Recently, USGA had the unique opportunity of hearing from a BYU professor and tremendous ally and advocate for our group: Professor Roni Jo Draper is a professor of multicultural education at Brigham Young University and, due to personal experience, feels strongly about creating a safer environment for queer and SSA people in the LDS Church. It is true that many of the queer/SSA members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not feel welcome or comfortable in church meetings. This leads to many no longer coming, or even denouncing their faith in the Church. Professor Draper, however, proposed ways that those who are not part of the queer/SSA community can help the many who are feel accepted in a community that can feel ostracizing.
While at the meeting, many received a handout that detailed the differing levels of friendliness to the queer/SSA community. These ranged from “Adversary” (on the far left) to “Advocate” (on the far right). Also included in this handout were resources for those wishing to be more informed on the queer/SSA community, a quote from For the Strength of Youth (a pamphlet that explains standards intended for youth to follow), and tips from Professor Draper from her experience within her field of expertise on how to be more inclusive and accepting of others.
Much of what Professor Draper talked about in the meeting highlighted details from the aforementioned handout. These tips included not assuming that there are no queer/SSA members of the congregation that you are attending, avoiding language that creates a dichotomy between communities, remembering that no one is perfect and that being straight does not inherently make one superior to someone who is not, speaking up as an ally and against hurtful or ignorant language, and reaching out to those of the queer/SSA community. The way she handled a sensitive topic with such aplomb was very admirable, and well received by those in attendance. One girl, Sarah, who came for her first time having heard about it in her women’s studies class, said that the meeting opened her eyes to things that she had never thought about before. She cited the example that Professor Draper gave of leaders being more careful about organizing activities with boy/girl divisions and dating activities. Sarah had never thought that such an activity could potentially be harmful, especially if participation is deemed mandatory.
One of the most popular metaphors that many latched on to toward the end of Professor Draper’s presentation was the idea that all of us are carrying 2x4s on our shoulders that we do not necessarily realize we are carrying. Sometimes we will accidentally bump or whack others with our 2x4s, and all we can do at that point is apologize. In this vein, we will sometimes say or do things that may offend others if we keep subconsciously carrying this block of wood. If something like that happens, we really ought to do our best to make amends for our actions. The best course of action, however, is to learn how to put down our 2x4s altogether, and through this meeting with Professor Draper, we all learned how we may better achieve this necessary goal.