Wednesday, June 29, 2016

We NEED to do Better

We need to do better. Growing up is tough. I was an awkward, insecure teen. I was skinny, flat-chested, and assumed kids were talking about me even when they weren't. But somehow in spite of that, I liked myself and knew that most people liked me too. For the most part, I felt acceptable in my home, my church, in my neighborhood and at school. I endured a few insults here and there, but the truth is that our LGBTQ youth hear more indirect and direct insults in a week, than I have in a lifetime. They will be taught from the moment that they begin to feel that they are different, that who they really are at their core is not acceptable; not acceptable at church, at school, at home, with their friends, and especially not with God. They will be taught that what everyone else takes for granted, that they will someday fall in love and create a family, will not be for them and if they do find that, that they might have to choose between that love and having an eternal family. More than that, they will be taught that even holding someone of the same genders hand might be dangerous and that others might taunt them for it…or worse. They will be taught directly and indirectly that the world is not for them. They will be taught that while others are acceptable just because, they are not acceptable…just because. Because of a random selection, these people are the preferred. These ones are the ones that get to have all of God’s blessings, but it’s ok because you’ll be blessed too, but only if you live your life in a way that makes the rest of society feel better. 

We need to do better. We need to do better as parents, as teachers, as church leaders, as friends, as aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, and neighbors. We need to reach out and embrace all within our reach and then reach even further. We can not sit by and assume that all is well in Zion because young people’s lives depend on us. It is not okay to be anything less than supportive and affirming. It is not okay to say I love you, but…. It’s not ok to say you are welcome in our home, but only if … , and only you and not your partner. It’s not ok to hear slurs directed at our LGBTQ youth and not say something. It’s not ok to find out that 49 LGBT youth were gunned down and do nothing. It’s not ok to find out that yet one more youth took their life and do nothing. 


We need to make sure that our homes, our schools, our churches, and our society is one where every child feels like they are acceptable just the way they are. Love really is for everyone and that love has to unconditional and unequivocal. Anything else is not Godlike. I know mothers who were doing all in their power to love as God would have them love and it wasn’t enough to protect their children from feeling like they didn’t belong in this world, so those children chose to leave it. As a society, as a church, as humans, we must do better. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Matters of the Heart: Tammy Maxwell

Before fifteen year-old Kayden came out to his parents there were changes in his personality that were so unlike him. He’d always been such a perfect son.“He’s very kind and loving. He’s always been so good with his younger siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. He loves to play church hymns on the piano. He’s so Christ-like.” But her son had become dark and depressed. There were signs that he might be gay. So one day she sat him down and asked him if he was attracted to girls, at all. “He said no, and just started crying and crying. I just loved him so much. I wanted to put him in a bubble and protect him forever. There was no judgment. There was just love. Seeing the pain in his eyes. Yeah, I just wanted to take that from him. I knew for sure that it wasn’t a choice for him.” 



But the night they found out what had been bothering Kayden, Tammy thought she was having a heart attack. Her heart just kept hurting and hurting. Chest pains could mean something very serious, so they finally went to the hospital and after some testing found out that Tammy wasn’t having a heart attack after all, but a severe anxiety attack. Although the literal pain subsided, her heart would continue to ache figuratively as she expanded her love to include many other LGBT youth who would need her love. Tammy’s husband also was not judgmental about his son. From the onset, he’s been nothing, but supportive. 

When I sat down with Tammy Maxwell, it was impossible for me not to feel the magnitude of her warm personality and giant heart. I knew she was someone special, someone who was on a mission to make the world a better place for her son Kayden and for all of her now numerous gay friends. I think LGBT people sense in her that same acceptance that she shows her son. If they need a listening ear, she listens. If they need a place to live, she and her husband open up their house. Tammy has always loved the gospel. She’d felt like everything fit like a perfect puzzle. But suddenly she was thrust with a situation which didn’t fit. There was no place in the gospel plan for her wonderful son. There was no place for her new gay friends. 

For the first year, Tammy felt very alone as an LDS mother with a gay son, even though her ward was great. Kayden’s bishop assured Kayden that he didn’t choose this, that it was part of who he was. “But at fourteen when everyone’s hormones are out of control. And you tell a young person that they can act on these feelings [not in this life] but in the next life. That just tells them that death is the only thing they can look forward to. That sets them up for suicide. Even single sisters can look forward to marriage as a possibility. The church gives hope to everyone else.” Tammy sought answers and found Affirmation (a support group for LGBT Mormons). When she attended the conference, she met many inspiring people, including Tom Christofferson (Elder Todd Christofferson’s gay brother) who has been a continual support to many in the LDS/LGBT community. It was so spiritual. She felt reassured that we just didn’t have the answers yet, but she never felt that these LGBT kids were bad. She felt stronger than ever that she was needed in the church to help make the changes, but that challenge has been greater than she ever could have imagined. Her heart would be tested again and again. 

