This post is dedicated to my friends the Montgomerys. Below you will find a letter they sent to their family late last week, explaining that while their son is gay, not much of anything else has really changed: They still love their Savior, they're still active Mormons, and they still love their son--the same way they always did.
It is my hope that other parents of Mormon LGBT children out there see this and realize it is possible--very possible--to love your child unconditionally, keep them safe from health risks, and still remain true to your faith. In fact, I think this is one of the truest representations of our faith there is--putting into action the principle that our family is first, our children are precious, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.
I think my favorite part is how this helps dispel the illusion that you have to choose between your church and your child. Kudos to the Montgomerys for not allowing anyone to force them into that horrible Sophie's Choice.
Enjoy the read from my new friends--and my new heroes. And pay special attention to the postscript from their son at the end--that's a message we all need to hear.
To all our friends and family, we feel that it’s time share something that has been a significant experience in our lives. Many of you already know this, or may have heard secondhand, so we wanted you to hear it directly from us (Tom and Wendy): our oldest son, Jordan, is gay. You may wonder why we would share this information (and of course it’s with Jordan’s permission). We will explain, but first we want to share our experience through some excerpts from Wendy’s journal.
BEGINNING OF EXCERPTS FROM WENDY’S JOURNAL:
On the last Sunday in January, I stayed home from church with my daughter, Emma, who was sick. Tom took the other 4 kids to church with him. They weren’t even gone 5 minutes before I had a strong feeling to go read Jordan’s journal. That feeling came twice before I acted on it. (Jordan started keeping a journal as a Duty to God requirement a couple weeks before this.) I’m not sure I can adequately describe my feelings as I read the things my sweet son wrote. The entries clearly portrayed his conflicted feelings of being attracted to other guys, and not feeling anything towards his friends that are girls. He knew he was different, that there was something “wrong” with him.
The next day I drove down to visit my brother who is a Bishop in his ward and has had some gay teens in his ward. I also stayed with my sister for a couple days. I was afraid to come home and be around Jordan until I knew I could control my emotions and tears. Tom is much better controlling his emotions and was able to be around Jordan without him sensing that anything was wrong. I didn’t want Jordan to know that we knew yet and that we had read his journal because if that was the only way I could find out what was going on with him, I didn’t want that window shut.
Tom and I met with our Bishop that week and talked with him about what to do. He referred us to LDS Family Services to see a counselor about it. In the meantime, we had several talks with Jordan, trying to let him know that he could talk to us about anything, we would love him and accept him no matter what, and so on. We were hoping he would open up and talk to us about it, but he didn’t.
After a few weeks, we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer for him to come out to us on his own. So Tom gave Jordan a Priesthood blessing that night after the other kids were in bed. It was a beautiful, powerful blessing. Afterward, Jordan sat next to me on the bed and I just hugged him. Tom looked at Jordan and said, “Jordan, I feel like I need to ask you something. Are you struggling with feelings of homosexuality?” I felt Jordan start to tremble and cry. Then he nodded. He looked absolutely terrified. Jordan just clung to me, for almost 2 hours. We told him how much we love him, how this changes NOTHING of how we feel for him. We accept him completely and will help him through this.
I have come to learn that how we handled that moment was an exceptional “coming out” for a gay teenager. Many (including LDS teens) are disowned, kicked out of their home, screamed at, had hateful, awful things said to them, etc. I can’t imagine EVER feeling like that towards one of my children. But I know it was a tender mercy of the Lord that we had a couple weeks of knowing before this moment, so we could get a handle on our own difficult emotions and not experience the shock that so many parents do when their kids come out to them.
