A Den of Thieves: The LDS LGBTQ+ Story as Currency

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

St. Matthew 21:12-13

During the Feast of the Passover, Jews came to the temple in Jerusalem from every corner of civilization to offer sacrifice as commanded by the law of Moses. (Deuteronomy 16:16)

Normally the business of money changing and buying of sacrificial animals took place in the Royal Stoa above the southern wall. However, because of the sheer number of people coming to offer sacrifice during the high holidays, such as the Passover when Jesus visited the temple, the market would spill over from the Royal Stoa into the holy area. It was because of this that Jesus observed His Father’s house had become a house of merchandise. (John 2:16)

What were the conditions that created this temple marketplace?

  1. The huge number of people converging on the temple wanting to offer an animal for sacrifice.
  2. The strict requirements on the type and condition of the animal to be sacrificed. Visitors would not travel with an animal only to have it rejected because it didn’t meet the criteria or became blemished during the journey. It was convenient to just buy an animal at the temple for same day sacrifice.
  3. The levy of a temple tax which atoned for the donor’s sins and contributed to the running and maintenance of the temple.
  4. Only Jewish currency could be used for transactions at the Temple Mount. Gentile currency with graven images was considered unclean. Because visitors carried with them the currency from their home country, moneychangers would exchange this unclean Gentile currency for clean Jewish currency for animal purchases and the payment of the temple tax.

These conditions made the selling of animals and money changing a very lucrative business, and it was the moneychangers who ensured the availability and flow of acceptable currency into the thriving temple economy.

Moneychangers can be honest and moneychangers can be thieves. In an unregulated closed market under huge demand pressures, any opaque currency exchange system that begins with good intentions to provide a fair and inexpensive service can become predatory. And at the time of Jesus it had become predatory.

One thing is certain; the temple marketplace would not have been possible without currency.

Today in the church during the new civil rights movement, there is a new currency. It is a currency that is being used to buy the hearts and minds of both individuals and the institution itself. It is the currency of the LDS LGBTQ+ story.

The Economy of the LGBTQ+ Story

We know why there was a market to trade currency at the temple in Jesus’ day, but why is there a market to trade the currency of the LDS LGBTQ+ story today?

It began when society as a whole expanded the LGBTQ+ marketplace during the past few decades. Society made space for us to tell our stories and gave value to the stories we told. This occurred in tandem with the general public’s rapidly changing views favoring same sex marriage.

In a matter of a lifetime, homosexuals went from being recorded on government lists as dangerous perverts to being entered onto government registries as proudly married.

Because the Church transacts considerable commerce in the marriage business (polygamy, monogamy, sealing, families are forever, exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom) they initially entered the LGBTQ+ marketplace just to oppose same sex marriage.

Upon entering the public marketplace in the mid-1990s, the Church relied on authority and an appeal to the conscience of good men and women everywhere.  It proved to be a harder sell than it would have been in the 1950s and 60s. The church ended up spending so much money and attention on this issue over such a long period of time, that members became highly attuned to LGBTQ+ issues.  As an unintended consequence to the church’s high profile advocacy, members became educated through involvement. They not only began to question the treatment of the LGBTQ+ in society, but in the church as well. Members began to see us all around them.

This was the birth of the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace.

In advocating against same sex marriage state after state and amicus brief after amicus brief, the church proved that “negative attention is still attention.” Instead of shutting down the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace in the church, it became the driving force that created it. The LDS LGBTQ+ is now a visible issue and the economy of “what to do with us” is thriving.

What is the currency of this new marketplace economy? The stories of the LDS LGBTQ+.

It was easy for members to ignore and dismiss LDS LGBTQ+ stories during the late 20th century as invalid, perverted, and evil. There was absolutely no market for our stories in the church. Our story currency was worthless and flatly rejected as counterfeit. At best it was used as a cautionary tale about the wages of sin.

Now that the story of the LDS LGBTQ+ is the currency of the marketplace, the church can no longer wave off its LGBTQ+ population “Miracle of Forgiveness” style. As evidenced on mormonandgay.org or by its statement approving of the LoveLoud concert for LGBT youth, the church now has to do business in the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace and trade in the currency of the story. And because the church is trading, it creates a lucrative market for members, allies, and organizations to trade in the currency as well. We have not had this kind of story economics in the church since the days leading up to the 1978 Official Declaration 2.