Tom Christofferson
Becoming a Mama Dragon (Moms who fiercely defend their LGBT children) came easily to Tammy. Being a Mama Dragon sometimes meant dropping everything and attending a funeral of a young man who had committed suicide even though the funeral was four to five hours away and you didn’t know the son or the mother. Sometimes, it meant attending a funeral to support a young LGBT Mormon whose father had just died, but who had said mean things to the son before he passed on. Sometimes it meant meeting other mothers for lunch and sharing your heart with them. Sometimes it means marching in PRIDE parades. When a family member was concerned about her activism and asked her what she was doing because “homosexuality is wrong.” She answered. “I’m doing exactly as our Savior would do.” For Tammy that means that you will continue to give support whenever and wherever you are needed. It means enlarging the bubble she wanted to surround her son with to include so many others who need protection also.

It means speaking up even at the most unlikely of places. Once when Tammy was attending a basketball game, she sat down next to a mother of one of Kayden’s friends. The mother said she hadn’t seen her for a while and asked how she was doing. Tammy said, other than my life being a rainbow, great, then explained that Kayden was gay. Tammy noticed that the reaction from the woman was very negative and the woman said, “That’s a choice.” So Tammy pulled out her phone and brought up the essay 

A gay Mormon teen (age 16) writes an essay for English class

that Kayden had written and had the mother read it right there during the half-time of the game.  .After reading it, the woman had tears in her eyes and said, “I had no idea.” 


After the Affirmation conference, Tammy and her husband had an appointment for a calling in the ward. She took the opportunity to share her family’s struggle. She stressed that the ward needed to do a better job of being a safe place for her son to attend church. She was able to address the entire bishopric. “It wasn’t the youth, it was the teachers. It all kept coming back to the evil gays.”  She trained the bishopric and told them about the PR person in the ward who had access to resources and training material. The bishopric got right on it and trained the teachers. “Things had really started to change and then this policy change happened in early November of 2015. And it really deflated everything.  And now at 18, Kayden feels like the church doesn’t want him.” Just days after the talk he gave this powerful talk in church. 

Since then, it’s been extra hard. Tammy has to remind herself of the strong impression she’s received from Heavenly Father. She’s never felt like there wouldn’t be a place for her son in the Celestial Kingdom. She knew her Heavenly Father had a plan and a place for him. Even though the church doesn’t have the answers, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have the answers. “I still know that there is a Heavenly Father and that our Savior died for me and for Kayden. I have to hold on to that.”

But lately the heartache has been hard to bear. “I hurt so badly for Kayden, not because he's broken or deformed or has cancer.  Because I raised this perfect child in a perfect church with the perfect plan.  I had family home evenings every Monday talking about this beautiful plan. I taught him to pray to a Heavenly Father that loved him and a Savior that died for him.  I told him of all the good in the world.
And that there are answers to everything in the scriptures...
Then I see him falling apart before my eyes and I can't understand.  I see him doubt his very existence and wonder why God sent him as such a horrible, awful shameful person.  And why had we not had a family night on this?  And where is there room for him in this plan I had taught him about over and over?
I want to carry him through all of it, and knock anyone down who questions me. And I just keep taking it all on...on an unnatural personal level.  So I cry a lot.  And I feel everything.  I know they have their personal free agency...I just don't like the wrecking ball that comes at them…” 


“My hope for Kayden is that I want him to be married to a man someday. I want him to find someone. I want the same thing for all of my gay friends. I want them to have the same thing that I have—a loving family. I think we all deserve the same thing…I would tell any mother or father who is finding out that they have a gay child that they have to know how much you love them. We will have less suicides if we talk openly. Love and withhold judgment. They need to know that the Savior died for all of us.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Judged "UNWORTHY" to Serve

Bloggers note: I met Doree about three years ago. It took me only minutes to know her big smile and big heart were genuine through and through. When this recent policy change to Handbook 1 was leaked, I moped around for a couple of days, feeling utter despair. This couldn’t be my church. But then Doree asked if I wanted to help her take cookies to as many moms with gay kids and gay people that we knew (and could find home.) That’s the kind of person Doree is. One of her many favorite primary song lyrics say Teach me to walk in the light of his love… Doree, so much better than most of us doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. That anyone could know her and deem her unworthy to serve in God’s kingdom is shocking.
                    

