Category Archives: Mormon

Guess What They’re Teaching Up At BYU-Idaho

Note: The ideas and words of each blog post are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the USGA presidency or USGA as an organization. Many of the blog posts featured here are written by LGBTQ/SSA BYU students who are not yet ready to have their sexual orientation or gender identity known by some friends, family, colleagues and internet strangers. As you read this or any other anonymous post, please take a moment to consider the implications and risks of being publicly LGBTQ/SSA as a BYU student.

Hey, it’s us again.

It was a busy Monday of school work and extra-curricular activities, but once again, I had to get on Microsoft Word to combat some ignorance.

On Sunday, in a Sacrament meeting on BYU-Idaho campus, it appears the leadership of a Young Single Adult ward passed around a flier from a marriage and family therapist inviting people to a fireside about same-gender attraction.  The fireside was to be held on campus, in the Ricks building, and was presumably organized by someone in a Church capacity (YSA wards use campus classrooms on Sundays at all BYU campuses to hold church meetings and firesides, as well as activities throughout the week).

IdahoFlyer

The problem with this activity is that it a) promoted information that is demonstrably false, b) goes against the recent teachings of the Church, and c) invited people who read the flier to visit the man’s personal therapy practice website.  This isn’t quite Ponderize.com, but still. Let’s work through this flier in a straightforward manner.

“It’s not just a matter of opinion, but of revelation and of social science: People can and do overcome same-gender attraction and enjoy rich, full lives with marriage partners of the opposite sex without regrets.”

Firstly, let’s address the “revelation” part.  Here are 3 quotes from the Church that dispute this idea:

“And, I must say, this [same-sex attracted] son’s sexual orientation did not somehow miraculously change—no one assumed it would.” —Elder Holland, October 2015

“One thing that’s always important is to recognize the feelings of a person, that they are real, that they are authentic, that we don’t deny that someone feels a certain way. We take the reality where it is, and we go from there. … I believe it is crucial that we always continue to feel that, to express that, to acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings and circumstances, and go from there.” —Elder Christofferson, speaking on the Church’s mormonsandgays.org website

“No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction.  …  Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. …  Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.” —MormonsandGays.org

And now, let’s look at some social science:

“Overall, 0% of those attempting change reported an elimination of same-sex attraction, and less than 4% reported any change in sexual orientation.” —A study of 1,612 same-sex attracted Mormons

“There is no conclusive evidence that ‘reparative therapy’ is beneficial to patients.” —INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF PSYCHIATRIC-MENTAL HEALTH NURSES (ISPN) Position Statement on Reparative Therapy

“While sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable.” —Richard A. Posner, US Appellate Court Judge

Even the participants on TLC’s “My Husband’s Not Gay” TV special, who are active members of the Church and former leaders of NorthStar International (an organization that helps same-sex attracted individuals live their lives in harmony with Church covenants), talk openly about how they are still attracted to men (aka same-sex attracted). In fact, the main character, Jeff Bennion, says “We can’t choose our sexual orientation—I don’t believe that.”

So, while there are some people who are able to make mixed-orientation marriages work, it is not encouraged by the Church—and scientific studies have not be able to find significant evidence that one can consciously change their sexual orientation.

Later in the flier, Dr. Williams says that if you come to the fireside, “you’ll learn how to understand the science and research” on the matter. Unfortunately he then goes on to direct people to his website, where he has penned a series of unscientific blog posts that are both homophobic and transphobic.

Furthermore, he links to research that has been debunked as unscientific—a study that reported poor development of  the children of gay parents, which was in fact more like a study of the children of failed mixed-orientation marriages, funded by a foundation fighting against gay marriage.

Later, the flier says, “The media portray those with such feelings of attractions as born or destined to have those feelings throughout life, and suggest that they can only be happy or fulfilled by participating in same-sex relationships.”

This is problematic because he’s linking two things, one half-true, one false.  This is a straw-man argument.  The first half of his sentence is half true—there is a general scientific consensus that sexual orientation is an immutable trait affected by genetics and environment.  No one that I’ve read about says, “there is one gene that automatically makes you gay—people are born gay.” But most of them do say, “there are a lot of biological factors that determines one’s sexual orientation and it appears that we don’t have conscious or willful control to change it.”  The second half of Dr. William’s sentence is false—I watch a lot of news, I read a lot of news, I listen to a lot of radio and podcasts.  I’ve never heard a news organization say anything close to that.  That would be overtly editorial of them, and inappropriate.  Sure there are TV shows and movies that have characters in same-sex relationships, but there’s also “My Husband’s Not Gay.” Either way, I haven’t heard anyone say “you can only be happy if you’re in a same-sex relationship.”

As a reminder, USGA is ideologically neutral.  That means that if you come to USGA and want to remain celibate, or marry someone of the opposite sex, we support you in doing that.  We don’t dictate or encourage any specific behavioral choices based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  We don’t even force people to identify as gay—we’ve specifically make sure that we use the acronym LGBTQ/SSA to include those who prefer the term same-sex attracted and don’t want to identify as gay.  But there is a difference between ideology and facts and scientific studies.  So instead of tired talking points and debunked myths about homosexuality, let’s stick to science we do know.  Make whatever behavioral choices you want—you can even go to therapy to reduce or minimize your unwanted sexual attractions to men.  But don’t tell people you can make them straight—some people in New Jersey were found guilty over the summer of consumer fraud because they ran a program claiming to be able to change your sexual orientation, even though they actually didn’t and couldn’t.

Dr. Williams seems like a well-intentioned man, but from what I could gather from his website, his video interview, and this flier, he is dangerously misinformed—which is all the more disquieting since he is a licensed therapist. Even more alarming is that he is preaching this misinformation as if it were fact and Truth.   My hope is that this event that never was has now brought some additional light to this topic.

Since this flyer first surfaced, it appears the event was cancelled by Dr. Williams himself “due to negative publicity.”  While it’s good that BYU-Idaho campus resources were not used, this time, to dispel false information about homosexuality and conversion therapy, it should not have been cancelled because of bad publicity.  It should have been cancelled because his information and theories have been proven false, and because it directly contradicts what the Apostles of the LDS Church have said on the topic.

