Monday, March 31, 2014

What I've Learned so Far...

A Few Things I’ve Learned So Far…
 (Sorry that I haven't posted anything lately from a typical Mormon mother, or from one of the LGBTQ people I've come to know, but I decided to weigh in some things I've learned.)

           I didn’t know what to expect the first time I attended a Mormon Building Bridges whose purpose is to bridge awareness for the LGBT community and offer unconditional support, Among the dozen or so people there were three women sitting in a row, who looked like they could be the visiting Relief Society presidency, but that wasn’t the bond they shared. It was that they were mothers who had gay children. As I got to know the women better, that first impression wasn’t far off the mark as two of them are currently serving in a R.S. presidency or have served recently. One of the three admitted that she no longer attends church as it has become too painful. My heart goes out to her. I understand. She chooses to worship God in a way that fills her heart with love and that no longer happens for her in LDS chapels. The other two women choose to stay, grounded in the gospel that they love, and hope to make a difference.

         Since that first meeting over six months ago, I’ve, read, and attended meetings and seminars. I’ve asked questions and listened, all to gain a better understanding of one of the most important social issues of our time. While there is a common thread among all the stories, there are important differences too. Stereotyping the LGBTQ community is no more helpful than it is to stereotype other groups of people. We are all individuals, with individual stories, no matter whether we are gay, straight, black, white, Asian, Mormon, Catholic, or Jew. I could go on and on here.

Here’s some commonalities I’ve found. I don’t know about all who identify as LGBTQ, but for most the journey is a painful process of discovery. I have a feeling that in time when society learns to honor differences, rather than just tolerate them, this stigma will be greatly reduced. The majority of Mormon gays and lesbians I know had a long period of denial and negotiating with the Lord. They may have worked very hard to “pray away the gay.” Most did something above and beyond what was required of Mormon youth. They fasted more than the suggested amount. All except one of the young men I’ve featured on this blog served LDS missions. One was an LDS seminary teacher and temple worker. Some attended the temple frequently. Their parents, leaders, and peers knew them as gospel stalwarts. The parents were not prepared, in that they didn’t notice the signs, so there often was an adjustment period. This is important for other parents to know. Parents, friends, and family of LGBT youth may be unknowingly setting up an environment of homophobia. By teaching traditional LDS values on marriage, they may be pushing someone further into the closet of shame and self-loathing. Or they may be saying things that are even more destructive to the young listening ear. Examine how the message is being taught. Is it really necessary to preach against something while promoting religious values?

One of my friends who is not gay, nor as far as she knows is anyone in her immediate family, said something enlightening. One of her children made a somewhat disparaging remark about a gay person. Paraphrasing what she said… “Chances are someone in our family or close to us is gay and we just don’t know it yet. Please don’t say those kinds of things.”  That struck me. Most kids by the time they come to terms with their sexuality will have already heard countless disparaging remarks about the gay community. They will have felt deep shame for trying to be who they are. It’s my hope that we all realize this and don’t put down others assuming that no one in ear shot is gay or whatever we feel the need to criticize at the moment. It’s my hope that the young person who is questioning their sexuality won’t have heard cruel things from his own parents and siblings. When that is the case, as it quite often is, it will make the process of discovery even more painful. For most of us, growing up is already painful enough, add to that extra layers of shame heaped on by society and many religions for something that is not a choice.

 I’ve featured some very strong young men who have wonderful parents. These young men have risen above the self-derision that all of them admitted having. I’m not sure how they were able to do this, but what several indicated was a personal awareness or revelation where they felt comforted by God or the Holy Spirit or some divine source. They were deeply impressed that they are loved just the way they are. Once that personal confirmation of their self-worth comes, they are able to move forward. This is often when an LDS person with same-sex attraction chooses to come out to those closest. What may have taken them years and sometimes even decades to do leaves those who are hearing it for the first time unprepared. The words and actions of those he/she first chooses to tell can be affirming and uplifting or inflict unnecessary harm.

If you are given the opportunity to be one of the people that a gay person comes out to, prepare to say and do the right thing. If you’ve already blown it, make amends. Just like anything else, it’s harder to fix things once the damage is done, but it is worth the effort. Relationships are more important than institutions and religions. Being Christ-like is never the wrong choice.