Strengthening Our Families

My senior year in high school, I went to a youth fireside at the home of my bishop. The topic? The “For Strength of Youth” pamphlet. As he was wrapping up the fireside, the voice of the Young Men’s President boomed from the back, “Bishop, don’t you want to address homosexuality before we leave?”

This was the old “For Strength of Youth” booklet; the language towards homosexuality is, thankfully, more tempered in the revision. My stomach turned cold, and my eyes began darting around, looking for an escape. My sister had come out to me only a few months before, and every week seemed to bring a new fag joke at school, a new comment at church that stabbed at me. I had told no one about my sister. I was protective — but of my reputation or hers? Looking back, I’m not sure. Emotions ran high, but they were tightly compartmentalized.

The bishop sighed, and he paused a long while – funny how adrenaline helps encode memory – before saying, “You know, I have a brother who is gay. I love him very very much. You know the standards of the church as we’ve discussed tonight. I’ll think leave it at that.”

At that pivotal time in my life and church activity, these compassionate, searching words bathed me in unexpected relief. I believe he was inspired that night, perhaps just for me.

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In the coming months, I hope to post occasionally on issues surrounding Mormon families of gays and lesbians. Questions such as:

 How do LDS families react when they discover a loved one is gay? How do these reactions affect the family as a whole?

 To what extent is do some families go through a grieving process – what other emotions does this announcement evoke?

 In what ways – spiritually, emotionally, socially– does having a gay family member affect parents, siblings, children? How does it affect a family’s relationship with the church?

 How do families’ understandings of issues surrounding homosexuality change through the years?

 How open are we, locally, about ward members and ward families affected by homosexuality? How can we make our meetinghouses safe(r) places?

 What type of advice and support do local and general leaders provide for families? How has it evolved? What is useful and what is harmful? What other support is available for families?

 How do we support our loved ones as they choose and embark on a life journeys that might be different than what was once imagined?

 How do we support gay teenagers in our families and wards who may be at a higher risk for bullying and/or suicide attempts?

 How do we navigate our love and loyalty to what may be the two most important institutions in our lives: family and church?

I have my own experiences, and by virtue of being open about my love for my sister, I have had conversations with a number of others members who have gay siblings. I see common threads, but no two stories are alike. And I think these are stories worth telling. That Sunday evening, a bishop’s warmth and candor—however brief—helped comfort one who stood in need of comfort.

As I prepare for an upcoming post and/or Exponent II article, I hope to gather insights and stories from many different families. If you are interested, I invite you to send me an e-mail at exponentblog at gmail dot com – (I will protect anonymity if you request; otherwise, I would use first name only).

Of course you can also comment right here, right now. I would ask, however, that general arguments for or against SSM be taken elsewhere.

P.S. Here’s one story for starters.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Caroline says:

    What a great bishop. I think that’s a sensitive, loving way to handle such a question: We know what the Church teaches about homosexuality. And we love our gay friends and relatives dearly.

    I think you’ve raised some good questions about issues concerning homosexuality and church members. I personally don’t have a lot of experience with gay friends or relatives, but I do have a much older cousin who is gay. In his 40’s he came out to his Mormon mother and inactive father. They were just glad he finally confided in them, since they had wondered for years. And I think they want him to be happy – and would be very supportive if he found a loving relationship with someone. I think that’s how I would be if one of my children turned out to be gay.

  2. Tracy M says:

    Thank you Deborah, for having the courage and willingness to ask these questions, in this forum. I eagerly awaid these discussions.

  3. rebecca says:

    I too am impressed with that bishop. I don’t have any gay family members (none that I know of anyway), just friends. But I’m interested in learning about other families’ experiences.

    As for making our meetinghouses safe(r) places, I think we could all stand to think a little harder before we speak about these issues and try to put ourselves in the place of someone who is gay or has a child who is gay and be mindful of how our words sound to other people. Even if you feel strongly about SSM, there are civilized ways to discuss the issue–and if someone isn’t being civilized, we have the responsibility to speak up (in a civilized manner, of course). It isn’t about being PC but about people needing to know they’re not alone in their struggles, regardless of what they may be.

  4. Ana says:

    Deborah, I will really be looking forward to this series. Also referring some family members here — hope they will participate. Thanks!

  5. Deborah says:

    Thanks for the comments — and also to those who have e-mailed me. I’ll probably start this series in July or August, as the LDS blogs have been a bit saturated recently. That will also give me time to do more reading and gathering. I love us, as a church family, to be able to have a little less debating and a little more heartfelt conversation.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Excellent, love it!
    » »

  7. Anonymous says:

    Excellent, love it! » »

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