The White House Mormon Youth Round Table

The first thing that surprised me about being invited to The White House for a Youth Round Table Discussion was that anyone still considered me a youth. I’m married, I’m a mom, and I spend my days teaching people I consider “youth.” I felt honored to be invited and out of fear that I’d be found out I didn’t bring up this apparent mix-up. My anxieties were allayed when I arrived at the meeting and I wasn’t the oldest person there. It became abundantly clear after viewing the diversity present in those assembled (in age, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, profession, and organizational representation—unfortunately not ethnicity) that this would be an exercise in bridging the lacuna that exists between our civic and religious notions of everything from youth, welfare, and volunteerism, to family policy, organizational hierarchy, and multinational institutions. We would, for the day anyway, be the cultural brokers between Mormonism and The White House.

All of the participants took this responsibility very seriously. From the very beginning we problematized the idea of representation. After a few conservative participants couldn’t make it, we worried that we didn’t adequately embody the church membership. While we each represented different types of Mormons—the SAHM, the academic, the college student, the young professional, the religious scholar, the new convert, the gay Mormon, the feminist, the philanthropist, the blogger, the overachiever, the future CEO, the Idaho farm girl, the political intern, the future apostle, the intellectual— we leaned a little to the left.* Our White House liaison made it clear that we were not representing the church in any official capacity, but rather giving voice to the interests and concerns of young Mormons.

She explained that President Obama tasked The White House Office of Public Engagement with participating in 100 Youth Round Table discussions in the next four months as a bipartisan effort to engage with youth from many different sub-cultures.One of the reasons for this, Kalpen Modi, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement at The White House, explained after listening to and acknowledging many of our concerns, is that the main issues for conservatives and progressives alike tend to be the same things: jobs, economy, education, deficit, and Darfur. Round Table discussions foster communication between political parties and the administration as well as provide opportunities for The White House to both learn about the policy concerns of each subgroup and how to better engage them in civic participation.

Upon learning about the Mormon Youth Round Table discussion, Paul Montiero, Assistant Director of the Office of Public Engagement and liaison of faith-based and secular belief communities at The White House, went to great lengths to participate in the meeting and communicate his desire to engage Mormons on a more frequent and personal level. He explained that many people know that President Obama was a community organizer, but not many people know that he was working with churches and faith based communities to alleviate poverty. Mr. Montiero wanted us to understand that he took our concerns very seriously and that he saw many similarities in our religious doctrine and the goals of The White House that could lead to mutually beneficial policies and interactions.

The meeting began with the utterly youthful and articulate Mr. Montiero giving a brief description of the purpose of the Youth Round Table discussions and a clear caveat that this initiative was not connected to any campaign whatsoever. Then Mr. Kalpen Modi, who must have taken some relief in the fact that Mormons were probably his best bet of a youth group that hadn’t seen his “Harold and Kumar” movies, asked us each to introduce ourselves and share some of our main policy concerns. We went around the table and discussed everything from the economy, jobs, student loans, education, and the deficit, to immigration, family policy, religious protection, science funding, civic education, maternal health, women’s rights, and LGBT issues.

The conversation grew especially interesting when Montiero asked us in what ways do Mormonism and this administration share the same goals and how can The White House better communicate these overlaps with the Mormon demographic?  We went around the table and came up with, what I think are, some important clarifications and useful recommendations.