Even more cringe-worthy and disturbing is this 20 minute long video interview that Dr. Williams, who is also a faculty member at the university, did with BYU-Idaho where he claims that the reason men turn gay is because they got teased as a kid, found other boys distant and then exotic, and finally became erotically attracted to them.  Speaking for myself, and literally dozens of other gay men I know who were neither effeminate nor teased as children, this theory doesn’t really make any sense.  Also, to my knowledge, it’s never been tested scientifically either so…. there’s that.

Not to mention that this is the 2nd time in as many months that a licensed marriage and family therapist, who is a member of the Church and counsels clients who are Church members, has put out damaging, discredited information about homosexuality and conversion therapy. This needs to stop.

BYU Idaho Michael Williams Google Search
More importantly, in my opinion, is that this is the kind of stuff that damages LGBTQ/SSA people at BYU-Idaho, in the Church, and all over the country.  For every 1 client who Dr. Williams can try to claim has changed their sexual orientation (and I’d love to see actual proof of that), there are hundreds who have tried and tried and tried – til their knees were sore, and their scriptures were worn, and sometimes their wrists were bloody – to change their orientation, and haven’t succeeded. Children and teenagers and grown men and women who have drenched their pillows night after night with tears of anguish. And for all of those kids who feel like failures, who feel like they are despised of God because they couldn’t change a part of themselves they didn’t like, there are all of the parents who – like mine – said “you need to overcome this,” or who blamed themselves because their child is gay.  Messages and misinformation like this causes too much real pain, real depression, real anxiety, real despair to be left unchallenged.

So, instead of a listening to a (presumably) straight guy tell you junk science about conversion therapy and why people are gay, why not ask your friendly local gays what it’s really like? The last rhetorical question on his flyer was “How can we understand and help friends and family who might be struggling with same-gender attraction?” Ask us! Read through our blogs and Faces of USGA posts.  Try to listen. Try to understand.  Come to a USGA meeting any Thursday at 7pm at the Provo library.  I think that’s a good place to start.

Dear Straight Mormons

Dear Straight Mormons—Dear Friends,

I love the way President Uchtdorf characteristically opens and closes his conference addresses—“My dear brethren and sisters, my dear friends.”

I get that this may seem very straight forward and cut and dry for many of you.  I understand what it’s like to feel as though the world is up in arms against an organization that you and I sustain as the kingdom of God on the Earth—an organization that has brought the deepest meaning and most profound comfort to your life, and to my life.  I know what it’s like to see men you love and support as witnesses of God be the subject of so much criticism and even anger.  They are well meaning and good men who are doing their best to communicate the love and dictates of God to his children on Earth.  It hurts, it’s confusing, it’s frightening to feel as though the whole world is against you.

I’ve felt this.  And I feel it now.

Please, stay with me a moment while I try to share with your some of the pain my friends and my community have felt.  I don’t ask you to disagree with something you agree with.  I don’t want you to question your leaders.  I just want you to sit with me for a few minutes while I tell you about myself and my friends.

For us LGBTQ or same-sex attracted Mormons, life was always going to be hard.  I don’t know that people generally understand the gravity of what that looks and feels like.  Our options have always been limited and painful.  We can make 1 of 3 choices:  Seek a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, which is not possible or healthy for a large majority of us, and a gamble much more likely to end in divorce and heartache than any heterosexual marriage. Remain celibate and stay in the Church—forgo the comfort and strength that comes with having a romantic companion, face living alone for the rest of our lives.  Yes many people do not marry in this life, but no one else has to actively choose each day to not marry, to not fall in love. And finally, some of us, weighing all of the options, will choose to find a romantic partner of the same sex.  Not because we hate God or the Church or its leaders, but because for some of us, it might be a choice between that and suicide.

This new policy means that those who choose to pursue same-sex relationships face the certain conviction of apostasy and likely excommunication.  It means that our children will not be able to participate in the Church we were raised in, and that many of us still love and cherish.

It hurts to see my friends wake up one morning to see that they are now automatically considered apostates. It hurts to see friends whose children now have to wait an extra 10 years to get baptized or fully participate in the Church, despite their parents’ approval and encouragement.  It hurts to see the secondary pain this has brought to my straight friends—friends who believe in the Church and sustain the Prophet and Apostles and who this won’t affect personally, but friends who realize the pain this is inflicting on their queer friends.  And who are confused and saddened and hurt that something they love so dearly might cut so deeply against people they love and care for.   It hurts to feel like all that hope I had for the door of openness and goodwill and increased understanding and empathy has been suddenly slammed shut.

All of those things actually happened to me.  They are not hypothetical.  It hurt to wake up to an early morning message telling me our mutual friend was suicidal and I needed to go check on him. The minutes ticked by as he didn’t answer his phone, I found out no one had seen him in hours, and I had the gut wrenching task of knocking on his locked bedroom door.  Thankfully he was alive, and relatively ok.  But it’s not an experience I wish on anyone.

A different friend of mine has been so disquieted, she could barely make it through one of her classes in the past few days.  And the other stories are beginning to poor in: college students who’ve been told they can no longer live with their parents between semesters, children who were about to be baptized or go on missions who will no longer be able to.  These are the real and human consequences of this policy change.

And lest you think the heartbreak was only among my friends who had chosen to pursue same-sex relationships, consider the hurt I felt as I watched dozens and dozens of my most faithful, believing, rock-solid testimony fellow LGBTQ/SSA Mormons recoil in fear and pain at the policy change.  While nothing in the policy would seemingly apply to them, they felt that at its core the message was “you are not welcome here.” They wanted nothing more than to feel welcome and belong.

My mission president, whom I admire and respect a great deal, once told me that “priority is genius.” He was and is a very busy man (as many of us are) and he explained how in a world with only a limited amount of time, how and what you prioritize says a great deal about you and who you are.

