Loving, Even Amongst Differences

After Church leaders formalized their stance on same-sex marriage by officially labeling them as apostate in its Church handbook, the Church went through a lot of pain and confusion, both for those who were LGBTQ+ and those who were not. Many of us noticed the bitter feelings by both those who respected or even agreed with the decision and those who felt the Church was moving in the wrong direction. Facebook fights, antagonistic blogging contests, and more.

This was then amplified after it was leaked that the policy had been influential in a number of suicides around the nation, especially by non-heterosexual youth. As I attempted to bring light to the fact that, regardless of one’s position on the policy, even one suicide was one too many and that it was time for a discussion on how to make the Church culture more inclusive. (This, I believe, can be done even before-or without-a change in the policy. It may be harder, but I think it is time for members to take a stand on changing church culture, regardless of how progressive or conservative you feel towards the religion as a spiritual institution.)

One of my dear friends sent me this Facebook message: “I was thinking about what you wrote about the suicides, which is definitely a tragedy. While I personally don’t disagree with the policy, I can understand the hurt that is very real for others. So since you have worked with many LGBT Mormons, I have a question. How exactly do you reach out to those that are gay and are hurting. You are correct, the “hate the sin…” rhetoric is not working, but I think there are many members who want to know what they can do to support and love those that are gay and are not sure how to help.” Well, here are some answers. To all of you wondering out there, here are a collection of what some LGBTQ+ members are searching for in your ward families. There is also a ‘tl;dr’ summary at the bottom, but I’d encourage everyone to read the following experiences and thoughts :

From your Out of Obscurity authors:

“If you know someone is hurting, reaching out to say, ‘I know you are hurting, what can I do to show you my love?’ It’s simple, it’s vulnerable, and it’s healing. The answer will likely be, ‘Listen to my story. Just hear me, my experience, my reality, and respect it as as valid as your story, your experience, your reality.’ Hearing the story of another human being takes courage. It takes a willingness to sit in discomfort or uncertainty. Resisting the desire to ‘fix,’ but rather just being ‘with’ is often what people need to find their own strength and healing. This is the way we can comfort, and support even amongst our differences.”

“Consider that allyship often has a cost, and in this case the cost may be as small as a few moments of discomfort at your own privilege or as expensive as having to re-examine your beliefs in a way you weren’t expecting while helping to carry the pain this policy has burdened us with. Most importantly, go into interactions LGBT Mormons with an open mind and an open heart, and be willing to consider responses to our feelings of betrayal and hurt above and beyond ‘follow the prophet’. The exclusion policy caused deep and genuine wounds, so administer to the queer Mormons in your life with deep and genuine love, not platitudes or condescension.”

“Find an LGBT person you trust. If you don’t have one, find one and make a new friend. Ask to role-play conversations with them, just like you learned to do in the MTC. Walk through difficult scenarios you might run into and practice. [Examples: A family member comes out to you. A friend asks you to officiate their same-sex wedding. A relative asks your opinion about The Policy. A roommate comes out to you. A friend tells you one of their parents has just come out to them. An insulting comment is expressed in Sunday School.] Ask them to give you feedback and help you improve. Trust their feedback. Do this until it becomes second nature to express love, empathy and respect without judgment. Also, read No More Goodbyes by Carol Lynn Pearson.”

“As an LGBTQ teen, my friends and I have some advice that relates directly to the LGBTQ teens in your wards. First, be aware of the rhetoric you use. I can’t emphasize enough how soul crushing it is to be closeted and hear people in church every Sunday attribute natural disasters, their perception of a corrupt world, attacks on the family, and their perception of a crumbling America, to your existence. At this point I imagine most of my straight friends would say ‘well it isn’t your existence, it’s not the feelings that are a sin, it’s just acting on them.’ Please try to understand that we can’t and don’t want to separate our sexuality from the rest of our person-hood. People are not boxes, and I can’t just ignore the part of me that is queer.”

“To wards with transgender teens, please let them attend the activities and meetings for whichever gender they identify as. Use their preferred pronouns. ”

“To bishops of LGBTQ teens who chose to date members of the same sex, please do not hold disciplinary councils. These are heartbreaking and ostracizing enough when they happen to adults, please never use them for children and teens. In regards to chastity interviews with these teens, and temple recommend worthiness, please treat their romantic interactions the same way you would treat the romantic interactions of a hetero-sexual teenage couple. In other words, do not take away their temple recommends for kissing, hugging, or holding hands.”

“Every straight Mormon I have talked to about this policy has told me it was motivated by love. They have all said this with an air of “You must not have thought about this” and they all genuinely seemed to think any anger or hurt I had about the policy would be solved by discovering this. We’ve heard this. We promise. Everyone has told us this. This policy doesn’t feel like love. It is hurtful and ostracizing. Telling us it was born in good intentions does not make us feel better.”

“Respect the diversity of decisions that LGBT+ Mormons will make about church activity/membership and dating/relationships. Accept that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and what works for one person may not work for another.  Please don’t pretend to have the answers to how we should live our lives.  Instead, be willing to walk with us through our fear and uncertainty and stand behind us on whatever path we choose.”

