarantee the actual practice of that principle. In this case, the practice of polygamy was a crime, and so beyond the protection of the Constitution.
When it comes to LGBTQ individuals, the Church has tried to walk the difficult tightrope of hating the sin, but loving the sinner. But there was no loving the sinner in this conference address. How could that be? It seemed to me like a major step backward by the Church toward LGBTQs. Recently, the Church has made overtures to LGBTQs about how loved and accepted they are, even creating a special website for them. But the Church continues to teach that if you act on your same-sex attraction or transgender urges, you are sinning and should be excommunicated from the Church. So in honor of October being LGBTQ History Month, I am sharing my personal history with LGBTQs, a few of my favorite movies about them, and hopefully, in this small way, expressing my love for them.
The first time I thought seriously about LGBTQs (or homosexuals, as we referred to them back then) was in the early 1980s. I sat in a church leadership meeting listening to a therapist who explained that homosexuality is a perversion, and a young man becomes homosexual due to the lack of a strong male (father) figure in his life. Even back then I wondered how true that was. Did that mean every son of a single mother was destined to be gay? If that were true, why did one son turn out gay while another son in the same family did not? But worse, I wondered how that teaching made fathers feel if one of their sons turned out to be gay. Now we can blame both the father and the son! The Church, back then, also taught that masturbation leads to homosexuality. If that were true, 98 percent of men would be gay, not the five to ten percent of the population that actually is.
Back then, I didn’t know anyone that was LGBTQ – at least that I knew of. My first face-to-face experience with a gay person occurred when we moved to Houston in 1986. Two men lived next door to us. They were young professionals, sharp in their appearance, and two of the nicest neighbors we have ever had. I learned later they were gay men in a committed relationship with each other. After learning of their sexual preferences, thankfully, despite my church’s teachings, my opinion of them did not diminish in the least. They were the same men before and after I found out. This scene from the film, Love, Simon,[i] emphasizes this point:
Since those days in the early 80s, I have discovered that one of my best friends is gay, three daughters of other good friends are lesbian, two sons of high school friends are gay, my nephew is gay, one of top the executives of my former employer is gay, and my son’s in-laws have two lesbian daughters, both of which have married their lesbian sweethearts.
And I love each and every one of them.
LGBTQs love, laugh and experience life like the rest of us. Gay and lesbian parents, for example, have the same dreams, fears and concerns as all parents do, although their family dynamics might be a little more complicated than straight couples, as illustrated by this clip from The Kids Are All Right,[ii] a film about a lesbian couple dealing with their children:
When my good friend came out to us, he struggled to find the courage to do so. How sad is that? Isn’t that what best friends are for – having someone to confide in who won’t judge us? And like Simon, he can breathe a little easier now, with his secret out. After that experience, I now laugh at this next clip from Love, Simon which reverses the roles:
I watched Love, Simon in a packed movie house, and I am glad I did. The audience laughed and cried along with Simon and his friends and family. I shed more than my share of tears, not just because of what was happening on screen, but I felt the love and acceptance of this audience of all ages, different genders, and ethnicities toward Simon, and indirectly toward all LGBTQs, and I realized how far we have come since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, my church continues to campaign against same-sex marriage and taught that being LGBT was a choice because God would never make a mistake. In discussing this with my good friend, he remarked, “Why would I ever choose to be gay?” My friend then explained that the way we have treated gays throughout the years, he would have to be a masochist to choose such a lifestyle. And he would know, as he went through destructive conversation therapy, and listened to the counsel of Church leaders who told him if he married a woman and played the part of a heterosexual, God would remove his feelings of same-sex attraction from him. Like many other gay Church members, he tried it and found it just doesn’t work that way.
Pastor and writer, John Pavlovitz, said it this way: “Yes, LGBT people are absolutely making a choice. They are choosing to be the most honest, authentic versions of themselves. They are choosing to be led by the unfiltered direction of their hearts, just as you and I are. They are choosing to relent to the things that in all of our lives, never can be chosen. The only relevant choices for straight Christians are whether or not we will treat the LGBT community as fully complex, intelligent, emotionally intricate human beings; and whether or not we will be willing to examine both our personal opinions and our theology accordingly. The choice is ours.”