  • We explained that despite the 4th mission of the LDS church which is to help the poor and the needy, there are a couple reasons Mormons tend to be wary of government social programs: 1) the current cultural ethos among most Mormons regarding government welfare is one of inefficiency and misuse, 2) Mormons pride themselves on their own autonomous welfare programs and the ability to help our own people, 3) there is an overwhelming “pick yourself up from your bootstrap”/“Don’t give a man a fish, teach him to fish” mentality, 4) when someone is in need, leaders often encourage members seek help in a hierarchy of resort, first from their families, then the church, then the state, and 5) all of these reasons combined makes government assistance something stigmatized and avoided by most members. However, while church welfare services are something to be admired, they fall short in a couple of ways that hurt both the person in need and the community. In these ways, the administration could fill a niche that would be mutually beneficial for LDS leaders, members, and the public perception of social programs. For example, because the entire church functions with lay and temporary leadership, each bishop must relearn what church resources are available and how to access them. Leaders do not have any training on what governmental social programs are available and who qualifies, they aren’t given training on how to handle sexual abuse, maternal health concerns, or disability cases. Often because of this members aren’t getting the care that they qualify for and bishops and communities reinvent service opportunities rather than working with preexisting states programs. We suggested that the administration create a guidebook for newly appointed bishops that outline what social programs are available, who qualifies, and how members can volunteer their services to the state rather than reinventing the wheel. Working together would give members first-hand knowledge of both the needs and benefits that social programs provide as well as combining our energies to better alleviate suffering. Working together for one goal and seeing the administration as a supportive body and government programs as valuable resources would go a long way to improving the LDS perception of and relationship to public programs and policies.
  • A few people described how the entire 13 million member multi-national church was built upon the principle of public service and illustrated how volunteerism is inculcated at a young age and practiced throughout the entire lifetime of Mormon membership. This universal commitment to service often includes many sacrifices of time and money all while concurrently fulfilling the basic duties of providing for and raising families. We suggested that the administration tap into this huge reserve of potential volunteers and model of lifelong public service. White House staffers were interested in this concept and had us go around the table and share where we all served missions. It was profoundly satisfying to see almost every continent represented by the participants in the room.
  • A couple of us argued that the political right has co-opted religiosity in their stances on gay marriage and abortion and that many Mormons tend to vote according to these issues because they align with their beliefs. However, Mormonism has an even longer precedence, gospel injunction, and history of helping the poor, alleviating suffering, and serving others. Some Mormons with allegiance to these moral issues might be persuaded to support more politically left policies if the arguments were made in equally as persuasive religious and moral terms.
  • A participant explained that one of the main reasons why Mormons oppose marriage equality is because of the fear that they will be required to perform gay marriages in their temple ceremonies.  She suggested that increased support and assurance of religious protection in this area could alleviate some of these fears and lead to a mutually acceptable resolution for both sides.
  • Another participant implied that Mormons still harbor resentment from a past of being seen as strange and different and that we revel in positive recognition and acceptance. She encouraged The White House to publicly acknowledge the church and particular church members for their role in community service, social justice, and public policy, arguing that these actions will lead to more members seeing political options that align with beliefs in both parties and a sense of pride in and acceptance of progressive views.
  • We all acknowledged that Mormons generally support family friendly policies and because so many members get married and have children young they often vote according to older generational expectations. We suggested that recognizing and highlighting the importance of the family is a good way to garner LDS support. Although we mentioned specific cases where Mormons tended to vote against family friendly policy as in the cases of women’s, maternal, and LGBT rights. One of the participants gave a moving testimony of how being raised in the church taught him to desire and value family over anything else and how being gay didn’t change that. He then spoke about how important family policy, adoption, medical rights, and family leave are to the LGBT Mormon community and explained that he chose his current employer based on these benefits.
  • We clarified that sometimes there is a conflict between what the church leaders say and how those words are interpreted and enacted by church members. We gave prop 8, civil liberties, and immigration examples to highlight this point and asked that The White House seek out and support the official church stance (as in the case of the immigration issue in Utah right now) rather than the presumed or media-fueled position.
  • We finished this section of the meeting by explaining both the hierarchy of the church organization and the freedom of political affiliation inherent in our gospel. We concluded that there were many democratic and left-leaning Mormons and encouraged the administration to see them as allies and to reach out to them by recognition, through BYU devotionals, and via official church contact and continued communication.

One of the most meaningful moments for me came shortly after this when Mr. Kalpen Modi asked for some specific examples of grass roots initiatives that we have been engaged in.

  • One participant explained how he had led a bipartisan fundraising effort at BYU for awareness and peace in Sudan and how they got unprecedented numbers of students from all political spectrums to participate.
  • Two participants spoke about their advocacy for the prevention of male teenage suicide relating to LGBT concerns in the greater intermountain West. They explained how this area has the highest rates of teenage suicide in the nation and how many youth struggle to find a balance between their faith and their sexual identity. Then, they told of a couple cases where they were instrumental in talking youth down from suicide attempts and one case where they discovered the identity of a blog commenter who had admitted to swallowing a bottle of pills and called rescue workers to his house, ultimately, saving his life.
  • Another participant spoke of an interfaith initiative where Mormons shared their belief of fasting (once a month Mormons fast for 24 hours and take the money they would have spent on food and donate it to feed the poor) and organized many different denominations to participate in a large community fast. This project went on to fund the local soup kitchen for many years.

