Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Circling the Wagons: My remarks

On April 21st of this year, I had the honor to speak at the Circling the Wagons conference--a group that seeks to create a safe space for LGBTQ Mormons and their families to share experience and speak to one another truthfully and respectfully.

This conference was sponsored by Mormon Stories which explores, celebrates, and challenges Mormon culture through the sharing of stories and experiences.

As has become typical for me when I speak on this subject, I felt fine about it--until moments before I stood behind the podium. Awash with emotion, I stood before the microphone, tears in my eyes, and expressed my gratitude for being able to play a small part in a much larger piece of work that will make our faith--and our world--better for everyone.

I want to express my gratitude for those who worked diligently to put this conference together, and for those who attended--both in person, and in spirit.

I dedicate this to everyone inside my faith, and my MoHo sisters and brothers most especially: When none of us are on the outside looking in, things get a little bit better for all of us.



Earlier this year, I had the privilege to attend a leadership broadcast designed for Bishoprics and local church presidencies around the globe. President Dieter Uchtdorf spoke at that broadcast, and he said something that day that felt like he was speaking directly to my heart. His words were this:

"Brothers and Sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn’t get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew." ~Dieter F. Uchtdorf, First Presidency, February 2012
Let’s consider that for a moment: questioning, thinking, and pondering equal revelation. Well, that makes perfect sense to me on an individual level. In fact, President Uchdorf’s words have for some time been a bit of a personal mantra for me. I know from personal experience one of the ways I improve as a human—one of the ways I progress as my Father’s son—is to continue to question what I think I know—about myself, my beliefs, and my surroundings. As a human who walks this earthly path, I will stumble, I will reverse myself, I will progress and grow. That, I believe, is at the very core of my purpose here.

And over time, I have come to hold the same view of our Mormon faith. Like us as humans, it is very much three-dimensional—with many of the same characteristics we have as children of our Father. Our Mormon faith has stumbled. It has reversed itself, it has progressed and grown. And it will continue to do so—that, my brothers and sisters, is part of the grand design of not only our individual lives, but is, I believe, a fundamental element that exists at the very core of our faith. We were founded on the principles of critical questioning and continuing revelation—and therefore questioning is not only something that we should do, I think we actually disappoint our Father in heaven when we fail to exercise our agency in this capacity.

I want to continue to improve as an individual; I want to increase my knowledge and enrich my spirit. And I want these same things for my faith. Brothers and sisters, I love so much about our Mormon faith. I love our principle of eternal families. I love holding the priesthood and being of service to my fellows within the faith. There is just so much good to be found inside the Mormon faith—and I want that to continue to expand and increase.  

About the same time I heard President Uchdorf’s talk, I was asked by an author to give feedback on a book on the subject of how gays and lesbians fit within our faith. The book was written by several traditional Mormon therapists and thought leaders, and is more or less one of the primary “go to” manuals when it comes to understanding how LGBT individuals fit inside the Mormon Church. In fact, in the title was included the phrase, “Where to turn and how to help.”  

I enthusiastically agreed to provide feedback. As I read the book, however, I realized quickly that this was familiar territory—the common threads throughout the each essay and chapter were the same: LGBT individuals are suffering, and homosexuality—or as the book called it, same sex attraction—is a burden, to be denied wholesale. As I continued to read, I worried that the message was one that positioned gay and lesbian Mormons as somehow—spiritually deficient.

The more I read, the more I worried. I worried that at its best, this is a distinctly heterocentric notion of homosexuality—meaning, it was written entirely from the standpoint of heterosexuals. There were no LGBT scientists, contributors or authors, except those who offered unscientific case studies that validated the authors’ key messages.

I worried that this line of thinking—despite the fact that the book itself is titled “How to help”—didn’t really help gay and lesbian individuals at all. I worried that what this might be, in fact, was a theory designed to help straight people feel comfortable around people who were different from them—by allowing them to view them as broken or struggling.