The Church and its leaders have a limited amount of time and energy to carry out its mission.  So when it chooses to do anything, you know it must be important—that it could’ve chosen to perhaps do something else—but that whatever it has chosen is more important or better than whatever else it might have done.  So one of the most painful things for me is that the leaders of the Church frequently and consistently find the time to write rules and preach against same-sex marriage and the evils thereof but so rarely find the time to reach out in comfort or understanding to the LGBTQ/SSA members of the Church in any way that feels meaningful or long-lasting.

It hurts that instead of saying “To our friends, the children of God who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or same-sex attracted, we love you. We know the world has often been a cruel and lonely place for you.  We know that at times members and even leaders of the Church have contributed to the loneliness and confusion that so frequently comes with being LGBTQ/SSA in this fallen world. The Church is a place to feel of God’s love for all his children and the comfort that comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Come, worship with us,” that the leaders of the Church further defined the punishments required for people who “act upon” their sexuality.

Doctrine and Covenants 121: 43 says, “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;”  It feels like there has been a lot of sharp reproving and very little increased love.

It hurts that implicit in these policy updates is the assumption that LGBTQ individuals who decide to marry someone of the same gender must necessarily be opposed to the Church and all its teachings—that they would inherently not want their children to learn the good, beautiful, ennobling principles of the Gospel. I can testify that is not true of most of my friends pursuing same-sex relationships. It can sometimes feel like standing on a doorstep, trying to decide which side to sit down on, and someone comes along and slams the door.

On Sunday night, I went to a vigil held at Pioneer Park in downtown Salt Lake City.  Gathered together were people gay and straight, active Mormons and former Mormons huddling together in the cold.  We held tiny flickering candles and sang hymns.  Hymns that I have sung since as long as I can remember, and have loved for even longer.  As we approached the group, we passed a group of several homeless people.  I was overwhelmed by the poetry of the parallel—I was here to mourn with those that were mourning because they were or would soon be spiritually homeless because they chose to marry someone they loved of the same gender, or were the children of such a union. Surrounding us were people who had no physical home.  My heart ached that both groups of people were realities.  A reminder of the cruelties and imperfections of our fallen world.

A speaker recounted the history of the early Christians.  Small bands of believers who had to meet in secret because their beliefs were mocked and against the law and social norms.  People who believed in the redeeming power of the Atonement of the Son of God.  People for whom this spiritual truth meant the transformation of life from meaningless and doomed to a pointless end, into a period of bittersweet meaning before a more glorious future.  For these beautiful, soul enlarging truths they believed in and wished to share with others, these people were hunted.

Two-thousand years later, we—the spiritual descendants of those early Christians—stood huddling alone in the cold, on a patch of ground commemorating the sacrifice of pioneers—people who had been forced from their homes and families for beliefs that had transformed and enriched their lives.  We were not hunted, at least not physically (though this still happens to our queer siblings around the world), but we were alone, together, in the cold of the night.  Despite the loneliness, heartache, confusion, and pain, we remained.

The speaker continued about how the word apostasy meant to turn away and abandon; to forsake something, to turn your back and walk away.  And yet we remained. Courage, the speaker said, meant that we remained—that we asked to be seen, to be heard, to validate our humanity and our existence.

Brené Brown said, “It’s difficult to respond to the tragedies of strangers—even those we think we know—because we will never have access to the whole truth. In the absence of information, we make up stories, stories that often turn out to be our own biographies, not theirs.”

“Our only other option is to choose courage. Rather than deny our vulnerability, we lean into both the beauty and agony of our shared humanity. Choosing courage does not mean that we’re unafraid, it means that we are brave enough to love despite the fear and uncertainty. Courage is my friend Karen standing up and saying, “I am affected.”

The courageous choice also does not mean abandoning accountability—it simply means holding ourselves accountable first. If we are people of faith, we hold ourselves accountable for living that faith by practicing grace and bringing healing.”

If you understand and support the recent policy changes, ask your mourning friend why it hurts.  I’m not asking you to change your convictions, I’m asking you to, perhaps, enlarge your heart.  If you don’t have any friends who are hurting over this—look again.  Someone you know is gay—or they love someone who is gay.  And they are hurting. Maybe not because they disagree with the policy changes, but because they know the impact and the toll it will have.

We come from the same spiritual lineage.  My ancestors bloodied the Great Plains with their feet. I stand in wonder at the sacrifices those first Christian disciples endured for their beliefs – just as you do.

And so, my brethren and sisters, my dear friends, all I ask of you is that you see us. That your hear us. That you listen to us. That you sit with us.
Thank you.

-A

My Prayer For This Conference

Note: Many of the blog posts featured here are written by LGBTQ BYU students who are not yet ready to have their sexual orientation known by some friends, family, colleagues and internet strangers.  As you read this or any other anonymous post, please take a moment to consider the implications and risks of being publicly LGBTQ/SSA as a BYU student.

I wrote the majority of this blog post 6 months ago, in preparation for the April 2015 General Conference.  Much has changed, but too much hasn’t.  And so my hope and prayer for this conference has been updated.

In the book of Matthew, there is a story of a woman from Canaan who approached Christ to have him bless her daughter:

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:25-28)

Twice a year, Mormons around the world gather to hear what we believe to be the inspired word of God’s living prophets, seers, and revelators on the earth.  Many approach these weekends with an air of celebration and thanksgiving.  There will be messages of hope, messages of comfort, messages that renew faith and inspire.

Personally, I have had some sacred moments listening to Conference, especially since acknowledging my sexuality over the past few years.  These powerful moments happened while I was in the conference center listening to talks and singing hymns.  They were specific instances when I felt that God was speaking to me through the chosen speaker, the Spirit, or the words of a beautiful hymn.  Each time the message was “I’m here. I know you. I love you. Stay with me, and come back to me.”

