Dear Mormon Allies, Now What?
Guest Post by A Group of Queer Mormon Women
When we saw the “Day of Apologies” initiative a few days ago we thought it sounded like a pretty cool idea. It was in direct response to church leaders claiming that the church doesn’t apologize, and so in that sense it seemed absolutely appropriate. We read the blog posts and found a list of apologies that sounded quite accurate. Several of them applied directly to our experiences, and we kept waiting to feel a sense of overwhelming warmth and love come over us as we were reading them. Instead, what we felt was a slight sense of unease.
It took us a little while to figure out what was causing this unexpected reaction in our guts. We really do think that apologies are necessary. We really do think that they can heal wounds and bring great comfort to those who need them. But in this case we feel that the apologies are not really meant to help us. They are aimed at us, but they aren’t really for us.
Look, we know that those of you who are apologizing are good people. We know that you are trying to recognize your own privilege and apologize for the mistakes you’ve made. And we think that is an appropriate step to take. But this whole campaign feels just a little…icky. A little self-serving. And we’re not okay with that.
We understand that it’s hard to be a good ally. It takes constant work to check your own privilege, to stand up for others, and to create safe spaces for marginalized groups. Because we recognize that you’re trying to be good allies, we compiled a list of our thoughts about the “Day of Apologies” and why many of these apologies were problematic. We hope that in your journey to be good allies, you will listen to our concerns and use them to improve.
- Some of the apologies that we read bordered on self-congratulatory. They turn into a tool for assuaging ally guilt rather than a way to fix a past wrong. You should apologize for the things you did. Absolutely. But those very specific apologies should go to the people you hurt rather than into the blogosphere. We need those kinds of apologies from the people who are close to us. Hearing them would likely help our healing because they come out of actual relationships and address specific things that happened to us–with the understanding that sometimes we have not yet healed enough to offer you our complete forgiveness at that time. But random apologies from a bunch of strangers turn into an overabundance of words, and to read about our allies’ guilt feels burdensome rather than helpful. Using the “day of apology” as a confessional expects the queer community to absolve allies of their guilt. Addressing your posts and comments to queer people made many of us feel like the onus is on us to listen to all of these apologies so allies can feel better. Perhaps it would have been more effective allyship to make your posts a direct call to other allies to work on their complicity in the oppressions perpetuated in Mormon society. Instead of asking allies to post apologies in comments, it might have been better to ask them to apologize in private and then post about how they planned to undo those oppressions. This way queer people wouldn’t feel like we were the ones being called to the labor of listening to the allies while they worked out their guilt and allies would have been directly called to take action and risk. We need to recognize our complicity and not follow the “no apologies” bad example of our leadership by: 1) apologizing privately to those we have hurt, 2) working to make things better, and 3) being willing to face potentially negative consequences for doing so.
- A public forum might not be a good space for these very specific apologies. Recounting the terrible things that you said or did will likely trigger many of the queer people who are reading your apologies. Talking about your past hostility toward people who identify as LGBTQIA+ has the potential to harm those of us who have felt or still feel hopeless and even suicidal as a result of being queer in a Mormon (i.e. hostile) context.
- LGBTQIA+ issues are not about allies. We understand that the apologies come from a place of frustration in a church that has disappointed you, but we don’t need ally validation to make us okay. Yes, it’s nice to be shown love. But we don’t want your pity; those sentiments are condescending. We want love shown through empathy, understanding, and solidarity. We want you to fight with us, not for us. We need recognition that the church’s policies are discriminatory. We need recognition that the cultural manifestation of the church’s doctrines and policies make church a poisonous environment for many people, including women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
- Apologies don’t always lead to action. We need some action. If faith without works is dead, then allyship without action is dead. You say, “We need to do better.” Awesome. So what exactly are you going to do? What is going to be your personal action to make Mormondom a safer space for queer people? Queer teens have some of the highest rates for homelessness, mental illness, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicide. These stats are not okay. If you want to make your apology meaningful, then it needs to lead to action. The words alone will not effect the necessary change.
