Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday giving at its best: Building a healthier LGBT Mormon youth

Most of us spend our holidays with our families—our siblings, parents, and extended relatives that we love, and who love us in return. Having just returned from Christmas with my own family, I’m reminded how blessed I am to have a family who loves me for who I am: an openly gay Mormon.

But many gay Mormons aren’t so lucky. Often, when a Mormon parent finds out their child is gay, they feel forced to choose between their child and their church. And when they look for resources to help understand and respond to their LGBT children, they’re directed to programs based on opinion, not on science—and this often has tragic consequences.

But now we have an alternative.

According to the impeccable research done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, LGBT young people whose parents reject them are: More than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

An LDS oriented version of the booklet that suggests ways families can insure a safer life for their LGBT children, co-authored by former bishop Robert Rees, can be downloaded here free of charge. You can also order copies of the booklet at cost here, or by emailing

The Family Acceptance Project materials are the only evidence-based guide to be designated as a “Best Practice” for suicide prevention for gay Mormons by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention.

We need your help.

In addition to the booklet, The Family Acceptance Project is developing a series of evidence-based education and support materials for Mormon families with LGBT children. Your tax-deductible donation—whatever the size—will help ensure these materials get into the hands of the families who need them most.

When you donate today, you’ll be helping Mormon families understand there is a healthier way to support their LGBT children—and stay true to what we believe as Mormons—that families really are forever, and how we care for family members on earth affects our family for eternity.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Dialogue" Podcast: Mormons and gays roundtable

On December 12, 2012, I had the honor of being part of a panel discussion podcast with three men I deeply admire: Dr. Bill Bradshaw, Dr. Bob Rees, and Morris Thurston. The focus of the discussion was the release of the new website from the LDS Church—

Drs. Bradshaw and Rees have both been featured on my blog and have worked for many years building significant understanding in the Mormon community about the LGBT issue. Similarly, Morris Thurston has done the same from the legal standpoint, publishing a paper during Prop 8 critiquing misleading legal arguments circulated by proponents of the initiative.

The four of us looked at the new website and discussed what helps, what hurts, and what we’d like to see moving forward.  For me, this was a deeply moving experience. I’ve long admired the work of these three kind and smart men, so to be included among the discussion was quite humbling.  I’m grateful for their work.

You can listen to the entire podcast here. Or cut and paste this URL directly into your browser.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What's the best way to make LGBT Mormons feel welcome in your ward?

Ask Gay Mormon Guy: What's the best way to make LGBT Mormons feel welcome in my ward?

I’ve stolen a page out of my friend Joanna Brooks’ Ask Mormon Girl site for this one—with her permission, of course. I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately from allies looking to help LGBT Mormons, some of whom are active church members. And I think that’s terrific.

I also think how we go about offering our support and help to LGBT Mormons is keenly important. To that end, I’m sharing an email I got from one sister (anonymously—and also with her permission) since there seems to be a theme running through my email box lately.

Her email and my response are below. What other advice would you give her?

Dear Mitch-

There’s a 24 year-old returned missionary (RM) in my home ward. I really like him, and I guess he triggers my mothering instinct. I suspect he’s gay, and I would very much like it if my ward welcomed him for who he is. What do you think about me taking the Family Acceptance Project materials to my bishop, and seeing if he’s interested in having a conversation with the RM? Or would you suggest something else?

First off, I think it’s a pretty amazing thing that you want to do the Christ-like thing and ensure everyone feels at home in your ward. Thank you for that, and we need more like you.

The Family Acceptance Project materials you mention are a great resource for both families and Bishops, to help them understand how to respond to LGBT Mormons in a way that keeps them safe from significant health risks—including depression and suicide.  

That said, I would proceed with caution here. You have no way of knowing where this RM is in his process. For example, if he’s not out at all (perhaps even to himself), you could do more harm than good. When I was 24, if my Bishop had pulled me aside and essentially “outed” me, I’d have been mortified—and chances are I wouldn’t have come back.

Likewise, the perspective of the bishop is also important. Is he of the mindset that everyone should be welcome into the ward family—wherever they are in their personal life? Or does he hold to the outdated school of thought that LGBT Mormons should be confined to a life of celibacy, and if they don’t, they should be excommunicated? If it’s the latter, he may not be the best resource to help LGBT Mormons feel welcome.

Bottom line, sexual orientation (gay, straight, or anywhere in between) is a pretty personal thing, and up to an individual to not only define what it is, but decide when it’s appropriate to share it with others.

But there are some things you can do to signal to this RM—and everyone in your ward—that you’re a safe space when it comes to LGBT Mormons.

First, you had the complete right idea about the Family Acceptance Project materials. What I would do if I were you is order several copies from the website (they are available at cost, since the production and development of the Mormon materials was unfunded) and ask to meet with your bishopric and relief society presidency to discuss them. Keep the focus on the research itself, and not on your RM friend.

It may be that your leadership team is receptive and ready, and genuinely appreciates the approach outlined in the materials. In an ideal scenario, they may want to host a more formal training for the ward or stake—and let me know if they’re interested, Drs. Ryan and Reese and I make ourselves available to travel to locations to host these kinds of sessions, and have done many to date.

Second, speak up. When you hear an uneducated or un-Christlike comment made about your LGBT fellows (or anyone, for that matter) speak your mind. This isn’t about being angry, confrontational, or demanding doctrine must be changed. It's simply about helping people understand that we really are all one human family, and exemplifying the kind of peace and good will our Savior would like us all to have for one another--and helping establish a Mormon culture where that comes to life.