Sadly, these experiences have been often overshadowed by much of the rest of conference where I felt the talks were even more specifically directed at me but not in a loving manner.  Time after time, I sat and listened as men who I sustained as God’s anointed used their appointed time to speak out against the evils of gay marriage and the concerted effort to bring about the destruction of the “traditional family.”  Of all of those times, I remember only once when an Apostle took the time, just one sentence, to acknowledge the difficulties or being same-sex attracted and a member of the Church.  It hurt for me, because while the moments where the Spirit spoke to me were rich and comforting, I needed more.  I wanted answers or specific comfort to understand what I was going through and why.

Talk after talk painted a picture of the world as a battlefield, and the church as a castle—but each time, I felt like I had been painted on the outside with the barbarians.  Barbarians who were in league with Satan—people consciously and proactively involved in a great plan to thwart the happiness of their families, friends, and neighbors.  As the Church of Christ, why couldn’t we spend a little more time surveying the field for casualties and refugees? Not everyone on the battle field is intent on tearing down our walls.  Many have run for miles to seek refuge from a world that can be callous and chaotic.  How many have we cast out of our castle in the name of culture or righteousness? How many wounds have we left unattended to nock our arrows? How many injured have we let perish to dig our moats deeper?  I was alright because I’ve been blessed with a strength and resiliency seemingly beyond my own.  But some of my friends are not as lucky.

Many of my friends have used up their last ounces of strength trying to cling to the castle their friends, family, and leaders are throwing them out of.  They’ve come home from missions wondering why they’re still same-sex attracted.  They have gone through the repentance process and hoped with every fiber of their being that they will be able to marry a young man or woman and have a “normal” life like everyone else.   They’ve confided in their parents, only to be met with disappointment or misunderstanding, or have even been disowned.  They’ve sought comfort and guidance and counsel from their ecclesiastical leaders only to be met with ignorance, indifference, and, at times, callousness and injustice, even revulsion.  This from the very people who covenanted with God to mourn with them that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.  The men who have been called and sustained to represent Christ—in judgment, yes, but also in infinite love.

This year has seen much change.  In Utah, the Church helped shepherd through a bill that provides some employment and housing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals.  It saw a Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage for the entirety of the US.  And it saw the Boy Scouts decide to change their national policy to allow individual troops have openly gay leaders if they so choose, while giving religiously chartered troops the ability to set their own standards for their leaders.  For many LGBTQ and same-sex attracted people, it was a year to be celebrated. Real, tangible progress was achieved and the world became a little safer for people who too often have felt unsafe, unloved, unwelcome – even in their own homes.  For some members of the Church, it felt like an attack on their beliefs and their religion.  Change, in any direction, is uncomfortable and unsettling.

Luckily Elder Rasband of the Seventy gave an inspiring devotional at BYU a few weeks ago.  In it, he reminded all of us – gay and straight – to be empathetic and compassionate in our conversations and relationships with others. To base our friendships on love, not a desire to change the other person.  He spoke of dialogues that, thought difficult, are necessary and which also enrich our lives.  His address gave me hope.

This General Conference will likely be historic.  We will probably see the calling of 2 or 3 new Apostles.  Any calling of a new Apostle is a moment to think about the history of our Church and the progress left ahead.  It is a chance to think about the character of our Church and the nature of the office these men hold. Finally it’s an opportunity to ponder the future of this Church – when these newly called men will someday be senior Apostles and even perhaps a president of the Church, and what the world will look like then.

With all that has changed this year, this Conference is a time for us to renew.  There has been much pain and hurt.  This Conference is a time to heal and reset.  The battle over same-sex marriage in this country is over.  Let us lower our draw bridges and let in the sick and injured.  Let us extend a helping hand, not a drawn sword.  As perhaps the Savior would, let us not cast stones, but instead cast out fear and anger.

And so, this is my prayer.  A prayer that this time I offer cautiously, I admit, but an optimistic prayer nonetheless.  A prayer that—instead of another talk, or talks, or even multiple sections from different speakers all pointed towards the legal debate about same-sex marriage in the US—the messages from General Conference will be that God loves each and every one of His children. Without qualification. Without pretense. Without caveat.  That, instead of tortured logic and unimaginative dogmatism, they spend their time leaving the ninety and nine, to seek after the one lost sheep wandering in the desert.  Not a desert of sin or addiction or self-inflicted misery but a desert of loneliness, of being misunderstood, of a lack of love.

I pray for a talk about same-sex attraction, about being gay and Mormon.  About the realities, the complexities, the nuances.  I pray for a talk that calls for listening more than preaching and loving more than correcting.  Surely, at the great table of Christ, in His Kingdom on Earth, in this great and marvelous work, there is room yet at the table and there are crumbs yet left to eat. It pains me to think that such a small and feeble request is even an uncertain gamble.  I pray for a General Conference that I can confidently and gladly invite my friends to—where I know they will leave nourished, strengthened, and uplifted.  I long for a Conference where I leave being as proud of my Church as I hope it is of me.

Yes I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.  Surely there are crumbs left for even my friends.

Thank You, Elder Rasband

Yesterday, Elder Ronald A. Rasband spoke to BYU campus during the weekly Tuesday devotional.  He came to speak on the topic of #Fairness4All and how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints should treat LGBTQ individuals with fairness and respect.  USGA is excited that Elder Rasband chose to speak on such an important topic, and one that has perhaps not received enough attention in that forum in the past.  We welcome the dialogue that he encouraged and we’ll continue to work with the university and its students to accomplish that task.

Several quotes in his speech stood out to us. Near the end of his speech, Elder Rasband said, “We need your generation’s natural understanding of compassion, respect, and fairness.  We need your optimism and your determination to work through these complex social issues.”  Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA) at BYU has been hard at work for 5 years now to do just that.  Part of our mission statement reads: “If you have come to understand, to be understood, to find empathy and compassion, and to build community, you’ve found the right place. USGA welcomes you.” The task of reaching through differences in opinion, experience, and identity is not an easy one, but it is rewarding.

While it is sometimes common to think of Mormons and the LGBTQ community as separate, we at USGA have been working hard to remind people that there are many many LGBTQ/SSA Mormons at BYU and around the world.  We’d like to remind everyone that we are not some foreign, nebulous entity – we’re your fellow classmates, your siblings in Christ, and We Need Him Too.

