Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kim's Story

On Sunday, March 25th, 2012, Kim was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for being in a same-gender relationship with her partner, Lyn.

When one among our MoHo community is excommunicated from the faith, it’s easy for them (and those who love them) to want to go to a place of negativity, and hurl back the same kind of insensitivity and lack of compassion that we feel has been directed at us. And, at the same time, it’s in these moments when we must exercise the most caution to ensure we don’t respond in that fashion—we must, more than ever, respond with the same kind of peace, compassion, and love our Savior would grant to His accusers. After all, we in the MoHo community can’t ask for compassion, equality, and understanding from our leaders if we’re not among the first to grant those same qualities to others.

Kim has a keen understanding of this principle. Even though she was excommunicated just days ago, the love and compassion she holds for the Church and her leaders is evident. She has walked through this with dignity and strength—she stood for herself, but not against her fellows. And most important, she has walked through this with her Savior by her side, her testimony of Him unwavering.  After all, her relationship with her Savior belongs only to her—no one, independent of title, can strip her of that.

Here is Kim’s story. 

Me: How long have you been Mormon?
Kim: My family was baptized into the church when I was six. They were converts to the church, and I was baptized when I was eight—I’ve been a member all my life. I wanted very much to serve a mission for the Church, and in the late 1980’s when I was 21 I was called to the Ohio Cleveland Mission. When I arrived, I shared with the Missionary Training Center (MTC) President that I’d recently had a gay experience. The MTC president didn’t really know what to do, so he contacted the General Authorities (GAs) to ask what to do with me. The GAs decided I was to be sent home—to my parents’ home in South Dakota—where I was subsequently disfellowshipped at the age of 21.

As a backdrop, my oldest son is 21 now, and when I think about that kind of event happening to someone that young, I’m horrified that we would respond that way to someone of that age.

A year after I returned to South Dakota, I’d gone through what was required of me and was returned to full membership status. I tried a second time to go on a mission, and during the interview process the Stake President advised me that I should bypass serving a mission, and instead focus my energies on pursuing marriage and a family. At the time, I happened to be writing to a young man who was serving a mission (which is traditional for many young women), so I genuinely believed that getting married at 23 and starting a family would be the right thing for me to do.

I was married for 10 years…it didn’t go very well. I was gay, not straight, and being married didn’t make me any more straight. It made it difficult for my husband and I to have a close intimate relationship in a way that was rewarding for both of us. I had three children whom I love deeply, and am still very close with.

Me: When did you know you were gay?
Kim: Even though I had my first gay experience at 19, I assumed it was a phase—in large part because I knew how badly my Mom wanted it to be. My Mom’s mother was a lesbian, and at that time she viewed my grandmother’s life as very sad and difficult, and I think my Mom wanted to save me (and in some ways, herself) from having that kind of difficult existence. So, I went along with the idea that it was simply a phase and believed that it was something that I could—and should—overcome.

When I was 27, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. For the first time, my own mortality stared me in the face and I wondered what it would be like to meet my Savior, and it occurred to me that even though I was living my life externally perfectly—living the law of chastity, going to church, being a wife and mother—I felt unworthy to face my Savior. When I did the introspection to uncover why that was, I realized that I was still intimately attracted to women, not men—I felt as though I hadn’t worked hard enough to overcome this challenge. I wasn’t “cured.”

When I recovered from cancer, I underwent deep therapy to help me overcome being gay. None of it worked—I’d have moments where I felt I could do it, but it was an unchangeable part of who I was.

Me: How does your family view you?
Kim: That has changed over time. I just told my Dad I’d been excommunicated. He was sad, and disappointed that he was just now finding out about it—he loves me, and always will, and I know that. At the same time, he still views acting on my orientation as a sin—but as my Father, is supportive of what I do even though it might not be the choice he’d like me to make.