Words can hurt, and it makes a huge difference when you speak up. You’re not only educating those around you, but you’re sending a message that you care about how these comments make people feel. And by so doing, you give others permission to speak up for what is right, as well.

Think about the closeted person who may have heard the comment and felt shame because he couldn’t respond and speak up for himself. Or think about the woman who has a lesbian daughter and felt she couldn’t respond because she was afraid of her Mormon fellows casting judgment upon her.

Then think about what your Savior would do.

You can also sign up to join Mormons Building Bridges or Mormons for Marriage Equality on Facebook. You’ll find like-minded allies and LGBT Mormons who can share their stories of success with you. Additionally, you’ll likely locate other allies in your immediate area who can lend support, ideas, and help you build a community of supportive allies.

Most important of all, be kind. I know this sounds trite, but often the best thing you can do for LGBT Mormons is just to be nice to them. That means sitting with your friend at church, letting him know he’s missed when he doesn’t come, and inviting him to do things with you/your family outside of church. It’s really fellowship 101: Treat him the way you’d like to treated. If it turns out he is gay, your gestures will go a long way toward helping him feel safe and loved. If he’s not, he’ll still end up feeling loved. Either way, you both win.

Make sure you extend that same level of kindness to those who don’t quite support you in your new venture. You’re likely to get some push back—and maybe even from within your family. But keep in mind, our Savior’s policy of “love everyone” wasn’t altogether well received in His day, either—so keep the faith.

And remember, through all of this, the only opinion of you that should really matter more than your own is that of your Savior. I’m pretty sure he’d be pleased with your heart on this one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Today's meditaton


"Real generosity toward the future consists in giving all to what is present."
~Albert Camus 

When I opened my eyes this morning, my head had already been up for hours—thinking about all of the things I needed to accomplish this day, this week, and this month. And my mind was already making a list of things that could potentially go wrong and possible ways I could work around them to still keep the precarious schedule I have this month.

Yes, here I was again, engaging in a rousing round of what I like to call “pre-worry.” It’s that state where nothing has really gone off course, but I’m obsessing as if it already had and worrying in advance. It’s as if I worry enough ahead of time I’ll be prepared if life tosses me a curve ball, or even more futile, as if I could worry enough to keep some events from happening at all.

But I’m not a super-hero. I can’t will situations to occur or not occur with my own thoughts. And I don’t get to have my way all the time—like the rest of the human family, I get to live life on life’s terms, not my own.

I have my moments where I suspect if I could recoup all the time I’ve spent worrying, I’d add years to my life (and of course, in my worst moments, that makes me worry about what I’d do with all that extra time).

When I allow myself to begin to mentally chew on “what ifs” and terrifying future worst case scenarios, I open a Pandora’s Box of gloom and fear. The more I pay attention to this mental static, the more I lose touch with the one thing I actually can control—myself in the here and now.

To break myself out of this mental cycle, I have learned to pull my attention back to the present moment. I can turn away from my imagined disastrous outcomes and concentrate instead on the sights, sounds, and feelings around me: the press of the keyboard beneath my fingertips, the heartbeat of the traffic in the city, or the birds chirping on the balcony outside my window. Even these small bits of reality help rescue me from the “what ifs” and anchor me in the present.

Taking a quiet moment to pray and meditate, placing my concerns into my God Box, or even picking up the phone and calling a trusted friend just to dust off the cobwebs in my head can be a source of spiritual serenity that helps bring me back to the present moment. And as I shut out the noise, I’m much more receptive to the calming voice of my Savior, and therefore much more likely to work my way through any difficulties that actually do arise.

Pre-worrying won’t protect me from the future. It only robs me of the here and now. I needn’t explore how I’ll feel about something that might occur. I don’t actually know how I’ll feel—and it may not even happen at all. So when I find myself leaving the present moment, I’ll remind myself that the future is not today’s problem.

And as I grow in faith, self-esteem, and deepen my relationship with my Savior, I become capable of doing for myself what pre-worry will never help me to do: take the right action for me in any situation.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Where two or three are gathered

A talk given earlier this November in Salt Lake City by a friend of mine and a Mormon ally to the LGBT community: Erika Munson.

This one definitely deserves a little air time. Enjoy it...I sure did.

Where two or three are gathered: Can your LDS ward be an engine for change?
Erika P. Munson
November, 2012

At it's best and it's worst, an LDS ward is like a small town. Everyone can really know everyone. The sheer number of hours we spend together gives us the opportunity to know each other's back story. The ethic of service runs deep. There can be the unpleasant baggage that goes along with small town life too: suffocating conformity, judgement, grudges held for years. But I remain a huge fan of this imperfect yet oftentimes very effective way of building a Christian community. I am indeed an unlikely defender of our congregations. Though I am devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ I have never in any other aspect of my life been a joiner. I am shy, I relish solitude, I hate meetings, I often feel closer to God while walking in the mountains than I do on a Sunday in a windowless chapel designed to withstand earthquakes. I am suspicious of hierarchy and patriarchy. But there is something deeper at work in our congregations that keeps me coming back. I've lived in twelve wards in my life. What each experience has in common is that I arrive as a stranger, am embraced by people with whom I only share a geographical boundary and a commitment to the Gospel, and immediately take up the job of working out my salvation with them. This is powerful stuff. I have seen it break down class and racial boundaries I have seen it soften hearts. I have seen it bring about A Mighty Change in myself. People I have judged and disliked have become my friends, not because they changed but because I did. So my message today is that it seems to me we---and by we I mean straight allies and gay members alike--can harness the institution of the LDS ward to make our congregations safe and welcoming for LGBT people. 

