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. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

"She Never Chose to be Gay"

Last month, I headed down to Riverton to meet with the Mama Dragons and one of our favorite people: Robert Kirby. Kirby is an active LDS columnist, who says his favorite church calling is the nursery, "because I'd rather smell s*** than listen to it in high priests." At our lunch meeting he explained that when he first started writing about LGBT issues, he didn't really care too much about same-sex marriage, but eventually he took an official stand. He suggested we try to maintain a sense of humor while working toward equality for those we love. 

That's Kirby being smothered by Mama Dragons
One of the Mama Dragons I met at Salsa Leedos was Nancy. We had a great conversation and shed a few tears together. She is just one of many typical, yet atypical Mormon moms I've met in recent years. Her passion for her daughter to have full rights is inspiring. The following story was written by Nancy. 


When you have four daughters you have to be ready for everything and I thought I was. I was ready for sibling rivalry, menstrual  periods at the same time, fighting over boys and much, much more. Having lived through four teenage girls I thought I'd survived the hardest part of parenthood. But nothing really prepared me for the events of the last seven years.
 I will start at the beginning.

My third daughter Megan, was born without fanfare. I had no premonitions about the kind of person she would mature to be. I did notice an extraordinary compassion in her, however. When she was only 18 months old and our fourth daughter was born, Megan's first words were "baby cute.” Unlike my two older girls, there was never any sibling rivalry between her and her younger sister.  Throughout her childhood she always seemed to befriend children that no one else would. In fact, she seemed to have a childlike innocence that lasted beyond her late puberty. She was always a faithful Latter-Day-Saint Girl. She went to BYU Idaho, the most conservative Mormon college. When she did not date I really didn't think much about it, since education then marriage was my motto. My suspicions started when she developed an extraordinary close relationship with another women she met at college. At one point her father and I made it clear we would love her unconditionally but it brought no declaration.

Then one day about a year after she graduated she was visiting this friend in Idaho. She had taken the bus up there and I was afraid she had missed it. (We had missed a collect call from her saying she was afraid she would miss the bus.) As she had no cell phone, I decided I would try to call her friend and see if she made it. I opened what I thought was her address book to find her friend's phone number. It wasn't an address book however, it was her diary. As it happened the entry I opened upon was one admitting she was gay. So began the journey.

I could never tell her I knew without telling her how I knew. I was afraid she would think I was deliberately  snooping. I could not tell any friends without violating her privacy. Forget telling anyone in our  ward, not only did I not want to violate my her privacy but I wanted no ones pity. I knew full well the church’s teachings on homosexuality. Boyd Packer had especially reiterated that gay was a choice and could be cured. Thus began the cognitive dissonance between what I was taught and what I observed to be true. The most faithful church wise of all my children I knew she never chose to be gay. I also  knew she was not an abomination, an affliction, or any adjective that would imply a defect. As the years passed and the church dug it's heels in over its opposition to gay marriage and any kind of reaching out to LGBT members, I  saw my daughter slowly drift away from us. She even talked about moving to Canada. I mistakenly attributed my deepening depression to a stressful job, but a break from working and a new job didn't fix me. I finally admitted the problem when a friend confided in me her nephew was gay. Finally not alone! 

After I confided to her, she had her sister get me into some support groups. The most influential of them was the Momma Dragon Council. The sorrow in this group was huge, many had lost their gay children to suicide. Yet the love and support I saw was more powerful than anything I seen before. They supported all gay children not just their own with the most Christ-like love I'd ever seen. All my pent up emotions, all the hurt I'd felt over church teachings were finally expressed. I was finally able to communicate love and acceptance to my daughter and finally able to rid myself of the conflict I felt over my religious teachings and full support for my daughter. What does my daughter need? She doesn't need compassion. She needs to be treated like everyone else and have all of the opportunities and obligations available to everyone, including the opportunity to choose a person to marry and spend the rest of her life with.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Passing All Understanding: A Mother's Story

Almost twenty-six years ago, I sat in a hospital bed in a maternity ward after the birth of my fourth child—my third son.  He was born on Memorial Day and the events of that day are strong in my memory.  But the clearest memory came after the delivery as I sat in my hospital bed. I wondered what his life would be like.
And as I wondered, I had a very clear impression.  I may have just thought it with all of the other questions, but it seemed more precise somehow—more than just a thought.  In that moment I knew clearly that this son would come to me one day to tell me that he was gay.  