It was Saturday on November 21st in Logan, Utah when Doree Burt was busy running errands. On Tuesday evening she was asked to meet with her LDS Stake President to “assess her worthiness.” The call to meet was unusual, and not at her request. Doree had just recently spoken out on public radio about a change in church Handbook 1. Knowing that there was a very real possibility that she might not have the chance to attend the temple for a long time, if ever, she pulled into the temple parking lot, temple bag and recommend in hand, wearing jeans and red cowboy boots. It wasn’t the usual attire for temple work, but things in her life, and in the church didn’t seem usual—or right. She knew from her mother, a temple worker, that she would be allowed to participate, in spite of her casual attire.

Doree chose to do initiatory work. “It was so sweet to hear the blessings being given to these women. I found myself feeling like I could really commune with them.” In one of the sets of names there was a woman with only her first name and very little significant geographical information. Doree wondered if perhaps she was an undesirable, maybe a plural wife, or someone not welcomed in society. “I got the sense that she was an other.”  One of the other names on the initiatory list could have been royalty, but in God’s kingdom they were the same. By proxy, I was saying to her in God’s kingdom, YOU matter and you matter to God. It was quite possible that some of the women had been mothers, and some could have had gay kids or some of their progeny could be gay. “I thought, yeah, my stake president might be mad at this, and feels like I did wrong for speaking out, but for these women who have passed before, I have their back… If it’s not important for the kids with gay parents to be baptized, then why is it important for me to make sure their dead ancestors are baptized?”  

The sweet and sacred experience Doree had at the temple fortified her and strengthened her so when she went into the meeting with President Rocky Maughan and her new bishop, a personal friend, she wasn’t afraid. 

In 2012, Doree saw a write-up in the newspaper calling for participants to walk in Pride with Mormons Building Bridges, an organization designed to foster love and understanding of the LGBTQ community, especially where it intersects with Mormonism. She grabbed a friend to join her and even though they were nervous they headed to SLC dressed in Sunday attire. “There was something about people shouting their thanks, not even the applause, but it was that word Thank You that was transformative to me. Seeing the effect, people not just crying and cheering, but absolutely weeping. The reaction of the crowd was disproportionate to what we were  doing. All we were doing was walking down the street. It was a defining moment.” So moved by the experience, Doree wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the Salt Lake Tribune. She was then recruited to be a part of the steering committee of Mormons Building Bridges. 

 As part of her role, she helped coordinate entries for thirteen Pride parades last year, not just in SLC, but far away places such as Washington DC, Las Vegas, Kansas, North Carolina and Los Angelos. She  campaigned for anti-discrimination measures, testified in senate hearings, spoke at a meeting when a Gay-Straight Alliance had been threatened to be removed in Box Elder County. She was on a panel at Weber State University, and many other panels. In all of these activities,  she naturally met lots of LGBT people, heard their stories, met their families, and listened how they navigate the rocky road between Mormonism and being gay. Many, even if they had left the church either voluntarily or by force knew and loved the Mormon church. So even with the difficult path, they walked they often wanted to raise their children in the LDS church. One of Doree’s favorite scriptures is Psalms 115: 105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Her path had been lit and her boots on the ground service felt like divine guidance. While endeavoring to be a light, many have felt her love. 

There had been signs that the church was moving in a positive direction. It was sometimes one step forward, two steps back, but Doree had been hopeful. Even though there is lots of rooms for improvement, the official LDS website called Mormons and Gays was launched which stated that being gay isn’t a choice. We were encouraged to  be kind and respectful. There had been the recent statewide Anti-discrimination bill in jobs and housing which wouldn't have happened without the church’s involvement. There have been ward congregations throughout the church that were more welcoming to their LGBTQ brothers and sisters. 

For the last five years Doree and her husband Pat had been the co-presidents of a special needs mutual held every Thursday night for fifteen stakes, with 40-60 regular participants. Along with that there was a stake president who they worked directly with (not Doree’s stake president), a couple from each stake whose job it was to transport the adult special-needs participants, interact, be joyous and have fun. “I organized about half the activities and the other half were organized by youth groups from the various wards. So this was a great, great calling. Every Thursday was my true Sabbath. If Sunday was nice that was icing on the cake, but Thursday was where love and joyousness reigned.” 

Over the years of involvement with Mormons Building Bridges, Doree had been on the  radio over ten times and interviewed by reporters on several occasions. To move the dialogue forward it was important to have the expertise and opinions of someone who was an active member of the church, someone who still loved the gospel, and who understood the church. Add to that someone who had become educated on the best ways to support and create a positive environment for gays, in their families, churches, school, and in life. Whenever possible, Doree made herself available to be a valuable resource to both Mormons and Gays, and often tried to reach out to church leadership as well. About 18 months ago, Doree had been quoted in the newspaper and “several church members reported her to President Maughan.”