My siblings are mixed—for the most part they are kind, but with the exception of my brother (who is also gay) most of them don’t understand. It’s difficult to watch my brother struggle with his own orientation inside the church—he wont’ accept the Melchezedik Priesthood because he feels like he will eventually fail, and then will be in the same position as me.

My Mom passed away in 2010. When she first learned of me being gay, she was very homophobic especially in light of the difficult life her own Mom had as a lesbian. My Mom believed she had been, at some point, molested by one of her Mother’s partners, so she had a pretty horrified view of homosexuality. When I came out, she was very upset and just couldn’t be affirming or supportive. Later, when my brother also came out, I think my Mom viewed this as a ‘second chance’ to understand this issue, like it was no mistake that so many people she loved were gay. Over time, she grew from being someone who disliked this part of me intently, to being one of my biggest champions. When she died, she was starting to question what she thought she understood about LGBT issues that she had learned from the Church, and a big part of her growth in this area was spurred by watching how the church treated me and my brother because we’re gay.

As for my children, my oldest hates the fact that I’m gay; my middle daughter thinks we should all be allowed to choose, while at the same time thinks that being in a gay relationship is an immoral choice; and my youngest thinks that while it’s not wrong to be gay, it is wrong to act on it. All of them understand that being gay is not a choice—yet think that acting on it is a choice, and also a sin.

Me: What are the events that led to your disciplinary council?
Kim: When my Mom died in July, 2010, I started shifting spiritually. Actually, I had started shifting a little before that. I had been living under the doctrine as we understand it today—conforming to the law of chastity, and as such, living a celibate life. But I couldn’t live like that anymore—I don’t know how closely related it was to losing my Mom, but I began to be honest with myself and realize I needed more intimacy as a human that what I was allowed to have under our policy.

A few months later, I had a girlfriend. At the time, I held a current temple recommend and taught Relief Society, and I knew my Bishop would probably not want me to do or have those things if I were in a gay relationship—so I met with him and told him where I was.  He took my temple recommend from me, and released me from my calling. Then he would ask to meet with me every few months to see where I was.

That relationship lasted about a year, and then I met Lyn. When my Bishop asked to meet with me again a month ago, I was honest once more about my life. When I told him about Lyn, the first question he asked me was, “Is she married?” Even though Lyn is separated and their relationship has been platonic for close to a decade, my Bishop was really stuck on the idea that she was, by law, still married—and in fact, called me an adulterer in the meeting. When I tried to explain the details of her situation with her soon to be ex-husband, those didn’t matter to him—what mattered is that, in his view, I was an adulterer.

In this same meeting I also explained some of the deeply spiritual experiences Lyn and I had shared as a couple, and he seemed confused—as if we were not entitled to feel the spirit or to have companionship of the spirit because of what he viewed as the sinful nature of our relationship. “You’re telling me, that as an adulterer, you’re still having spiritual experiences?” he asked. I maintained that we did—and that we do—but he acted as if that wasn’t possible.

He told me then that we’d need to have a disciplinary council to determine my membership status.

Me: How did that make you feel?
Kim: Unlike many MoHos, I didn’t feel singled out. There had been a man in my ward about a year ago who’d had an affair, and he was excommunicated. But, he was able to get married again and return to church with his new wife. But I don’t feel persecuted as a MoHo—in fact, if I hadn’t taken the initiative to tell him personally, he probably would have taken no action. But I wanted to live authentically, and I think it was the right thing to do.

Me: One of the things we tell ourselves is that these disciplinary trials are designed to bring people closer to the Savior. Do you feel that was the case for you?
Kim: I don’t at all see how the council or the process would bring anyone closer to their Savior; it just doesn’t make sense to me. And I think that’s a statement we can make for anyone who undergoes church discipline, gay or straight. Excommunication isn’t the answer—in many ways I feel it nullifies every other part of my life, and I think that’s true for straight people as well. When I have the courage and fortitude to come forth and say, “This is who I am—I am gay and I can’t change,” I don’t think we should be excommunicated for that. It doesn’t feel like the right answer.