Last spring, as I was deciding what exactly it was I wanted to march for in the Utah Pride Parade, I was teaching To Kill A Mockingbird to seventh-graders. This book is such a classic, it has gained such world-wide popularity that it runs the risk of becoming cliché. But I saw it anew, through the fresh eyes of kids on the cusp of adolescence reading it for the first time. It had a profound impact on me.

For those of you who managed to get through middle school without reading Mockingbird or who haven't seen the magnificent film from 1962, I'll give you the Wikipedia summary: set in a small southern town during the Depression, the feisty ten-year-old tomboy Scout Finch narrates the story of how her father, a white country lawyer, teaches her and her brother acceptance and empathy as he a defends a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. Not only is Atticus Finch courageous in following his conscience when he knows it will lead to public criticism and personal danger, at the same time he is deeply respectful of his neighbors―even the ones who hate him. 
As the weeks progressed I identified three aspects of Atticus's character that inspired me. 

First, Atticus practices empathy.

Early in the book Scout comes to her father for consolation after a disastrous first day of school. She's smarter than everyone, including her teacher, and doesn't conform to the culture's definition of what a girl should be. His advice? 

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view―until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. 

Notice he's not telling her to hide her intelligence or act like a lady. He's telling her to put herself in the shoes of the person she thinks is her adversary, to try to appreciate the perspective of the “other”.

Second, Atticus has a deep loyalty to his community even though his moral compass sometimes puts him at odds with it. 

When he takes on the case of defending a black man who has already been convicted in the town's court of public opinion, he prepares his daughter for the turmoil ahead without demonizing his opponents. 

Come here Scout. Remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they're still our friends and this is still our home.

Third, Atticus measures progress in baby steps. 

It is interesting to note that although his moral choice is extraordinarily significant within the context of his small town, it is very small in scope when you look at the human rights situation in the 1930's American South. He's not making any attempt to take down Jim Crow, the much larger, prevailing evil. His goal is well-defined: to get an all-white jury to acquit an innocent black man. Even in this effort, he fails, and his client ultimately dies violently. Yet, amidst this tragedy Atticus is able to find small reasons to hope. He explains to his children: 

There was one thing that made me think, well, this may be the shadow of a beginning. That jury took a few hours. An inevitable verdict, maybe, but it usually takes'em just a few minutes. This time there was one fellow who took considerable wearing down―in the beginning he was rarin' for an outright acquittal.

One juror challenging the culture's racist ideology for just four hours, was, Atticus felt, something worth noting.

Empathy, Loyalty, Hope. Those are the essential qualities of Atticus Finch. Those are the values I wanted to march for. Empathy for LGBT people. Loyalty to the LDS church, Hope for the Future. 

That would be the mission of Mormons Building Bridges. 

Now I'd like to share a true story of small-town love. If any of you out there are Radiolab fans this may be familiar to you.

In November 2008 while the world was marking the election of America's first African American president there was a little story out of Oregon that may have represented a milestone just as significant. The town of Silverton, a conservative community of nine thousand many of whom proudly described themselves as redneck, farther from progressive Portland than the actual fifty miles would suggest, in 2008 this town elected America's first transgendered mayor. 

Stu Rassmussen has an interesting story to tell. He grew up in Silverton, his dad owned the local movie theatre. He was an alter boy, a technology geek and one night when he was 27 while running the projection booth for the Rocky Horror Picture show he began to sense another aspect of his identity. He continued to pour his life into the town becoming the local cable operator, an electrician, a firmware engineer , and took over the theatre when his dad retired, but very gradually he began to make some personal changes. At 37 he started having his nails done. To promote the theatre, he would walk up and down main street dressed as the female character in whatever movie was opening that weekend. Then he started wearing a padded bra under his guy clothes and finally had breast augmentation surgery at age 52―his girlfriend of 30 years sticking by him. Things were tough for a while. Attendance at the theatre dropped. Trucks filled with boys would drive by screaming hateful epithets. But the town as whole did not abandon Stu. The mayoral race was a close one, but when interviewed the conservative Republican who ran against him did not criticize Stu's dressing as a woman---he just thought his clothing should be more modest than the low cut sweaters and miniskirts he was now regularly wearing to City Council meetings. Stu won by a narrow margin.

On the day when Stu was ready to be sworn in, representatives from The Westboro Baptist church in Kansas showed up to protest with signs like God Hates Overton and Your Mayor's Going to Hell . Stu's inclination was to completely ignore them, but two or three of the mayor-elect's friends decided they would mount a counter-demonstration across the street by appearing in drag. Then quite spontaneously more town members showed up, grandmas, moms with babies in strollers and more guys in skirts. They had grabbed their old yard signs and on the back hastily painted slogans like We Love Stu and Hate is Easy Loves Takes Courage. There were soon 150 people out there supporting their native son, vastly outnumbering the Westboro group. The swearing-in went off without a hitch. Stu was re-elected in 2010 and is running again for another term. 

This story was thrilling to me. This is small town life at its best. This is Mockingbird re-written with a happy ending. The multiple ways people connected in Silverton facilitated a degree of harmony even for those who couldn't completely empathize with Stu. Many of his supporters did not try to grasp his gender identity, they didn't have to because they knew him in so many other contexts. One friend said: “I grew up with Stu―he was an alter boy at church with my brother―he is the town computer geek―he' Stu the mayor―and then he's just Stu”. 