Mormons Building Bridges began hugging booths at PRIDE events. Doree, along with other members armed themselves with smiles, lots of love, and “Hugged by a Mormon” stickers. Even in Salt Lake City, the reaction among the LGBTQ was often shock. She’d hear, “Are you real Mormons? Does your bishop know you are here? Are you going to be Ex’ed? Can I take a picture, my mom won’t believe this?” Doree said, “Some would stay in your arms a long time. And some said, ‘I wish my mom would hug me like that.’ And often the people would just start crying. Another one we’d hear when we gave the sticker that said, hugged by a Mormon was ‘you just got hugged by a Mormon too.’ It was obvious to me that it was important for people to claim the part of them that was Mormon, whether they were active or not.” 

Last year for the first time, MBB went to Pride in LA. They knew it was risky because of Prop 8. There was definitely a demographic that wanted nothing to do with them. Generally they were white males in their 50’s who have lived through the peak AIDS epidemic. If they’d been LDS they would have been encouraged to marry a woman, and may have even had reparative therapy. Even some parents had been encouraged to choose the church over their children. There was a lot of pain. Building a bridge here would not be easy. An experience that Doree will never forget was seeing a handsome man with a vibrant teal shirt. "I said my same spiel, hey would you like a hug? He said sure, then he saw the Hugged by a Mormon stickers, he said, Mormon, you guys are Mormons? No, I don’t want that. And he just turned and walked away. … I said something like, Oh, I understand. I’m sorry. I’m just sorry. And then probably 30 seconds later, I was standing with my back to where he walked away. I felt a tap, and it was this same guy. He said, I’m sorry, that was rude and I would really like a hug. I said, it wasn’t rude. I get where you’re coming from. I just want to tell you I’m sorry. And he said. No, I really want that hug. So I gave him a hug. After he left the second time, I had to go to the back of the booth, bury my head in my hands, and cry. His pain was so palpable. There are lots of similar moments, but that one will stay with me forever because it was so powerful, just really, really sweet.” 

On November 5th, Doree and Pat Burt were where they were every Thursday with the special needs mutual. The lesson involved words like love, kindness, charity, service, and hope with yarn attached to a treasure chest. The participants would take turns snipping off the words and putting them on the board. Doree’s phone just kept buzzing. She glanced at it when she had the chance and she saw things like gay relationships are apostate, no blessings, no baptism. “I was surrounded by such kindness and love and acceptance which matched the words we were putting on the board. I thought these two things, the things we are learning about love and kindness and this (policy) cannot be coming from the same source.”

In the days that followed and the policy was verified, she was asked to discuss her feelings about it on a UPR program because they knew her from previous discussions. She explained that she was no longer on the steering committee for MBB, but if they still wanted her, she would be happy to come in. There were three guests being interviewed with various backgrounds and respectful and varying opinions. Doree was honest about her feelings about the policy, that she saw no part of God’s hand or God’s love in this policy. She mentioned her position with the special needs program because that’s where she’d first heard the news, but was clear that she was representing herself. “The same people who put that program together (special needs mutual) cannot be the same people who are saying that we are not going to allow children with same-sex parents to be baptized…and if they want to be baptized at 18 they have to denounce the relationship of their parents. The same relationship that made dinner, and helped with homework, housed, and took care of them. What part of that are they supposed to denounce? I see this as an attack on families. You can’t say we need the gift of the Holy Ghost and then deny some kids the gift and then say the reason you don’t need the Holy Ghost is because we are protecting you. That is just illogical.” 

Doree had considered not showing up to the meeting set for November 24th, but her children encouraged her to stick up for herself. She was hopeful that once President Maughan got to know her, once he heard some of the amazing and loving experiences she’d had as she advocated for gays, his heart would soften. She knew the picture of her was incomplete, having only knee-jerk reactions to reports from perhaps down-the-line members who had never been forced to confront an issue of a gay child, friend, sibling, or parent. So she shared her experiences the best she could, experiences with advocacy that had nothing to do with, and would have no bearing on her Thursday night calling and the special needs adults, she served.

As she met with President Maughan and her bishop, Pres. Maughan told her he’d listened to the program 4-5 times and wondered if he should play it for her to listen to. She’d told him no, that she knew what she’d said and she stood by it. After she tried to convey her purpose and share some of her memorable experiences, she was excused while they deliberated. By this time, Pat sent her a text asking if he should come and she told him yes. They were called into the office together. Because this was a calling for a couple both were released from their callings as co-presidents of the special needs adult mutual, effective immediately, without regard to the very special needs of adults who get very attached, who don’t do well with change, who had been working hard on a Christmas program; without regards to the other stake president who was working directly with Pat and Doree. Released from a calling they both loved and were exceptionally good at. Released and deemed unworthy to serve because Doree had the courage and honesty to publicly state her opinion. Doree was asked relinquish her temple recommend. Then Pat opened up his wallet and pushed his across the table, but was told that he could keep it. “No, we’re in this together. You take mine as well,” Pat said. 