1509-47 240 Elder Ronald A. Rasband devotional September 15, 2015 Photography by: Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo Copyright BYU Photo 2015 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322 1310
1509-47 240
Elder Ronald A. Rasband devotional
September 15, 2015
Photography by: Mark A. Philbrick/BYU Photo
Copyright BYU Photo 2015
All Rights Reserved
photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322
1310

Later on, Elder Rasband went on to say, “Most importantly we need you to engage in dialogue regarding the complexities of this issue and find solutions for how to best extend fairness to everyone.  These conversations need to be occurring in our schools, perhaps right here at Brigham Young University, in our homes, and relationships with friends and co-workers.” We couldn’t agree more.  USGA has been meeting with campus administrators over the past year to once again find a space for this important organization to be on campus.  We look forward to the day when USGA is welcomed back to campus as an official student organization and an important part of the BYU community.

In the meantime, we will carry on the work of finding empathy and understanding Thursdays at 7pm in the Provo Library.  Whether you know it or not, you know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or identifies as same-sex attracted (LGBTQ/SSA).  We’re your classmates, your friends, your ward members; your brothers, sisters, and siblings.  Please come join with us as we seek to “work through these complex social issues” and show Christ-like love to all.

-The USGA Presidency

Sincerely, Anonymous

I’ve been staring at the computer screen for days now and have written nothing. I just don’t know where to begin. How do I put these feelings and thoughts into words?

The problem is there is no way for any of you to “understand.” Maybe you can relate, or maybe you can empathize, but how can I help you understand something I can’t even understand myself.

Here it goes.

I’m a girl. I love music. It is everything to me. I’m an artist. I’m clumsy and easily distracted.  I’m a hard worker and always take on way more than I can handle. I love sports. I have a short temper, and I love alone time. I love nature and hope to travel the world. I have high respects for people who are kind, and I’m a sucker for funny people. I’m a girl that has dreams, goals, flaws, a future, a past, AND I just happen to be bisexual.

That is a scary thing to admit. One of my biggest fears was disappointing my parents. What would they think of me if I told them? Could or would they be proud of a bisexual daughter? Does God love His bisexual daughter? They seem like silly questions now. My sexuality does not define me or my actions. It is a part of me, and it is a challenge that I will have to struggle with every day for the rest of my life. But that label does not mean that I have sinned. I am not ashamed of it. And I shouldn’t be. Obviously, there will be specific struggles that I will face as a bisexual Latter-day Saint, but I know that they can’t keep me from living a fulfilling, and gospel-oriented life.

As I’ve learned to accept who I am, I’ve come to understand how infinite God’s love is. He hasn’t left me alone in this. He loves me no matter what, and He knew who He was giving this challenge to. A tough girl who has learned to admit when she needs help. A tough girl who takes every challenge head on. A tough girl who likes to beat the odds. A tough girl who wants to be the best person that she can be. But I’m also a girl that feels insecure and irrelevant sometimes. My sexuality has made me more empathetic and non-judgmental, but I won’t lie and say it hasn’t crippled me in some ways. I hate not being able to understand why I am the way I am. What does this even mean? Why is this one of the challenges God gave me? How am I going to fit in the world? Am I significant, even though I’m broken? This is a time where I just have to trust God, despite all the hurt, insecurity, and doubt. The Savior’s Atonement is infinite and intimate, and I can find grace, mercy, and peace by using it. God loves all of His children and He understands, when no one else can or will.

You know, the world is going to be ugly. People are going to be mean. They’ll disagree. They’ll judge. They’ll share their opinions, no matter how disrespectful and ignorant they are. I know that the world can be cruel. That doesn’t surprise me. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also beautiful. I’ve met such kind-hearted and supportive people. People that make the world breathtakingly beautiful. People that I see the reflection of Christ in. I haven’t told very many people that I’m bisexual (never really found it necessary to share with more). Only a few close friends and a few immediate family members know. For some (my parents) it was tough for them at first. They were shocked and frustrated. Sad that I had another big, life-long trial to carry on my back. But every single one of them have been so supportive. None of them know what it means, but they’ve shown me grace and love when I couldn’t give that to myself. That support means the world. It makes the temptations a little lighter. That’s something I really encourage and hope for the world. That we can all be supportive and loving with the LGBT community. I don’t expect anyone to understand or to agree, but I do expect a universal and unbiased love.

For the LDS community (and many other churches), we dedicate our lives to be more like Christ. Christ loved and forgave all. He didn’t look at people and see “overweight,” “socially-awkward,” “illiterate,” or even “gay.” He knows we are all sinful and broken, but He sees us in a light of love, a light of compassion and mercy. I wish that was something I saw emulated in our people. My hope is that in time, we can live and think that way.

I am girl. A girl that happens to be bisexual. A girl that is ready for change in the world. A change that requires a change of heart and mind. A change that’ll bring about the BEST world. You in?

Sincerely,

Anonymous

Life Lessons

This story isn’t a fun one. It isn’t a fairy tale with a perfect beginning and ending, but it has lessons we can learn. More importantly, it needs to be heard. It starts with a child. He was young, still in the single digits, in fact. He was watching the news, trying to figure out how the world worked, when a story came on about two men in a relationship. The boy’s mother made a comment about how wrong the world is sometimes. That was his first encounter with anything LGBTQ, though at the time, he had no clue what he had just seen.

That boy was me, and every exposure I had to anything queer after that went about the same way until high school. During my sophomore year, a classmate told me that two of my friends were dating, and it startled me, because they were both men. When I asked my friends about the rumor going around that they were dating, they simply confirmed it and looked at me like I was crazy for questioning it.  I had never seen anyone talk about a homosexual relationship without disdain before. It blew my mind that they were not only a couple, but a functioning one. Before then, I had been taught that being queer was choosing to follow Satan and that most people did it for attention. (Looking back I realize that mindset was very wrong, and I am sad I never questioned it before that encounter.)

