Adam is a 24 year-old lifelong Mormon. He is also gay.
I sat down with Adam this past weekend to ask him about his experiences as a man with a foot in two worlds that don’t seem to intersect. His story is a powerful and painful one—and underscores the similar experience we all have as gay and lesbian Mormons: we feel forced to choose between “God and gay.”
Yet, like Adam, there are many who don’t buy into this concept of forced choice. We are exactly as our Father made us—and as such, we are loved by Him just the way we are. There is no need to buy into the illusion of that forced choice. There are religions that may condemn us, that may try to change us, and those within their ranks who start their sentences with, “We love you—unless.”
But as we learn and grow, we, like Adam, come to understand that there is no qualification on our Father’s love for us, and nothing standing in the way of our relationship with our Savior as our authentic selves.
This is Adam’s story.
Me: How long have you been a Mormon? Did you serve a mission?
Adam: I was born into the church. I served a mission in Arcadia, California. I was actually on my mission during the events of Prop 8. At the time, I felt like I had to support the church’s stand on that issue, but it never felt right to me. When we’d talk about it in church, it didn’t feel right that the church was getting involved in a public policy issue. I know the church has a right to prohibit gay marriage inside the church, but this—this felt like overstepping a boundary.
Being both gay and Mormon, I felt—well, hypocritical when it came to supporting Prop 8. And at the same time, being able to serve a mission for something I believed in—and still do for the most part—was very important to me. I couldn’t walk away from my mission. It just meant too much, but it was a very difficult time for me. I’ve always loved so much of what the church stands for and have always been very active. It’s much harder for me now as an openly gay man, but I am still going.
Me: When did you know you were gay?
Adam: I’ve known I was different since I was a really little kid. I didn’t know what—I didn’t have the vocabulary or information to define what that difference was, or to identify it until later, but looking back I was always attracted to guys. I realized what ‘gay’ meant—and that I was gay—when I was about 11 or 12.
Me: Does your family know? How have they responded?
Adam: I came out to my family in the beginning of December last year. I have three older sisters—the youngest is totally supportive and even told me when I came out that she’d suspected I was gay since middle school. My middle sister is okay with it, I guess, and my oldest—well, we just don’t talk about it since it seems to be a really uncomfortable topic for her.
My relationship with my parents has been really strained since I started to be honest about who I really am. When I first came out, my dad used words like “overcoming this burden,” “changing” and overall encouraging me not to act on it—like it was something I had a choice over. He told me when I came out that he felt like I was giving up my seat in the Celestial Kingdom and that I didn’t seem to care. I told him that if I didn’t care—if my religion and faith that I’ve known my entire life didn’t matter to me—then this wouldn’t be the struggle for me that it is. My Mom is pretty much the same—but she seems to be taking a more supportive stance lately. Her brother is gay, so she’s slightly more understanding based on what she’s watched him go through.
My family did mention aversion therapy and asked me to investigate Evergreen, but I’m a psychology major and I know the science around LGBT issues—and I disagree with both aversion therapy and the philosophy of Evergreen. The APA has scientific evidence to prove that both approaches simply don’t work. I refused to go to aversion therapy, but wanted to make my parents happy so went to one Evergreen meeting. It was depressing—full of men who wanted desperately to be something other than who they are, and trying to live a different life. As a gay man, and a Mormon, I want the chance to live an authentic life—that can’t be found in Evergreen.
Me: Do people in your ward know? How have they responded?
Adam: I go to a singles ward now, but we’ve lived in my home ward since I was three months old. People in my home ward pretty much know—and they haven’t treated me any differently.
In my singles ward, I have one friend who knows and her first reaction was to start sending me ideas from the church on how to overcome this—but she really hasn’t treated me any differently.
Then I told my bishop in my singles ward. He didn’t believe me when I said I was gay. “What makes you think you’re like one of them?” he asked. He didn’t believe me because I’m not a stereotype that he thinks gay people are—I’m masculine, I’m athletic, and I’m a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He just refused to believe me so I stopped talking to him about it, because he didn’t understand.
