Guest Post: What is a seat at the table costing me?

Guest Post by BYU AluMom

What is a seat at the table costing me?

I have a child who is gay. A lot of people do. For me, it feels particularly unfair right now because he is at BYU. Let me be clear, the unfair part isn’t that he is gay. The unfair part is that as he is blooming into the person his Heavenly Parents created him to be, he is also being saddled with shameful rhetoric not just from his ecclesiastical leaders, but from his professors as well.

This mix of shame and inadequacy that splashes him on all fronts of his life by being there could drown him. It won’t because he is strong. Because he has an extremely supportive network of peers who reached out to him in the aftermath of Holland’s painful words to check on him. It won’t because he has parents who love him as he is and meets him where he is at and helps him find joy in the journey. He also has a really great therapist who understands both being gay AND being a Latter-day Saint.

But I can’t help but stop thinking about the boy he dated briefly. The boy who doesn’t know anyone else in Provo who is gay. The boy who is alone because he and my son broke up just before the address was given. I can’t stop thinking about all the peers he has met with over lunch, serving as a listening/sounding board to others on campus, who do not have a supportive network. Others who do not have parents who love and accept them. These are the children who weigh on my heart.

I check in with my child daily, particularly in the aftermath of the hate acts that are becoming more commonplace on campus. I need to know he feels loved and validated every day while he simmers in this unfriendly, unwelcoming climate. (Ironically, I think there is a true desire among much of the leadership to make BYU a more welcoming space, but they too are being quashed.) He tells me a couple of his friends from his mission have really been supportive and reached out. But others have, instead of just letting it go and saying nothing, have actively been antagonistic towards him. This is one of things I can’t wrap my head around: the need to poke and prod these profoundly hurtful points of contention. He found himself asking his presumed friend, “Do you think my love is sinful? Do you think, if I ever get married, the love between my husband and I will be wrong? Sinful? Ugly?” He gets the retort, “The apostle says…” My son pressed, “No, but what do you-you who know me so well-what do you say?” Eventually he was ghosted.

I don’t know how to move forward and show my son I love and support him but I do not support and sustain leaders who are chosen to be the Lord’s anointed when they don’t speak words I believe God has anointed.

I regularly tell him, when we talk about why his dad and I stay in the Church (but why I totally understand why he needs to leave) is, “If not us, who?” I validate our seats at the very busted up and broken table with the notion that we must remain to use our place of privilege to defend those without a voice, to fight for those who don’t have the strength or interest to fight for their right to simply exist. But sometimes I wonder if it is worth it. How do I know when its time to quietly stand up, push my chair in, and walk away from something I love when it can’t love my child?

My son and I were talking the other day about how so many individuals he knows, as they wrestle with what they know is right in their heart versus what the Church is telling them about this issue, cannot separate the idea of Heavenly Parents and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are one and the same for a lot of people so the separation feels insurmountable. I wonder what disservice we are doing to our youth by not teaching more about Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Parents without tying them to the Church?

All my life I have been taught that we can’t be “cafeteria Mormons.” We can’t just pick and choose what we want to believe. If we have a testimony, and have things we struggle with, we bear down and pray for humility for our hearts to change. But I wonder if that is the wrong approach because people like my son, who have a testimony of Jesus Christ, Heavenly Parents, the Atonement-the things that matter-feel pressure to just walk away from it all because they can’t pick and choose without getting labeled as not faithful enough.
I have a friend who will not attend the temple because she does not feel it reflects our doctrinal beliefs about Heavenly Mother. She is a faithful Latter-day Saint. She is the primary president in her ward and her bishop and stake president respect her opinion about the temple and know she can still serve as a great disciple in God’s kingdom. But I have another friend who shared concerns about the temple with her bishop and about Heavenly Mother’s absence across the board and she was released from her callings until she “figures it out.”

Some bishops on campus allow for chaste gay dating. Others say that if anyone even outwardly identifies as gay, they are breaking the law of chastity. So much of it boils down to “Bishop Roulette.”

With such HUGE gaps in revelation and response from leadership, it seems like there would be more room for acceptance and growth. More acknowledgement that maybe we don’t know everything, and we accept not knowing. Maybe we are missing some knowledge, and until we get it, we will let everyone be who they were made to be? Maybe we focus on loving more than we focus on judging. But so many aren’t willing to do that, to sit in the space of unknowing and their hearts are turning to hatred. In the meantime, what is the cost to our gay children? And are we willing to pay it?