That said, I will also say that even though the design of the process can’t bring someone closer to the Savior, I definitely felt His comforting presence—but believe it is because of the difficulty I was going through. He loves me, and He wants to support me through this. When the decision came in that I was stripped of my membership, I felt very at peace—and still do. I did not feel an abundance of the spirit because of the process; I felt an abundance of the spirit because of what the process put me through emotionally. My Savior loves me, and He wants to help. He’s been at my side this whole time—but it’s because that is who He is, not because the process is an effective way to bring people closer to the Lord.

Me: So what has been the impact on your testimony of your Savior?
Kim: My testimony of my Savior certainly hasn’t been negatively impacted. Being out and open about who I am has been very freeing. I love my Savior as much as I did yesterday or at any time before this took place. My testimony of Him was there before, it was there during the process, and it’s there now. It is never going to change, despite what might befall me here.

Me: One of the things I admire about you is how you’re able to go through this with such dignity. How does this process affect your understanding of the church?
Kim: I don’t feel like anyone, at any time in this process, had ill-intent. I don’t feel like they were out to get me. When I was in the room with them, I felt that these men genuinely did love me and that this was a difficult decision for them to make.  Yet, I felt like my Bishop was really hooked on the idea that Lyn was married, and he felt compelled to follow our social norms, and therefore pressure to excommunicate me.

He did get frustrated with me a few times during the process. Once, he asked for Lyn’s full name, address, and the name of her Bishop, and I refused to share those details with him. Then, he asked what I felt when I read the scriptural accounts about adultery, to which I responded, “You mean the ones where the crowds wanted to stone the adulteress, and Christ withheld judgment and encouraged humans to do the same?” “No,” he responded exasperatedly. “The ones where say we’re not supposed to do it.” I didn’t answer him, and he just moved on.

Me: How has this impacted the testimonies of those you love?
Kim: My roommate is very active in the church. She has been a leader in Young Womens, served a mission, and a life-long Mormon and has never questioned her testimony. She shared with me that watching this process, though, has brought her to the point of questioning it. She asked me how I keep from becoming bitter and angry, and I said I really don’t know—I think it’s because my Savior is drawing so close to me through this because He loves me, and He knows I need Him right now.

I tell people who are hurt by this that this isn’t a personal attack on me, but that the church leaders feel compelled to excommunicate us simply because they don’t know what to do with us. It’s like we’re stuck inside this broken machine, and our souls are the pieces that get pulled into the gears. They didn’t come to get Kim—it was pretty clearly something they felt they must do.

My Son asked me if I was going to return to church someday—I told him I never left. Just because my name is not the formal record book doesn’t mean I’m not part of it. I can and will still share my testimony with my friends, my family, and those in my life. I don’t want MoHos to be or feel abused and compelled to leave—I don’t think we should. I think those of us who want to come back should do so, and do so publicly. I want us to show up in droves, because I think our Savior wants us to demonstrate that we all belong here, even gays and lesbians—whether or not we’re acting on our feelings. I’m not about to let a group of imperfect humans in an imperfect process tell me I can’t have the sources of comfort, love, and peace in my life that come through having a relationship with my Savior and a relationship with my partner.

Me: What’s next for you spiritually?
Kim: I plan to keep going to church and doing what I can there. I will continue my relationship with Lyn. Lyn, her soon to be ex-husband and I, will be speaking at groups and events about the challenges of mixed-orientation marriages and dealing with homosexuality inside the church. I want to tell my story—I know it can help. And that’s where I want to focus now, on helping others. I love this church, and the reality is MoHos are traditionally treated poorly and it affects us deeply—we need to change that. Spiritually, there isn’t much change for me. I have always lived my life in accordance to what I understand my Savior’s will to be—and I plan to keep doing just that.

As I closed out this interview, I realized something: I had come into this conversation afraid. Not fearful of my own fate, but fearful for Kim’s. I see so much angst, heartache, and grief when it comes to the issue of how my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters struggle to find their place within our faith, and I have moments where I feel like I can’t bear another story that tugs on my heart, or pulls my soul into the painful reality of how we grapple with this issue.