The opportunity that exists in the fictional Maycomb Alabama and the very real Silverton Oregon for those formerly marginalized members of the community to be embraced by it, to in fact lead it-- is one we have in our LDS wards and branches. We are organized on a small enough scale that it makes meaningful relationships possible. The fact that we have no paid clergy or staff on the local level and that those positions are continually rotating is democratizing. Right down to testimony meeting there is a strong tradition of egalitarianism, an acceptance of the fact that everyone will take a turn and we will all be patient with one another. Think of all ways an active members can connect with another: we visit each other in our homes once a month, we teach and care for each others' children, we sing in choirs together, we move each other in and out of apartments, we work in temples together, we bear our testimonies to one another. I believe the bonds we forge in these activities are strong enough to withstand the push and pull that will result when we start conversations about LGBT support.

OK- I hear you saying: what is this Unitarian Universalist/Quaker-y Mormon experience this woman is describing? Doesn't she know the LDS church is one of the most top-down centralized churches on the planet? Has she not seen those fold-out organization charts in the Ensign: a skyscraper of thumbnail photos, all indistinguishable old white guys? Has she never heard a bishop preach on unquestioning obedience?

Well, of course I have, and first I would like to say that I understand that the grassroots route to change that I am proposing today is not for everybody. For some who have been deeply wounded, there is no coming back. For those who feel they are compromising their principles by putting aside laudable lofty goals in favor of humble ones, I get it, my hat is off to you. But as Mormons Building Bridges has grown we have discovered that there are thousands of Saints out there who up to now have remained silent when they have seen the church turn it's back on LGBT people but are looking for a way to reach out to their gay brothers and sisters and still remain loyal to, as Atticus Finch would say, “their friends”.

You know, I think it is my experience as a woman working within a patriarchy that makes me oddly optimistic. I've never been to a bishopric meeting or a high council tribunal, but I see so much good Christian stuff happening outside of these venues that I can't help but want to use it to make the church more inclusive.

Think about it. If you are known to your bishop as a faithful home teacher and you ask to be assigned to an inactive gay couple in your ward, might he be receptive? If you and the Sunday School teacher were the only ones who showed up to clean the meetinghouse on Saturday morning, might he in church the next day support you when you point our how hurtful someone's homophobic remark is? If you wrestle with a sister's unruly toddler for two hours every Sunday in the nursery, isn't she likely to listen when you share your experience of being a gay Mormon? If you share with a visiting teaching companion your experience at an LGBT support event, might not she be willing to open up about her son coming out to her?

If we are model ward members in traditional ways and at the same time are marching in parades, coming out, bringing our gay brothers and sisters to church, working on LGBT firesides with our Stake President---In all these small, humble ways can we not prove the larger point that acceptance of LGBT people is a logical extension of gospel principles?


I am under no illusion that at any time fear can win out at the top and result in suppression at the bottom. Furthermore, I have no clear picture of where this will lead. The great story that all our individuals stories add up to has not yet played out. But the daily person-to-person work and heart-to heart conversations that I so admire in small town stories, are beginning to happen in our church and they are valuable in their own right. They are the building blocks of change.

The words to Lead Kindly Light have always given me great comfort. They describe the lonely journey of the pilgrim following Christ’s Light through the encircling gloom. But is there not strength in looking to your right and to your left, realizing that you are not alone. I hope when we look back at this Mormon Moment we will not only remember the national spotlight that descended upon us, but we will mark this as a time we were looking, patiently and carefully, for the light within each other.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

With a grateful hand

Gratitude is a cornerstone to my spiritual practice. It is something I seek actively on a daily—and sometimes hourly—basis. When I practice gratitude, I perceive a richer and more abundant life. Keeping my focus on what I do have—and not on what I lack—enables me to be a better brother to my fellows, and a better disciple to my Savior. And as a wise friend once said to me, if I’m not grateful for the love I have in my life today, do I genuinely think I could appreciate more?

I used to gravely misunderstand the concept of gratitude. I thought it was the happiness I felt when life unfolded according to my plans. I thought it was the momentary, fleeting high I felt when my desire for instant gratification was filled.

Today, I know better. Gratitude is not only an integral part of my spiritual practice; it is the means through which I achieve inner peace whenever I notice I’m straying off course.

Gratitude opens my heart to the healing hand of my Savior. When I remember to seek His will for me above everyone else’s, peace is my companion. I believe it is His will to be my authentic self, pray, meditate, talk to Him about all aspects of my life, sing in the shower, and laugh at my own foibles.

Looking back over the past 12 months, we as LGBT Mormons, allies, and as a human family as a whole, have much for which to be grateful. Here are a few of my favorites.  

  • For the first time in history, we saw LGBT Mormons, their families, and allies march together in almost twenty PRIDE celebrations across the planet—holding signs that ranged from “LDS love LGBT” to “This Mormon Mom supports your right to marry.” In every single case, the outpouring of love, healing, and unity at these celebrations ranked among the most spiritually moving experiences marchers—and onlookers—ever had.
  • We’ve seen the release of Family Acceptance Project materials designed specifically for Mormon families, that teach parents and leaders how to respond to LGBT Mormon youth in a way that keeps them safer from significant health risks—including depression and suicide. What’s amazing about this smart, spiritual research is it put data behind what we knew in our hearts all along as LGBT Mormons: If you’re just a little more kind to us, if you’re just a little more loving and inclusive, you’ll keep safer, happier, and more whole.
  • No gratitude list, however brief, would be complete without recognizing my amazing Bishop, Don Fletcher, and the atmosphere of our Savior’s unconditional love he strives to create within our faith. There is no bishop’s interview to undertake to be part of our ward family. There is no test to take to sit in church every Sunday. Everyone is welcome, exactly as they are—and that’s exactly as it should be.
  • But most of all, I’m grateful to have my Savior as my champion, my ally, and my friend. Without Him, none of the rest would have been possible.

This moment gives birth to the next. If I fill this moment with gratitude, the next can’t help but be filled with peace. 