The biggest surprise for me (and based on the silence around the previously loquacious table, everyone else) was when Mr. Montiero validated our idea of recognizing Mormons working toward similar goals as the administration and then asked point blank to give him some names of people to bring to The White House.  The room was suddenly silent. He rephrased his question a bit and asked if we could give him the name of a leader who supports similar goals as The White House that he could publicly recognize. Again, we were silent. Eventually, I think we did a fair job of explaining why the turnover of a lay local ministry, the strong desire for church uniformity, and the hierarchical nature of the church organization make it difficult to identify particular leaders. This was the single most penetrating question left on all of our minds as we left the Round Table discussion.

Ultimately, I think The White House staff made it very clear that they were willing to do the work on their end of fostering this relationship and recognizing the LDS church and individuals, but they also tasked us with finding the people and actions that they should be recognizing! I think we would be missing out on an invaluable opportunity if we did not work together to provide them with this information.

The questions remain: Who would you have suggested? What did we miss? What would you have added if you had been a part of this Round Table? What did we get right? What did we get wrong? Etc.

*Out of respect for The White House Mormon Youth Round Table participants I have not included their names.

Caveat: This report is a description of my experience at The White House as recreated from my notes and memory. While this Round Table was a complete group effort, all errors in this report are my own doing.

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59 Responses

  1. Amelia says:

    Oh I’d *love* to have participated in a conversation like this. I’m totally going to put my mind to who could be invited and/or recognized. Are they specifically wanting people who have made humanitarian contributions? Contributions in their own communities? Or are they open to other kinds of accomplishments (scholarly, artistic, business, etc.)?

  2. john f. says:

    Great write-up — thanks for doing this as I’ve been very fascinated by this initiative since first hearing about it recently. How wonderful to have been included!

    I don’t think the names you put forward necessarily need to be of Church leaders but rather simply of Church members who are doing things that are admirable and noteworthy. For example, those involved in the Liahona project could be recognized.

  3. Becca says:

    What a fascinating discussion! I am curious if you can shed any light on how the participants were selected.

    As far as suggestions for leaders-I would recommend Elder Marlin Jensen, based on his sensitivity to LGBT, immigration, and humanitarian issues, among others.

  4. Becca says:

    Also, kudos to the ExII bloggers-there has been some really great content on the blog recently. You ladies are on fire!

  5. Whoa-man says:

    They were looking for people we recognize as “leaders” in our community (this doesn’t have to be in an official capacity) or actions that overlap with their interests and goals that they can support and publicly acknowledge. It was thrilling that they A) went out of their way to meet with us (i.e. Paul Montiero doesn’t necessarily attend all of the youth Round Table discussions but wanted to go to this one), B) listened to our suggestions, and C) tried to bring them into fruition. I went away from this meeting feeling like The White House honors and values Mormon concerns and wants to work together, not for a particular party, but rather to build strong communities and to alleviate suffering throughout the nation. Marlin K. Jensen and the Liahona project are good suggestions.

    Becca, the participants were chosen primarily by word of mouth and recommendation based our interests in the Mormon community. We tried, albeit not perfectly, to represent a large breadth of Mormon voices.

  6. Amber says:

    Thank you for sharing your notes from this youth Round Table discussion. It really made me think about the questions he posed to you–not that I have any answers, yet, but I do have many things to think about.

    As for people to bring to the White House? I also cannot think of anyone. Urgh.

  7. Breena says:

    Thank you for sharing. What a fascinating exchange.

    It’s a bit disconcerting that I can’t think of a single leader “who supports similar goals as The White House that he could publicly recognize”, but that probably says much about our church culture and structure (and perhaps even more about the overwhelmingly conservative political views of our church leaders).

    While reading your review, I kept wondering why, if the Church is so concerned with inactivity and attrition among the youth, aren’t they conducting similar roundtables?

  8. Ben S says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve only heard brief snippets from people, so this is great.

    Two brief things that stuck out- “main issues for conservatives and progressives alike tend to be the same things: jobs, economy, education, deficit, and Darfur.”

