I am here representing the group Understanding Same Gender Attraction, USGA, which is an unofficial group created in 2010 for BYU students, faculty, and others to discuss the topic of same gender attraction. I am a BYU student studying Chemical Engineering and I am a co-director for Women of USGA, which is a branch of the group. I have enjoyed the time I have spent involved with USGA and have found fulfillment the sense of community and purpose that I have experienced within it.
USGA is in a unique situation because of our location. Although we are not officially associated with BYU most of the membership and leadership consists of BYU students. Religion and faith are very important aspects of our stories that cannot and should not be untangled from other aspects of our multi-faceted identities. This is something that I feel is not often widely understood or accepted by others outside of religious communities. It would be misplaced for us to work towards our well-being as whole and complete individuals without considering our spiritual well-being.
During our recent structure and leadership changes we have created five new committees as a part of an effort to improve USGA. Because of the importance of spirituality for many of the members of USGA we have established a Faith Committee that works to provide events, activities, and discussions that will connect USGA and its individuals with the divine. We also have created the education and service committees to connect USGA with the rest of the world. Education does this by bringing the world’s knowledge into USGA and service does this by allowing USGA to contribute to the world. Additionally the Community committee helps to foster connectedness and friendship between the individuals within USGA. We also have created Women of USGA to promote inclusivity by encouraging women to attend and by creating safe spaces where dialogue and understanding can take place.
Faith can be a complicated issue for individuals in USGA. For those of us who identify as queer or same-sex attracted, the conflict between authenticity to sexuality and authenticity to spiritual belief can be the source of sleepless nights and immense loneliness. We have felt this shake our community time and time again, and I no one I know is unaffected. Many of us have emphasized deeply with the words of a hymn that is much loved in the LDS faith, which reads:
“Where can I turn for peace? Where is my solace
When other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger or malice,
I draw myself apart, Searching my soul?
Where, when my aching grows, Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?”
Many of us find the answers to these questions in the context of our faith.
Luke 4:18 describes the mission of divinity “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.”
Others have expressed this idea outside of religious texts. The great poet and playwright Oscar Wilde is famous—or perhaps infamous—for his flippant attitude and clever aphoristic sayings that clearly convey the message that he doesn’t take himself or the world around him very seriously. Naturally I was very moved when I read “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” which was written after his time spent imprisoned for his choice of sexual expression. This poem describes thoughts and emotions with sincerity and deep contemplation. I know that it incorrect to assign modern labels to people who lived before their creation, and I know that it is not always correct to assume that an author’s work correlate directly with their lives, especially for someone who was part of a school of thought that valued aesthetics over functionality. Still it is very tempting to look backwards in time for my own story in history, my own story in man who I can speculate might today identify as queer and who certainly identified as Christian, at least for the last parts of life after his late conversion to Catholicism.
As Wilde says in his poem:
Ah! happy day they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
The scriptural quote and this segment of a ballad are message of inclusivity and comfort that have helped me through difficult times, one that I have thought about extensively as I have considered my role within my religion and as I have contemplated how religion interacts with the narrative of my life.
I believe members of the queer and same sex attracted community have a place in religion both in receiving the love and support of deity and as actors who help others around us to feel that love as well.
I believe in the immense potential and importance of the queer individuals at BYU and in spaces of spirituality and holiness everywhere. I believe in our eternal worth, and I believe that we are valued and loved by the divine. Some would say or imply that those who identify as queer or same-sex attracted are out of place or unwelcome in spiritual spaces. I reject this idea. We are not marginal to these spaces. Here in Provo and across the world, queer and same-sex attracted individuals make up congregations and serve in leadership positions of many religious groups and institutions. We have so much to offer and to gain in sharing and feeling the love of deity alongside our siblings in faith of all sexualities and gender identities.
Here at USGA, and in the larger queer/same-sex-attracted community in Provo we are doing what, in the years of my adolescence often seemed impossible. It was the winter of 2011 when I first heard of USGA. I was a senior in High school planning to attend BYU. At this time I had not discussed my orientation with anyone, and had hardly given myself the space to think about it. And although many aspects of my life were wonderful and I had many fulfilling relationships with friends and family at the time, I am sure many of you can understand that silence is a very lonely place to live. I feared that at BYU I would have to become even more silence and that my thoughts and feelings would echo around in my head forever without anyone caring to listen.
When I watched the video that USGA produced, entitled “It gets better at BYU” my thoughts and feelings started to change. I gave myself space in my tightly wound mind to consider my own identity. In my heart I hoped for a community that would understand me as a whole person, from orientation to faith identity and I believe that I have begun to find it in places like these.
We are replacing loneliness with community, fear with understanding, and isolation with visibility. I am so grateful that I have found a place where I can continue to bring my spiritual self into harmony with all other aspects of my identity.
Here, in happy valley, I am getting happier.