What will your next moment bring?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Love and the Christian imagination

Last month, Affirmation (LGBT Mormons and Mormon-affiliated individuals) held its annual conference in Seattle. As part of the conference, Bob Rees delivered the keynote I share with you here (with his permission). In this talk, Bob describes his view of a failure within our faith community to genuinely understand our LGBT brothers and sisters, and instead have chosen to view them as ‘the other.’

Bob is a long-time champion of LGBT inclusion in the LDS community, a former Mormon Bishop, and has worked for decades to bring these two worlds closer together. I hope you find as much spiritual enrichment in his talk as I did—it’s clear this is a man who loves his fellows, and loves his Savior.


Love and the Christian imagination
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D.
(Keynote Devotional, Affirmation National Conference
Seattle, Washington, 21 October 2012)

Part of what it means to be a Christian is that through the grace of Christ we have the capacity to imagine what it is like to suffer as another person suffers. It is impossible to do this if we have anger, hated or revulsion for the other. Such imaginative projection is possible only within the context of love. Thus, those who revile and persecute homosexuals, who treat them as if they are flawed or have some kind of sinister agenda, cannot possibly take on their suffering, cannot possibly hope to feel what they feel, but those whose compassion is inspired by Christ, can feel, at least to some degree, what it must be like to be anathema to society. We can imagine what it must feel like to be taught to hate our own bodies, to be condemned for feeling what we naturally feel, to be denied normal fellowship within Christ’s kingdom, and to want to blot out our deep soul suffering through suicide.

Reviewing the sad history of homosexuality among the Mormons, I conclude that where we are today as a Church and as a people, though in many ways advanced from where we have been, can best be described as a failure—a failure of faith, a failure of courage, a failure of imagination, and most of all a failure of love.

I want to talk about two aspects of that failure today—the failure of imagination and the failure of love. I don’t think one can have a truly mature faith that isn’t to some degree graced by imagination. We don’t often speak of imagination and Christ in the same breath, but I read the gospels as the product of a great and fecund imagination. It isn’t just the inventive language, the subtle irony and humor, and the fresh narratives that flowed from his expansive heart and mind that make Jesus of Nazareth such great imaginer, but especially his capacity to imagine each of us caught in the snares of sin, lost in the tangled wood of mortality, each uniquely in need of love, mercy and grace. Beyond this was his god-like capacity to imagine each of us as glorified beings, each of our futures a reflection of his present. Only such an imagination, I am convinced, could have emboldened him to descend into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and ascend to Calvary the following Friday.

If we share some of Christ’s imaginative gifts, as I believe we all have the capacity to do when we take on us his name, then we can use such gifts to expand his work in the world. We can imagine not only that, but how, we can be better disciples than we are and the Church a better institution than it is. The Church I imagine, like Joseph Smith’s view of God, can be “more liberal in [its] views and more boundless in [its] mercies than we are ready to believe.”

The way in which I believe we have failed you our LGBT brothers and sisters is that we have not used our Christian imagination to try and understand your experience or to understand our stewardship in relation to you. Instead of seeing you as Latter-day Saints who have made heroic efforts to conform to Church requirements, we have instead characterized you as rebellious and unrepentant.

Instead of seeing you as exercising faith in promises made by Church leaders and therapists that if you were only sufficiently faithful, you could change your core identity, we have tended to see you as willfully disobedient and unfaithful. 

Instead of honoring the often heroic efforts you have made to prove to God and the Church that you were worthy of such a miraculous promise of change, we have accused you of not being sufficiently righteous.

Instead of applauding you for spending years and in some instances decades in therapy trying to deal with your depression, despair, and existential angst over your identity, we have accused you of not being sufficiently valiant.

Instead of seeing you as people who have made amazing sacrifices to fit in with your family, friends and congregations, we have stereotyped you as lustful, narcissistic Sybarites bent on indulging in and celebrating a “life style” that we have labeled outrageous, deviant, and predatory.

Instead of seeing you as desiring the Mormon ideal of fidelity in marriage, we have characterized you as desiring something unnatural and uncivilized. 

In short, instead of seeing you as fully human, we have tended to see you as alien and other.

We have failed to imagine what it must have been like for you as children or adolescents when you first recognized that you were different from your peers and the societal norm you were expected to conform to and how frightened you were of telling anyone about your feelings. According to the recent survey of 1,600 Latter-day Saint homosexuals conducted by Dr. William Bradshaw and his colleagues, on average, participants report a ten-year gap between the time they first realized their romantic or erotic attraction to those of the same sex (around age 12) and their first disclosure of this to another person (around age 22). We have failed to imagine the exquisite fear and loneliness you must have experienced during that long, lonely decade—or how painful it was when you did finally muster the courage to tell someone, only to discover that they rejected you, driving you deeper into your loneliness, despair and alienation. 

Nowhere has our imagination failed us more than in our refusal to place ourselves in your lives, in your hearts, your minds, and your bodies, to imagine how we would feel and act if we were asked to do what we have asked you to do—forego all romantic love, intimate affection, erotic expression, marital companionship and parent-child relationships for the duration of your mortal lives. Failing to consider the complexity of same-sex orientation and identity, we have encouraged (and even pressured) some of you to bind yourself to another person for whom you have no such desires or hope of any. We have also failed to imagine how it must be for you to suffer opprobrium, denigration of character, and alienation from the families, friends and congregations you most want to be a part of. We have failed to imagine how you feel on Sunday mornings when you want to be worshiping with your fellow saints and singing the songs of Zion. 

Finally, we have failed to imagine the despair, the hopelessness that has led so many of you to take or attempt to take your own lives. 