    Darfur? Really? I have lots of friends on both sides of the aisle, and haven’t heard anyone talk about Darfur recently.

    From the two people I know who went, I had some concerns about it being unbalanced representation, and you mention briefly that a few of the invited conservatives couldn’t make it. Do you know how they selected the invitees?

    • Whoa-man says:

      The participants were chosen primarily by word of mouth and recommendation based our interests in the Mormon community. We tried, albeit not perfectly, to represent a large breadth of Mormon voices. Choosing people for things like this also usually comes down to who you know and who knows you, etc. It a similar problem we are facing trying to pick “leaders” to be recognized at The White House.

  9. amelia says:

    You know who just popped into my mind: the people running Mormons for Marriage. Though I doubt that would help cement relationships with the Mormon populace. 🙂

  10. spunky says:

    I am moderate as a voter who swings politically both ways… so I am naturally suspicious of everyone and everything, and I wondered if this in part was an exercise in seeking campaign strategies/emphasis for the next election.

    Paranoia aside, I had two thoughts- one that perhaps the panel, as representatives who are “swinging to the left” are a better representation of Mormon culture than the popular opinion of all Mormons being uber-righties, or are at least a representation of a new generation of voter thought across Mormondom (?). I am quite sad that there wasn’t a conservative GOP-only voting person there and would have questioned/discussed why they didn’t attend- is it because they thought they were going to be attacked (anti-conservative backlash can be violent and personal)? Or because they thought their opinions would change? i.e. why is government, especially freedom-of-speech America, a scary place to voice opinions sometimes? (this is reflected in church culture as well, after all- how often do we hear that commenters or even bloggers that are in-the-closet-feminists because they fear being ostracized by friends, church members and family?) How can we better open respectful dialogue across party/political/religious lines without being threatening/aggressive?

    • Whoa-man says:

      Spunky, I do want to re-clarify (because it was really important to them and they restated this 100x) that they have NO connection to the campaign and that the 100 Youth Round Tables were not to campaign in any way. Also, we spent the majority of the time talking. All The White House staffers did was ask questions. There was no agenda or even speech. Just them asking us what we care about and how we can all work together.

      Also, there were a couple conservatives/moderates in the group, but they were outnumbered by the people who leaned left. I think we all did a great job of not attacking alternative viewpoints
      (i.e. someone spoke of why they supports the church’s stance on prop 8 and another person spoke about being a gay Mormon and wanting to get married, etc.) We also made it clear that we were not the typical LDS group, but we wanted The White House to know the variety and breadth of opinion that exists in the LDS faith.

      However, in spite of this great and civil interaction, I agree with you that political conversations so often turn into hate speech and calls to repentance, etc. I wish we could be more comfortable with differences of opinion in the church.

  11. z says:

    Funny, I would have thought a discussion of social welfare programs would touch on the debate over whether it is acceptable to utilize them rather than waiting even a short time to have children. Did you feel you had to constrain your discussion to things that reflected positively on Mormons?

    • Whoa-man says:

      Z, That is a good point. Someone mentioned that briefly but more in relation to how LDS “youth” have a lot of different concerns than people their same ages that is why any policy that impacts family, student loans, etc. will see a big young LDS contingent. I also mentioned that social programs such as WIC could be a great resource to young LDS families, but they are currently stigmatized in the church.

      I don’t think we tried to constrain the discussion to reflect only positively on the church, i.e. I mentioned that I’m grateful for all of the strides that this administration has made for women’s issues and argued that one of my biggest concerns is that religions (including but not limited to Mormonism) continue to practice archaic gender discrimination and there are no real steps to stop it. That said, I think we also felt the burden of responsibility and had a desire to represent the church in a positive light.

      • z says:

        Well, I was asking because I don’t really think it’s accurate to say they are stigmatized. It seems to me, and maybe your experience is different, that the legitimacy of choosing to use public assistance is debated, with strong views on both sides.

  12. Eliana says:

    I’d recommend the Mormon Women Speak project which has highlighted many fascinating women who contribute in different ways for some ideas of people worthy of national recognition. Thanks for participating in this adventure–I’m a bit envious.