I worried that we seemed to overlook scientific evidence that demonstrates that viewing ourselves as burdened and afflicted, or that we have the ability to change our orientation—is actually harmful psychologically, and most especially to those individuals who are highly motivated by faith. I worried that the premise outlined would continue to keep my LGBT fellows locked in the mindset of being victims not only to the church, but to God himself. 

I worried that some among us would, based on the contents of this book, feel excused from having to do the very difficult thinking and rigorous mental work to understand a complex sexual identity, and would accept the reductionist notion that being gay is simply about sex alone.

But most of all, I worried that there are those who would walk away from this feeling as if they had been granted implicit permission to not only view gay and lesbian Mormons as spiritually deficient, but to actually treat them as if they were. I worried that some would interpret this as justification to treat us as damaged, broken—and slightly less worthy in the eyes of God.

So I did exactly as President Uchtdorf counseled: I questioned, I pondered, and I asked. And I came up with a different approach of looking at how our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters fit within our faith.

Our premise today is that homosexuality is an extra burden—an affliction, something that gays and lesbians must suffer through and really, deny wholesale if we want to remain righteous sons and daughters of our Father. We are the subject of an extra ‘test’ that doesn’t seem to serve any known purpose.

But what if there’s another way to look at it. Yes, there is very likely a test wrapped up in all of this, for there is undoubtedly a reason that some of us are gay and lesbian, while others are not. But what if the test, really, is not being given to gays and lesbians, but through gays and lesbians? What if we are actually the vehicle through which the test is being delivered? And the test, then, is not for us at all—but for you--our heterosexual brothers and sisters?

That would mean, then, that the test might really be this:  Will you, straight brother or sister, lend us equality? Will you view us as your peers, your equals? Will you move past your own fear and prejudice and genuinely show Christ-like love and compassion to a segment of society that, for whatever reason, appears to be the least of these in this sphere?

Or, will you shun us? Will you persecute us? Will you force us to choose between God and Gay, because that is what makes you comfortable? Will you compel us to choose between the faith we call home—and walking this earthly path with a companion we love?

Which will you choose? How will you perform on your test?

That would also mean that we as LGBT individuals and MoHos specifically, aren’t entirely off the hook, either. While the test for us may not be what many think it is, there is an extra onus on the LGBT community—and especially gay and lesbian Mormons. Our challenge is to continually turn the other cheek, to love those who despise us, to view ourselves as whole and understand we can have our Savior in our lives regardless of our paths—and in spite of what others would tell us we must believe.

Our ultimate challenge, then, as MoHos, is to be what we seek to receive. It is up to us to be the bellwether examples of kindness, compassion, understanding, and tenderness to our brothers and sisters as they grapple with how to understand how we fit within our faith. Because if this is, in reality, the acutal test—we fit in perfectly, just the way we are.

One of the best things about my calling in the church as an openly gay man is the opportunity to meet those who walk this path with me. It is in these moments when I meet kind, tender souls who carry with them injuries from a lifetime of being told that they have been afflicted at the hand of our Father. And it is in these moments where I am most able to see my own experience, strength and hope help heal the wounds of another.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a young woman who was struggling to find her place within our faith. She had come to a point in her life where she needed to be honest about who she really was—a gay daughter of our Father. As we spoke, and as I shared this idea with her, it was as if I physically saw her countenance grow lighter. It was—like a light went on inside her again, where she began again to view herself as a whole person, a beautiful daughter of our Father who had a divine purpose—who was here, and was exactly who she was for a reason.

I had the chance to talk to this young woman again as I was composing this talk. I asked her this: “Since we first spoke, what has changed for you?”

Here was her response: “I think the most important thing that has happened for me is reconnecting to my Savior, and beginning to understand that it’s okay to have my own personal relationship with him, independent of what other people tell me.

