The past two weeks have been very difficult for me. I've been emotionally hurt by two communities that mean a lot to me - the Mormon Church, and the LGBTQ community. I never thought I would have to out myself as a gay Mormon. And I never thought that I would ever feel ashamed of the LGBTQ community. But so much anger and hate speech has been directed towards Mormons from the queer community that I can't stay quiet any more.
I attended the national protest against Prop 8 on Saturday, along with my partner and some of my chosen family. That's us in the photo. I was really nervous about going, because I knew there would probably be a lot of people with anti-Mormon signs. That's why I decided to out myself at the march and here on TBP as a gay Mormon. Since I was inspired by Keith Olbermann last week, I just want to say that I'm Pro-Love.
If anyone understands the anger about the Mormon Church's involvement in the passage of Prop 8, Prop 102, and Amendment 2, it would be gay Mormons. I include myself in this group, even though I haven't been an active church member for 10 years. Gay Mormons are uniquely hurt in this situation because they're getting negative messages no matter where they turn. Your church community is supposed to be a source of solace and emotional support. And yet many of us have family members and close friends who funded and voted for these laws. The logical solution for gay Mormons would be to seek refuge in the gay community. But the gay community has abandoned us, too, by making fun of a religion that is very important to us. I didn't leave the church because I stopped believing. I left because the church didn't have a place for me as a lesbian. You can say that a church has no business funding an election. But do you really need to poke fun at the church's core beliefs by mocking their religious ceremonies or the church's historical practice of polygamy?
I've written several pieces for TBP about gay Mormons (the links are at the bottom), because I think a lot of people are ignorant about us. The American culture at large views Mormons as a cult and has a lot of hurtful stereotypes about us. People assume that every Mormon male has multiple wives and a passel of children. While it's true that most Mormons have polygamists only two or three generations back in our family tree, the Mormon Church today does not endorse the practice of polygamy. Warren Jeffs and the fundamentalist splinter groups that still practice polygamy are not representative of the Mormon Church writ large.
You cannot divorce religious practices from their historical context. The Mormon Church was not founded to practice polygamy. Polygamy started as a response to a pressing social problem. The Mormons were driven out of New York, Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois before they wound up in Utah. The governor of Missouri actually issued an extermination order against Mormons, and many Mormon men were killed during this period. While the Mormons were going across the plains on foot, a lot of people died. When they finally got to Utah, many of the remaining men were sent off to fight in the Mexican-American war in order to prove their loyalty to the US government. This left a lot of women and children without a male head of household to provide for them. Say what you like about patriarchal social structures and antiquated gender roles. But this is the 1800's we're talking about, and everyone in American held the belief that men were the providers for the family, not just Mormons. Men were asked to support multiple households, and that's why there is a history of polygamy in the Mormon Church. The practice officially ended in 1890.
I've seen pictures of protesters outside of Mormon temples holding signs mocking Mormons and their "special underpants." If 10,000 people showed up outside of a synagogue with signs mocking a Jewish belief, such as wearing a yarmulke or a prayer shawl, people would label that as anti-Semitic. The Mormon temple is a place of worship that is just as sacred to them as a synagogue is to a Jew or a mosque is to a Muslim. Mocking something that is a core belief of someone's religion is not just ignorant, it's hateful. I would think that after we've been on the butt end of so many jokes and stereotypes, the gay community would try to find a place of compassion for others who are viewed as different.
The Mormon temples are staffed by volunteers, most of them retirees. If 10,000 people rolled up at your grandmother's house on a Friday night when she was saying her Sabbath prayers, how would that make you feel? I know these protests are about the right to get married, but if you were in the middle of your marriage ceremony and 10,000 protesters showed up, how would that make you feel? How are these protests any different than Fred Phelps and his minions showing up at the funerals of AIDS victims and disrupting people in their time of mourning?
Collin Powell's statement about Muslims is apropos here. Mormons are good people. They work hard, they love their kids, and they are actively engaged in their communities (as Prop 8 proves). Mormons as a group try to live within their means, they don't do drugs or alcohol, and they send humanitarian aid when people are in need. Mormons genuinely believe that they are fighting to protect their way of life right now. And if you ask any Mormon to tell you about their family's history, most of them (myself included) will have stories of ancestors who gave up everything for their religious beliefs. We're proud of our ancestors for what they gave up for their faith, and it's this pride that is causing Mormons to dig in for a fight.
With the history of suffering and government abuse, Mormons and gays make strange bedfellows indeed. But I think that we all have a lot more in common than either side is willing to acknowledge. We need to find a space of forgiveness right now. We don't need to be projecting anger. As one speaker at the San Francisco rally for human rights challenged on Saturday:
"We need to be our best selves," said the Rev. G. Penny Nixon, a gay pastor from San Mateo, Calif., who warned the San Francisco crowd against blaming "certain communities" for the election loss. "This is a movement based on love."
Just in case you think I'm advocating that the LDS Church as an organization should be let off the hook for its involvement in the election, I'm not. I was one of the first writers on TBP to advocate back in September that the LDS Church should have its 501c3 status revoked. But this is a move that happens at the government level, not at the Mormon temple. The LDS Church as an institution will never change its doctrine on this point. (Check out my story "What Mormons Really Say About Gays" for a lengthy explanation.) However, individual church members do have the potential to change their own minds. Mocking someone's core beliefs does not elevate the level of discourse or open the possibility for a compromise to be found. It has taken 10 years of constant work for me to change my family's hearts. This is not going to be an easy or a fast process. But if we expect individual Mormons to accept us for who we are, then we have to accept them just as they are. Otherwise, this is a situation that will never be resolved.
Hailey, a social worker who lives in Anaheim, agrees. "These protests need to be directed at the courthouse or city hall," says Hailey. "You're only causing Mormons to become more insular by directing the protests at the temples. And think of the position this puts gay Mormons in, especially if they're still active in the church. They're going to choose church over the gay community. And then you've lost their support, and their votes."
Please stop your ignorant attacks on Mormons and their religious beliefs. If not for yourselves, please think of your gay Mormon brothers and sisters who have no community that accepts them right now. Because everyone needs to belong to something. I am very, very hurt by what happened in the election. But I want to love my family. I don't hate them. If I can forgive them, why can't you?
For more information about gay Mormons, check out these profiles I did last year:
Gay Mormons: Not an Oxymoron
Gay Mormon Women: How Oppressed Can You Get?
When Faith Dies: My Reflections on Leaving the Mormon Church
You can also get more info about gay Mormons at Affirmation.org.