As a currency our stories are powerful. They have value and can affect change in the hearts and minds of all who know us. Our stories break down myths, destroy lies and distortions. Because of this, people in the church who once waived us off as insignificant perverts now fight for the use of our stories to add value to their policies, opinions, teaching, and treatment of the LDS LGBTQ+.

Story currency, like physical money, can be used by others to buy both good and bad, dependable and dangerous… healing as well as harmful.

And herein lies the problem in the marketplace today.

The church still holds many discriminatory views about the LGBTQ+, continues to publicly advocate against LGBTQ+ civil rights, and considers same sex marriage apostasy. Being the biggest player in the LDS LGBTQ+ economy, the church has a huge influence on the type of currency that can be spent in holy places.

What are these holy places? The hearts and minds of the general membership of the church.

Its holy places fly the banner of the Family Proclamation and are surrounded by walls fortified with the exclusion policy. Every turret is filled with a religious freedom defense.

Like the Gentile currency of old, our stories may have much value in our home country, and can even be used in the Royal Stoa above the Southern wall, but as a currency with a queer graven image, it cannot reach to the center of Mormon privilege. As it currently stands, the LDS LGBTQ+ story needs its version of a moneychanger to enter holy places. Today’s moneychanger can either be a platform of distribution, an individual, or an organization.

The LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace is a tightly closed market bound by rules of doctrine and tradition. Because many of our stories have incredible buying power with the membership, there is a huge demand pressure for high value stories. There are no doubt money changers who treat our story currency in a fair and transparent manner. However what begins with benevolent intentions to provide a fair and inexpensive service can become predatory. Our own story currency can be used to profit another’s personal agenda or even be weaponized against us.

In the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace, moneychangers can be honest and moneychangers can be thieves.

The Thieving of the LGBTQ+ story

Every LGBTQ+ individual, LDS or not, has a personal story. Each personal story is equal in courage and deserves to be told no matter how different or similar it is to other stories. We have pride in our stories and no story should be discounted or gas lighted.  Even though we tell our stories, some are deemed more valuable in the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace than others for use in holy places. And some are deemed valuable in ways we never intended the story to be used or interpreted.  Yes… this means that sometimes our stories are stolen.

It is very important to note that the story or the story teller is not at fault here.

We all have to learn how to separate the story teller from the thief.

It is also important to note that not every moneychanger of story currency is a thief. We tell our stories and rely on others to take it to places we cannot reach. This is an essential trust that we place in those we give our stories to on how it will be used. It’s also important to note that sometimes we tell our stories in confidence without any intention that it is to be shared. But a thief will steal it anyway.

I am going to use a non LDS thieving story because at the end of this article you will see that it becomes a highly charged issue trying to judge if you are dealing with a currency thief in the church.

The Currency:

baby_photo_dads

B.J. Barone and Frankie Nelson both teach high school in Toronto. They had been married for four years when in 2014, they became the proud parents of a son born via gestational surrogate. Just before the birth the midwife screamed “shirts off” so the new dads would be ready to hold their baby against their bare chests for skin-to-skin bonding. As they cradled their child next to the surrogate mother, they shared that this represented everything that pride is about. “Love has no color, nor gender, nor sexual preference. Love is unconditional.”

A photographer friend was present to capture this moment. It is a moving story and beautiful picture. They shared it on their Facebook page like any proud parent would do.

The Thieves:

Thieves

Running on a platform against surrogacy, Irish independent politician Mary Fitzgibbon cropped out the surrogate mother from the original photo and shared the altered image with the text proclaiming children have a right to a birth mother and father.

In Italy the photo was co-opted by the extreme right group Fratelli d’Italia, who used the cropped image of the fathers on a poster which translates “He will never be able to say ‘Mom’.”

Not all cases of thieving are this obvious. And not every person or organization that deals in the currency of the LGBTQ+ story are thieves. We offer our stories to the world and sometimes they are used in very unintended ways. Sometimes they are used in just the way we intended them to be. And sometimes they are stolen.

The LDS LGBTQ+ Story Marketplace

The LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace is thriving and the economy is hot. Here are some recent examples of LDS LGBTQ+ high value stories being used as currency by individuals or organizations. Because this is only an observation about the marketplace, I will not comment on my personal opinions if thieving occurred or not. You will need to make that decision for yourself.