“Our stake president probably felt like he was doing what God wanted him to do, but God also told me one thing. So his access to God isn’t greater than mine, and if there are consequences to be hand, God will hand those out. By punishing me, it has affected Pat, it has affected our advisors that we work with, but more than anything it will affect those 50 adults with special needs and that is inexcusable.

“God loves ALL his children, as they are. And celebrates ALL families. I fear this will be looked back on as a dark time in our church history, but, for me, it is a bright opportunity to claim our holy duty to stand with those who are personally affected. To stand, lovingly, with the marginalized. And stand with God, which is not automatically the same as agreeing with a policy. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And ALL His precious children and the families that love them.

I know much has been said about this being a policy that will separate the wheat from the tares. I don’t believe people get to decide who goes where. That is a job for Deity. But this I do know. If there are figurative piles of people, I will be in the one with the discarded children. Every time.”





Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Young Gay Man Speaks Out

Bloggers note: Three weeks after the controversial policy change, I'm posting the thoughts of my friend Kade Kimber. Even though the LDS church clarified some things about their policy change, they left some of the most hurtful aspects in. I won't try to defend an indefensible policy. My heart broke along with many, many of my friends' hearts who been hoping for a more inclusive church.

The following is Kade's response. 

As with many of you who are LDS or have close ties to the LDS community, these past few days have been surprising, confusing, and perhaps disappointing after it was revealed that Church policy now excludes the children of same-sex couples from participating in religious ordinances (such as naming blessings for infants and baptisms for children who are eight years old) until they are adults, leave their home, and disavow the practice of their same-sex parents' relationship. Additionally, those in same-sex marriages (or, as I like to call it, "marriage") are also now considered to be apostates. If this is the first you're hearing of this: A) you don't have many LDS friends in your news feed, and 2) you can imagine it is a lot to digest.
For those unfamiliar with the LDS Church, there is a difference between doctrine and policy. Policies are put into place to reenforce doctrine. In this case, the doctrine is that same-sex relationships are a sin; this specific policy relates back to that. While doctrine doesn't really change, as the gospel is the gospel, policies can change--and the Church has a very robust history of altering policies over time. So, it's certainly not the first time a new policy has been implemented. Some context was added when a representative of the Church conducted an interview in which he tried to explain that this policy was designed to help protect children from being taught religious beliefs that are a direct contradiction to their home life.
So, with that as background, this is what I know to be true:
1) God loves all of us. Even us gays. And any children we may have. (By "we", I mean the gay community--not me and Artis specifically. Sorry, Mom. You'll just have to be content with the two adorable, brilliant grandsons you already have...)
2) The Atonement transcends any Church policy, regardless of if it's ill-conceived or not. It all works out in the end. The interim may suck, but big-picture it's merely a blip in time.
3) This policy's existence does not make every Church member a gay-hating bigot, even if they agree with the policy as a matter of unquestioning faith and/or as a religious principle. Hurtful blanket statements about a very diverse group of people--many of whom truly love their brothers & sisters, regardless of sexuality differences--doesn't help bring peace to anyone or a troubling situation.
4) Those who don't agree with the policy are not anti-LDS, faith-lacking individuals, nor are they apostates for questioning the policy. (I find commentary and articles that state otherwise to be a bit ironic, given the fact that the Church was founded because Joseph Smith questioned what he was hearing around him. Additionally, as a general practice, anyone in or out of the Church is encouraged to question what they're hearing in order to gain their own personal testimonies. So, I'm much more troubled by those that are against others questioning this than I am by those who are most vocal about struggling with this policy.) God's a big boy. He can handle any questions or anger thrown His way. There's no need to tear down those who are already hurting in some sort of attempt to defend God or your religious beliefs. If you're solid in your beliefs, you shouldn't feel threatened by others seeking to form their own.
5) This hurts a lot of people--on both sides of the fence. You may not be one of those people. You may not even have many ties to people who are hurt. But, please don't for a second think that this doesn't hurt others. So, compassion and an extra measure of love can go a long way--and that's true in both directions.
As far as where I'm at with it... Very few of you reading this will understand what it's like to be gay and Mormon, nor do I expect you to. I don't talk about it much, but I'll just tell you it's far from easy & I wouldn't wish it upon anyone. (For those outside of the Mormon faith, it's hard to explain just how much cultural impact and personal identity is associated with one's membership in the Church. Suffice it to say, it extends far beyond religious beliefs.) I thought I'd made about as much peace with it as anyone could do and that I'd found a space in which I could comfortably exist. That peace was shattered this past week & quite frankly, I'm struggling mightily to make sense of it. I can't tell you how many times I've had to remind myself these past few days of the mantra to keep calm and carry on, as it is weighing so heavily on my mind & heart.
For me personally, this policy makes it that much harder to want to be associated with the LDS Church. From where I sit, this does not feel right, it does not feel like something Jesus would do, it does not align to how I interpret scripture (such as Matthew 19:14--which has long been a personal favorite of mine), the defense of its existence feels like a feeble attempt at justification, it certainly doesn't feel like it comes from a place of love, it feels political and not remotely inspired, it does not feel like it's protecting anyone but the Church, it feels exclusionary and like a targeted attack, and it undoes any goodwill I feel the Church was beginning to make with the gay community. (Just this past week, I was telling a friend that I was encouraged at how much progress the Church was making in regards to relations with the gay community. I take back every single one of those words.)
I fully recognize that I'm in an emotional place right now and that the hurt side of me is talking. I don't know how much my opinion will change once more time passes (it took me two days to calm down enough to even address this without completely losing it), but in the current space I'm in, I'm struggling. And I know I'm not alone. So, I would ask that you please show some compassion & regard for others' feelings when you're posting, reposting, or sharing social media content related to why this policy is such a wonderful blessing and inspired revelation. For some of us, the world isn't so black and white & we have to work extra hard to make sense of all the gray...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'"Please share my final words..." A Woman Named Ashley

