Sisters Speak: Welcoming Our LGBTQ Sisters and Brothers into Our Wards

The next issue of the Exponent II magazine will focus on the theme of LGBTQ issues. For the Sisters Speak column of this issue, I would love to hear the opinions of the Exponent community on the questions below. (Note: I might email some of you commenters asking if I might quote you in the magazine.)

I am encouraged in the last few years that Church leaders have generally backed away from asserting that homosexuality is a choice, and that they now often acknowledge that they don’t know how or why people are homosexuals. I’m also encouraged that Church leaders have affirmed repeatedly that having homosexual inclinations is not a sin. These are important steps. However, I can’t help but think that there is/should be room within Mormonism to do more to welcome LGBT folk into our wards. My heart particularly goes out to LGBT Mormons in long term, committed relationships (maybe even married) who are prevented from participating in their wards.

My question to the Exponent II community is this: Do you foresee the Church carving out more room for LGBT’s to become practicing members of our Mormon community, even if they are in committed relationships? Is there space within a Mormon framework to do this? Why or Why not? What are the next steps leaders could take to do this? And what, if anything, can regular members do to help move the Church along this trajectory?  In my optimistic moments, I can envision a shift in policy towards leaders deciding quietly to not discipline LGBT’s in long term relationships who want to come to church, and maybe also these leaders extending callings to these brothers and sisters. It seems to me that if Church leaders decide to treat LGBT people in committed relationships just as we treat straight Mormons who marry outside the faith, we could establish a much richer, more diverse, and more loving community of saints.

Caroline

Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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16 Responses

  1. Stella says:

    I think if the church wants to keep a vast majority of it’s US members then it will change the policy. Here’s to hope!

  2. Megan B. says:

    Many mainstream members may feel that this is unimaginable, but I think the church will have to adapt. I have to have hope that the church will at least get to the point where civilly-married gay members are accepted as practicing members. I think many baby steps have been taken towards this end and that many more need to be taken, but they eventually will be.

  3. Amanda Nok. says:

    Law of chastity aside, I think most of the problems church leaders and members have with LGBTQ individuals within Mormonism are sadly and deeply rooted in our repressive and Victorian-era construct of sexuality. Sex is a subject we never talk about and teach about in fearful or immature tones. To the youth: DON’T EVER EVEN THINK ABOUT SEX. EVER. To the adults: DON’T EVER TALK ABOUT SEX. EVER. This leads to a sexual culture in the church that’s based in fear – fear of our bodies, our sexuality, and everything we’re capable of in that realm as humans and, therefore, fear of the unknown and different in human sexuality. Which includes homosexuality.

    These views and built up fears regarding human sexuality leads the church’s leaders and members to base their views on homosexuality not only on outdated and repressive ideas, but mostly on the “ick” factor: gay sex is gross. Which then leads to all sorts of bad arguments against LGBTQ issues in politics and within the church. My point is that the sexual culture of Mormonism cannot allow homosexual sex, and therefore leads to a no tolerance view against homosexuals in general. Why? Because human beings are sexual creatures. And the Mormon sexual culture ignores and/or fears that inclination within ourselves, and therefore is fearful of that in others, especially those who engage in a “different” type of sex. Therefore, we end up rejected LGBTQ individuals purely based on the way they have sex.

    Does this sound crazy to anyone else? Good.

    In order for LGBTQ Mormon individuals and/or couples to be able to comfortably participate and be accepted in the church, the sexual culture needs to shift. We talk all the time about how harmful it is to us women and how we need to be more open about sex in the Mormon world. Let’s do that for our gay brothers and sisters, too! I completely agree that there’s space in the Mormon framework to make this happen if we stop teaching harmful and fear-based rhetoric regarding sex. Let’s throw out all of the youth manuals, the copies of “Miracle of Forgiveness”, and start teaching our youth and then us that sex is natural, good, healthy, and you are allowed to love it. And so is everyone else. When we come to accept this about ourselves, in my opinion, most of the judgmental “ick” factor hurled at the LGBTQ community will die down, and then we can focus on more important levels of discourse.

    Because of these changes, and of course with the added heavy dose of “loving thy neighbor”, the church will finally be able to fully accept LGBTQ Mormons into its congregations with true acceptance.

    • Is the “ick” factor of gay sex analogous to the “ick” factor of polygynous relationships? Relationships that involve forcing others into relationships they do not want (sexual or no) are a bad thing, certainly, but can we also be less judgemental of those in polygamous relationships, even those in the Churches’ past?