I have never been under the delusion that gayness was a learned act, or a choice, or that it could be changed—although wouldn’t it be wonderful if enough faith could move that mountain—but I knew from my own experience, that in a person who had perfection anxiety, it can be a worry.  I wondered for a moment what I was meant to do with this information, quietly whispered to my heart, and came to the conclusion that I needed to know this so that I would be prepared to reassure him, on that future day, that it was just a worry, and that he need not fear.  

As the years went by, I put all those thoughts away somewhere in my heart, but I remembered my impression. He was the best baby I had ever seen.  He was peaceful and calm and contented, a joy and light in my own dark time of depression.  I watched him grow and become a beautiful, creative, thoughtful boy.  When you looked into his “sprite eyes” you could see an amazing, loving, trusting, deeply thinking child.  He was precise and careful.  He was so concerned with doing and being just right.

I watched his love for music and all kinds of creative pursuits. He loved to have deep, philosophical discussions.  He is intelligent and funny—full of humor with a special grasp of irony.  He has always cared deeply for the people around him.  Children, who always seem to be able to sense the goodness in people, love him and even though he essentially ignores them half the time, they hang around where he is.  I believe it is because he has a peaceful energy—spirit, if you will. But he was never happy enough with anything he did, or with his ability to do it.  He wasn’t overly confident, but was overly cautious and careful.  His greatest pursuit seemed to be to get whatever he was doing exactly right.

He seemed to have a pretty big crush on a girl in his school class when he was eleven or so, but he never dated at all and wasn’t terribly at ease around any girls but his older sister and her friends.  I never pushed him to date.  He wasn’t very comfortable with physical contact and had a bit of a germ phobia, so I wasn’t surprised.  

He didn’t have the voice inflections and physical attributes most associated with gayness.  He didn’t have any of the more feminine affectations.  He was creative and quiet and not terribly interested in sports, although he is an amazing hiker, and his eye/hand co-ordination is impressive. But I knew, by little comments and worried expressions, that he was becoming concerned with his sexuality.  I watched and waited for him to come to me with his concerns.

I will ever be grateful for the innate understanding of these things that I seemed to possess—the calm I carried and the complete lack of homophobia that I have always felt.  Every young man, and the one young woman that I knew who were gay, were among the most thoughtful, unselfish, funny and kind people I knew. I couldn’t comprehend or predict the impact that it would have on any individual and family.  But I could only see that love was the answer to any of this—to everything.  I was blessed to always see mercy and to see little necessity for meting out justice.  I was blessed to be the right mother for this son, and with the Spirit that taught me, a little at a time, to listen and feel what I needed to know and understand. 

I was so disappointed in the campaign started by meaningful members of the church to oppose gay marriage.  I just can’t understand why it matters to us.  I started to see that for most LDS people fighting for family meant fighting against gay people.  I watched as people protested the showing of Broke Back Mountain, while in the next theatre there was a horrifying movie about mass murder and torture—unimaginable cruelty—that no one seemed to even notice or be phased by.  Who are all of these people that are thinking they are being so righteous when they have completely lost the most important of godlike attributes—charity—love—the love that passes all understanding—the pure love of Christ?
I was not surprised at all when the day finally came that my son tried to tell me of his fears.  He was trying to get ready to go on a mission.  He was struggling with his disappointments in his own imperfections.  He didn’t think he was worthy to go, and I knew that much of it was because of his concerns about sexual feelings.  But I waited and he finally came to talk with me.  