  13. Evis says:

    This is a great summary. I think you guys did well. I thought about the question at the end where all of you were asked to give names to be recognized and after some thought and discussion with my husband, I realized that George W. Bush invited Mormon leaders to the White House at least once if not more. I think that is recognition. If the democrats do things like that than BYU and other church supported institutions would be more inclined to invite democrats or non-republican speakers to speak to their audience. So far, only Dick Cheney and C. Rice have been the high profile speakers in devotionals. If the current administration gets into continous discussion with the leaders of the church, then we will see a bigger variety of speakers getting invited.

    • spunky says:

      Very clever observation, Evis! I didn’t know this– I like the way you think 🙂

    • James says:

      Harry Reid recently spoke at a BYU devotional in October 2007.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Great ideas Evis, thank you.

      We did explain that BYU devotionals and commencement speeches consistently represented Republican voices and that one thing The White House could do is find ways to get more moderate and progressive voices in these forums.

      • amelia says:

        I was actually thinking that it might be worth recognizing Pres. Monson himself for his emphasis on charitable endeavors and good works. I don’t know how much that emphasis has translated into new policy (when did the 4th mission of the church get added?), but he has certainly spent much of his ministry while in the Quorum of the 12 and the First Presidency preaching the gospel of charity and good works. It’s one of the things I like the best about him. And I think a lot could be gained from having a Democratic administration reach out to the president of the church.

  14. James says:

    I would think the presiding bishop H. David Burton would be a good possibility. From my somewhat distant vantage point, he seems to be the most engaged church leaders in the civic arena, as I would expect given the responsibilities of his calling. As a general authority, he certainly has enough credibility among the general LDS population, and he has bonafide “progressive” credentials…humanitarian aid, welfare program, the green building pilot program, etc. Not sure if they’re looking for high-profile figureheads or grass-roots examples.

    That said, I’m not sure the church would necessarily welcome the attention within what seems to be a fairly political context…I don’t mean in a left/right way, either. As cool as this sounds like this initiative is, it seems like it’s not quite on the same wavelength of how the church looks to draw attention to itself…can’t put my finger on why. Somehow a lost in translation kind of thing.

    • amelia says:

      If memory serves me well, I think Burton has also been supportive of immigration reform that is humane and compassionate. The recent efforts in this regard in Utah are certainly worth investigating and the church has been supportive of those efforts.

  15. Jessawhy says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think it would have to be just regular people, who are doing great things, but not necessarily high profile in Mormonism. (Especially regular Mormons on the internet. They can have a big following. Maybe John Dehlin! 🙂

    That way the church won’t turn them down for an invitation to be recognized (because it might happen) and the church will be forced to acknowledge the things they are doing as well. (Of course I’m not sure the the church thinks what John is doing is a great thing, but most of us do).

    Maybe the social justice people (MESJ) or local humanitarian aid leaders. If there is a great local LDS response to a crisis, then perhaps recognizing the local leadership would be helpful.

    I echo the comments about how cool this roundtable is. The church would do well to get in on that action.

  16. Cordelia says:

    You’re right, I think, about the lay nature of the LDS church making it hard to identify such people. There are, as a result, few long-term high profiles. Mormons tend to be low-key about the civic and humanitarian work they do and they don’t usually make a big deal about their religious affiliation in those roles so unless they are high-profile for another reason (general authority, media personality, big business) it’s not surprising that none of you had names come quickly to mind.

    If it were me I’d probably suggest a woman I know who directs an organization that does humanitarian work in South America or a man I know who does medical education in Southeast Asia, or perhaps the director of the Shropshire Music Foundation (music and instruments and lessons for children in war-torn countries), or the woman who is on the advisory board for The Anasazi Foundation, or the founder of Inside Out Learning, or the couple who run a program for Bhutanese refugees in Salt Lake City. It’s too bad that The Civility Project disbanded. One of its cofounders is LDS and that might have fit as well.

    I also suspect that most of the above would feel very awkward being recognized for what they do as it’s just part of who they are, not something they seek recognition for.

    • amelia says:

      I would say that people who do not seek recognition, but who simply do the good things they do because it is in their nature to do so are precisely the kinds of people who should be recognized. After all, that kind of involvement is the kind we (we meaning our society as a whole) want to encourage.