      “Love thy neighbor” did not have a caveat of “but only if you like everything they do and did”

      • DefyGravity says:

        “Love thy neighbor” did not have a caveat of “but only if you like everything they do and did”

        Thanks Frank. Well said.

      • Amanda Nok. says:

        I think you’re absolutely right, Frank. Anything that’s different is feared. And whether or not one agrees with polygyny, that disagreement shouldn’t be based in the “ick” factor.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    I feel like the first step we need to take is to be willing to talk about how to support members of the LGBTQ community in lessons, talks, casual conversations in the foyer. We talk about the pain of our ward members who are unable to have children or haven’t found someone to marry, but we only ever talk about it in a heterosexual context.

    I fantasize about a Relief Society where one sister says, “It’s so hard when I see my fertile friends get pregnant without even trying, and I can’t.” And, another feels free to say, “It’s so hard to see my straight friends getting married, and I can’t.”

    Could we first be brave enough as a Church to mourn with those who mourn? To sit with our sisters and brothers who are lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or gay and to try and feel what the pain of not being able to marry, of being in a church that tells one the way one feels and who one loves is a trial that will be healed in the next life, of being told to just hang on and be quiet?

  5. DefyGravity says:

    This reminded me of an experience my dad had while serving as a bishop in a BYU singles ward. He had quite a few gay young men in his ward, and did his best to help them love themselves and get them help if they needed it.

    He was sitting in on an Elder’s Quorum meeting one week, and the Elder’s Quuorum president made a disparaging comment about gay people as he was conducting. My dad was really irritated. He was trying to make the gay young men in his ward feel loved and accepted, and here was the Elder’s Quorum president undoing his work.

    After the meeting, my dad pulled the EQP aside. My dad told him that there were young men in the ward who were gay, who needed to feel accepted, not ridiculed, who could be badly damaged by an off-hand remark like the one he had made. The EQP was surprised and Mortified. It hadn’t occured to him that he might be hurting someone in his stewardship.

    This showed me that some people are cruel without meaning to be. They are not used to thinking that others might have different experiences. They have not been exposed to other opinions. When they are made aware of it, often they feel bad for hurting others. So one way to make LGBT members feel welcome is to draw attention, in a respectful way, to comments that could be hurtful.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    I’d like to think that as individuals we can make a big difference here by recognizing that a person’s sexual orientation is only a part, and maybe a small part, of who they are.
    Just accepting the people at church because they are God’s children should be our primary goal. How they live their lives is up to them. I hope they don’t judge me and I won’t judge them.
    I’m guessing that there are places in the church where this happens. I hope that it spreads.

  7. Fran says:

    As a sister of a gay brother, I have seen some good changes in the Church. In my home ward, my brother has faced a very supportive community. Recently, he was even asked to be the Elder’s Quorum teacher, despite him not actually being a member anymore (he’s officially left, but is still a fully active non-member).

    Seeing how my homeward treats my brother gives me much hope. I think what everyone, including Church leaders, needs is simply more personal exposure to the complexities of this issue. When you talk with people face to face about the challenges they face, when you hear someone tell their story of how they were faithful and obedient and STILL ended up homosexual, it becomes harder to hang on to some of the old Church views regarding homosexuality.

    Personally, I feel the most hurtful words and actions come from the general membership more so than Church leaders. I’ve heard some pretty awful comments, on some occasions even while the person was fully aware of my family situation, and had me sit right next to them. If we do not challenge what people say on this matter and share how such words and actions affect others, we won’t make much headway.

    I honestly think that things will get better with time. The gospel is a beautiful message of hope and redemption. It’s a message that can apply to all. The Church is for sinners. And for all I know, we all are, in one way or another. I don’t see why there wouldn’t be room for our gay brothers and sisters, regardless of how anyone feels on the issue. We all need our Savior, and since we all need him, why get hung up on the nittygritty of what’s a sin and what isn’t. But I think the progress will be slow if we don’t have members kindly, but firmly speaking up on the issue.

  8. Chibby says:

    What ever improvements we make, we need to include our intersex siblings, not just the LGBTQ ones. It should be LGBTQI.

  9. Caroline says:

    Thank you for the comments!

    Stella, regarding the church changing its policy, I think you’re right. Marlin Jensen recently gave a talk in which he mentioned that GA’s knew that the church’s stance toward homosexuality was causing something like an apostasy to happen among its members. This must give GA’s pause — hopefully they are reevaluating.

    Megan B, I totally agree. I think that’s a quiet policy change that seems feasible to me.