I now know that I don’t have to choose, that I belong, and that I am enough exactly as I am. Understanding this has, in fact, been a new breath of life for me spiritually.”

Watching the transformation in this young woman—watching her begin to breathe again spiritually—gives me great hope. And, it increases my testimony that President Uchtdorf is, indeed, correct: When we refuse to tightly shut the iron gate of what we think we know, we can indeed—and will—continue to understand things more deeply, and be better equipped to unlock the mysteries of this life and of our Father’s kingdom.

I want to shift gears here for a moment, and talk about what we’re doing in the San Francisco Bay Area that’s a little bit different—and specifically the Bay Ward—and why that is so important to everyone inside our church, regardless of their orientation.

Simply put, we are in the business of brining people closer to our Savior—gay or straight—regardless of where they are in their personal lives. To quote my Bishop, Don Fletcher, “We welcome diversity in all its magnificent forms—every stripe, spot, color and pattern. Everyone should have a home here—and everyone should feel at home here.”

I believe that one of the things that makes us unique is the philosophy of my leadership—a philosophy of viewing themselves as humble servants of our membership and our Savior, not of one as the police or the governors. If one among us has a problem they think we can help with, we encourage them to approach us, and we will do all we can to help. But we will not seek out individuals, investigate them, and create problems where, in fact, none may exist at all.

When it comes to LGBT members, this creates a safe space for all to walk in our doors, just as they are, without fear of persecution or retribution. It enables them to genuinely feel that they have a home here, and allows them to grow and develop as equal children of our Father. Resultingly, we now have about 15 new MoHos who have returned to church. Each of them is in a different place in their personal lives, and each one is welcome as a valuable member of our ward family.

This isn’t a doctrinal shift, brothers and sisters—it’s a cultural shift, and a philosophy change. Policy as we understand it today hasn’t changed. But we believe that even if an individual has sinned, we do them a disservice by stripping them of their membership, of the guidance of the spirit, of their ability to take the sacrament, and their ability to fully fellowship with their peers. All of these things we believe, encourage people to do good and to live righteous and honorable lives—so removing these things from them if they have sinned doesn’t help bring them closer to the Savior—and it may, in fact, drive them from the one who loves them the most.

But the implication here is really much more broad reaching than just our MoHo brothers and sisters. It means that everyone is welcome here, independent of who they are, or how they think they don’t fit. Gone is the subtle message that you, for whatever reason, are on the outside looking in. We are all equal fellows in our family of faith, and equally loved by our Father as his glorious children. 

And when no one is on the outside looking in, things get a little bit better for all of us.

Brothers and sisters, as we move forward on our paths as individuals and as a collective Mormon faith, I pray that we do so with an eye toward President Uchtdrof’s counsel—that we continue to ask questions, think, and ponder—and seek to find the knowledge that surely awaits us—and not be hindered as children of our Father by locking tight the massive iron gate of what we think know.

Last, I wish to close with a thought I like to leave with all my MoHo brothers and sisters. It takes a strong spirit to be gay—or the ally of a gay individual—in this life. It takes a remarkable spirit to be a gay Mormon, or the ally of a gay Mormon. Never, for a moment, doubt that you are anything but remarkable. For that is most certainly how our Father views you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Adam's Story

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.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jordan’s Story

In January of 2012, Jordan (not his real name, changed at his request to protect his identity) was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two charges:

1: An inappropriate sexual relationship with someone of his own gender
2: An act of aggression against the church, stemming from his response to questions from investigators from his former mission about the church’s involvement in Prop 8

I would like to note from the start that the first charge—an inappropriate sexual relationship—occurred in 2010, and Jordan had previously gone through a disciplinary council and had resumed full fellowship after following the guidelines set forth at that council—and since then has been living within the confines of the policy as we understand it today.

It’s also important to understand that the allegations surrounding the acts of aggression stemming from Prop 8 occurred in 2008, when Jordan had just returned to California after faithfully serving his mission in another state.