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14 Responses

  1. Abby Hansen says:

    I am a BYU alumni and live close enough that I was able to run down there a few days ago and contribute to the sidewalk chalk drawings south of campus. My heart goes out to every LGBTQ+ kid at BYU. I can only imagine how hard it is every day, and especially right now.

    The good news is that the chalk drawing crowd was large and the cars driving by and honking support came regularly. There’s a lot of love in Provo combating the hate.

    • TeresaHart says:

      That is so good to hear, and encouraging that there is community support for these youngsters. Bless your heart.

  2. johal521 says:

    I joined the church 25 years ago and for years suspended my doubts and feelings of incredulity because I thought the church was “good”, as did my teenaged daughter. Even when she came home from a YW activity crying because the leader had talked about the importance of families—I was a single parent, her father had disappeared when she was 2–we put the hurt aside and kept on. Not knowing what “excommunication” really was, I married a man who had been ex’d and was trying to return. For 12 long years, because we moved around a lot for his job, bishop after bishop would take up his case and then drop it again. He was finally rebaptized and a couple of years ago all his blessings were restored. And I still believed that all this was necessary and that “the Church was true.”
    But over the last few years, as I have watched the church come down hard on groups they disagreed with, as I have read Richard Rohr and Pema Chodron, Jana Reiss, I have felt awakened to knowledge that I had as a child growing up in a liberal Christian home. That God doesn’t belong to one church, that God is so much bigger than humans can understand but that he/she/they can also have a personal relationship with us. So they are big but they are also very personal.. And I realize I don’t want to continue to drag myself to church, to watch my husband struggle with his feelings of unworthiness, to basically abuse himself by continuing to be in a ward where he doesn’t belong and neither he nor they care, to see both him and my daughter and her family just going through the motions.
    I respect people for their decisions although I worry about people who feel they have to be part of a toxic environment.

    • Fairy says:

      When I left the church and my son was still going, his SS teacher gave a lesson on following righteous leaders. She said, “You can follow your parents.” Then she looked right at him, and said, “Well, YOU can follow your father.” My son came home and told me about that, and we had a good laugh. But it wasn’t funny! But since the teacher was quite a ninny, we just took it for what it was worth. 🙁

  3. TeresaHart says:

    Thanks for your courage to speak out, it must be difficult to have a gay child in such a situation. I have married gay relatives you have adopted two children and live a happy and successful and supportive life in Arkansas of all places. They have loving family and friends, and are active in the community. Encourage your son to built a network of support and friends. There are good things and good people but he will have to choose wisely. I know your son no longer dates this other youngster but see if you can encourage him to reach out to be supportive anyway. I believe Heavenly Mother and Father will bless you and your family with love.

  4. Elisa says:

    We have to build a new table. I honestly don’t know if it’s possible to fix the one we’re at by continuing to affiliate with and give our time and talents and money and loyalty to the institution of the Church or if we need to go elsewhere and start fresh. Speeches like Holland’s nudge me to believe we need the fresh start.

  5. Thank you for this. I don’t have much to say, but I am so glad I read your words today.

  6. Brandon says:

    Love the sinner, hate the sin. Let students that want to adhere to the Family Proclamation go to BYU. Let the hate responses fly…..

    • Elisa says:

      Could you please find me the reference where Jesus says “love the sinner, hate the sin”? No? Cause it doesn’t exist.

    • Johal521 says:

      No hate responses from me. There’s too much hate and defensiveness already. And as someone else said, that quote is not from Christ.

  7. EmilyB says:

    I left Mormonism for good and moved away from the Utah corridor and now my gay child no longer has to struggle just to exist anymore. It has been bliss. I waited too long to do this though and feel awful about letting an entire community abuse my child for so long

  8. April says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It hurts my heart to think of all the other children suffering in isolation and disconnection. I sometimes despondently wonder if church leaders track the statistics on youth suicide and act to purposely increase the suicide rates. Do they have LGBTQ death target metrics? If they do they are not following the God I believe in. As you ponder your place at the table I believe an infinitely compassionate and wise God will guide you. If it is time to push in your chair and walk away, you’ll know it. If it is time to flip over the table and call out money changers you’ll know it too. Thank you, again, for allowing us to witness your experience.

  9. Cathleen C Sheets says:

    Reading this breaks my heart. Elisa speaks of building a new table. I’m not certain how that happens, but sitting at this one is only possible for me as long as I have open minded local leadership,

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