  17. Whoa-man says:

    These are great suggestions. We had many similar discussions and are hopefully creating a list of names and organizations. These comments are helpful.

    Cordelia, could you include the names and organizations of the people mentioned?

    • amelia says:

      As an alternative, Cordelia, if you don’t want to put their names and organizations on the blog for general public consumption but are okay with the info being shared with the White House, you could email that info to us at ExponentblogATgmailDOTcom. We would respect your wish not to publish this info on the blog.

  18. Lori Pierce says:

    I have a good friend from Atlanta who is LDS (don’t know details of the church positions he has held, but he’s always been very active) and an immigration lawyer who is working very publicly to improve immigration laws. He recently completed a term as President of the American Associate of Immigration Lawyers and speaks frequently in the media about immigration. He has a blog at His name is Chuck Kuck (pronounced “cook”).

    He consulted on the Utah law, though wasn’t totally happy with it in the end and is working right now to fix the law just passed in Georgia.

    He would be great.

  19. kristine N says:

    Just a comment–while I think the suggestion of providing a booklet outlining government programs and eligibility requirements to bishops is a great idea, I think Relief Society Presidents should also be suggested as contact points since they are often heavily involved in ward welfare needs as well.

  20. Kristine says:

    spunky–I’ve heard these suspicions voiced by several people, and I suppose in the poisonously partisan atmosphere we live in, it’s inevitable. But if this had been an attempt to come up with election strategies for winning Mormon votes, it would have been the most ridiculously ineffective method of doing so that I could possibly imagine. The Dems need swing voters in Nevada; inviting a bunch of left-skewing East Coast Mormons would give them very, very little useful information.

  21. Suzann Werner says:

    I suggest Judy Dusku, a Relief Society Pres. in the Cambridge area. Judy, a college professor, has spent years advocating and doing for women, especially in 3rd world countries.

  22. jenneology says:

    I second Judith Dusku. I’ll also suggest Maxine Hanks for her interfaith and women’s spirituality work.

    There is also Debra Dusku Gardener who is the executive director of One Heart Bulgaria and was recently featured on the campaign. Sylvia Cabus is another.

    Neylan for her work with the Mormon Women Project is a good choice as well. I remember one of the women she featured operated orphanages and birth centers in Central America, who also seems like a good choice. Along those same lines of recorders of Mormon women’s voices: Claudia Bushman, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

    I do think that John Dehlin is a good choice as well. More: Carol Lynn Pearson, Quentin L. Cook, Neil A. Andersen, Laura Compton, Joanna Brooks.

    John Burger of

    She may not be there quite yet, but Courtney Cooke of Talents of Sisters.

    I know I’m not there yet, but I aspire to and am working my way there with my efforts in family policy, maternal health and early learning.

    The part I was most pleased to hear you mention, Whoa-man, was encouraging the church and local leaders to get connected with social programs in their area and collaborate to meet the needs of those in their communities. This is the type of effort I have wanted to be involved and hoped to see more of but have been disappointed.

  23. Tatiana says:

    Two women I’ve been introduced to through the Mormon Women Project whom I would like to put forward for recognition are Vicki Dalia who runs the Casa de Sion charity which does great things for poor women and children in Guatemala, (her MW writeup is here, and Liz Shropshire who helps children in war torn areas regain a sense of normalcy and community. Her MW writeup is here.

    Their work is with people outside the US, primarily, and I’m not sure if the White House would prefer recognition to people working inside the country, but they both do great things that involve service to people in need, and I think they deserve more recognition.

  24. Tatiana says:

    I have a comment in moderation, probably because I put too many links in there, recommending Vicki Dalia and Liz Shropshire as LDS women to be recognized by the White House.

    • amelia says:

      Thanks for the heads up about it going into moderation. We don’t always catch those right away. I’ll check for it.

  25. JonJon says:

    If you’re able to say, I’m curious who the gay Mormon was.

    Thanks for the great summary!

  26. Bryan says:

    One suggestion for your post. You state that the Church does not support “marriage equality” and seem to use that term to indicate that something is lacking in the Church’s position opposing same sex marriage. Perhaps a better term would be “marriage irresponsibility” since same sex marriage is clearaly detrimental to society. I, for example, was born with a strong inclination to drive really, really fast on public roads. However, doing so is wrong because I might endanger others (if only causing others to think that they can replicate safely my behavior!) by those high speeds. By following your example I ought to be using a term like “lead foot equality” to describe a currently-denied future utopia where anyone can go as fast as they want.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Bryan, I 100% completely disagree with you.