This is Jordan’s story.

Me: How long have you been a Mormon? Tell me about your mission.
Jordan: I have been a member for 18 years—I’m 27 now. My family joined the church when I was nine, and I was baptized into the faith along with my whole family. For my mission, I was originally called to serve in the Philippines, but at the last minute was reassigned to a state here in the US, where I served a faithful, honorable mission.

When I returned from my mission to my home ward in California, I was asked to serve as a missionary there—and was set apart, which is traditional for missionaries. In my home ward, one of the current missionaries had been sent home by emergency transport, and the local mission president knew I’d just returned, so he asked me to step in and cover until a replacement could be formally assigned to my home ward. I did so happily—I loved being on a mission—and served about an additional two months as a missionary in my home ward and the adjacent ward.

Me: When did you know you were gay?
Jordan: I’ve known since I was about eight, I think. I knew that I was different than the other boys I had as friends, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to be able to define what that difference was. As a kid, I just got a long better with girls and had much more in common with them. It wasn’t until later that I realized that the ‘difference’ I felt between me and other boys was actually my sexual orientation—that I was gay.

Me: Does your family know? What has been their response?
Jordan: Yes, my family knows. At first, it was really difficult—they didn’t speak to me for two years. But since then, they’ve softened a lot and have come to understand this is how I am—that I can’t and don’t want to change—and they want to be in my life. If you looked at my family life now, you’d never even guess there had been such a big divide for so long, so things are good now. And, in fact, I think being gay has been a blessing—it’s allowed me to have some really meaningful conversations with my Dad about things that happened in my childhood, and has opened up a window of communication we didn’t have before. It’s actually strengthened my family ties in that way.

Me: What were the events that led to your excommunication?
Jordan: On my formal church record, there is a notation of my disciplinary council that was held back in 2010 for having sexual contact with my boyfriend 9 months previous to the council. My then current Stake President knew about it, and everything was fine—I thought it was a closed issue.

I think I need to talk about my past council to give this some context. I went to my previous Stake President and told him I’d had sex with my boyfriend a few months earlier. I wasn’t compelled to go, no one forced me, but I felt like it was the right thing for me to do. My Stake President then—he was really kind. His response to my admission was to say that he felt that pushing me away from the church—expelling me—would increase my spiritual danger, so he wanted to keep me closer. He told me that under the conditions of the informal probation, I was to attend the temple twice a week and meet with my bishop twice a week. His philosophy was that I was in spiritual jeopardy—and that being punitive—punishing me by pushing me from the church would increase that jeopardy. At the time, I felt like it was a slap on the wrist—but in retrospect, really appreciate his compassion and feel like that was the correct way to handle it. I felt like I grew closer to my Savior through that process.

Well, my new Stake President—he had other ideas. Something prompted him to look through my records and call me in, I’m not sure exactly what it was, but I think that some of my friends who knew about my past council approached him and said they didn’t think it had been handled correctly—that I should have been dealt with more harshly.

When he called me into his office, he told me that this had been completely mishandled, that I should have been excommunicated from the get-go, and that following that there would be a mandatory year waiting period before I could even consider being re-baptized.

(Note: According to the 2010 ‘Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops’ there is no policy in the LDS church that mandates excommunication for sexual transgression, homosexual or heterosexual. There is no place in the handbook or anywhere in LDS policy or doctrine that makes an ‘if/then’ statement when it comes to church discipline. Each case is taken on its own merits, and as such, is complicated—like life itself. The decision to excommunicate or disfellowship a member is always left to the discretion of the presiding local authorities. Excommunicating and disfellowshipping LGBT members has, however, become something we culturally do as a faith. But it is a choice local leaders make; it is not a mandated outcome.)