I started noticing oddities in my own thought patterns long before that day. I thought that guys were cute and I was always weirded out by women. I easily dismissed these thoughts, although I had had them nearly my whole life. Unlike others who have told me their stories, I did not feel confused about my sexuality. I probably should have, but I was so set on believing what my parents had taught me (namely, that sexuality was choice), I thought I could just choose to like girls instead and then everything would be fine.

Rewind about two months. Just before my sixteenth birthday, my long ignored desires demanded attention. I desperately wanted to find out how it felt to date a man. I was still in denial about my identity, so I convinced myself that I was just curious. I knew (well, believed at the time) that doing anything with another man was wrong. These thoughts combined caused me to go to the internet for answers. I won’t go into much detail, but I will tell you that those experiences have permanently scarred my mind. Through carelessness on my part, my parents found out how I had been using the computer while they were away. I had a conversation with my mother where I convinced her (and myself) that I simply wanted to experience what sin felt like, since that was the first time in my life my actions would prevent me from taking the sacrament.

I recalled my conversation with my high school friends, but now with those experiences on my mind. I had no clue what to think, so I struggled through the rest of high school with my “strange” feelings. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house that I confronted them. I know now that I am homosexual, and more importantly, I know that it’s okay.

So what can you learn from this story? First, young people need to know that being queer is okay. Before high school, I didn’t even know what the word meant. I can’t tell you everything about how to raise your children, but I can offer some insight. When you see gay people, or transgender people, or even people who dress differently than you, don’t treat them any different than anyone else. When a young person is gay, but they believe that being gay is wrong, it can cause damage that takes a long time to heal. You might think that you would notice if your child was queer, but that’s not always the case. I suggest that parents everywhere be an example of acceptance, because even if your child isn’t queer, they will eventually meet someone who is, and you can teach them to react with love and kindness.

Why I’m Gay, Not SSA

We’re all familiar with Shakespeare’s famous line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” On the surface, this line is true. Saussure’s theory of semiotics shows that words are not inherently linked to the objects they signify, and the random combinations of sounds only gain significance when they are placed in an interconnected system of language. We could just as easily have named a rose a “brishnoll” or a “wittot,” and it certainly would smell as sweet. But what if we called it “reek weed?” How many generations would it take before the smell of the rose became loathsome? The words “reek” and “weed” already have strong negative connotations in our language, and those connotations bleed through our objective sensual intake and shape how we perceive the world. In other words, how we choose to name something helps determine how we feel about it.

This brings me to how we define our own identity, specifically as it relates to sexual orientation. Most people use terms like straight, gay, lesbian, bi, or queer. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, members are encouraged to refer to non-heterosexual orientations as “having same-sex attraction.” The former four are adjectives that directly modify one’s identity. We say “I am straight” or “I am bi” the way we say “I am Mormon” or “I am female.” The latter is an object that one possesses, but it does not touch on identity: “I have same-sex attraction” is similar to “I have a dress.” When we choose how we refer to the orientation of ourselves or of others, it shapes the way we feel about that orientation.

When we use an adjective to describe ourselves, it intimately ties that trait to who we are. To say “I am an American male” or “I am a Japanese female” says a lot about how we perceive ourselves. It’s an easy shorthand to say we share certain cultural upbringings or behaviors of a larger group. On a more eternal scope, we say “I am a child of God,” to link our identity with the Divine. Some words are more temporary, such as “I am hungry,” or “I am happy,” but on the whole these adjectives help describe who we are more broadly.

By saying that one “has same-sex attraction,” the Church is intentionally discouraging people to associate deviant sexual orientation with one’s identity. It is merely something you “have,” not something you “are.” It’s only temporary, so don’t worry about it and focus on other things. The Church also avoids using words like “gay” because they carry certain connotations of behavior: the infamous “gay lifestyle.” There is a fear that once people identify as gay, they will begin to act on such feelings, which may include promiscuous, anonymous sex.

Yet a problem lies embedded in the construction of the phrase “having same-sex attraction.” We don’t say “I have happiness” or “I struggle with joy.” No, we say “I have cancer” or “I struggle with depression.” Remember how certain words and phrases in our language carry negative connotations? We have taken the language of disease and transferred it to how we speak about same-sex attraction. This pathologizes non-heterosexual orientation and ensures that we always think of it in negative terms. It doesn’t matter how sweet that rose may smell as long as we’re calling it reek weed.

And the Church wants people to think about these orientations as bad. It regards sex between two people of the same gender as immoral, as a sin. So of course an inclination towards such an act that has no sanctioned outlet will also be considered a disease. If you start referring to the orientation as something positive, it won’t be long before the action it links to is also viewed as positive, and the Church cannot allow that to happen. Heteronormativity is a keystone of Mormon doctrine, and it would take massive readjustments to accommodate anything outside that norm. And to be fair to the Church leaders who make such linguistic policies, they have the eternal welfare of their members at heart. If same-sex attraction is a life-long spiritual disease, then acting on those impulses is a terminal one. The Church is in the business of saving souls and curing sin, and as long as homosexual actions are sin, they’re not going to stop preaching against it, nor should they.

Let’s examine some of the underlying assumptions when we say that someone “has same-sex attraction:”

  1. The natural state of humankind is to be straight. In the premortal existence, everyone was straight. This assumption was very obvious on a recent Church survey where the two main options for sexual orientation were “I am heterosexual, but I struggle with same-sex attraction” or “I am heterosexual and do not struggle with same-sex attraction.”
  1. If you are not heterosexual, then something is wrong with you. You “have same-sex attraction” the same way others have an ailment or a birth defect. It is never a good thing to “have same-sex attraction.” It is a pitiable position, one that may mean that you will have to forgo heterosexual marriage and remain single your entire life. Again, people “struggle with” or “suffer from” this attraction; it’s a burden, a trial, an affliction, an incurable and lifelong disease.
  1. Fortunately, because it is not a part of your core identity, and only a defect of mortality, God will take it away from you after you die. Heaven will at last bring relief from these defective feelings. You will be straight as you were always intended to be.