“In my research with non-heterosexual Mormons, many would say that they would feel like their sexuality would take an overwhelming part in their mind when they were at Church because of the constant talks about heterosexual families, pressures to date from YSA Bishops and other leaders, and the like. Leaders need to recognize that, while marriage is an important part of the LDS doctrine, the purpose of Church is NOT to get people to married. Many non-heterosexual members who are trying to keep the law of chastity get frustrated when they are constantly pressured to date and get married. We should make church a refuge for all, and this includes cutting back on the talk and norms that make heterosexual dating the primary purpose of church. Make Church about Christ. You can be sure that everyone can respond when it is always about Christ.”

From the North Star’s Facebook Group:

“This is pretty simple, but sitting next to me and talking with me in elders quorum has always made me feel wanted.”

“When people offer to shake hands, or better yet, offer a hug, I know that I am loved and needed. Calling me by name and smiling works too.”

“I would say asking me about me, my life, and caring and accepting me when i actually share. I guess not being afraid to actually get to know me. That is when I really feel welcome- when I know people truly know me and still really want me there.”

“Making it clear in casual conversation or testimonies that they have queer (LGBTQ/SSA) friends whom they love and respect (with no ifs or buts). Until one makes it clear that they unconditionally love and want to be around queer people of all life paths I won’t feel fully safe and at ease around them.”

“When I think of those that make me feel the most welcome at church it’s the ones that express unconditional love. They don’t love and welcome me because I am keeping my covenants they do it because they care and that is a huge motivator in my life. My brother is the biggest alley I have. He lets me talk about cute guys and never bats an eye haha.”

“Being open to physical affection has always been a big one for me. Back rubs during meetings, hugs etc. It always sets me far more at ease.”

“Guys being willing to hug! My bishop, my EQP, and even a few friends are willing to hug me. It’s nice to know that I am cared enough!”

“I recognized the voice of a friend on the other side of the veil yesterday. When I went through he gave me a hug. That’s brotherhood and acceptance.”

From the Affirmation Groups and USGA:

“If you want to take up a notch, do something for somebody you know in person. Offer a hug. Invite that person or couple that your ward has rejected over for dinner. Write a note of appreciation for that person’s unique strengths and talents. Share their joys and sorrows. Trade skills or knowledge. Let them play with your children. Acknowledge their relationships. Use preferred names and pronouns. Treat all of God’s children with compassion and respect. Speak up when you see/hear someone else claiming divine right to persecute. Start in your own family, then expand to your neighborhood and ward.”

“I’d say the number one most important thing is for us to feel like we can be ourselves… Bring our real lives, our real experiences, ask real questions, and not have to fear ostracism, but, on the contrary, be truly embraced and included in the life of the ward. (I know oh-so-many straight Mormons who feel the same way. The problem of feeling like you can’t be the “real you” at Church is not just an LGBT problem.)”

“Once I had a pair of sister missionaries over (they got a referral that some less-active or non-member men lived at my apartment). I told them a little about being disfellowshipped and not wanting to go to church as a gay man. Instead of preaching to me about how I could change my orientation, the sister missionaries testified of god’s love. I felt better because instead of treating my sexuality like an elephant in the room or a huge problem that had to be addressed right away, she realized that the only thing wrong with me is that I felt lonely and unwanted at church. In other words, she saw me as a person instead of a gay person.”

“My mother, when I came out to her, asked me questions about my life and what the experience of growing up as a gay person was like. She never said “I love you anyway,” or anything like that, but her interest in my life in essence said, “I love you more.””

“I would say that I actually just wish people WOULD talk to me if they don’t understand what it means when my spouse says they are transgender. I just wish we had the chance to discuss what feelings we have and not be scared that they will get the LGBT cooties if they speak to us.”

“The biggest problem I had (and possibly the largest factor in my choice to leave) was people being two faced. Specifically, being nice to my face, then posting online things that are not nice. Maybe if people realized that when they post negatively about lgbt in general, it can have the same effect as being negative in person, but on a larger scale. If you wouldn’t feel right telling it to someone in a private setting, don’t post it publicly (or speak from a pulpit).”

So, here’s a quick tl;dr:

* Get to know us and our pains. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. And then love us and allow us to be ourselves.
* Be with us and stay with us. Help us feel included.
* Allow us to self-identify (especially for transgender individuals) and respect it.
* Voice support and connection for and with your LGBTQ/SSA friends.
* Reorient church around the Savior and not dating/marriage.
* Be willing to rethink your own understandings and be willing to be uncomfortable.
* Don’t try to rationalize away the pain. Allow us to feel and “mourn with those that mourn”.

* Recognize that our sexuality is a part of us that we cannot cast off, but at the same time it does not define us completely.

We must always remember that each individual needs individual attention and an individual approach. Christ not only was the pastor of the flock, but also of each sheep. My friend who asked how he and other members could help already is on his way to helping any of those that feel estranged in the Church because of their sexuality or gender identity (or any other issue). Talk to us and ask us.

Feel free to message us or comment below if you have other suggestions and questions.

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