Gay and Mormon
Good evening everyone, my name is Laurence and today I’ve been asked to talk about a topic that is not frequently addressed here at church: What it’s like to be gay and Mormon. I’ve been openly gay for about 2 years now. And I want to share a little bit of my story with you, and give you a taste of what it’s like to be gay and the complexities of being part of a religious community. As I share my story, I also hope to dispel any misconceptions about gays. I also hope to instill a sense of self confidence for those in this room that are also gay, but have not yet accepted it. First, I’ll give you a synopsis of my background:
I have found men to be attractive since I can remember. It was more apparent when I hit puberty and as I grew older. As I started to date girls, I noticed that the relationship would only go so far and then I would get uncomfortable. I could connect with women on an emotional level, but not on a physical level. It was apparent that something was wrong with me. So what did I do? I suppressed all these feelings and emotions. I told myself that if I just prayed enough, read my scriptures, went to church, the temple, that these thoughts and feelings would eventually go away. I was naive to think that dating women would also cure me of these feelings. No matter what I did, or do today, I still experience an attraction to men. And I thought I had to be silent about the whole thing. I was so ashamed for having these attractions that I never imagined talking about them, to anyone. To add to the pressure of keeping my attractions a secret, I would come to church and hear talks and lessons on marriage between a man and woman. That God did not allow or permit gays to be married – it was not part of His plan.
When you have a testimony of who God is, and what His gospel entails, yet experience something that is contrary to that, it brings up a lot of mixed emotions. I’ve come a long way and have learned to love myself, but I want to first address some of the complexities of this issue:
I didn’t choose to be gay, just like heterosexuals do not choose to be straight.
There is no such thing as “praying the gay away.” No matter how good of a person you are, your sexual attractions do not disappear.
The Church doctrine states that you can either marry the opposite gender, or remain celibate and single. You cannot act on homosexual feelings. In addition, there is not a whole lot of direction as to how to cope or deal with same gender attraction.
Suicide is a real thing and is prevalent among our LGBT youth and young adults. It’s difficult to fit into a culture or religion that does not seem to have a place, as far as marriage and family goes, for those who want to be in a same sex relationship.
Last but not least, we don’t talk about the LGBT community enough at church and how we can help them feel included. There tends to be more support outside of the church for LGBT members and if we don’t do something now, they will continue to leave and find refuge elsewhere.
As I’ve struggled with the complexities of being gay and Mormon, I’ve come to learn more about myself and most importantly I’ve come to learn more about the character of God. Over the last 2 years I’ve come to realize a few important things that have helped me get to where I am today. They are as follows:
First, I’ve had to accept myself. I’ve had to realize that there is nothing wrong with me. And that I don’t have to be ashamed of being gay. The scriptures state that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” And that includes mine. I think it’s really easy for humans to beat themselves up – to look at all the wrong we do, instead of all the good. I think it’s easy to pick out our flaws, instead of our strengths. It’s easy to see ourselves as worthless, when in fact we have so much to offer. I’d like to call this phenomenon the perfectionist complex. We are constantly telling ourselves to be better. We think that by being better, we somehow cannot afford to make mistakes. When in reality, we only become better BY making mistakes. Although I do believe we can improve and work on ourselves, we cannot expect to be perfect. Nor should we. God loves us for who we are, so we should do the same.
The second thing I’ve learned in my journey is to be real and authentic with myself, and with others. Being vulnerable is the only way to be authentic. When I finally accepted the fact that I can’t change my sexual orientation, I started to talk about it. I opened up to friends, family, and eventually the whole internet about my struggles. I’m standing here today, scared out of my mind, yet aware that by being open and vulnerable, I’m choosing to be me. Although being open does not always welcome a great response, I can guarantee you that it will change your life for the better.
The last thing I’ve learned, and will expound upon, is learning to be loved and to love. I’ve learned that loving others doesn’t come easy when we haven’t fully loved ourselves. As I talk about love and accepting others, and being non-judgmental, I want you all to understand that I am no exception when it comes to making improvements. In fact, I used to be judgmental of others as a reflection of the judgment I was placing on myself. I figured out that if my self-reflection resulted in pushing others away, then I hadn’t learned yet what it meant to love and be kind to myself. As the scripture goes, God asks us to “love thy neighbor as thy self.” I think we too often focus on the loving our neighbor part and forget about the person on the other end of that statement – us. Having same sex attraction has not been easy, and continues to be a struggle to this day. I used to hate myself for being attracted to guys. I would try everything to “fix” the problem. It didn’t matter how much or how long I prayed. It didn’t matter how many times I went to the temple. It didn’t matter how much I read my scriptures, the attraction was and is still there. And so I’ve had to come to terms with it. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that this attraction will not go away and that’s okay. I’ve had to learn that God loves me no matter what and there is nothing wrong with me. There is preacher named Nadia who once said, “The self who God loves, the self who God is in a relationship with, is your actual self. God isn’t waiting for you to become thinner, heterosexual, married, celibate, or more lady-like or less crazy or more spiritual, or less of an alcoholic, in order to love you.” God inevitable loves you just for being you. God didn’t ask me to come to earth to “fit in.” He asked me to come to earth to be the best self I could be and bring my qualities and attributes to the table and to serve Him. And I’d say he does the same thing for you. It doesn’t matter what your background might be, or what you’re struggling with, He wants you here at church. He wants you to speak up and make a difference. He wants you to share your insights, your heartache, your struggles. And most importantly He wants you to feel love and accepted – especially here at church.