    Amanda, thanks for your comment! I think you pinpointed an important thing – that “ick” factor when Mormons think of gay sex. More healthy conversations about sex would indeed help.

    Emily, what a beautiful comment — I love the way you phrased this: mourning with those who mourn. For me that’s one of the most powerful arguments against the church’s current stance. Rather than encouraging us to hold our arms out to our gay neighbors and loving and welcoming them and sharing their pain, current policy seems to encourage Mormons to otherize LGBTQ people and ultimately push them away.

    DefyGravity, I love your dad! We need more leaders like him.

    Jessawhy, I too wish there was less focus on this aspect of a person’s life. No one seems to care much if a member is a sabbath breaker, but if they are in a committed gay relationship, then that’s reason to hold a court.

    Fran, what a great story about your brother. I love his ward for extending that opportunity to him, and I love your brother for accepting it. He is doing a world of good by coming to church and letting church members get to know him as a good person. The more gay people regular Mormons know, the harder it will be for the church to keep its current policies in place, I think.

    • Fran says:

      Just for the record, my brother actually didn’t accept the calling. Even though the EQ presidency was totally fine with it as well as the Bishop. He was worried that there may be some who will be upset by a non-member getting such a calling. So, obviously…there’s still work to be done, but I was so happy to know that his ward is reaching out to him like that, and that he feels really included and loved.

  10. Julia D Hunter says:

    I think one of the implied connections made in featuring this post on a feminist blog is summed up well in Alan Michael Williams’ Dialogue paper, “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads” where he wrote, “I would adduce that the issue of homosexuality for the church is, at its core, about gender, as accepting same-sex parented families in full communion would upset the ecclesiastical relationship between men and women rather than necessarily disrupt theological ideals of marriage and parenthood. It is no coincidence that religions that validate same-sex marriage also ordain women.” I agree with Amanda that the issue of LGBTQI inclusion has a lot to do with our seriously sexually repressed culture, but I also think it goes much deeper than that, into challenging the power structures that have served as the foundation of Mormon institutional and theological hierarchies for over a century.

    That said, I will reiterate some of what I offered in a panel discussion with Carol Lynn Pearson and Bill Bradshaw at the Mormon Stories LGBTQ Conference held in Salt Lake City last November, that first and foremost, as an out LGBTQ Mormon I do not feel safe or acknowledged in LDS chapels, or that the fulness of what I have to offer as a child of God is welcome in the service of the Mormon kingdom. It does no one on this planet any good for me to limit the breadth and depth of my capacity to love and connect with others of God’s children, but somehow this fundamental relational component of our experience and pursuit of joy in this life is too often omitted from conversations about LGBTQI experience in our community. To acknowledge our potential and capacity to love, form strong, committed relationships, and make loving contributions as family, kin and community members–as equal to the same capacity or potential of heterosexuals–would go a long way in helping LGBTQI members feel safe and welcome in our chapels.

    That is the dialogue I see as missing in our community. We are not talking about homosexuality as a relational experience yet. We speak of it as only behavioral, as if it were merely a mannerism, an accent, hand gesture, or fashion. And perhaps that is where the conversation becomes, again, reflective, as with Amanda’s point. Given that attraction in the chaste heterosexual sphere is afforded a mere nod to the end of procreation, it will indeed require a great deal of introspection and self-reflection on the part of hetero-Mormons into their own relationships and desires to begin to relate to the experience of their LGBTQI neighbors, citizens and friends.

    • Amanda Nok. says:

      Julia, LOVE that last paragraph (and the rest of your thoughts, as well). Maybe this is a bit harsh, but church members simply need to start seeing our LGBTQI brothers and sisters as humans, just like themselves with all of the mental, physical, and emotional capabilities they, too, possess. These people are capable of living a normal, moral, loving life, just like you are. What’s so difficult about understanding that? I hesitate to suggest that church members and its leadership need to stop painting LGBTQI individuals as “the other”, a category not worthy of the same rights, privileges and experiences as straight members. It’s harsh, but I think it’s true.

  11. Miri says:

    I wish I could feel as optimistic as some of these comments have been. I think Amanda is right that so much of this stems from Mormons’ inability to talk or think about any kind of sex, period. I also love Julia’s comment, and I think that statement she mentioned – about homophobia being essentially an issue of gender and the ecclesiastical roles of men and women – is brilliant. I would love, so very much, to see the church make room for all of its members. But I confess I have a hard time imagining it actually happening.

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