I think Kim’s story also highlights an important point—the cultural aspect of excommunication. Nowhere, in our doctrine, does it say that homosexuality (or adultery, or anything else we determine as a sin of a sexual nature) automatically qualifies for excommunication. There is no doctrine or law that mandates that outcome. Instead, there is a great deal of latitude granted to local leaders to determine the fate of those they serve. Being excommunicated for being gay (or being in a gay relationship) is not doctrine; it has simply become something that we culturally do as a faith—perhaps, as Kim says, it is because our leaders simply don’t know what else to do with us.   

I want to offer Kim my own gratitude—I felt the spirit as strongly speaking with her tonight as I have in any church meeting I’ve attended. It simply emanates from her—the kindness, the compassion, the long-suffering—all of these are Christlike qualities that Kim demonstrates in the face of what would make many of us buckle. There is no anger, no resentment, no hostility. Kim has, in fact, done what our Savior would do: Find a way to stand for herself—but not against her fellows.

We are our Father’s children—exactly the way we are. And He loves us for exactly who we are.

Of that, I have no doubt.

You can learn more about Kim and Lyn and their journeys by following these links. 


  1. What a beautiful interview, Mitch! Your support and love are so important to so many... including Kim and myself. Kim's compassion and spirituality are among the greatest I've seen, especially in this situation. She will continue to have strength and complete dedication to her Savior, no matter the path she travels. I am incredibly blessed to be a part of it, to learn from her example, and to be hand in hand with her every step of the way.

    Thanks for all you continue to do for each of us, Mitch, my brother.

  2. "Nowhere, in our doctrine, does it say that homosexuality (or adultery, or anything else we determine as a sin of a sexual nature) automatically qualifies for excommunication."

    You make a really good point, Mitch. The Catholic church holds the same views on sexual sin (maybe even stricter, actually) but does not excommunicate members unless they actively and publically oppose the church. Gay couples who want to stay members are allowed to stay. It's such an unnecessary tragedy that the LDS church singles out homosexual relationships for such extreme punishment.

  3. This is beautiful and heart-wrenching. I don't know how she keeps such a good and loving attitude about the Church. I find that myself, having not been through anything comparably traumatic, to be quick to harsh judgment on the Church. I think all in all, I am at a place where I love Christ. I want to emulate Christ, but everything else I am unsure.

  4. "I want us to show up in droves". Every year, on the Fast Sunday nearest to June 28 I expect the MoHos who live in our ward area to turn out and identify themselves. I think this would be a positive step. I believe that we all know members who are MoHo and we just don't realize it. It would take a lot of courage but it has to happen sometime.
    The next Fast Sunday, all the mentally ill could step up. We need to stop shunning people who are different.

  5. Kim said it best when she said in the interview, "I think our Savior wants us to demonstrate that we all belong here, even gays and lesbians—whether or not we’re acting on our feelings. I’m not about to let a group of imperfect humans in an imperfect process tell me I can’t have the sources of comfort, love, and peace in my life that come through having a relationship with my Savior and a relationship with my partner." And maybe, by us going about our lives and worshipping our God, more members will start to see us differently.It should be noted that these instances of excommunication aren't doctrine, but cultural practices, that very well may be due to "our leaders simply don’t know what else to do with us."

    Beautiful interview. A very accurate insight into the lives of those of us who identify as both queer and Mormon. Thank you for this.

  6. Thank you Mitch, that was awesome! Kim and Lyn are also both awesome!

    I think excommunication is unnecessarily harsh, and as you said, is a policy, not a doctrine. The Church used to be even more harsh about it. They used to excommunicate much more - for just about any sexual sin. And they used to announce it in Sacrament meeting! I was in a Bishopric when the Church sent down guidelines to stop excommunicating as much and to stop making a public spectacle of it. They changed the policy once - they can do it again.