I’ve learned how important it is for us, as a community, to really love one another and create a support system. I think our generation is unique in the fact that we tend to naturally be more open and accepting of others. Especially with all of the political movements in the last 10 years or so. It appears that our generation seems to be more loving, accepting, and inviting of people who are different than us. And I think those qualities have shifted cultural norms and have opened a door to love more freely. Humans thrive off social interaction and real authentic support, so why not foster that type of community here at church? I believe that type of love is essential for God’s kingdom, and can truly help change lives.
To illustrate that, I’ll share a personal story from a few years ago:
I was attending BYU-Idaho and it was my last semester at school. I had recently joined a support group for gay Mormons. It was a huge step for me and totally out of my comfort zone. I still didn’t want to accept the fact that I was gay, but I needed some support. At this group, I made several friends. One friend in particular reached out to me and we started hanging out. We got to know each other and as time passed, I got to know his struggles with being gay in the church, dating a guy at the time, and feeling the awful rejection from his parents. At that time, I didn’t even know where I stood with dating and other standards for gay Mormons, but I listened and continued to be his friend. I wanted him to know that he had support, especially when his world came crashing down one evening. I remember going over to his apartment. We sat in his room, and he was severally depressed. He was conflicted with his sexual orientation and his testimony of the church. He was also conflicted because his parents at the time were not supportive and said some pretty harsh things. He was so severally depressed that he had been contemplating suicide for quite some time. He told me exactly how he was going to do it, and where. I remember the tears that started to run down his face that night. The pain and the anguish of feeling so utterly alone, and rejected. The pain of feeling like he didn’t fit in and the shame for not being a “perfect Mormon.” My eyes started to water, and the tears started to run down my face. All I could do in that moment was hold him in my arms and tell him how much I loved him. How much I needed him to be here on earth. I just wanted him to know that he had a place, despite the struggles he was going through with the church and everything else. I learned that at that moment it wasn’t about bearing my testimony to him. It wasn’t about what scripture I could read him. It wasn’t about some solution to his problem. It wasn’t about what he was doing wrong or what he was doing right. It was simply about being present and there in that moment to love without boundaries and to put any judgments aside. Eric D Huntsman, a BYU professor, recently spoke at a BYU devotional and stated, “For so many of us the trial of our faith often includes long — sometimes lifelong — struggles.” “I submit that these struggles are necessary to our progression, but they are not struggles that we should ever face alone. While it is true that Jesus Christ and His Atonement provide us strength, healing and salvation, in this life He often succors and blesses us through others.”
In addition, we even made covenants upon entering the waters of baptism and have promised to “to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.” We have made that promise with God to stand by our brothers and sisters when they need us most. When they may be weak, confused, angry, sad, or bitter. When they may be doubting their testimony of the church or their purpose here on earth. “As aspiring Christians but still imperfect saints,” Brother Huntsman declares, “we may not always understand the struggles of others or know how to help, but we can always love them, creating safe spaces where others — and often we ourselves — can struggle with the ‘hard sayings’ in life.” We have to be welcoming here at church of all people, regardless of their background or circumstance. We can't afford to isolate people anymore. People just want to belong. In addition, we don’t have to compromise our own standards or beliefs to do so. It took me a long time to realize that I can love my brother or sister unconditionally without compromising my own beliefs or feeling the need to push my own beliefs onto them. I can leave the judgement up to God, for He will judge us according to the desires of our hearts and our works here on earth. All we are asked, as members of this church is to love and support each other. “To love others the way God loves us requires that we try to see others the way God sees them.” President Thomas S. Monson taught “We must develop the capacity to see [others] not as they are at present but as they may become.” We can pray for help to see others the way God does. As we treat others based on their potential for growth, they are likely to rise to the occasion.
I was once asked what message I would want to share with the world, and this was my response:
“Love. I want the world to understand what love is. Love is when you reach out to someone who is in need. Love is when you treat yourself and others with kindness and respect. Love is finding your potential. Love is finding your worth. Love is being confident in who you are. Love is seeing others for who they are, not who society thinks they are. Love is putting all differences aside, yet appreciating the differences that make us all unique. Love is treating each other as humans – beings who deserve to be loved freely, without boundaries, walls, or chains. Love is something that we give and receive, not something that we manipulate or decimate. Love is a climb, not a battle. Love is a journey, not an end. Love is found within.”
I pray that as we continue moving forward in this church, we can continue to listen to our brothers and sisters. We can continue to love, and accept. It does not matter if you’re gay. It does not matter if you choose to live a celibate life. It does not matter if you choose to live in a mixed orientation marriage. It does not matter if you choose to live in a same-gender marriage. We are all invited to come to the House of the Lord to worship together and become more like our Savior Jesus Christ. I know my Savior lives. I know God is our Father in Heaven. I know that that I’m His child and that I have a place. And so do you. And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.