Ashely Hallstrom's final message.

“These are going to be my final words. I can’t stand to live another day, so I’m committing suicide. The reason why I’ve decided to do this is because I’m transgender. For those of you unsure of what that means, it means that even though I was born in a male body, I am and have always been female. Please share my final words. I believe my last words can help make the change that society needs to make so that one day there will be no others like me. Please help make this change because trans people are everywhere. You may never know who you’re hurting until it’s too late. Please help fix society.”
Haunted by these final words, my husband and I ventured out on a cool, drizzly night to stand under a pavilion in Smithfield, Utah with mostly strangers to light a candle for someone I'd never met. I'm glad we did, so that I could put a face to the desperate act
Amongst those gathered were others, who like me didn't know her. Some from the trans* community in Salt Lake came to join us and express how her loss will affect them and others who are also transgender, but not just those who are trans, any and all of us. 
Friends and those who worked with Ashley at Convergys spoke of her humor, kindness, shy smile, tiny wave, and compassion. One young woman said, she met her because she heard crying in a bathroom stall, "not unusual at work," she quipped. But she quietly knocked of the door and asked if she could help. Ashley was the first transgender woman she'd ever met. They talked, they hugged, they became friends. We never know what people are dealing with or hiding behind their smile. Few really knew how much bravery to took Ashley to face each day. 

Others said that she was smart and always looked for ways to help others at work. One older woman who worked with Ashley expressed how Ashley would go out of her way to help her with the technology that she needed to work on each day. The woman expressed that we should think of Ashley as more than a label, that we should take her last words to reach out in kindness to others. I was glad to hear that Ashley will be remembered and missed, and that she will leave a big hole in the hearts of her friends, family, and co-workers. 
My plea is for education. Get out of your comfort zone. Reach out to someone who is different than you are. Learn more about the LGBTQIA community. Yes, even though I've been learning about these complex issues for years now, I had to look up what those letters mean. Talk to people. Make a friend. Get online and read stories from an LGBTQ person's perspective. Learn about suicide prevention. Be ready to have your heart ripped out of your chest and expect a paradigm shift that will leave you forever changed. 
At the candlelight vigil another expressed that Ashley's wish to change society is a desire to change us. "Society is me. Society is you." Don't look outside and expect others to change, do something. And as Mahatma Ghandi said.




Monday, August 31, 2015

The Twist: The Nearly Ruined Christmas Teaches A Lesson on Being Christlike

Blogger's Note: This post was first published last year on No More Strangers . Recently I heard this story again when I was invited to attend a lunch with some fabulous "mama dragons" held at Kathryn's home. When this story was told, I wanted to share it with my friends who may not have seen it yet. I am continually blessed by my friendships with inspiring women like Kathryn Hueth. I learn so much from them. 
Kathryn's family



By Kathryn Hueth (a proud mama dragon)
The Sunday prior to Christmas 2013 will be forever remembered because of an experience we had at church.  After returning home, having had time to calm down and share feelings with my family, I felt prompted to post the following on my Facebook page.