This is another clear memory.  I was calm.  I felt reassured and I tried to reassure him.  I told him what I had always planned to tell him—that he is not the only person to have ever worried if he was gay, but that it didn’t necessarily mean he was—that it didn’t mean he wasn’t.  I watched the tears drip from his nose, into his hands.  I told him I knew a few things for sure—that I loved him and that he was loved by a Heavenly Father whose love would never change for him whether he went on a mission or not, whether he got married or not.  I think it helped in those moments, and for a while, but the path was just beginning to unwind before him.  I hoped that my hopes for him were true—that he would realize that it was just part of his perfection anxiety and that his wouldn’t be that most difficult path.  But I watched, and I knew.

When he was around twenty-two, he asked me once when he would have to get married.  I told him that both my dad and brother didn’t marry until they were twenty-eight so not to even worry about it until then.  The look of relief on his face was almost comical—the feeling of relief was palpable.  Later, he asked me several times if it would be fair to marry a girl if you couldn’t love her completely.  I knew what he was asking, and I was surprised to hear myself tell him that it definitely would not be the right thing to do. Everyone deserves a chance to be loved completely.  It would not work out well in the end.  I had seen it before and it was not best for anyone involved.  

Why wasn’t I telling him that it would work—that you just had to trust—that you would learn to love each other enough—that it would be the right thing to do?  Wasn’t that what I had heard long ago was the solution—the cure?  I wanted to know something different.  I wanted to be absolutely sure that the religion I love and the understanding I had about my son, and all of these sons and daughters, were in line with each other.  I wanted to know all of the answers, but the only answer there really was, and is, that saves families and people, is love.  Love this child.  Love these people, and those people, and make sure that everyone knows that there is a place for them—that they are loved.
That was it.  That was what I knew—what I know.
Two Christmases ago, Utah was all ablaze with the gay marriage fight.  At our house, my oldest son was particularly vocal in its condemnation. I tried to steer the conversation away, but it would constantly be brought back.  I knew my oldest son loved his younger brother, but he had no idea.  Everyone but my husband and I, and his older sister closest to him, just thought that he was shy, anxious and O.C.D.  

The day after Christmas I was so anxious for him.  He was depressed and withdrawn.  I knew, had always known, and still wished for denial, but he asked if he could speak with his dad and me.  So, in the quiet of our bedroom, after years of prayers and tears and anguish, my son finally let himself say out loud to me and to his dad that he was not like all of the lucky people in his family, who could—with the blessings of heaven—find a mate, have beautiful children, enjoy all of the blessings of the temple, believe in God and still be happy with themselves, repent of small or serious sins and still have the hope of every good desire being someday met.  He is gay.  He has become labeled and put in a very small box.  

The thought of all of these things was becoming well beyond bearable for him.  He was in complete despair.  But maybe because I had never voiced all of the negative notions, or preached a different line than love, he chose to come to me and to his dad at the bleakest moment and ask for our love and acceptance and help.  
I could have gone to wake him the next morning to come and join the family, and found him, and found the note telling me that he had given up, but instead I watched him as the tears dripped from his nose, and listened and prayed for the right words to say.  I heard my black-and-white-world husband tell his son how much he loved him and stop before he said too much.  I watched them hug each other.  I cried with him and felt the Spirit as strong as I have ever known witness to me that he was known and loved and in God’s watchful care. 

One at a time, throughout the next year, he told each of his siblings.  There was some surprise, but not a single bad reaction or unkind word—only love and support.  He was employed by my second son, who one day insisted to know what was wrong.  When he was told, he simply asked why my son hadn’t told him sooner and then went back to work.  A few minutes later he came back to reassure his younger brother that they would always be friends.
My oldest son and his sweet wife continued to invite him to dinner and her family get-togethers for holidays and birthdays.  Then, when his loneliness and anxiety were overwhelming him again, I told him to go see them and get a hug from his little nephew who absolutely adores him.  While he was there that night, he asked if he could move in and rent the room in their basement, and they invited him without hesitation and with open arms. 

