When the Organization Speaks

Cross-posted, with some alterations, at The Bee in Your Bonnet.

I am part of an organization that has recently made decisions that are discriminatory towards LGBTQ people, decisions I would not personally make, but are being made by people higher up than me. Also, in the past, this organization has taken stances alienating mothers who work outside the home, and even continues to perpetuate such stances, even if it’s not as often or as blatant as before. These things taint the label of the organization, and affect how I define myself, and what assumptions people make about me when they discover my affiliations.

Strike that. I am a part of 2 organizations that do this. I am both a Mormon and an LLL leader.

The Exponent audience here will probably be familiar with recent Mormon history, so I’ll do a quick catch-up for you all on LLL. LLL is short for “La Leche League,” and is a breastfeeding support organization that was created in 1956. It is now an international organization and is well-known in the breastfeeding community for the research it has supported and literature it has produced that has helped breastfeeding rates world-wide. While big and far-reaching, its main purpose is mother-to-mother support and all LLL leaders are volunteers. Some leaders lead support meetings, others take phone calls or emails to answer questions and give support, still others will take time from their dayand go do home visits, helping latch a baby or otherwise support breastfeeding moms.

And as with many large organizations, LLL has a history of discrimination.

While Presidents Kimball and Benson were asking mothers to come home, LLL would disallow a woman to become a leader if she had a job, even if she was home with a Tupperware business. While we Mormons haven’t heard a “Mother Come Home” talk in a couple of decades, the effects are still around in places like the YW manuals. And while LLL does now allow working mothers to become leaders, some women are still denied leadership if their childcare arrangements don’t allow enough access between mother and baby.

And just as LGBTQ issues have become a hot topic in the LDS Church, LLL is facing similar criticism. Last week, Trevor, a transgendered man who has birthed and nursed his son, asked LLL Canada if he could undergo the application process to become a La Leche League leader.

LLL Canada responded that they would not allow Trevor to pursue leadership. As of writing this blog post, LLL International, headquartered in Schaumberg, Illinois, has not made a statement, though they have stated that there will be one forthcoming.

I spent some time last week reading the reactions of bloggers and breastfeeders I respect and the subsequent comments. I understood, but was still dismayed at the comments of people saying they wouldn’t refer parents to LLL in the future. I tried very hard not to take it personally on behalf of myself and my co-leaders who volunteer their time and energy to reach people who don’t have money for lactation consultant or who can’t wait 9 days for an appointment with an IBCLC. I look at the people on the ground level and think, “These people want to help everyone despite the politics of the larger organization, please be understanding of that!”

And it was then that I realized I was having a very Mormon experience. I was asking myself the same questions many of my fellow Mormons ask every day: What do you do when you are part of an organization but don’t agree with all the politics that comes out? Is it worth it to stay and change from within? Would it be better for your integrity and mental sanity to leave? What if your friends and family are there?

I love the Church and have a testimony of the gospel and feel like it’s where I belong. I insist on belonging despite being told by others I don’t.

I also really love LLL. It’s one of the few ways I can volunteer while I have small children at home. I particularly love home visits because I get to really be with the families and help in a physical and emotional way. I give support over the phone and email, but it’s not the same as helping a baby latch on for the first time in days or weeks. I fill in the gap where families can’t afford lactation consultants.

It is not only the Church that comes with mixed PR. I think a lot of us are affiliated with organizations that are struggling to deal with new ideas and ethical issues: from businesses to PTA and scouts, sports teams and even the stores we shop at. How are you balancing these sorts of issues? I know I often boycott and letter-write. But also, I sometimes stick around and hope for change.


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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11 Responses

  1. MB says:

    I have long held firmly to the belief that if thoughtful enlightened people left an organization every time that organization made what seemed to them a bad call, they seriously reduced the chances that the organization would see the light or even moderate its position.

    I stay in imperfect organizations that sometimes go against my personal beliefs because I know that my leaving reduces their chances of changing and because I know I can be a familiar and compassionate voice for understanding and dialogue if I stay. When I leave I can no longer do that with much effectiveness.

    Yes, it is annoying and dismaying to be accused by others outside of that organization who see my affiliation as a reason to question my integrity or my dedication to principles that I hold dear. But that is one of the prices to be paid for courage. And I’m willing to pay it.