In Utah, the home of the Church, the highest cause of death in youths ages 10 to 17 is suicide. The state’s rate of suicide for all ages is 60 percent above the national average. Experts debate why this is so, but many suspect the Church’s stance on LGBTQs might have something to do with it. Stuart Matis is a good example of this (although he lived in California). In 2000, Matis walked up the steps of his church building with a note reading “do not resuscitate” pinned to his shirt and shot himself. He was 32 years old, a member of the Church, and gay. After a lifetime spent struggling to reconcile the Church and being gay, he explained in his suicide note that “for the first time in over 20 years, I am free from my pains. As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay. Perhaps my death … might be some catalyst for much good…. My actions might help to save many young people’s lives.” The same night Matis was writing his suicide note, his mother was writing a letter to Church authorities asking them to change the Church’s position on gays.
To the Church’s credit, it has joined with state agencies to improve its suicide prevention programs, and many other Church leaders have shown great empathy to the LGBTQ community. The Church even tacitly supports Imagine Dragons’ lead singer, Dan Reynolds’ LoveLoud festival benefiting the LGBTQ, as portrayed in the documentary, Believer.[iii]
To me, the best way to help prevent suicide and depression in LGBTQs is to let them know they are loved and accepted. But many of us don’t know how to demonstrate that love and acceptance. Thomas Montgomery, the father of a gay son and member of the Church, explains his family’s struggles:
“Today was my first day in a new ward [a Church congregation]. It is unavoidably true that one of the reasons for our move was to find a fresh start in a new ward. By way of synopsis, our son Jordan came out (gay) three years ago. While it was a great shock, our family rallied around Jordan. As we became more educated, we realized how damaging being in the closet is. We were not ashamed of him. Also, our ability to protect Jordan was severely limited unless he was out. So we crashed out of the closet as a family.
“The impact of this news was jarring to both family and friends. Our learning curve was steep. While well-intentioned, many were not willing to look past stereotypes. In Church, this was manifest by gossip and passive-aggressive behavior that felt very much like shunning. Our leaders looked up the [Church’s] leadership chain for direction and found none. In this vacuum, they came to the conclusion that we were just one family. ‘We are not going to upset the apple cart for just one family,’ was what we heard over and over….
“This emboldened those who were offended by a gay youth in their midst. A few refused to take the sacrament from him as a Deacon. Others would shame him (and us) in the name of defending marriage. As this Church environment grew intolerable, we sought refuge in a neighboring ward. But the same overall policy was in place.
“This story is the beginning of a process that has dramatically impacted my family’s relationship with the Church. In our first ward, I wasn’t crushed by the fact that our ward had a few people who were largely uneducated on LGBT issues and were deeply hurtful to us. That was something I expected. I was crushed by the fact that my friends and people I had served with for 10+ years stood by and did nothing. They were paralyzed by indecision, looking for permission to love a gay youth.”
If you need someone’s permission to love a gay youth, you have mine. The movie, Pride,[iv] is the true story of how gays and lesbians united with striking miners in England in the summer of 1984. The film portrayed how these rough and tough miners first rejected the gays and lesbians, but as the two groups got to know each other, the miners began to tolerate the gays and lesbians, and then accept them. Ultimately, each group fully supported the other in their causes. I love the sentiment of this clip, which is the sentiment we should have for all those around us whom we have marginalized:
Members of the Church, in general, are wonderful, loving people. Many are wonderful examples to me of unconditional love. I will not let the words or approach of a certain few Church leaders diminish my love and respect for those good members of the Church. Nor will I allow those same few leaders to change the way I feel about my LGBTQ friends and associates. And to those friends and associates, may you know that I think you’re perfect, just the way you are.
[i] Love, Simon
- Production Companies: Fox 2000 Pictures, New Leaf Literary & Media, and Temple Hill Entertainment
- Director: Greg Berlanti
- Screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (based on the novel by Becky Albertalli)
- Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel
- Release date: March 16, 2018
[ii] The Kids Are All Right
- Production Companies: Focus Features, Gilbert Films, and Saint Aire Production
- Director: Lisa Cholodenko
- Screenwriters: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
- Starring: Annette Benning, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo
- Release date: July 30, 2010
- Production Companies: Live Nation Productions, 9.14 Pictures, and Another Brother Productions
- Director: Don Argott
- Screenwriter: Documentary
- Starring: Dan Reynolds, Aja Volkman, and Ben McKee
- Release date: June 25, 2018
- Production Companies: Pathé, BBC Films, and Proud Films
- Director: Matthew Warchus
- Screenwriter: Stephen Beresford
- Starring: Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Dominic West
- Release date: September 12, 2014