Now for some people, this narrative works fine. Some genuinely feel that they were meant to be straight and that their feelings are just a mistake. For them the phrase “having same-sex attraction” may be a perfect fit, and we should respect their choice in words. Nothing is worse than thinking that what works for one person should work for everyone else in exactly the same way. To those people that say that their same-sex attraction is not a part of their identity, and that it is a foreign addition to their eternal self, I support you in your decision and will respect your terminology.

But as for my own experience, I find it very difficult to view myself as broken for life. When I still identified as same-sex attracted, every talk about the importance of marriage and family reminded me that my sexuality was broken and defective, with little hope of it ever being fixed in this life. No amount of prayer or personal righteousness would fix it. No psychotherapy or gender-wholeness exercise. I had a life-long, incurable disease, and it sucked.

Depression, anxiety, and a slew of other problems followed like scavengers, harrying my battered soul. “If only I could be like all the healthy straight people!” “If only I could be a complete person!” It was a very dark place.

At some point amid the swirls of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts, I made a gradual discovery. For me at least, same-sex attraction isn’t something I “have,” it’s something I am. It’s bound up with my identity as surely as my faith in God, my masculinity, my love of learning. At first this made things worse, since I still viewed it as something negative. Now I wasn’t just sick, I was evil. A demon from Hell destined to be cast back into the pit as soon as I bit the dust. But as I became more comfortable with the idea, everything started to click into place. God didn’t create me to fail. He created me as a glorious, eternal being. And even though I don’t know how my sexuality fits into the Plan of Salvation, I know that God knows. I ask him all the time to guide me in understanding how this all works, and so far he’s let me learn mostly through trial and error. But I am learning and progressing, whereas before everything was stagnating.

And so many other aspects of my life opened up when I accepted my sexuality as part of me! My body felt like it fit better and I enjoyed exercising more. It was easier to talk to people and understand what they were feeling. I was happier than I had been for years. Studying the scriptures became a joy rather than a burden. I had been spending all my energy trying to silence a piece of me, but once I let it work as it was supposed to, it was like a missing piece of a machine was added back in, and I became fully functional again.

This is not to say that I’m sleeping with every guy I meet. In fact, I’m still celibate. But when I see a cute guy in a class, I no longer stare at the floor and wish to die. Instead I go up to him, try and get to know him, and develop a good relationship with him. For me, being gay isn’t just about who I want to have sex with. It means that I connect more intimately with men than with women. I have plenty of great female friends, but my relationships with guys are what feed that deep human need for intimacy. And when I find a guy who reciprocates, life is great. That ranges from solid friendships with straight guys to more emotional connections with gay friends. Even as a celibate guy, I’m still living the gay lifestyle: I’m gay, and I’m living my life. Mortality has never been sweeter.

So to sum up in typical Mormon fashion, I testify that God loves us—all of us, and every part of us. My sexuality is a gift from Him that he wants me to use, not burry in the earth. I will continue to seek His guidance, to find strength and forgiveness in the Savior’s Atonement as I figure out how to better serve those I love.

I am a son of God.

I am gay.

And I am glorious.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Finding Inspiration and Your Personal Mission Statement

No matter where you are in life—physically, spiritually, or emotionally—finding inspiration and direction is essential to ensuring happiness and well-being. That inspiration can come from anywhere—religious leaders, books, TV shows, friends, or the internet. The source is not as important as the guidance and direction that inspiration can bring to your life.

This is why USGA’s Faith Committee hosted an event centered around finding inspiration by creating personal mission statements. In Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes the second habit as “Begin with the end in mind.” In order to accomplish this, knowing what “the end” looks like is the first step in actualizing a personal mission statement.  Stephen Covey asks: “Are you—right now—who you want to be, what you dreamed you’d be, doing what you always wanted to do?” For the first half of the evening of this activity, the objective was to identify some goals, personal character traits, and accomplishments. Once again, 7 Habits states, “In one’s life, the most effective way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a mission statement—one that focuses what you want to be in terms of character and what you want to do in reference to contribution of achievements. Writing a mission statement can be the most important activity an individual can take to truly lead one’s life.”

As was discussed during the activity, personal mission statements take many forms. They could be a statement written by individual about their goals. Or, they could be a collection of quotes that represent goals, values, qualities, etc. that exemplify a personal mission or “end.” This activity centered around the latter. The following questions were presented to get everyone thinking about what their goals and values were:

  1. Think of a person who made a positive difference in your life. What qualities does that person have that you would like to develop?
  2. Imagine 20 years from now— you are surrounded by the most important people in your life. Who are they and what are you doing?
  3. If a steel beam (about 6 inches wide) were placed across two skyscrapers, for what would you be willing to cross? A thousand dollars? A million? Your pet? Your brother? Fame?
  4. If you could spend one day in a great library studying anything you wanted, what would you study?
  5. List 10 things that you love to do. It could be singing, dancing, watching YouTube videos, drawing, reading, daydreaming—anything!
  6. Describe a time when you were deeply inspired.
  7. Five years from now, your local news station does a story about you and they want to interview three people: a parent, a sibling, and a friend. What would you want them to say about you?
  8. Think of something that represents you— a rose, a song, an animal. Why does it represent you?
  9. If you could spend an hour with any person who ever lived, who would that be? Why that person? What would you ask?
  10. Everyone has one or more talents. What are yours?

With the answers to these questions in mind, participants were encouraged to consider what their own mission statements might include.

Part of the evening also included collecting quotes, lyrics, etc. and presenting them in small groups.This activity was meant to give participants the chance to share words and sayings that were motivational and inspirational to them. The exercise itself was was actually inspired by a famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

In order to help everyone find inspiration for their mission statement (or just to help brighten a hard day) the faith committee has compiled some of USGA members’ favorite words, a “USGA Bible”. It features quotes from the scriptures, the general authorities, famous philosophers and poets, and The Queen (J.K Rowling of course). It can be found here.

We hope that this exercise and these quotes can help anyone who feels lost or directionless, or who needs some extra inspiration in their lives.

Being Bisexual in the Church

Being a member of the church is hard enough sometimes, but it’s much harder when you are of a different sexuality. It’s a taboo topic, no one talks about it, and, as a group, many pretend it doesn’t exist.