A few weeks later, we changed bishops—and I went to my new bishop to talk to him about this. I told him straight up that I was gay, and I won’t use the term “same-sex attracted” because that diminishes so much of our identity. At this same time, I finally just buckled from the pressure. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time anyway, and this just got to be too much. I wasn’t getting along with my parents, and then this with the bishop added to a lifetime of being told I’m not who God wants me to be—it was overwhelming. I had a breakdown at a friend’s house, and my boyfriend and other friends said they wouldn’t let me go home, so they admitted me to the hospital. It’s happened twice now—the first time for three days, the second time for six days.
When I was in the hospital the second time, my bishop came to see my family and talk to my parents about how I was doing emotionally. My sister said they talked around the subject of me being gay but never addressed it directly. They never even mentioned the word. I think it was because his counselor was there and he’s the father of my best friend, and they didn’t want him to know.
Now that I’m doing better, I was prepared to go in and tell my bishop everything—that I’m gay, that I’ve been in a relationship—knowing full well what will probably happen to me, that I’ll be subject to a disciplinary trial. He said we’d wait to have that discussion, that he was more concerned about emotional and spiritual welfare—but now our meeting is coming up in just a few weeks. I intend to still be honest with him.
Me: How has watching you grapple to understand your place within the church affected the testimonies of those who love you?
Adam: I don’t think it’s affected my Dad at all. He still thinks it’s very wrong. I believe that because I’m his son and he loves me that he wants to come to a place of support, but he still feels it’s wrong. He’s said the church needs to do more to support members who are gay and their families, but he hasn’t changed his mind about how he views it—that support, for him, would come in the form of ways to help me change or at least manage.
My Dad, at first, wouldn’t use the term “gay” when he talked about it. He still often says “SSA” (same-sex attracted). Finally, one time I told him, “Dad, I’m gay—I’m not same-sex attracted! It’s not just some physical attraction that’s just about sex—it’s way deeper than that.” Now, at least sometimes, he refers to me as gay. But he did say he knew a lot of people who were attracted to both genders, who were able to get married and have lives inside the confines of the policy we have today. I said that’s great, but I’m not attracted to both genders. I’m gay. I’m not bi, and I’m not same-sex attracted.
My Mom is torn—she feels like something inside the church needs to change, but that doesn’t change the fact that she feels like it is unnatural and wrong.
Me: How do you feel as a gay Mormon when you hear messages from our leadership that reinforce the message that you must choose between being who you really are—and keeping your membership inside a faith that has become your home?
Adam: I don’t think anything hurts worse than this. I feel like…like they don’t want me. And at the same time, I really strive hard to show them the same kind of respect and compassion I’m asking for from them.
This month, Elder Packer wrote an article in New Era that is a prime example of the kind of messages that wound me and people like me. He called it, “Surviving in Enemy Territory,” and I just read it—and it hurt. It depressed me and made me feel hopeless. Some of his previous General Conference talks also hurt very much. It’s really difficult for me to hear messages like that over and over again—because what happens is those messages from leaders are repeated in Sacrament, Sunday School, and Priesthood. It makes me feel like I’m on the outside looking in.
I feel like no one even wants to understand this issue. I know it’s hard, but I want people to really think about what they say and do and how that affects others. It’s like straight people look at me and think I deviated from being straight somehow. I didn’t start out straight and change my mind—this is how my Father made me. This is who I am—a gay Mormon. So when the church tells me that who I am is not who God wants me to be and that I can change—that’s ridiculous, but still very hurtful. This is who I am. I was made this way.
Me: What are your dreams when it comes to relationships, intimacy, and love? Do you see your Mormon faith in those dreams?
Adam: I want to get married and have a family with the man that I love. That’s how I was raised and those are my values—a committed, monogamous family-centered life with the man who will be my companion. I don’t feel at all like I could marry a woman—I refuse to do that since I couldn’t give her 100%. That wouldn’t be fair, and I want to give whomever I marry 100% of me.
I also refuse to be celibate—I don’t think that’s my Savior’s plan for me. In my best dreams of my future I would love to remain an active member of the church with my partner and our family by my side, but I don’t see that happening. I still love the church and I still believe so much of what is good there—I believe, but I feel like they don’t believe in me. My faith and my sexual orientation are the two biggest influences that have crafted me into the man I am today. When I look into the future, I feel like either way I am going to lose a major part of who I am. I think there will always be a major sense of loss for me.