The Church:

The organization that created the marketplace in the first place also deals in the currency of the LGBTQ+ story. In a form of currency manipulation, the church only trades in one kind of story: single, celibate, and cisgender. Oh, and if you happen to be in a mixed orientation marriage that’s ok too. This drives up the value of these kinds of stories throughout the rest of the marketplace as a whole. So valuable, in fact, that they can be monetized in actual dollars in other realms of the marketplace like Deseret Book.

These gold standard stories are the stories of Jessyca, Josh, Laurie, and Ricardo found on mormonandgay.org. This is the landing page from the church’s official website for members and community alike who have questions about the church’s position on the issue of gays and lesbians.

There were others who were contacted to share their story for the site, and one individual spent the day being filmed but decided in the end that this was not the way they wanted to share their story and was concerned how their story would be used by others.

Stories from our community on official church sites are handpicked threads plucked from the entire LDS LGBTQ+ story tapestry to reinforce the church’s teaching that marriage is currently defined as one man/one woman. Since the law of chastity is “abstinence from sexual relations before marriage and complete fidelity and loyalty to one’s spouse after marriage,” the only acceptable gay in the kingdom is modeled in the stories found on mormonandgay.org.

I celebrate the stories of Jessyca, Josh, Laurie, and Ricardo. They are genuine and authentic. It does not matter to me if they tell their story in a professionally produced church video or over the phone. However, without comment on the stories themselves, it is important to understand that the stories are nevertheless being used as a high value currency by the church and many members.  There are thousands of LDS LGBTQ+ stories out there in the church, yet most of these stories are gentile currency and the church finds them useless to do business with in holy places.

Deseret Book:

Hot off the presses this month is the Tom Christofferson story which he shares in his book That We May Be One.

Deseret Book is in the business of selling books and Tom’s story will sell a lot of books and make a lot of money. But regardless of the arrangement here, Deseret Book is not an ally. Deseret Book is not a barometer of morality. Their track record has been mixed at best with the LDS LGBTQ+ from The Miracle of Forgiveness to In Quiet Desperation. They neither advocate for, nor are on the leading edge of LDS LGBTQ+ issues. They just print the current interesting story or teaching for their target audience.

Mormons love a good prodigal son story and his book is being teased as “perspectives gained from his life’s journey as a gay man who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then returned to it. After having asked to be excommunicated from the faith he was raised in, Tom spent two decades in a loving relationship with a committed partner. But gradually, the love of family, friends, and strangers and the Spirit of the Lord worked on him until he found himself one night sitting in his car in front of the bishop’s house…”

Tom is a fantastic person. He is loving and Christ like and I am grateful he can share his story to the wide Mormon audience that Deseret Book targets. He is using his privilege of being the brother of a current apostle to gain access in ways never before achievable by any LDS LGBTQ+ individual to reach the typical Mormon in the pew.

Again, this is not about whether or not Tom should share his story. Absolutely he should. And Tom would be the first one to tell you that his story is not intended to be an example for all gay Mormons to follow.

Allies are going gaga about this book that it will save lives and change hearts. Perhaps.

But it really depends on how Tom’s story currency is spent. If it is used like allies hope it will be, it will be a watershed work in advancing what they feel is the LGBTQ+ cause.

But the story arc definitely appeals to the official narrative of the church concerning homosexuality in the church. No matter how far you are in, even if you have a partner, love and the Spirit of the Lord will lead you to forsake it all and return.

Many are waiting to see how this most recent trafficking by Deseret Book in LDS LGBTQ+ story currency will be used by the LDS population at large. This situation is ripe for thieving.

LDS Independent film makers:

Welcome Table Productions produced Splitting the Sky, a YouTube documentary series featuring stories of predominately LDS women. Its purpose is to “seek, find and share authentic stories of faithful women and by so doing open our connection to God, ourselves, and each other.”

In this series two lesbians, Courtney and Rachelle, share their story. Courtney shares the years of secrecy she experienced as a lesbian Mormon. After leaving the Church and finding Rachelle, she fell in love and later married. Courtney and her wife Rachelle felt a pull toward the gospel that later caused them to divorce and join the Church.

This is perhaps the starkest example of an LDS LGBTQ+ story being used as currency.