There is no way to adequately explain how we feel, the emotions we are going through, or what we need to do to cope with all of this, all while trying to hold it together enough for our other 4 kids. I didn’t know it was possible to cry so much, to have emotional pain be so intense that it becomes physical pain, to grieve over someone who wasn’t dead. I feel like I am mourning the loss of the life I wanted for my son, and thought he would have: a mission, temple marriage, being a father. It was as though the boy I raised was gone and I had to get to know this new boy. He was different now, but still the same. Such a confusing place for me! I have read and studied this subject in the Church so much that I have a very good idea of what his life will be like as a gay LDS man. If he chooses to stay true to the teachings of the gospel, then he will have a life of loneliness and celibacy. Never having a companion or someone to love breaks my heart for him. If he chooses to leave the Church and live an openly gay life, then he gives up the blessings associated with the Church. He will likely pull away from his family because it will be awkward for him (even though we will try to not make it so).
My poor son! This is an impossible situation, with no good solution in this life. He is only 13, and most 13-year olds are not looking that far into their future. But as his parents, we know this. And it is an excruciating thing. But he is STILL that wonderful, amazing, happy, always smiling, enthusiastic boy he has always been. He is STILL the child I have loved the longest, my first-born, and will forever love regardless of what happens with this or what choices he makes.
END JOURNAL EXCERPTS
So why are we sharing this with you now? Our belief is that the choices before Jordan are both unfair and horrible. They are complicated by both ignorance of fundamental facts and the polarizing political world surrounding gay issues. Wendy, in particular, has made it her mission to be as educated on the subject as possible. She has studied both scientific research on it and read church leaders’ statements on same-sex attraction, which in recent years has evolved significantly. She has read and listened to the experiences of hundreds of LDS gay men and women. She has also waded through the majority of political, hate-filled misinformation out there. She loses sleep regularly in her search for answers and help for Jordan. Every spare minute she has is devoted to this. From all her study and from our discussions with Jordan, I would like to share with you some of the important things we have learned:
(1) Being gay is not a choice. Science and psychology have recognized this for a long time, and even the church has come to recognize this in recent years. I have read some of the scientific research (mostly from Bill Bradshaw, a BYU biology professor and former mission president), which is quite compelling. But more compelling than the science is the experience and testimony of numerous faithful LDS gay people, including Jordan. They sincerely tell us that they never chose to be attracted to the same sex; in fact many have tried in various ways to ignore it, fight it or change it – but it doesn’t go away. Moreover, why would an honest, faithful young man or woman ever choose to be gay in our church and suffer the shame, guilt and rejection that too often come with it? Those who doubt this proposition should ask themselves, did I ever have to make a conscious decision to like and be attracted to the opposite sex, or was it natural and instinctive? Likewise, it is natural and instinctive for those who are attracted to the same sex.
(2) Sexual orientation doesn’t change. Again, numerous studies and the experience of numerous faithful LDS gay people can’t be ignored. As Bill Bradshaw observes, “honesty compels us to consider the experience of a very large number of LDS gay people, who in spite of exhaustive, lengthy, and totally sincere efforts have not been able to change the fact of who they are sexually. A testimony of the gospel, faithful church activity, fasting, prayer, missionary service, temple service – all of these are important, but none, in any combination, has been able to alter sexual orientation.” Any doubters should ask themselves, is there anything that would cause me to lose my feelings towards the opposite sex and be attracted to members of the same sex?
(3) Being gay is not just about sex - any more than being heterosexual is just about sex. Gay people are no different than straight people when it comes to relationships. Like all human beings, they desire emotional, spiritual and physical attachment. They feel the same compulsion to fall in love, find a companion and share their life with someone. The desire for physical intimacy is just one aspect of the spectrum of feelings and emotions that humans, whether gay or straight, experience in a relationship.
As we learned these things, we have become comfortable with who Jordan is; and we no longer feel a need to hope for things that cannot happen. For whatever purpose the Lord has, a certain number of people are faced with same sex attraction. This does not change the fact that Jordan will need to choose how to live with being gay, but it circumvents a lifetime of petitioning the Lord for something that will never happen and focus his choices on how to live now. He can move forward secure that he is as the Lord made him and not a broken or wicked person. Our hope is that he continues to build his faith in the Savior and that he can find happiness in the Church, and we will do everything we can to assist in creating a place for gay people in the Church.