We are all still puzzled by how this all works in our world.  I cry sometimes and tell God how ridiculous this all is—that I am angry—that I don’t want to lose Him—that I won’t lose my son.  
One day the words came to my mind—hold on to your faith, it will be the only thing he has sometimes.  He is not believing in the God I love right now—which is completely understandable.  But I told him, that day after Christmas, that when the darkness comes and he despairs again, to promise me that he will pray before he makes any decisions—that he will call me or dad, that he will trust our love—that he will chose the light, or if he can no longer see even a spark, that he will ask someone to help him see some light again.
It is the Savior’s light.  He loves my son.  He has suffered his anguish.  It doesn’t make sense to me now, but I know enough to know that there are more answers than are given to us in the simple parts of the gospel.  We are given more as we utilize what we have.  And what we have is this commandment:
“Wherefore, … pray with all of the energy of your heart that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons (and daughters) of God; that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”  (Moroni 7:48)
This isn’t talking about praying for all of these things separately.  These things come to you if you have charity—the pure love of Christ.  You cannot have more knowledge, you can’t be like God, you can’t be purified, or have real hope without love.  Because without charity you are nothing.

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones …, it were better for him that a millstone be hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”(Matt 18:6)
My son is one of these little ones.  There are those that, in the name of all that is good, would harm him — would say the words that would offend him — that make him uncomfortable before the table of God, that choose to teach him to despise himself, even though he, too, is a child of God.  

But charity never fails, and it will be well with you if you are possessed of it when someone’s son needs a kind word, and a loving touch from you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"No One Should be Wronged for Loving Who They Love"

Note from blogger: Normally this blog has been about parents supporting their gay children, but in this case it's the mother who is gay.  I know you'll want to know more about my friend Allison Hosler Carr. 

She had everything. A beautiful house edged by a mountain stream, stunning scenery framed in every window, four lovely daughters and a handsome husband. Successful, happy, sweet, an enviable life. At least that was the image. Within a short time, she would lose everything… except for her courage. And she was going to need it. 

I first met Allison nearly six years ago when we were building our home near hers. She had a small cabinet business and had donated a vanity for a fundraiser auction for a family devastated by a farming accident and another family by a fire. We were in need of a vanity and won the bid. So my first encounter showed her generosity. I would find that trait to be consistent with everything I would learn about her in the following year. Late night instant messaging chats revealed her life’s story pecked out a sentence at a time, night after night. There was a fracture in the picture perfect scene that would rip it wide open. 

Allison was adopted. Like many adopted kids, she grew up feeling conflicted in her love for her adoptive parents and the unknown parents, the ones who gave her up. At age 13, she was sexually molested by an adult "acquaintance." She would keep this secret from almost everyone. When she finally told her LDS bishop, he asked her “how she was complicit.” The violation of being molested and then violated again by the assumption that she was responsible would cause further self-esteem issues. Did she bring it on herself?  She began to question whether anyone truly loved her. At 18 she searched out and found her birth parents. Her father hadn’t known about her. Her birth mother, the mother she had hoped could reveal who she really was, rejected her. Devastated, she told me that she didn’t think anyone in her whole life loved her unconditionally. Fortunately, she would find out how wrong she was in that thought, but that realization was still down a very hard road. 

I knew Allison had questions about the church we both belonged to. I naively thought I could help her shelve all those pesky inconsistencies the way I had and remain a faithful member. But my life was nothing like hers. Finally, after lots of long talks, walks, lunches together and deep conversations, she said she had a secret, “I’m gay.” It was a secret that once revealed was about to change everything. 

And it did. Her marriage ended. A downturn in the economy was tough on a sideline cabinet business. Mostly, Allison had supported her husband in his business and was a full-time homemaker. Without his income, she had nothing. They lost their house. Allison’s car was repossessed. No job, no house, no car and no where for her kids to stay when they were with her. Gaining custody of her children was not a given in her case. She told me she wanted her kids to know she fought for them. And she would do everything to make a home for them.