      The desire to drive a car fast is completely different than sexual orientation. You should be smart enough to realize that.

      Being LGBT does not endanger others and homosexuality is not contagious as you suggested: “wrong because I might endanger others (if only causing others to think that they can replicate safely my behavior!)”

      I think that the term marriage equality perfectly illustrates what is at stake. Some people are allowed to marry, others are not. Regardless of your position on the matter, this is unequal.

      • Bryan says:

        There is orientation and then there is acting on one’s orientation. I agree that there is no harm in being at least LGB. (I’m not so sure about the T, but that’s not important for the point I’m attempting to make.) My apt analogy was not about being LGB. It was about improperly acting on one’s orientation. Any sexual activity outside the bonds of a heterosexual marriage is detrimental to society. (As with unsafe driving, there’s always an exception to the rule. Surely there are immoral couples for whom there appear to be no immediate consequences of their bad behavior who in turn can be an example to others who will reap immediately negative consequences.)

        My “lead foot” analogy does not suggest that homosexuality is contagious. I know many drivers who prefer a more cautious approach for whom my lead foot style would not tempt them in the least. But, a spirited driving style would tempt others already so inclined.

        If you believe that “marriage inequality” is the right term to define the Church’s (i.e., The Lord’s) stance, would you also use the term “restroom inequality” to define the Church’s and society’s preference for restroom gender segregation? Clearly there is inequality when it comes to gender-specific restrooms.

        There is no inequality in law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. All men with no exception can legally marry a woman and all women without exception can marry a man. The law applies equally to all regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

        Anyway, thanks for sharing you experience in the White House.

      • Amelia says:

        Bryan, your arguments about the nature of sexuality and why gay marriage is wrong are not only tired, but also logically fallacious and offensive. Please drop the subject as your tone borders on a violation of our comment policy (e.g., you implicitly question Whoa-man’s, and those who agree with her, personal righteousness because in your view her opposition to the church’s position on this issue is by definition opposition to the Lord); it also does not address the questions posed in the OP–namely who you think should be honored for their work in their community. If you’d like to make a contribution in that vein, please do. However, any further comments on this particular topic may be deleted should they distract from the conversation Whoa-man started.

  27. Why did he want the name of a local leader and not the First Presidency? Also my understanding is that the First Presidency does appoint mission leaders and local leaders for the Washington DC area that have political experience so that they can engage world leaders visiting.

    • Amelia says:

      Why would he ask for information he either already has or could very easily find (the names of the First Presidency)? Plus, my impression is that they’re interested in honoring people doing on-the-ground work in their community. And while the First Presidency certainly leads the church and is therefore ultimately at the helm of a lot of really great work, they aren’t the ones actively engaged in the community on a daily basis. They’re too busy with the large scale leadership of the church, which doesn’t seem to me the specific kind of work Monteiro was asking about.

      Whoa-man do correct me if my impressions are incorrect.

      • Whoa-man says:

        You are correct. They were looking for more grass roots community leaders. The White House has repeatedly engaged and tried to engage with the Church’s formal leadership. The Round Table Youth Discussions were an exercise in communicating with the average person in that community and understanding our concerns. We were the ones to recommend recognizing church members who are doing good in the world and acting in ways that coalesce with this administration’s goals. We suggested that such acknowledgement would be mutually beneficial for both groups. The follow-up question was: Who should we recognize? and for many of the reasons addressed at T&S, there was not a simple straight forward answer.

  28. Rick says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Elder Walter F. Gonzalez (presidency of the seventy). The Day of Service initiative that has been done for a few years now across all of the Southeastern U.S. was organized by Elder Gonzalez and is a wonderful example of grassroots (and ecumenical) community service, spearheaded by LDS stakes across the region. I would love to see Elder Gonzalez recognized for his efforts here. The Day of Service was his vision and it has been very successful. See

  29. James Olsen says:

    Thank you for writing this up, I truly enjoyed it. My suggestion: Ardeth Pope and George Handley – both BYU professors who’ve done a great deal of work/publishing on environmental issues, both internally and externally focused.