While some LDS LGBTQ+ and allies shrugged this off as an example of the width and breadth of the LDS LGBTQ+ experience, the story gained traction among the general population of Mormons once LDS Living, the online Deseret Book magazine, picked it up.  Now with a church wide platform, the story immediately permeated all of social media in Mormondom. Soon a personal experience shared by two lesbians came to purchase the idea that it is perfectly OK to break up a marriage and divorce your spouse to join the church. It reinforced the 2015 exclusion policy that entering into a same sex marriage is apostasy and subject to a mandatory church court. It reinforced the idea that same sex marriages are counterfeit therefore not an issue to terminate because they are not really a family anyway.

Just what were the motives of Welcome Table Productions in providing a platform for this story? What were the motives of LDS Living sharing the story? Were they profiting financially off the traffic this kind of currency could buy them?

Allies:

Most allies who forge deep into Mormon territory need a clean story to advance what they feel is the LDS LGBTQ+ cause.

Clean LDS LGBTQ+ stories are those that are compelling enough for the general Mormon in the pew to bridge a conversation without completely shutting down the dialogue because of a doctrinal stumbling block, the “ick” factor, or cultural baggage like divorce, sin, or anger at the church.

Examples of clean and compelling stories are LGBT teen issues, unmarried gay/lesbian young adults who look and act like a typical heteronormative Mormon, advocate parents of LGBTQ+ children (i.e. the Macintoshes or Mama Dragons) and celibate gay men who return to the church after living the lifestyle. These are stories allies can easily package and utilize as currency to shine a light on the LDS LGBTQ+ community.

Identifying allies as a group who use our stories as currency is not an act of disrespect. Many take great care of our stories as they take them to places we cannot go.

Of course there are allies who don’t give one care about member’s sensibilities and throw open space for every LGBTQ+ story: bridges, baggage and ickiness be damned!  However, allies do deal in the currency of our stories. And some are better than others when utilizing our stories as currency. The best use of our stories always involves our consent, respecting our request to immediately stop utilizing our story, even if we are a minor (note this parents of LGBTQ+ children), and getting to know us so that you use our story in the way we intended.

When using our stories as currency, it is easy to fall into the “Greater Good” syndrome. This is when an ally is so busy championing baby step stories like LoveLoud, mormonandgay 2.0, and the Tom Christofferson book, (or even themselves) that they leave behind a huge LDS LGBTQ+ population untouched by baby steps. There are some serious issues and there is some real pain going on in the LDS LGBTQ+ community that are so far away from being addressed by baby steps.

You may need to spend this kind of story currency in holy places among your straight peers in the church, but realize that when you try to spend this baby step currency back with the LDS LGBTQ+ community, it can make us feel like acceptable collateral damage as you sacrifice us for the greater good.

Some of the best allies I know are so very self-aware of their actions that they don’t shy away from celebrating the baby steps, but then they also seek out, sit with, and listen to the LDS LGBTQ+ who have a different take on these baby step stories and then make space for those stories to be told.

Ally organizations who interact directly with the LDS community:

Encircle was recently involved in an incident that serves as a vignette of the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace, the value of story currency, and accusations of thieving.

Encircle is an LGBTQ+ Family & Youth Resource Center in the heart of Mormon territory and physically sits across the street from the Mormon Provo City Center Temple. Their slogan is “No Sides, Only Love.” Because engaging the LDS community about the LGBTQ+ on an intellectual or doctrinal level creates sides, Encircle engages the community on an emotional level designed to bring people together in love and understanding. And because stories are a good way to reach that emotional level, they need high value story currency.

Encircle produced a publicly available Christmas video to publicize their mission. In it a mother told a story about her transgender child which included showing a pre-transition photo of her child. How this story currency came to use in the marketplace in the first place is vague. The mother says she had approval from her child to tell the story. Her transgender child says she didn’t have permission to use a pre-transition photo and was not informed about the purpose of the video.

Regardless, sharing pre-transition photos of a transgender individual is an offensive act and the fact that no one who produced the video thought to say that it might be a problem shows a lack of understanding about the community. Once shared and produced, the only morally acceptable action is to immediately honor the request by a transgender individual to stop sharing their pre-transition photo.

Once this transgender individual found out her story with the pre-transition photo was being used, she contacted Encircle privately asking that the video be removed. After no response, and with understandable frustration, she took her request public on Encircle’s Facebook page where the fight for the use of LDS LGBTQ+ story currency was brilliantly illustrated for all to see in a long thread featuring her, the director of Encircle, allies, and trans activists.