Within a short time, my beautiful friend’s life looked like a disaster. An implosion. An impossible consequence, much too much loss and all because she chose to reveal a not so simple truth about herself. Twenty years earlier, she had been given a priesthood blessing, a promise that her same-sex attraction would go away. She just needed to get married and live the gospel. She followed that promise. She did what she thought was the right thing.  Once after her life fell apart and she had moved, Allison asked me why God hated her so much. I’d long since stopped having any answers for her. Those pat basic Sunday school answers just didn’t apply. All I could do was assure her that in time things would get better. I believe that above all, Allison’s greatest strength is her courage. Her adoptive parents turned out to be one of her greatest supports, showing their unconditional love after all. She’d started putting her life together again. She enrolled in school, got a job, found a place to live, and continued the fight to make a place for her kids. Her children were unsure of the situation They'd been told that being "gay is a sin." But love wins. And her children have rallied so magnificently. It took a while, but finally it looked like Allison’s life had turned around. She found the love of her life, Lauren. And before it was legal in the state of Utah, she and Lauren married in California. But the story is not over. Although Allison has the love and support of her spouse, many friends and family, she lost her dad one year ago. She was fortunate to have found him to be a truly noble man, a father she will continue to miss greatly. 

Jennifer, her youngest was only ten when her world fell apart along with the rest of the family. Just part of the great collateral damage of divorce. I got a chance to visit with Jennifer and  I asked her if she’d thought being gay was a choice. She said, she hadn’t really thought about it before her mother told her. “I wasn’t really shocked. You think I would have been, but in a way I thought it was normal. As I've gotten older (she’s 15 now) I’ve developed an open mind and I’m really grateful that I have. I know no one would ever choose to be gay. We, my three sisters and mom, were kicked out of our house. We were left with nothing. No one should be wronged for loving who they love.” 

“My mom is my hero. She has fought for me, been there, cared, and made me who I am. My mom and I have a special bond. We feel each other's happiness and sadness. I can turn to her for everything. She would do anything for me. I would do anything to be half the woman my mom is one day. I believe that no one should be looked down on or be treated differently for the gender they love. Whether they have the same body parts or the opposite. I support my mom because she's my mom. She takes care of me and who she loves doesn't change that.”

I wondered what Jennifer thought about her mother and Lauren getting married. Most kids have a hard time when their divorced parents marry again, but this wasn’t just any marriage. “My mom and Lauren got married a couple of years ago. And I couldn't be more thankful. For a while I was scared to tell my friends. I didn't want anyone to know. I was afraid of getting made fun of. But soon realized that if I show I'm okay with it, then other peoples opinions don't effect mine, I decided not to care and embrace it. Most kids think its cool, and those who don’t, I don’t need anyway. I love having Lauren in my life. She is a huge supporter. Every teen argues with their parents. But at the end of the day, I know I can count on both my mom and Lauren. They are just like any other pair of parents with rules, support, and love.”

That doesn’t sound all that controversial does it? “Just like any parents.”  I began this post with saying that it seemed like Allison had it all, then nothing. Within a few years of hard work, life was giving back to her in some mighty big ways. But her courage would be tested yet again. Just before her marriage, she would be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Just like Allison is with any challenge, she would not let this get the best of her, even though she has a particularly aggressive form. 
Jennifer said, “I support my mom by being thankful she's who she is. I wouldn't be afraid to tell anyone and everyone about my moms sexuality. She’s an amazing woman and  anyone who knows her knows that. My mom was diagnosed with MS over a year ago. Getting this news was REALLY hard for our family. But for me individually, my mom is my world and knowing she's in pain and I can't do anything to help is hard. I couldn't live without my mom, Or moms. My mom is currently in Chicago fighting for the cure for MS.  Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Treatment (HSCT) at North Western University Hospital. She's fighting for her life and it is so scary but this is her chance. We need all the support we can get . Every cent counts. Anyone can follow the journey on the website: http://www.gofundme.com/helpalikickms 
Jennifer and her mom

A fighter 

The link also shows more about Allison's journey and her beautiful family. 

So that’s it. If you imagine life’s challenges as a punch card, only so many per life, then Allison’s card should be used up by now. She is a beautiful, generous soul who I also love. I’m grateful that Allison opened my world and gave me a chance to see life through her perspective. To see that Love really is what matters.