  30. Don Harryman says:

    I am certainly in no position to comment on whom in the Mormon Church should be recognized by the White House, I can say with certainty that attitudes such as those expressed by Bryan are more in the mainstream of Mormons if not the official position of the Mormon Church. Whatever positive recognition individual Mormons may receive will forever be eclipsed by the general public’s perception and absolutely the perception of almost all homosexual Americans that Mormons are Enemy Number One of homosexual Americans and their families. The Mormon effort and money behind Prop 8 and general opposition to homosexual equality elsewhere have rightly or wrongly earned Mormons that perception–good luck in overcoming it.

    • Whoa-man says:

      Sadly, I think you are correct Don. One of the concerns that we wanted to address at this meeting was that often times what gets said officially from the church leaders is (mis)interpreted and enacted by members in ways that were never intended. Prop 8 and recent SLC immigration policy debates are perfect examples of this (and you can look to ERA in the past to see a long history of this fact). The church often takes a very careful nuanced legal stance (some on the far right might even claim progressive) and yet how that gets translated and executed by local wards, branches, members, and activists is far different that the original injunction. We encouraged The White House leaders to make sure to go back and understand the official church statement rather than relying on assumption or media-fueled stereotype. Similarly, we wanted The White House to recognize that there were Mormons with different perspectives on these issues. It was eye-opening to some of the staffers to see and hear from the LGBT Mormon participants in our group. If nothing else, we were able to present a different perception of the diversity and breadth of LDS membership. Hopefully that goes a little way in dispelling the myth of “Mormons being enemy #1” but like you said, for every one of us there are more Bryans out there and frankly that discourages me.

    • David Baker says:

      Don, I completely agree with you that there are more Bryan’s in the mainstream church and that in the eyes of most liberals (48% of CA is not gay) the Church is enemy #1. However I think this meeting shows that, as I and my 2 other gay Mormons in the room, stand up, the perception of the Church as enemy #1 changes. Certainly not at a massive rate, but at one person at a time.

      As an out gay mormon in my wards I see the change happen gradually on both ends. It is that grassroots movement style that the White House wants to get a hold of and help.

  31. Horizon says:

    I was one of the gay Mormons who participated in the White House Roundtable. Reading these comments, I wanted to report that marriage equality and LGBT issues including suicide were only a few of the many items discussed. There was such a range of different voices, but one of the overriding main themes that emerged from everyone’s comments was that of acceptance. Not just LGBT acceptance, but acceptance of a plethora of different viewpoints–women’s rights, conservative beliefs, academic thought on religious topics as well as the pursuit of general acceptance of Mormons by the government and society as a whole. The whole point of finding someone to recognize (outside mainstream church leadership) is to help convey the feeling to the country and to general church membership that Mormonism is mainstream–that we both, the church and the government, can learn from each other’s strengths. This meeting (organized by a Democratic administration, no less) was an attempt to reach beyond the stereotype, to reach beyond the media perception of Mormons and find what we can to do to learn from and help each other. Despite many faults on both sides, perceived and otherwise, acceptance is the first step toward progress.

    One of the agreed-on purposes the group wanted to convey to the White House is that all Mormons do not conform to the stereotypical norm in most people’s mindsets. We are a collective of voices organized under a common church structure, and from that throng of opinions we find strength in mutual purpose and identity as Heavenly Father’s children, trying our best to return. My part in this roundtable was to express my unique viewpoint (not just as an active gay Mormon but as a good person and concerned citizen) on what we can do together as a church and a society overall to make life a little bit easier, a little bit more worth living, so we can ultimately save lives. There are people in our midst (loved ones, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, leaders and laymen alike) who are at war within themselves over their sexuality. We have already lost too many as collateral damage from our inability to address these profoundly personal issues adequately. I am willing to contribute to any discussion that might lead to mutual learning of how we can advance our civilization and avoid preventable deaths. As the Mormon church seeks mainstream acceptance from society, let’s start by practicing that same principle internally as well.

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  1. June 6, 2011

    […] work at the grass roots in the community. According to one focus group participant, Whoa-man, who wrote about the meeting on the Exponent II’s blog, the focus group was silent in response — they simply could not come up with any obvious […]

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