The request made on a Thursday evening was simple:

“So apparently someone thought it would be a good idea to include my mother in a Christmas video made by Encircle talking about me without my permission…I was not asked or informed about being used for the purpose of this video and she used pictures of me pre-transition which is so wrong on so many levels. I’m demanding the video is taken down immediately.”

On Sunday the director replied:

“Someone just sent me your post. I am sorry I do not manage Encircle’s social media and was not aware of your post until now. I am so sorry for any pain this video may have caused you.”

Then she continued to say that the intent of sharing this story currency was nothing but the best because it helps fulfil the purposes of Encircle. After listing all of Encircle’s intentions she ends by asking “Please let me know if you would like us to take down the video.”

After private messaging requesting takedown as well as waiting days after a public request to have the video removed, to be asked again if she wanted the video taken down was proof enough that she wasn’t being listened to.

The exchange continued back and forth for three hours where allies began peppering the thread in defense of Encircle’s intentions as well as defending the director as a kind and loving person “who has given so much of herself to help the LGBTQ community in Utah.” Unfortunately this was not the issue and is an example of allies asking a member of the LDS LGBTQ+ community to sacrifice herself for the “greater good.”

The trans activists entered the thread and provided backup to the conversation, attempted to educate the director, and started a campaign within the trans community to contact YouTube directly for an immediate takedown because the only promise they were getting was a takedown by Encircle “as soon as our I.T. is able.”

In a tone deaf parting message the director flatly defended the use of the story because, “As a minor your mother has a right to show your picture.”

Ah, the pre-transition picture.

One trans activist summarized the situation this way: “Something like Encircle in Provo is needed, even if they don’t educate themselves. I think a lot of my problem was the fact that they included her pre-transition photo which shows their lack of understanding and frankly on some level empathy towards the trans community. She got rid of all her pre-transition photos on her Facebook so I doubt she cleared that. The fact that NO ONE in encircle saw that or stopped it and then when the director basically ignored it and then ignored her and deleted the post [where she was publicly asked to take down the video] in the end showed their unwillingness to learn.”

The video was eventually taken down but the kerfuffle that ensued in getting it taken down reveals a behind the scenes look at the economy of the LDS LGBTQ+ story.

A Final Thought About the Marketplace

There is a thriving LGBTQ+ marketplace in the church created by the church’s advocacy and the members who were educated as a result.

In the past, the business of the LGBTQ+ was shameful and took place far away from the hearts and minds of the general membership of the church.  However, because of the exponential expansion of the LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace, it has spilled over into the pews.

The thriving LDS LGBTQ+ marketplace is being driven by:

  1. Significant interest in the role of church doctrine and policy in the current management of its LGBTQ+ population,
  2. The strict requirements on the type and condition of an acceptable LGBTQ+ member of the church which are substantially different from those for an acceptable straight member, and
  3. A certain type of LGBTQ+ story currency that has the power to stimulate change.

Because our stories have the power to stimulate change, these conditions make the distribution of the LDS LGBTQ+ story a very lucrative business in controlling what kind of change they make.

Because of the nature of the marketplace, it is the moneychangers of today that ensure the availability and flow of acceptable story currency into this thriving economy.

One thing is certain: the LGBTQ+ marketplace would not be possible without our story currency.

Keep telling your stories.

And with those stories we need to be better at calling out a thief.

Don’t be shy to overturn a table or two when you see it happen.

http://www.wga.hu/art/v/valentin/driving.jpg

 

 

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5 thoughts on “A Den of Thieves: The LDS LGBTQ+ Story as Currency

  1. A very though provoking piece, Nathan. It’s given me a lot to think about. For one, I’m a “known” active out gay Mormon and I’ve read Tom Christofferson’s book and am in the process of writing a review of it. This has given me a lot to think about before anything I have to say goes public. You’ve helped me understand my own “lens” on the publication as well as the alternative lens that many in the church will want to use for their own purposes. My own gay story is being published in an anthology for use in university courses next year and this gives me a new perspective to evalutate how I’m presenting it so that I can better control its use as I intend it to be used.

  2. I realized some time ago that if I did not check myself I could easily start to weaponize my story. And I decided that I wanted living my life to be its own end, rather than a means to something else. What you talk about here helps me understand what I was feeling. I didn’t want to use my story as currency.

  3. Pingback: Episode 7: Will – I Like To Look For Rainbows

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