Last weekend was the 186th Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a time when Mormons around the world assemble in chapels, stake centers, and living rooms for 8 hours (or 10 if you are a Priesthood holder) of spiritual instruction and revelation from our leaders. We’re told that the words spoken within the Conference Center and broadcast around the globe via satellite are the will of our loving Heavenly Father- the scriptures of a modern age- and Latter-day Saints eagerly await each April and October session, hungry for new spiritual insight.
This is often a joyful and exciting time for Mormons as they gather with their friends and families, cook large post-Conference meals, and excitedly speculate on new temple announcements and doctrinal changes. For weeks afterwards Mormon social media accounts are flooded with quotes, videos, and even Conference related memes to capitalize on the fresh spiritual momentum that comes with hearing the Apostles and General Authorities reveal God’s plans for His people.
It’s a little different if you’re a LGBT Mormon, however.
I have gone into every General Conference of my life as a Mormon bracing myself, whether I was watching alone in my apartment, in a group with my YSA ward friends, or curled up on the couch with my now ex-husband, because I knew that each time there would be at least one painful comment made about the LGBT community. Every six months I would mentally steel myself, reminding myself that these men spoke for God and that I would just have to accept that He loved me a little less, saw me as being a little less worthy, because I’m a lesbian. It has rarely been a time of beautiful spiritual revelation for me. Instead it’s been a chastisement and a reminder that at best I am a sinner and at worst I am a mistake in His Plan of Happiness.
This past weekend I was especially wary. It’s been a rough six months for LGBT Mormons and the people who love and support them. In November the Church revealed a new exclusion policy that denounced members in same sex marriages as apostates worthy of excommunication and barred children whose parents had ever participated in same sex relationships from joining the church unless they disavowed their families. In the months following, the top leadership of the Church doubled down and reinforced this as doctrine, not simply policy, and went as far as to say that there are no homosexual members of the Church. Earlier this year, the Church effectively killed an anti-discrimination bill that would have protected LGBT Utahns and provided recourse for victims of hate crimes, claiming it infringed on their right to religious freedom. There has also been a heartbreaking rise in LDS LGBT suicides as a result of this rhetoric, and the whole community is feeling battered and bruised. Knowing this, I prepared for the worst.
What I got was radio silence.
For the first conference that I can remember, we did not hear a single talk on the evils of homosexuality, or how prayer and fasting can make you straight, or the importance of marriages consisting only of one man and one woman lest the fabric of society rend itself in two. Instead of being comforted by this, I am frankly disquieted. Why would the Church unleash six months of vitriol against the queer members in their midst, going so far as to excommunicate LGBT Mormons who had been inactive for decades for refusing to divorce their same-sex spouses, and then not say a single word on the subject during their most important time of revelation? Why wouldn’t they use this time, when God speaks to all his children, to tell them that they should start treating each other with love and respect? Why couldn’t they have said, just once, that they love us and don’t want us to be kicked out of our homes or hung from our ceilings?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, unfortunately. But I know as I turned off BYU-TV Sunday evening I felt hollow and bereft. They hadn’t demonized us, or blamed us for the steady decline of society’s morals, but after months of increasingly painful news it somehow felt even worse that we hadn’t been acknowledged at all.
Elder Bednar said that “there are no homosexual members of the Church”, and this abrupt about face so quickly after that statement makes me suspicious. Instead of engaging with the LGBT Mormon community, or using Conference to offer a message of hope or kindness, the Church has taken Bednar’s lead and gone with one of erasure instead. But queer Mormons are your children, your brothers and sisters, your mothers and fathers, your cousins, your friends- you cannot erase us. You cannot offer us crumbs of revelation, laced with poison, and give the rivers of milk and honey that we clamor for only to our cis-hetero brothers and sisters. More importantly, you cannot tell us “you could have milk and honey too, if you wanted it badly enough.”
We are here, we are watching, and we are listening- to what you are saying, and what you are staying silent on as well.