I do know that he never talked to my former Stake President to understand his reasoning for the decision he made. And even though my previous Stake President was okay with how I’d done, my new one viewed it as a problem.  At first, I agreed with him, because he indicated there was mandatory excommunication and then this year waiting period to return. I didn’t know until I talked to you that’s not the case—there is no policy that states that.

At first I think he genuinely wanted to understand what had happened. But once he realized that I wouldn’t apologize for being gay nor would I apologize for the manner in which I broke my covenant, the whole spirit had changed from understanding to discipline.

At the same time, we had a missionary in our ward that I fell in love with. I’d told a few of my friends about it and one of them must have communicated that to the Stake President. In one of my meetings with him he spent 30 minutes berating me—with his voice raised so loud that people outside his office could hear—about my personal conduct and making sure I have respect for other people’s boundaries, under the wrong assumption that I had acted on my feelings about this missionary. And I had not! I tried to tell my Stake President that all I said to the missionary was this: “I hope that when I find that someone special in my life that he possesses all the great qualities you have.”

Whatever the Stake President had been told—what he was accusing me of—it wasn’t the truth! He said I made an inappropriate sexual advance on a full-time missionary that was unwanted and unwarranted. I tried to tell him what had really happened—that this wasn’t the truth—and he just kept interrupting me and telling me that he did not want to hear of this behavior anymore.

In fact, at one time he actually said to me, “I do not care to understand.”

Never, in my almost 20 years of service to this church, have I had a priesthood leader raise his voice and scold me in this fashion. Finally, I’d had enough. After 30 minutes of this, I stood up and said, “This interview is over. You’re so concerned about validating the misperceptions of a missionary and other people in this ward that you have absolutely no concern for hearing the truth, or even hearing my side. There is nothing more for me to say.” And I left.

Me: So this all happened even before your disciplinary trial? What was that experience like for you?
Jordan: During the council…the questions they asked me…oh my gosh. When the council concluded immediately upon arriving home I threw up, curled into the fetal position and cried the entire day. It was the worst thing I think I’ve ever experienced.

They were hurling questions at me about the events of 2010:
  • “What was the extent of your sexual interaction?”
  • “Who was the act committed with and is he a member as well?”
  • “Do you feel that your sexual tendencies have hindered your ability to have faith in Christ?”
  • “Have you ever been sexually abused as a child by anyone, family or non-family?”
  • “When you had sexual contact with this other man, did you fully recognize the repercussions of your actions and how it would affect his salvation?”

This council was no longer about the act itself, this was way bigger than I realized. This meeting was not about how to help me, it was to gather information. There was no opportunity for me to actually talk, to tell my side of things—and the repeated questions about my childhood, it felt so…dirty. It made me feel dirty and really uncomfortable. And some of these questions were coming from the Stake representatives that had been assigned to speak in my defense—but they were all in the same boat. It was so obvious to me there wasn’t a single person in that room that had my best interest at heart—no one wanted to listen, no one wanted to hear—they had their minds made up before this even began. It didn’t feel like a trial to me, it felt like an arraignment and sentencing.

One of the things that bothers me the most is I had a former Bishop in attendance I’d asked to be there—so I could at least have some emotional support, someone in my camp. But even he wouldn’t support me. When they asked me if I knew how my actions affected me and the man I broke my covenant with, my Bishop’s response (before I could respond myself) was: “Well, Brother Jordan had a learning disability in high school, so he probably didn’t understand the full repercussions of his actions.” So not only was he not on my side, I feel like he used confidential information about me to make me sound mentally incapacitated. I am certainly not mentally nor am I spiritually incapacitated!

Then we began the questions about Prop 8. In 2008, when I was serving my mission in Pennsylvania (not the actual state where he served; changed to protect his identity), I had some investigators that I’d stayed in contact with. They were great people, and they kind of had a challenge with the church’s stand on gays and lesbians, but were moving forward anyway.