- You cannot “come out” as an ally; the “A” in LGBTQIA+ stands for asexuality, not allies. Making yourself known as an ally isn’t the same thing as coming out as LGBTQIA+. You can declare yourself an ally, but you aren’t “coming out” because you aren’t facing the same risks a queer person does when they come out. You may sometimes run the risk of church discipline for your allyship, and that is really crappy. But you don’t see us when we’re confronted by bishops. You don’t feel that stab of pain every time someone mentions the destruction of the family unit. Every day we run the risk of church discipline (or actual violence) for wanting to do simple things: hold hands with someone we love, ask someone out, live as a single person with no intention of marrying, be recognized by our true gender rather than one that people assume. We are even at risk when we simply dress or act in a way that marks us as queer to outside eyes. So yes, it is possible for you to lose your recommend or face church discipline. But not only is church discipline more likely for an LGBTQIA+ person, we are also more likely to die by suicide as a result of being oppressed for our sexuality and gender. Good allyship does have consequences. But if you are not willing to face church discipline or social censure for the sake of marginalized groups, can you really be counted on to defend their rights? We hear so many allies valorize the actions of Helmuth Hübener, Douglas A. Wallace, and Byron Marchant, who were excommunicated because of they spoke out against Nazism and the Church’s Priesthood and Temple Ban. Allies frequently express their hopes that they would have done the same thing if they were in Helmuth’s, Douglas’s, or Byron’s situations. But as an ally to LGBTQIA+ people you’re already in a similar situation. And when you decide to stay quiet in order to protect your recommend, you are proving that you would have been one of the thousands of Mormons who were quiet in the face of injustice. The call to allyship is a call to risk only a fraction of what LGBTQIA+ people risk. The call to allyship is a call to do what is right, let the consequence follow.
- LGBTQIA+ means more than “gay.” Many of the apologies that were published used phrases like “gay marriage” or “gay people” as umbrella terms. Too many of us one-dimensionalize the full range of LGBTQIA+ people by representing the entire community with pictures of two men or two women kissing, or by saying that supporting the LGBTQIA+ community is supporting the right for a person love whomever they want. Those of us who identify as anything other that the LG portion of the acronym tend to be erased from the discussion and left on the sidelines, which causes more pain and othering. Often popular political movements can become something to rally around, but equality is much more than same-sex marriage. The queer rights movement is all about celebrating and emancipating everyone who falls outside of cisgender heterosexuality: people who identify as asexual, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, aromantic, pansexual, two-spirit, intersex, gender non-conforming, queer, polyamorous, non-binary… the list goes on and on. If you are only aware of lesbians and gays, you’re missing out on the majority of the movement.
- It’s very telling that LGBTQIA+ Mormons received an apology after the recent press conference, but when the Church made news with releasing new documents on the Priesthood and Temple Ban, progressive Mormon bloggers did not rally to apologize to Mormons of African descent (even though Mormons of African descent have been asking the Church to apologize for decades). It’s also problematic that these apologies to queer Mormons were released at the beginning of February, which is Black History Month, thereby pushing aside black history in order to privilege queer issues. The oppression of people of color and of queer people are both important issues that must be brought to light. But to push one marginalized group aside in order to privilege the other is not okay. Being a good ally to the LGBTQIA+ community means being a good ally to all LGBTQIA+ people, not just the white ones. (Thanks to commenters in Young Mormon Feminists for pointing this out.)
We appreciate your desire to be good allies. We also recognize that some of your LGBTQIA+ friends might not share our concerns; they may have seen nothing problematic with your apologies. But it’s important to remember that LGBTQIA+ people are a diverse group–just because your queer friend liked the apologies doesn’t mean that your queer friend speaks for all LGBTQIA+ people. The same can be said for this post–we are by no means representing all queer Mormons. But our thoughts still deserve your attention.
With the rush of apologies, we felt like our allies were so focused on the experience of being allies that they actually left queer people behind. Allyship that leaves marginalized groups behind, pities them, or tries to decide what is best for them without consulting them is not allyship at all. We love you, and we know you can improve. We need to talk about the actions that ought to be taken in order to make the church a safe space for its queer members. It is our hope that with this post we will be able to engage with you in discussion, while keeping in mind that it is not LGBTQIA+ people’s responsibility to educate allies about LGBTQIA+ issues, just like it is not a woman’s responsibility to educate men about women’s issues.
For now, we ask you to remember the intersectionality of feminism and queer activism. This month is Black History Month. What an excellent opportunity to remember that our activism needs to address more than just one marginalized group at a time! While we do need to talk about queer issues, we want to do so in a way that is inclusive of all types of identities. As we converse, let’s make sure to look at how we can make the church and the world a safe place for all of the complex people who inhabit it.
Looking forward to engaging in discussion,
A Group of Queer Mormon Women