In a talk I gave over twenty-five years ago when I was bishop of the Los Angeles Singles’ Ward—addressed to the heterosexual members of the ward--I cited Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” in which Hopkins says that each of us

Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is—[that is,]
Christ. For [he says] Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

What Hopkins means is that Christ as our advocate takes our part, acts on our behalf before the Father, letting his light shine through our features and faces so that the Father may see us as Christ sees us—lovely in limbs and eyes (that is, body and soul), in spite of our weaknesses, limitations, and sinfulness.

Since we have the light of Christ within us, since we take on his character when we are born anew through him, thus becoming his children of light, then beyond expressing who and what we are, we also express who he is. Christ justifies us to God, and it is through His grace that when we act before the Father, in a sense we become Christ, because his light shines through us. Christ plays in ten thousand places and through many times ten thousand faces which he makes lovely to the Father through his grace. Those faces Christ plays through are both heterosexual and homosexual. He would bring us all to God.

The Gospel of St. Matthew shows us that Christ intends for us as his disciples to imitate him in this way—that is, that we are to see one another as he sees us, to consciously engage our imaginations as he employed his so that we, like him, can see the very essence of one another’s being, in Latter-day Saint terms, see the light of Christ in one another’s faces. When we do this, our only response is to love one another with as pure a love as we are capable of manifesting. As the novelist, Francisco Goldman says, “The great metaphor at the heart of the Gospel According to Saint Matthew is that those who suffer and those who show love for those who suffer are joined through suffering and grace to Jesus Christ.”

I concluded my remarks to members of the Los Angeles First ward with these words: 

I pray the Lord will bless us as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God, as those who have taken upon us His name, that we will let Christ's light shine through our faces, that we will make of our community a wholeness, that we will seek that common ground of peace of which Paul speaks, and that we will learn how to love and serve the Lord by celebrating who we are, his heterosexual and homosexual sons and daughters. Because we are all his creatures, we are all born with his light. I pray that we may let that light shine among us, that it might grow, that we ourselves might be its beacon, and that, as a Church and as individuals, we not only will pray to the Lord for greater light and understanding, but that we will turn our hearts with greater charity, love and acceptance of all of those whom we might consider strangers.

In Matthew 25 Christ puts Himself in the place of the stranger--of the homosexual, if you will, saying in effect, "Inasmuch as you have done it or not done it unto the least of one of these my homosexual brothers or sisters, you have done it or not done it unto me" (25:40).

What does this mean for you, my homosexual brothers and sisters? I wish I could say that you just have to be patient with us, your unimaginative, incomplete and wounded fellow saints, that you just have to continue to endure our spiritual immaturity as we strive to become more enlightened and more loving, but the fact is, you too have this role to play—you must also see us, those who have despised and rejected you, who have belittled and banished you, who have failed to find you in our imaginations—you must see us in the same way Christ calls us to see you. That is, even as we continue to cause you to suffer, you are called to imagine our lives--our fears, ignorance and prejudice that characterize our un-Christian treatment of you. That above all is what it means to be a follower of Christ. With him, we are to replace, ignorance with knowledge, error with truth, injustice with justice and, most of all, hate with love. 

I know it is not just for you to have to respond in this way to an institution and individuals who have treated you in unkind, unjust and, yes, un-Christian ways, but if we are to find our way out of the labyrinth we are in, which I think we must do together, it is incumbent upon us all to do what Christ calls us to do. It is through this work that we reform both ourselves and our Church. It is in this constant reforming that we prevent both ourselves and the Church from becoming idols. Thus, in order for this to happen, we have to get out of our social and religious ghettos, see one another’s real lives and try to understand one another’s lived experiences. 

I love the old Shaker hymn titled “More Love,” which includes the following lyrics:

If ye love not each other in daily communion,
How can ye love God whom ye have not seen?
More love, more love;
The heaven’s are blessing
The angels are calling
O Zion! More love.

If in the Church we can imagine change beyond policy and practice, beyond culture, perhaps even beyond currently accepted doctrine, we may become agents of change and thereby help transform the Church, perhaps liberate it from some of its less enlightened traditions, and even glorify it in new ways, thus demonstrating that we are indeed ready and anxious to receive on this subject new revelation regarding "great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." As the humanist Ihab Hassan says, "Liberations come from some strange region where the imagination meets change. . . . We need to re-imagine change itself, else we labor to confirm all our errors." Or, as Saul Bellow’s Henderson says, “All human accomplishment has this same origin, identically. Imagination is a force of nature. Is this not enough to make a person full of ecstasy? Imagination, imagination, imagination! It converts to actual. It sustains, it alters, it redeems!”

Twenty-one years ago I gave the keynote address at the Affirmation national conference in Palm Springs. In that address, I made an analogy between what was happening in the Church in relation to homosexuality and what had transpired in American and Mormon culture in relation to blacks. I quote from that address:

In his powerful essay, "Notes of a Native Son," James Baldwin speaks about the rage he felt as he went through a series of humiliating experiences as a young man living in New York [City]. He was refused service in a number of restaurants simply because he was black.  Finally, the accumulation of humiliations caused him to react with a kind  of unconscious violence . . . . I saw nothing very clearly but I did see this: that my life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do, but from the hatred I carried in my own heart." 

Later in the same essay Baldwin concludes, "In order to really hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind--and the heart--that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world [and here one can substitute the straight world] is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that . . . . Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law."

In a letter to his nephew, James, written on the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin writes, "There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. . . . We cannot be free until they are free."