When I left my mission and returned to California, several of them called me and asked me if it was true—if the church was backing Prop 8. I really didn’t know, and I told them that. A few days later, I attended a broadcast from Salt Lake that included the church’s stand on Prop 8, so then I knew it was true. When the investigators from Pennsylvania called me the next time, I was honest with them—I told them the truth. They asked me if I supported the church’s involvement, and I was honest with them again—I did not support it. I told them that it felt wrong to me for the church to get involved in a public policy issue—that the God I knew and loved would probably be embarrassed at the way this campaign preyed on people’s fear, paranoia, and ignorance.

I guess that my honesty was viewed as an act of aggression against the church. The questions they asked me about this didn’t feel like they came from a good place, either. One of the most troubling was when they asked me, “When you were asked questions about the church’s involvement by these investigators, did you receive a prompting from the Spirit to ignore the question?” I felt like what they were asking me is if Satan was enticing me to tell the truth!

When this whole thing started, I genuinely felt like it was approached with a spirit of friendship and support. But as time progressed, and more faulty information was fed to my Stake President, the entire process changed to what really felt like an attempt to protect this missionary from a predator—and that they viewed me as that predator. It also became clear that over time, this became less about the fact that I broke my covenants by having sex, and more about the fact that I broke my covenants by having sex with another man.

All told, the council lasted about two hours. At the end of it, I was excommunicated. I went home alone.

Jordan: Can we take a break?  I want to tell you something. Something I’ve never told anyone.
Me: Of course. What is it?

Jordan: I’m afraid….I’m afraid of telling this story.
Me: Why, Jordan?

Jordan: Well, in my last meeting with the Stake President, he gave me a strong…warning, I guess. He told me that I should refrain from talking to anyone about this, even my family. He told me I should keep this to myself, and if I did talk about it—and he found out—that there would be repercussions.

Me: I think it’s important for you to be honest, Jordan, and share your perspective. Why do you fear him? You’ve already been excommunicated.
Jordan: I am fearful of this man, Mitch. I am scared of him, plain and simple. It’s like—it’s like he’s bullied me—I don’t know what he can do to me, but I’m afraid to test him. One of the things I dreaded most about this whole council and trial is that I’m terrified of this man.

Me: Do you feel safe continuing? We’ll only continue if you feel okay with it.
Jordan: Yes…yes, I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m not going to cover for this man. I’m done lying for the church and protecting things like this. Let’s move on.

Me: Okay. I’m so sorry, Jordan. How did it make you feel to be expelled from a faith that you’ve considered a home—a sanctuary—your entire life?
Jordan: (sobbing) It hurts so much. In a very real way, it makes me feel like not only have I had family issues, but the one place I’ve always counted on—that I’ve always considered my home—they didn’t even want me. I translated that into God not wanting me anymore…to some extent, I guess, I still believe that’s true.

Me: We say that these councils are designed to help bring you closer to the Savior. That wasn’t the case for you?
Jordan: No! It made me question whether or not the Savior even cared about me! These men are supposed to be representatives of God and that line of questioning—it wasn’t about trying to help me, it was about how best to apply punishment! It was as if they were saying that who I am—a gay man—was responsible for God distancing himself from me so that I’d fail. They made this all my fault! While I accept full responsibility for my actions I also recognize in criminal justice terms, “the punishment didn’t fit the crime.” Though, to them, it seemed enough to condemn me.

Me: Do you think your testimony of our Savior will ever recover? Will it ever be the same?
Jordan: (sobbing) I hope so…I hope so. I really do. I don’t see a way to do that, if anything this has made me feel so distrustful of my Savior and God. I feel abandoned. If God were really in charge of this church, there would be some justice here. The only thing that was served in this process was finding reasons to expel me from the church. That doesn’t feel like the God I once knew.

I feel so betrayed…I trusted these men. I can understand non-members wanting to rip me apart and tear down my testimony, but this—these men are supposed to be my spiritual leaders! They’re supposed to help make me better. Instead their own biases clouded their judgment. These men only served one purpose that day and I find this most troubling—I feel like these men are doing the will of the adversary.