I have been looking forward to today so much not just because of it being Christmas Sunday, but because it would be the first time in a very long time that I would have my whole family together in church. My heart was full as I watched my adult son and daughter drawing on each other’s backs during Sacrament Meeting. Memories came flooding back of the 19 years our family has spent worshiping and participating in activities in that building. I persuaded my son to stay for Sunday School because I wanted our time together to continue in that environment. He made a funny comment that the lesson better not be about the recent change in legislation regarding same-sex marriage. I assured him it would not – it would be on Christ’s life and teachings with it being Christmas Sunday.


I could not have been more wrong. I am not going to elaborate on the teacher’s comments or those of a couple of class members but suffice it to say my gay son turned to me and said he could not endure listening to any more and politely excused himself. I then noticed my daughter in tears sitting on his other side. I turned to my husband and we all stood and left. We found our son walking home in the cold. This sort of occurrence is unfortunately happening in thousands of church buildings around the world – families striving to live the Gospel to the best of their abilities while supporting and loving gay family members, sit silently dying inside as their beloved family members are disparaged by other’s comments. No one should leave a church meeting where we profess to be learning about Christ’s teachings in an effort to more fully follow him, feeling less loved or valued because they are different in ANY way. May we all remember what is at the core of Christ’s teachings – LOVE.    (End of post)


As we exited the classroom, a few of our ward members standing in the hall asked what was wrong, and through a veil of tears, I announced that Kyle was gay!  I explained that we had left because of the offensive comments that were made, and by the way, Kyle is more Christlike than half the people sitting in that class!  This was exhibited when at home, he said he was not angry and knew their comments were made out of ignorance and fear, and didn’t want us to be angry at anyone either.   He is an amazing, generous and loving person and I am so proud to be his mother!  I am not sure what transpired after we left the building or how the word got around, but it certainly did!  Within a few minutes of the block of meetings ending, we had several ward members on our doorstep, and others calling and texting to express their disgust at what had occurred and to express their love and support for Kyle and our family. We also received a heartfelt apology from the teacher and came to know and love him more because of some things he shared with us. My Facebook post received an outpouring of support, shared stories of similar experiences, and most importantly, an awakening of people’s awareness to this situation that is so prevalent throughout the church.  Here are just a few of the comments shared –
*  I would say that some very valuable lessons have been taught and learned through you and your families beautiful words. May this be a reminder to ALL of us to remember Christ’s teachings of love and acceptance of EVERYONE And especially this Christmas season as we celebrate His birth! Loves and a very Merry Christmas to you and your cute family! Xoxoxoxoxo
*    Some of the best sermons are never preached from a pulpit. Thanks!
*   Wow Kathryn, I REALLY can’t agree more with what you said here. You are amazing and so is your family. I especially like the end of your post – the last sentence beginning with ‘No one should leave a church meeting where we profess to be learning about Christ’s teachings in an effort to more fully follow him, feeling less loved or valued because they are different in ANY way…” You are ‘spot on’! Hugs to you my friend!
*   Ohhh Kathryn… I am sooo sorry! There is NO pain that hurts more, mental or physical, as the pain a mother feels when one of her children are hurting! Please try to look past this experience and know Kyle is loved by so many, most importantly our Heavenly Father and Mother. My love to you and your family. Xoxox
*   Kathryn, I very much appreciate your comments. I commend you as you likely had to exercise great strength in taking the high road as you expressed your feelings. I too struggle when it comes to casting judgement on people for not thinking or acting like I think they should. I think how much heartache I could have avoided if I would have had more respect for another’s difference.  I welcome the day when a couragous LDS gay couple shows up to church with their adopted children because they want them to someday be baptized, receive the priesthood and get sealed in a temple. This is not at all inconceivable. Collectively this could help us to exercise greater sensitivity as we speak and act inside and outside of church. I thank you, Mark, Kyle and Megan for your grace in sharing this experience and reminding us of what the Babe of Bethlehem represented. Merry Christmas!


The story continued when on Christmas morning, our doorbell rang and one of the ward members who had made some of the offensive comments in class was standing there and expressed a very real need to talk with all of us. After expressing regret at his choice of words while expressing some opinions in class, he showed us a framed picture of two women with two small children. One of the women in the picture was his gay daughter. The silence in the room was deafening. I was so stunned I didn’t know how to respond. He explained that he had never really known how to deal with this in his family and had called her for the first time in a very long time and had a wonderful talk.


This experience indelibly imprinted on my heart the importance of being honest with one another concerning our circumstances in this journey we call life on earth.  We all have burdens, pains and challenges and we need not attempt to navigate through this difficult path alone.   Ignorance, intolerance and fear will always be part of this life, but should most certainly not be a part of a church professing to contain the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’m afraid that His teachings are often lost amidst the misguided self-righteous interpretations of man.   Because we know how fully and unconditionally our Father in Heaven loves ALL of His children, are we not then required to do the same?  After all is said and done, I truly believe that man will be judged most on how their love or lack of love impacted other’s ability to grow, develop and reach their divine potential.