Have any of you ever considered that part of your work for humanity might be teaching heterosexuals how to love better? It may not be fair that you are asked to do this, but I believe that it is God's will that you do so because, like blacks and other hated groups, you have experienced the deprivation of love in a profound way, and that depravation has given you a gift which, if you will use it, can bless your lives and the lives of others.  Having been subject to rejection, ostracism, and even hatred, you may understand something about the importance of love which others do not. I believe that it is in rising through our suffering to such love that we attain holiness.

I would like to close with a story that illustrates this principle, Raymond Carver’s “A Small Good Thing.” In this story a couple, the Weisses, make preparations to celebrate the birthday of their only son, Scotty. They order a cake from the local bakery. On the day of the party the boy is hit by a car and lapses into a coma. The parents wait anxiously by the bedside day after day but their son never awakens and, after a short time, dies. The baker, unaware of the accident, continues to call the parents to come and pick up the cake. Grieving, they do not return his calls. He continues to call and leaves abusive, threatening messages on their answering machine. Finally, one night they go to the bakery to express their outrage at the Baker’s behavior. When they tell him that their son is dead, he is embarrassed and ashamed. A simple man, he does the only thing he can think of—he offers them some of his fresh-baked bread. As they sit in the darkened bakery eating, he reveals his own life of loneliness, of being childless, of working sixteen hours a day baking thousands of wedding and birthday cakes and imagining the celebrations surrounding them, none of which ever touch his life personally.

Finally, he takes a fresh loaf of dark bread from the oven, breaks it open and offers some to them. “Smell this” he says, “It’s a heavy bread but rich.” Carver writes, “They smelled it, then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the florescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.”
This is a powerful story of loss, grief, death, forgiveness, and most of all of love. It is also a story of redemption. The association in the story of bread with light reminds us of Christ who is both the bread of life and the light of the world. Partaking of the bread of life each week, we too taste of his light. (Here I would add that if you do not feel comfortable partaking of the sacrament in a Latter-day Saint congregation, find one that welcomes you and partake of it there.) It is a small good thing we do and is akin to all of the other small acts of understanding, forgiveness and compassion we give to one another. Such acts of love, it seems to me, have their genesis in the light of Christ which is in every one of us. It is our sacred calling to magnify that light in our hearts and souls and to carry it to and receive it from one another as we receive the emblems of Christ’s sacrifice, that is, with gratitude and hope. 

More love, more love;
The heaven’s are blessing
The angels are calling
O Zion! More love.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Officially withdrawing my support for "Circling the Wagons" Mormon LGBT Conference


It is with much thought and disappointment that I write this post. I am publicly withdrawing my support for the Mormon LGBT Conference “Circling the Wagons,” and have resigned my position as member of the board of directors.

“Circling the Wagons,” to date, has been a wonderful experience. It has offered an alternate view for LGBT Mormons and their families who wish to allow gay Mormons to live their lives authentically as LGBT individuals. It has given hope to many, and been a great breath of fresh air from the outdated guidance that has dominated the Mormon LGBT landscape for decades.

Unfortunately, that has changed. The conference being held in Salt Lake City this November features speakers and messages that I, as an openly gay Mormon, cannot support. These include:

  • Josh Weed, who is well known for his individual choice as a gay man to be married to a woman
  • Steven Frei, President of North Star, an organization that positions LGBT Mormons as “struggling with same-sex attraction” and encourages them to change or suppress their orientation

The messages that will be delivered in this November’s “Circling the Wagons” are in direct conflict to everything my heart and spirit tell me about the nature of being a gay Mormon. North Star encourages LGBT Mormons to view themselves as broken and afflicted, while Mr. Weed’s message is routinely co-opted by many within our faith as the preferred path for LGBT Mormon youth, despite his insistence that it may not be the path for everyone. 

I have spent many years holding the belief that we as LGBT individuals are perfectly fine in the eyes of our Father—we don’t need to lead other people’s versions of our lives. Our path is uniquely our own, and just because humans don’t quite yet understand how we fit in our Father’s kingdom doesn’t mean our Father hasn’t known all along. And I have spent many years helping others who’ve struggled inside the confines of existing folklore-based policies—including many depressed and suicidal youth.

As a member of the board, it is my responsibility to help design direction and strategy for these events, including our mission. This conference represents a significant shift in my understanding of our purpose, and is one on which I was not consulted and do not support.

What is most disturbing to me is that we now have evidence-based research from The Family AcceptanceProject that demonstrate that encouraging LGBT children to suppress or change their orientation is actually a factor that contributes greatly to health risks of LGBT youth—including suicide. 

According to the impeccable research done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University, LGBT young people whose parents reject them are: More than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
An LDS oriented version of the booklet that suggests ways families can insure a safer life for their LGBT children, co-authored by former bishop Robert Rees, is found at the site mentioned above.

In addition, based on scientific data from the American Psychological Association demonstrating that conversion therapy (encouraging people to change or suppress their orientation) poses significant risks to youth (including depression, anxiety, and self-harm), has been banned in the state of California. To quote the author of this article, “Young people in this country must be allowed to grow up knowing that they are accepted and loved no matter whom they love.”

Given these factual sources of scholarship, it not only feels unethical to give platform to these messages, but it is, quite frankly, dangerous. I am disappointed that the leadership of “Circling the Wagons” does not recognize the threat to LGBT Mormon youth they implicitly endorse with this conference. Combined with the lack of inclusion on a major shift in direction, I must respectfully withdraw my support for and involvement in the organization.

I wish my friends at “Circling the Wagons” well, and send my kindest regards to Mr. Weed and those within North Star. But I cannot be part of an organization that disseminates messages that are proven to increase the risk of suicide and other serious health issues to the same group of people that I seek to help.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Circling the Wagons: Bishop Don Fletcher's talk

The talk given by my Bishop, Don Fletcher, at the Circling the Wagons Mormon LGBT Conference in San Francisco last month, shared with his permission. I'm a blessed man to get to serve with a human who has such an amazing spirit.