  2. April says:

    I love this post. I frequently ponder these issues, too. I wish I had more insight about how to make the call about how much is too much dissonance between your own opinions and those of the organization, but I really don’t know.

  3. Diane says:

    Top Hat

    I just have some questions just for clarification purposes. 1) Is there language with in the by laws of LLL which prohibits males from being LLL leaders?
    2) I’m not sure even how to ask this next question, so, I’m just going to ask it and please forgive me because it is certainly not my intention at all to embarrass or demean anyone, I just don’t know how else to put it

    So, here is my question. Is Trevor still Male. if so, is this the real issue, because in my mind at least I could see how it might be uncomfortable, especially for first time moms to confide in someone who is still male and not really be able to relate to him. I understand that Trevor nursed his own son and kudos for him for doing so. But, was this done artificially? and if so, is the very nature of him nursing artificially, different from a mother nursing her baby? And if it is, could this be the reason for the ban? I’m not saying its right, I’m just trying to understand all the different nuances that I’m sure I’m not fully getting, so again, If I’m offending anyone its not my intention at all?

    • Rachel says:

      I’m not TopHat, so I could be wrong, but I read it as meaning that Trevor Was a woman, hence his ability to (naturally) bear and nurse his child.

      • MB says:

        Unless a person has actually born a child and has a full set of functioning mammary glands it is very difficult to nurse a child sufficiently without exterior aids. I just happen to know this as I did some research on nursing adopted children. An adoptive woman who has a full and functioning set of procreative organs and a fully functioning hormonal system who has not born a child can, with some extra work, get her mammary glands to produce milk, but even then it is generally not possible for her to produce enough to sustain the child without supplemental feeding by bottle or by nursing aids.
        In the case of a transgendered female (previously male) genital surgery generally gives her a functional vagina constructed from her prior genitalia. It does not, however, give her ovaries, a uterus or a cervix. Medical science is far from being able to transplant those female reproductive organs for anyone, trans or not.
        So therefore, a transgendered mother would not be able to nurse a baby without nursing aids which provide milk through tubes and a nipple from an outside source while the baby suckles the breast.

      • MB says:

        However, Trevor MacDonald, the trangenderd parent in this case was previously a woman who underwent surgery, including breast reduction, to reidentify himself as a man. He went off hormone therapy when he wished to conceive and bear a child using his still intact uterus. If he is back on hormone therapy, and I would assume that he is as he sports a small goatee, and if he had reduced the amount of mammary glands and lactation ducts he has with previous surgery, which is likely, then that would make successful lactation rather difficult.

        Media reports on the current discussion about LLL’s decision do mention the fact that he does, indeed, breastfeed with the aid of a supplemental nursing system.

    • TopHat says:

      Yes, Rachel is right. Trevor was born with female organs, but identifies as male. I don’t know to what extent he has had surgery or hormonal treatments, but he did birth his son and is breastfeeding. He does have a lact-aid, but I do believe he does produce some milk himself. LLL does taut itself to be mother-to-mother support so there is the question on whether or not you have to identify as female to be considered a mother.

      Re: facial hair. I’ve seen breastfeeding women who were born female and identify female with full goatees, so I don’t know if that means Trevor is on hormones at the moment or not.

  4. MB says:

    That was a bit of a tangent. Back to the question at hand…

  5. Rachel says:

    TopHat, this was a really marvelous post. I think that it is so easy to forget when we look at our own (religious) organization that it is not the only organization that has problematic histories or presences–at least in part. You painted very beautifully how despite troubles at some levels, there can be many worthwhile (yay, even redemptive) people, practices, and service at others. It is tricky to know when too much disparity is too much, so I don’t have an answer there. I remember asking my dad a few years ago what to do when what I know is right is different than what the church says is right, and which one I should follow. He said to follow both, and hold to both, as much as possible. I am still not exactly certain how to do that, but find when I focus my attention on the local level, I am much calmer and happier.

  6. Twila says:

    It is the catch-22 of most, if not all, organizations. They at once create a beautiful space to find community and create particular rules that inevitably limit the scope of said community. Even our own lovely Bloggernacle. Bummer.

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