Me: What do you fear?
Adam: Well, my family life is really awkward right now, but they’ll always be my family and I know that. I have accepted that I’ll eventually be excommunicated from the church; I think it’s just a matter of time. But, it will be the church’s decision—not mine.
But that’s not really my biggest fear. I guess my biggest fear is never really being able to accept myself fully—never being really healthy and love myself the way my Savior does—because I’ve heard those messages over and over again that I am not who God wants me to be. So I feel like I’ll have to make a horrible choice that will leave me with a sense of great loss, and as a result, I’ll never be able to really love myself unconditionally—the way I believe our Father wants us to.
Me: How would you describe your testimony of your Savior through all of this? How do you think He wants you to respond to this?
Adam: I believe He is aware of my struggles and I honestly don’t quite know what He wants me to do. I know that my whole life I prayed that He would remove this from me, and that never happened. Then I started praying that He would just guide me to the path that would make me happy, and at that same time a bunch of doors opened that led me to coming out. I know He loves me, and I don’t believe I’m going to be condemned to hell for being the way He made me—and that gives me hope.
Me: How has all of this affected your faith in the church? Our leaders?
Adam: My testimony of both of them is pretty weak. I feel like especially in regards to homosexuality, they won’t look at evidence—they won’t accept scientific fact or other sides to the story. They’re so convinced that what they believe is right, but there is scientific data that proves otherwise, yet they still maintain this is a sin and that we can change.
When I came out, my Stake President gave my parents a pamphlet that cited studies done clear back in the 1970s. It makes me wonder—if the church is advocating these kind of dated theories that have been debunked, then we’re ignoring scientific truth. If we’re ignoring scientific truth, and basing our policy on what we want to believe instead of reality, what else are we doing wrong? What other positions do we take about people or the world that are faulty and based in folklore? So…yeah, my testimony of the church and our leaders is very weak as a result of the way this has been handled.
Me: If you could speak freely to President Monson about this—without fear of retribution—what would you say? What would you want him to understand?
Adam: I would want him to know the kind of personal hell it is to be gay and still love a faith that teaches me that I am an abomination. I would want him to understand how painful it is to know in my heart who I am, and to be told that is wrong. I would want to point out how little the church is doing to help gay members and give them support—we don’t even support families effectively. They’ve based their help on the whole notion that we should change or deny this huge part of ourselves—and that’s faulty science.
Me: What advice would you give to other MoHos in your situation?
Adam: I would say to them to reach out to people who genuinely understand what you’re going through—and usually that doesn’t include your church leaders. Find the people who are like you, who want to live healthy, Christ-centered lives and still honor their sexual identity.
I’d also tell them to take a step back and look at this from the outside—meaning, don’t pay attention to the voices of other people that tell you what you should do and how you should live your life. Figure out the path that will make you happy, not what will make others happy. For some, that might be staying in the church and living a celibate life—for others, it will mean leaving and finding your relationship with your Savior somewhere else. But do what makes you happy—not what makes other people happy.
Me: What’s next for you—spiritually and otherwise?
Adam: I’m not sure. I do know one thing, though—I want to get more involved helping other people who grapple with this. There is a genuine need here, and no one is filling it completely. We need more people focused on this because lives and testimonies are at stake. I am a psychology major and I want to focus my research on sexual orientation and discrimination. And I hope that, by doing this, I can help keep other people from having to go through the same difficulties I am.
As seems to be the case when I talk to my fellow MoHos, I’m always left a little saddened, but also energized. Yes, there is indeed tragedy here—broken hearts, damaged relationships, and shattered dreams.
But there is also hope.
People like Adam are that hope. Those who are willing to stand up and be recognized for who they truly are do us all a service. They lend voice to those who still suffer silently within our ranks, and they allow others the opportunity to challenge what they think they know about compassion, kindness, and unconditional love.
It takes a strong spirit to be gay in this life. It takes a remarkable one to be a gay Mormon.
My brother Adam is, indeed, remarkable.