One of my favorite scriptures is 1 Nephi 11:17.  In this passage Nephi is being grilled/peppered with questions by an angel.  Not personally being a scholar on all points of gospel nuance, I can readily identify with his answer to the angel in this verse: “And I said unto him: I know that He loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17)

As a human, I certainly don’t know the meaning of all things either--yet I am also totally confident that God loves all of His children.

There are a vast array of challenges that beset the members of my ward – some are very emotionally distressing.  In my calling as a bishop, I love to make use of priesthood blessings – like Peter said in Acts, it is a gift that is very concrete and real that I can offer my ward members. The words of the Lord through a priesthood blessing can often be not only comforting, but sometimes very instructive also.

“Then Peter said, silver and gold have I none; but such as I have, give I thee.” (Acts 3:6)

My ward in San Francisco may have the distinction of having more members that are gay than any other on the planet.  I have had the privilege of meeting with many of these members and they have blessed my life greatly. A common thread that I hear repeatedly is an ongoing testimony of the gospel, a love of the Savior and a total confusion about how a gay person fits into the Lord’s eternal plan. 

In each of the many blessings I have given to these individuals, as I have laid my hands on their heads, I have felt strongly impressed to always start each and every blessing with the simple declaration that “you are loved by the Lord, right now, exactly as you are”.  It has amazed me at how powerfully those words have affected these members.  It may seem simple and obvious but it has had a deeply positive impact for my members to know that.

Bishop Fletcher at the Statue of Liberty
The history of the world is replete with various groups of people not being loved, accepted, or respected.  In a recent trip to New York, I had the opportunity to visit Liberty Island and gaze at that beautiful symbol of our freedom moving forward, even Lady Liberty.  I was interested to hear the story that in the 1896 unveiling party for that strong feminine form, women were not invited, not allowed on the island for that occasion.  The suffragettes circled the islands in boats, protesting their exclusion!
I have served as a bishop in 3 different states – Florida, Alabama and California.  Each location has afforded me the opportunity to advocate for the inclusion of sometimes marginalized members.  In Florida, I do not think that my older members were always given the respect and opportunities that they should have had.  (I must admit some bias here being a physician with an almost entirely geriatric practice – I love my senior patients.) 

In Alabama, my wonderful ward in inner city Birmingham was made up of about 65% African American members.  These fine Saints were familiar with the sting of not always being seen as equal.  My first counselor recounted the story of how several years earlier (but after 1978) he had been interviewed for the Melchezidek priesthood.  One evening, while cleaning the Stake President's office while working as the janitor for the stake center, he was hurt deeply to find his recommend with bold red letters scribbled on it proclaiming “THIS MAN IS BLACK.” The culprit was never identified, but the critical lesson was the Christlike manner in which this man responded. Though hurt, he proceeded on with full activity in the church, humbly serving around those who did not see things as the Savior would have had them.

The Bay Ward in San Francisco tries hard to be exemplary of Christ like love and acceptance to all in our diverse congregation – I am honored to be one of its members.  As I have visited as a bishop with our many gay members, I have been overwhelmingly saddened to hear their stories of great emotional suffering.  The feelings of isolation from gay members who have reached the conclusion that they are not worthy of God’s love are the most heart wrenching I have heard.

I have a family member who is gay and is not currently attending church meetings.  He still has a testimony of the restoration.  He knows the Book of Mormon is true.  But with reference to his ward, he simply states, “If they knew who I was, they would not want me there”.  That is his honest well considered perception—and his sad reality.
Primary songs bring the spirit into my life with great dependability.  One of my favorite Primary songs has always been the song – “I'll Walk with You”, the words of that song composed by Carol Lynn Pearson.  (pg 140, Children’s Songbook)

   If you don't walk as most people do,
   Some people walk away from you,
   But I won't! I won't!
   If you don't talk as most people do,
   Some people talk and laugh at you,
   But I won't! I won't!
   I'll walk with you. I'll talk with you.
   That's how I'll show my love for you.
   Jesus walked away from none.
   He gave his love to ev'ryone.
   So I will! I will!
   Jesus blessed all he could see,
   Then turned and said, "Come, follow me."
   And I will! I will!
   I will! I will!
   I'll walk with you. I'll talk with you.
   That's how I'll show my love for you.
 Words: Carol Lynn Pearson, © 1987 IRI
In the words of Carol Lynn Pearson from her wonderful book, “No More Goodbyes”, Carol Lynn has this to say about the song. In the Children’s songbook there is a lovely picture of one child pushing another in a wheelchair…"but as I wrote it I also had in mind the little children who, as they grow up, will find themselves of a sexual orientation sure to present a challenge for them in our church and our society."
I love these words of Elder Jeffrey Holland: "Some members exclude from their circle of fellowship those who are different. When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail them—and the Lord."  The time has come for us to work diligently to make sure that this admonition is applied to Latter-day Saints who are gay.  I cannot imagine how it would feel; to think you are not were not capable of being loved of God.  The priesthood blessings I have been privileged as a bishop to give many gay members have not only instructed the receivers of the blessings, but me, as well. And that instruction is quite clear: All of us are loved by the Lord.

This church is truly the church of Jesus Christ.  He lives and He loves us - each and every one.  We are loved and we need to love each other as He loves us.  I hope that as a church we can all shed some of the cultural relics that have prevented gay members from viewing themselves as the loved children of God that they are. 

Such is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.