Me: So this has negatively impacted your view of the church and your leaders?
Jordan: Yes. After going through this, seeing what an unclean and unrighteous process it is—I think the church has lost its way. I’m a returned missionary, I know my church history, and I know my scriptures. When I compare this to the way the church was set up originally, it’s just not the same. I don’t believe Joseph Smith would stand for acts of persecution like this—he himself was persecuted! And the one thing he made so clear is we stand for ourselves but we don’t enforce our will on others—it’s morally irresponsible, but that’s exactly what we did in Prop 8. The church has gotten so involved in such dirty politics in so many ways—I don’t think I would ever go back. It doesn’t feel clean. And more importantly, I don’t think I could ever put myself at spiritual risk of being persecuted by men like this again. I don’t think I could take it.

Me: What are your hopes and dreams when it comes to intimacy, love and relationships? Do you see Mormonism playing any kind of role in your future?
Jordan: I would like to have a healthy relationship with a man I love. Will the church play a part? No. I don’t know what I feel about relationships, really—after spending a lifetime of hearing that being gay is wrong and unfulfilling…I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know what to feel. But being stripped of my faith, of such an important part of my identity, in some ways it makes me want to pursue that same level of safety and sanctuary in a committed monogamous relationship with a partner.  

Me: What is your biggest fear?
Jordan: That this is going to affect me for the rest of my life. This trauma…this betrayal—it’s left a huge scar on my soul. When I started meeting with these other missionaries a few weeks ago—just so I could feel the spirit a little bit—they told me they needed to get permission from my former Bishop to even meet with me anymore. I feel completely closed out from the one thing that used to be my bedrock. Even as a non-member, this still haunts me. It’s everywhere I turn. I’m afraid it will never go away, that I will never heal.

For the rest of my life, the 18 years I dedicated to my God through this church—that will haunt me. This…it’s ruined so many of my relationships, destroyed so many of my friendships. My support network is gone. And while it is gone, I fear that I will never be free of this, even when I’ve been presented with the prospect of a healthy relationship with a man, somehow the impression in the back of my mind came to the forefront of my mind telling me that no lasting happiness could be had in a same sex relationship.  

I don’t know what I’ll do now.

Me: So what do you think is next for you?
Jordan: I really don’t know. It’s not that I don’t have a testimony of the gospel, I believe in so much that is right about the gospel. But this has put more questions into my head than I had before, and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to answer them. God is a God of many things—logic included. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon or in our scriptures do we talk about homosexuality, nowhere do we talk about these kinds of trials and councils—if it were important enough to God, He would have included it.

My relationship with God will never be back to the way it was. I don’t foresee that changing.

I’ve known Jordan now for several months—he was always an upbeat, optimistic young man. But his once cheery countenance has vanished. The smile I am used to hearing in his voice is gone. I had to pause several times in our conversation to allow him to recover. At times, he was sobbing so intensely it was impossible to understand his words. It was clear as we spoke that this process has shattered him.

In the literally thousands of stories I’ve heard from my fellow MoHos, this one left a scar on my soul deeper than most—I can only imagine the wound it left on Jordan’s. I walked away from our conversation feeling full of heartache at the deep level of pain and betrayal my brother feels as a result of a process that we tell ourselves is designed to bring people closer to the Savior.

We failed.

I fully acknowledge how difficult it is to be in a leadership capacity in this church—the demands are relentless, and we as leaders are very human, capable of fallibility. I acknowledge that this story is complex—full of hearsay, rumor, and innuendo. Yes, there may indeed be other sides to this, but this side—Jordan’s side—deserves to be told.

And independent of all those other factors, when someone walks away from a church meeting of any kind and says, “I don’t feel like my relationship with God can ever be repaired,” then something in the system—if not the system itself—has gone very wrong, indeed.