I get a lot of phone calls from struggling gay Latter-day Saints. I got two such phone calls last night. And sometimes, like last night, I do a terrible job. My message to both friends was, “Get it together. Suck it up. Who cares what other people think?” Not the message they needed. And I know better. I could blame my poor responses on being tired and busy, which I most certainly was. But both of them were expressing feelings I often experience. Feeling hurt by a system that often acts like it doesn’t have a place for us.
A friend of mine in a YSA stake in Provo recently shared a poignant story with me. Each semester the leaders in his stake host a Q&A and invite members to submit questions. I’m sure you can anticipate the kinds of questions that get asked. How do I know when to get married? How do I know what to study? I am struggling with pornography, how can move past this? The stake presidency and stake relief society presidency spend the entire meeting answering these questions.
My friend submitted the following question: I experience same-sex attraction. I feel unwelcome at times in this church, feeling like I am seen as something less or different. How can I know that I am accepted in this church and in this gospel?
I know that feeling.
I asked this friend if he’d write out what happened so I could share it. He wrote in part:
I approached the meeting with apprehension and excitement. Anonymously I had revealed a critical part of myself, which was a little stressful. I was excited because I hoped they would respond and give me an answer to my question.
The meeting went on as normal, with the stake leaders providing great answers. My question came up and a member of the stake presidency elected to answer it. During previous questions and in this answer he emphasized that we were called to bear one another's burdens. He stated more than once that he believed our personal crosses had handles on them. Designed so that we could help one another and relieve burdens. He invited us all to carry the burdens of those who experience same-sex attraction. He sat down and I thought it was a good answer.
The meeting continued as normal, with questions asked and answers given. After another leader had finished giving answers, the stake presidency member who had answered my question got back up. He stated something like this:
“I feel like I did not adequately answer the question of the brother with same-sex attraction. We are each called to bear one another’s burdens. We are called to bear this brother’s burden. If you are willing to bear this brother’s burden then please stand in support. Show you will bear his burden.”
I remember looking in awe as each member in this giant chapel stood in support of me. They stood in support of my burdens and their willingness to accept and support me. We sat down moments later but this moment has stuck with me for years. They stood in support of me, an individual, a single person.
I love that story. I wish every person who feels marginalized could have a similar experience. I wish my friends on the phone could have that experience. Now, I want to be clear that I don’t think experiencing same-sex attraction is a burden. But being gay and being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be a huge burden. I’ve already written plenty in previous posts about how hard it can be. But it really is so hard sometimes.
Both of my friends on the phone had recently spoken to church leaders who were rather dismissive of their life circumstances. Both friends were incredibly emotional as we talked. And in both cases I tried to fix their problems which was exactly the wrong thing to do. If I had to do it over again, I would have done a better job of just listening. I would have asked questions and just listened to their pain. And there probably would have been times when I would have said, “Yeah, I’ve felt like that, too.” I failed to take a handle of their cross.
And if I could get an ideal do-over, I wish I could talk to those church leaders, too. I wish they knew how much they had hurt my friends that night, because I’m sure that wasn’t their intent. And they probably have no idea of the hurt they caused. Like them, I most often hurt people when I don’t mean to. When we carry another’s cross, we don’t dismiss its weight or say it’s not a big deal. When you carry another's cross, you get a sense for just how heavy it is.
Two weeks ago there was a superb forum at BYU that I attended. Bryan Stevenson told the audience that we need to get close to people that are different from us. A few hours later I got to class early. The only other person there was my classmate Elizabeth who had recently mentioned in class that she was a DACA student. Inspired by the forum, I asked Elizabeth what it was like to be a DACA student. She then told me a bunch of stories including that she was brought to the US from Mexico as a baby and didn’t know she was undocumented until she was 15. My heart expanded as Elizabeth unfolded her life story to me. And then she said, “You’re the only person besides my husband and family who knows any of this. No one else has bothered asked.” An hour later when class was over, Elizabeth turned to me as she walked out the door, “Thank you for asking about my life. It means a lot to me.”
Do you want to know what a saint Elizabeth is? She later saw on Facebook that I was going to an event for LGBTQ BYU students. She messaged me and asked if she could come with me. Of course! I was so thrilled she wanted to come! I had stepped into her shoes and now she wanted to step into mine. What a gift.
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know what the practical application of carrying one another’s cross will look like. But what I do know is that we need to do better. I need to do better. Too many hearts are breaking for us to not be so much better. So much of what I see happening feels so unfair. And in my moments of frustration, I do what I can to lean on the Savior knowing that all that is unfair about life will be made right through Him.