The points outlined above should help secure our compassion and empathy for those who are gay. There has been too much pain and suffering, mistreatment and rejection – all because of ignorance, fear and misunderstanding. This isn’t a political effort to get you to vote one way or another, but as long as this subject is taboo and people are too afraid or intimidated to speak about it, then young gay people in the church will continue to suffer. Today in the Church (and our communities) there is bullying, fear and self-loathing – even suicide. We will continue to lose too many wonderful gay men and women (and often their families) because they feel unwanted and unwelcome among us.
This should not happen in our Church. This is why Wendy and I have decided that we can no longer be silent, closeted parents. We don’t want to be a part of the problem. We want all gay people, particularly that young man or woman in our midst who is silently suffering with nowhere to turn, to know that we love them and support them. We are there for them and for their family if they need help, encouragement or understanding. The Church at this time has no official outreach or instruction on this subject, other than a few statements over the years and a pamphlet. Local leaders are mostly left on their own on how to counsel gay members. Among other things, Wendy and I have spoken with our local church leaders about our willingness to be a resource to help educate fellow members and especially to help individuals and families who just need someone to talk to. There shouldn’t be one member of our Church who thinks it is the Church’s position that they should turn against their children, throw them out of their homes or shun them. This is the opposite of what Christ would do.
Here is our final point:
To be members of the church in full fellowship, gay members must make a sacrifice of supreme proportions. They are not allowed to fall in love, show physical affection, or be married to those to whom they are naturally attracted. They are required to be completely celibate. Being gay is not like having a disability, as some have tried to tell me. Gay people are capable of living and loving like everyone else. A disabled person is never told that they are not worthy of God’s choicest blessings, they always have hope and admiration. As do single women in the church, who are progressing in years without a prospective husband on the horizon. Again, they have hope, support, and love. Our church is all about the eternal family and the only group of people who have no hope of attaining this are homosexuals. To deny a Latter-Day-saint this goal is to strip them of their very reason for being. So, no, nothing can compare.
To give it a personal perspective, if you were told that you could not marry or that you had to give up your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend in order to retain your membership in the church, how would you choose? Thankfully, most of us don’t have to make such a difficult decision, but most gay people do. And because falling in love and having someone to share your life with is such a major part of our earthly experience (and a major focus of the church), the great majority of gay people at some time or another choose that path. We have heard statistics that say up to 80% of gay children leave the Church.
Our only purpose in bringing up this point is so that we might have an extra measure of empathy and compassion for our gay brothers and sisters. Many of us, Wendy and I included, gave of our time and resources fighting for prop 8 in California, but have we spent one moment of our time to reclaim or show love to some of these rejected souls? And we wonder why our efforts are perceived as hate. We should welcome them with open arms into our congregations with love and acceptance, no matter their status or circumstances. We are simply asking that we love them as the Savior does. Love Jordan as you always have. This does not require any doctrinal changes or threaten the sanctity of marriage. It might just make us all a bit more Christ-like.
While this has probably been too wordy already, there are many things that have been left unsaid. If you have any questions, please feel free to talk to us. Also, feel free to share this letter with anyone you feel may benefit from our story.
Tom and Wendy Montgomery
P.S from Jordan: I wanted to say something to you guys. Many of you know that we went to San Francisco this past weekend. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We went to a conference for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people (LGBT). They are wonderful and amazing people who have been so devastated and hurt by what society and their families have said and done to them. Some were thrown out of their homes, others beaten, and some lost everything when they came out. I don’t want this to keep happening. I and my parents are only the start of something that can take the blinders off of people’s eyes and let them see that we should all just love and accept each other for who we are. I’ve been bullied a lot by people at my school and previous schools. That bullying can drive people to suicide, cutting themselves, and all these awful things that I would never throw on anyone for as long as I live. All I’m asking of you is that you love and accept EVERYONE. Not just gays and lesbians, but EVERYONE.