I am so very grateful to have been given the unique opportunity to be a mother to a gay child. It has provided me with the opportunity to push through walls in my heart and mind and develop a depth of love and empathy of which I did not realize I was capable, and now have such a profound desire to share with the hope that others with gay family members will come to this same realization that they are in a unique and truly blessed situation through which they too can learn to love in a way far beyond what they thought possible, thereby forever impacting lives, even saving lives, as a result! 


Sunday, July 12, 2015

What do Huck Finn, and the LDS and the LGBT Have in Common?

Sometimes our choices and paths in life are clear. And sometimes they are muddied with the shoulds, what ifs, social expectations, and church doctrine. Many Christian and Mormon parents are faced with a less than clear path and with less than clear options in guiding their gay children. For our LGBT friends and family members the choices may be excruciatingly difficult. Some, literally give up friends and the love of their family, in order to live an authentic life, while others are not pushed into such a lonely path. Those who have a fully affirming family support system are much less likely to get into drugs, be sexually promiscuous, or commit suicide. 

Recently, I had a conversation with a mother who has a gay son. As an active LDS member, she knows the path she should encourage him to follow—that is one of celibacy while adhering closely to the gospel—but as a mother who wants him to have every opportunity she’s had in life—she can’t do that. “If I am going to hell, I’m going to hell,” she lamented. “But, I don’t want my son to go through life alone with no one to cherish, love and protect him. And I want him to have the legal protections of marriage.”  Some suggest that gays and lesbians marry those of the opposite sex in order to have the full blessings of the gospel and ensure a place in the eternities, but that choice is often fraught with eventual heartbreak and shame. As a straight member of the church, I long for a day when we fully recognize the gifts those who are gay often have, not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are. Someday I envision a church where our gay members won’t just be tolerated, they will be fully engaged in every aspect of the gospel. Our millennial generation may very well be the ones who receive the revelations needed because their hearts will be ready and open for change.

My friend’s dilemma reminded me of Huck Finn. Huck is helping a runaway slave and good friend, Jim. He is breaking a civil law. He is breaking a moral code of his Christian church. He is telling lies to do it. When he tries to pray he feels stumped because he cannot pray a lie. His logical brain helps him though the conflict and he writes a note to give Jim up. Twain uses this superb moral conflict so that the reader is drawn into the tale and examines the choices while drawing parallels with the society at large. The following excerpt is from after Huck writes the note. 

I felt good as if I’d been cleansed of all the sin for the first time in my life. I’d never felt so good, and I knew I could pray now. But I didn’t start praying right away—I set the paper down and just sat there thinking about how good it was that everything had happened the way it had and how nearly I’d come to being lost forever and going to hell. And I kept on thinking. I got to thinking about our entire trip down the river, and I saw Jim in my head the whole time—in the daytime and in the nighttime, sometimes in the moonlight, sometimes during storms, and sometimes while we were just floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But for some reason I just couldn’t come up with anything that would make me feel indifferently toward him. In fact, it was just the opposite. I could see him taking a double watch so that I could go on sleeping. I saw how glad he was when I came back out of the fog and when I came to him in the swamp back there where the feud was. And I remembered other good times. He would always call me honey and pet me and do everything he could for me. I remembered how good he always was to me. And finally I remembered the time I saved him by telling the men people infected with smallpox were aboard our raft, and how he’d been so grateful and said I was the best friend he’d ever had and the only one he had now. And then I happened to look down and see my letter to Miss Watson.
It was a difficult situation. I picked up the letter, and held it in my hand. I was trembling, because I knew had to make a choice between two things, and the outcome of my decision would last forever. I thought about it a minute while I held my breath. And then I said to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell"—and tore it up.

Sometimes this is the kind of decision my friends with LGBT kids make. In a metaphorical sense they tear the note up. Even though they study scriptures, conference talks, and handbooks to find the answers. Even though they talk to their church leaders and hang on every hopeful word, in the end they often find themselves on their knees seeking an answer that may not be found in the church curriculum. The answers come, often in a whispering of the spirit. And the answers are just for them, not for the entire church, or even for their other friends with gay kids, who  are getting their own, and sometimes different answers, or even for their child who might also  be on their knees finding their own answers. While the specifics vary, over and over the underlying answer is to love first and foremost, but beyond that—God finds a way to reach the individual families and those of the LGBT community and show them their own unique path. He reminds them that, “Not everyone will understand your journey, but that’s okay, it’s not theirs. It’s yours.”  Tear up the note and have a good life.