Guess what? It does.

We could argue all day about what statistics say and how many people out of one congregation should be of a different sexual orientation than straight, but one thing is clear. There are members of the church who are of different sexual identities. We are in every congregation and are affected by what is said around us. Every day we have to fight a battle within ourselves that no one sees.

I realized that I was attracted to women, as well as men, when I was fifteen. I was friends with everyone, and got along really well at school, but for some reason rumors about me always crept up. I had people constantly asking me if I was a lesbian or if I had really kissed this random girl they heard about. I genuinely had no idea what they were talking about and hadn’t even put thought into my sexuality because no one had challenged me on it.

Like many of us have before, I denied it­—to myself and to the school—until I met a girl I was actually interested in, and I realized suddenly that everyone had been right about me. My world seemed to collapse inward, and I had no idea what to do or what all of this meant. However, I knew when it all started that this would be a big mess with the church. No matter how anyone looked at it, what I felt was frowned upon, and no one could know.

Let’s call this stage, the mask stage. This is the stage in which we wear a mask for everyone and show them the person they want to see, not who we truly are. I felt constantly worn down by wearing this mask. I wore it with my family, my friends, my teachers—anyone and everyone. I came to realize that I couldn’t do this forever, someone had to know. I had to find someone I could be entirely myself with, who would understand what this meant in every part of my life. Including church.

This person ended up being my father. I know that most of us at some point have told a parent or family member and everything hit the fan. However, my experience with telling my dad was far from one of these experiences. We had been talking about “controversial” subjects, like weed, abortion, and marriage. At some point within the conversation, I began to tear up and wouldn’t look at him. He noticed this, and asked what was upsetting me. He put his arm around me, hugged me tight to his side, and told me that I could tell him anything. It was then that I, through my ugly crying and mini panic attack, told him that I was attracted to women as well as men. He laughed.

Not in the way you’re thinking, though. He pulled me closer to him and said, “Oh sweetheart. I know. You were born that way. If that’s what you need to do to be happy and be the best version of you that you can be, I will fully support you. Do what is right for you.”

This made me question, what was right for me? Was it the church or something else?

The real question was, could I be a part of the church and feel like I was being true to myself?

I began a journey to find out what I was supposed to do. A question that constantly crossed my mind was why God would make me like this if it was going to only cause problems with my life and the church.

After a while, I realized that that was exactly the point. I don’t mean to sound big headed, but I had always had it easy when it came to social interactions. My family was active in the church, and I was a golden child. There had to be a wrench thrown in in order to make me grow and become who I needed to be. I realized that for me, it was absolutely crucial that I was made this way. If I am to stay in the church, I will be an asset to any group I am put in. I more easily understand the misfits and the more inactive people. I understand how to talk to them and make them comfortable. I know what they need to hear, and I know that more than anything, they need me to love them and not judge them. Love can turn everything around.

I know this, because that’s how I am. When I have been inactive, it was always a loving leader or friend who got me to come back around. Loving those around us regardless of what is going on with them is vital, and I understand that. Would I understand that if I didn’t have to go through all of this stuff with being bisexual? Maybe, and then again maybe not. The point is, the Lord knows me and what I need. There is a reason for this and everything else that has gone on in my life.

I could say that this realization made me sure that I wanted to stay in the church, but honestly I haven’t made that decision yet. It’s something that I will struggle with for a long time, but we all do. That’s something that you must know. We are all struggling with something, every single one of us. You are not alone in this, nor will you ever be. The amazing thing is that you have your choice, and you and the Lord knows what is right for you. I struggled for a long time because I was so sure that I was alone— that I was the only one to have doubts.

Truth is, we all have doubts. It is only human nature to question and doubt. You are not the only person asking questions. It may feel like it, I have been there, but everyone questions. Even that girl at church who seems perfect. My Dad always told me that church was like a hospital for our souls. Everyone goes there to get better. Some people are more sick than others, but if you stop going to the hospital, how can you expect to get better? You aren’t there for anyone but yourself. No one else’s opinion matters, you are there to make yourself better. Even if it is just showing God that you are willing to give him some of your time. The time He gave you.

The decision with what to do with your sexuality and the church is a hard one. No one can tell you what is right, that is something you must figure out. Whether this be through writing in a journal, personal prayer, or talking with someone, you can find your answers. Follow what you feel is right in your heart. It is possible to be true to yourself and still be a member. The Lord knows what you are going through and He can strengthen you and guide you, if you ask for His help.

Don’t let the world tell you that you are less than what you are. Your feelings are legitimate, and this all is no accident. You affect everyone around you, and you are important. You’re important in a monumental way you will never be able to comprehend. So love yourself, love your beliefs, and be true to what is right.

We can do this.

Mental Health and Self Care Workshop

Whether it’s deciding what path to take in life or dealing with that off-hand remark in Sunday School, the life of a college-aged, LGBT Mormon can be stressful. That’s why USGA had a Mental Health and Self-Care workshop this last Thursday to discuss ways in which we have managed the stress and depression that so often accompanies our unique situation. We started out emphasizing how LGBT individuals are already at higher risk for depression and suicide than our heterosexual peers and advised members to seek counseling to help them process their experiences. In fact, BYU offers free counseling to students, and many members of USGA have had positive sessions with the psychologists there. Next we had a guided meditation focusing on self-love and affirmation through our role as children of God. It was a new experience for many of our members, and hopefully rewarding for some. Finally we broke into groups and discussed what each of us had done to stay grounded on tough days. Answers ranged from a strong network of friends to support groups to writing poetry.

As someone who has struggled with my own mental health difficulties, this meeting meant a lot to me. I’m not sure I would still be here without supportive friends and dedicated counselors. While I still have plenty of challenges each day, overall my mental health has improved drastically as I’ve hashed out my problems and options with friends, family, and professionals. I’m reminded that we need to put our own house in order before we can aid others (D&C 93:44). As we become mentally healthier ourselves, we are better able to help those who come after us.