Monday, August 8, 2016

Telling My Gay Mormon Story

In my travels this summer I found myself in a small branch of the church one Sunday. It was Fast and Testimony meeting and there were only 30 of us present (I know because I counted). During the meeting I just couldn’t shake the feeling that someone there needed to know I was gay. So when there was a lull in the meeting I stood up, walked to pulpit, introduced myself, and came out to a roomful of Mormon strangers. I talked about how life has been difficult at times, but how my friends and family have borne my burdens with me. I quoted Alma 33:27, “…and then my God grant that your burdens may be light through the joy of his Son…” I testified that that has happened for me in my life and how the Savior has lifted my burdens. And then I sat down and the next two hours of church were pretty normal.

When church was over a young woman came over to me and thanked me for my testimony. She told me that she has a friend who’s a lesbian who is struggling with her faith and she wanted to know how to help her. I basically just told her to love her friend. She asked for my contact info so we exchanged email addresses and I patted myself on the back for finding the one person out of 29 who needed to talk to me.

A picture I took this summer that is supposed
to represent the journey of life or something
deep and profound like that
After church I said good-bye to the few people I had talked to during church and walked out the door. As soon as I was outside one of the guys I’d met slid out the door right behind me. He thanked me for my testimony and told me that he had been so emotional during the meeting that he had to leave the room. He told me that he also experiences same-sex attraction, that it’s been so hard, he’s been really unhappy, and he didn’t even want to come to church today. I listened to his story and shared some encouraging words. I told him what I tell all of my gay LDS friends, “You are not alone. We’re going to do this together.”

I walked away from that church feeling totally amazed. I had felt a clear prompting to be open with 29 strangers and two of them needed to talk to me that day. I felt a little like John the Baptist who was describe like this: “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light… He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light” (John 1:7-8). I want to be clear, I don’t think that I did anything extraordinary. I am not the light. Jesus Christ is the light. I was simply able to be His hands that day.

I also exchanged email addresses with this man and I emailed him a few days later just to see how he was doing. Part of the email said, “Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to do this alone.” To me that’s one of the main points of the gospel, that we’re all brothers and sisters. We’re all in this together. However, many people don’t feel that way. They feel alone and isolated and that’s a scary place to be in.

My finger is in this picture as evidence that I'll be with you
on this journey, definitely not because I'm bad at taking photos
I have seen through personal experience that sharing my story has helped some of my gay Mormon friends. And my story doesn’t help because is amazing or unique. My story helps because it’s mundane, common, and relatable. My gay Mormon story is so un-unique that it helps other gay Mormons who feel alone to know that there are others like them who have similar hopes, dreams, and struggles. A gay Mormon friend of mine wrote me a message that said in part: “It wasn’t till later that I was informed about your blog and got to read your story.  I was shocked to read your story and finally see that there was someone that had somewhat similar experiences and wanted to live the gospel. I had prayed for 3 years to be able to talk to someone that could understand exactly how I felt, tell them how I felt, and support what I wanted to do. I really didn’t think someone like that existed.” Well, a lot of us exist. We’re just really good at hiding.

There are a lot of problems in the world that could be considered more pressing than the plight of LGBT Mormons, but it is the cause that I’m most passionate about. I want to make sure that every Latter-day Saint who experiences same-sex attraction knows that they are loved and wanted in this church. I want them all to know that they have a place in Zion. But sadly there are many who do not feel this way. And so I tell my story because stories have the power to change us.

I share the following story with permission. A number of years ago I had recently come out to a friend of mine. A few days later we were both at church and after Sacrament meeting she asked if we could chat. We found an empty classroom and sat down. She then told me that because I had been so open with her that there was something she needed to tell me. Through tears she explained that she had been at a party at a friend’s house where she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance. I was stunned and didn’t quite know what to say. I just knew that a friend of mine was hurting and that I wanted her to feel loved and whole.

I have never once worried about being sexually assaulted. I had no idea what it felt like to fear being attacked nor the deep emotional scars that last for years after an assault. She let me walk it her shoes and I learned so much. But her telling me wasn’t about educating me, it was about connection. She needed to talk to someone and by sharing her story with me I got the tiniest glimpse of what it was like to fear sexual assault. We both cried as we talked and the love I felt for her in that moment was profound. Sharing our stories with each other bonded us as friends forever. When the conversation was over she said, “Can we hug?” and I laughed that she felt she even had to ask and replied with the obvious answer, “Of course.” We embraced and I knew that we would be friends forever. And years later we still are.

The stories of people I love have changed me. They have helped me to understand circumstances that I have never experienced. They have taught me to be more empathetic, quick to ask questions, and slow to speak. I have shared parts of my stories on my blog in the hope that they will help others know what it’s like to be me. To know what it’s like to be both a Latter-day Saint and someone who experiences same-sex attraction. And I want people like me to know that they’re not alone.

I’ve gotten a number of requests from friends who have asked if they can share my story with others. My answer is always, “Of course! I posted it on the internet so you can share it with whomever.” And just to be clear, I don’t offer my story because I want attention or praise, but simply because I want people to understand what it’s like to be a gay Mormon.

If you ever feel the need, I hope you will share your story with me or with someone you love. And if you ever feel the need, I hope you will share my story with someone who might need it.

Here are some of the important parts of my story:

What It Was Like in the Closet -- The title is pretty self-explanatory.
Post #1--Time to Be Honest about Being Gay -- The story of the first time I come out.
Post #2--Charity: The Love of Parents -- This post is about how rad my parents are.
Post #3--Charity: Love Everyone -- This post is about my awesome friends.
A Walk in My Shoes -- My reaction to the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriages.
The Time I Almost Left the Church -- Also self-explanatory.
A Line in the Sand -- My reaction to the November policy change.
Backyard Bleating -- This post has nothing to do with being gay, it's just my favorite post.


Allen Garns said...

Very glad to read this. As you say, stories help people understand and connect. There's an old Jewish saying I once heard. "What's truer than the truth? The story." Stories give flesh and blood to what can sometimes be abstract truths. Thanks you for your story, it strengthens my faith and adds to my gratitude for the gospel. By the way, I'm Paul Garns' dad.


Thank you so much for your blog - I'm the YW President in our ward and I've found your blog through a mutual friend (my 2nd Counselor!). I recently taught a lesson that focused on the talk "Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction" by Jeffrey R Holland. We had a really excellent discussion and I had a strong feeling that conveying the right message about same-gender attraction to the youth is vitally important. I've read several of your blog posts since then and our family has discussed them many times. Thank you for your honesty, but most of all, thank you for providing an example that it is possible to remain faithful to convents and stay active in the church while experiencing same-gender attraction.