When her son Charlie* came out publicly, Mormon mom Kathleen* received mostly positive feedback, though sadly it was radio silence from many of her family members. But, after receiving a message from her friend Emily who, though attempting to be supportive, was really anything but, Kathleen decided to take the time to respond in a thoughtful manner.
Take a read: this wonderful note gives real insight into how one Mormon mom reconciles her faith with her support of her gay son, and the LGBTQ community at large.
I apologize it’s taken me a couple of days to get back to you. I’ve prayerfully sought out guidance as how to respond to your message. One of the wonderful things about this church is personal revelation, about which I have a very strong testimony .
I should begin by being honest about something. I realize I’ve had 16 months to get to the point I’m at but I feel it only fair that I disclose I’ve always supported same sex marriage. Maybe I’ve been more vocal lately for my son but I’ve always favored it and I hope you’ll understand why. I believe very much in allowing people to govern themselves, to exercise their own free agency just as I can exercise mine. I understand there are always consequences in our choices but that doesn’t mean consequences are always bad.
The first time I was very aware of this was in 2008 and Prop 8 happening in California. You know I was living in Utah then so this shouldn’t have affected me. But it did. I had many gay friends I worked with and I felt like I always had to apologize that my church was spending millions of dollars on a campaign because they believed they knew the only way to live was marriage between one man and one woman. It was the first time in my life I felt shame. Shame because just because we don’t believe in same sex marriage, that we can’t expect the entire nation to believe the same way. When I think of “only one way to be married” it reminds me of another plan that we rejected before we came here. That is how I felt. It seems like just because I don’t like broccoli, the entire world should hate it too. It doesn’t make any sense. I have felt and do feel that if you don’t like gay marriage, well then don’t marry a gay person.
Less than 150 years ago, Mormons practiced polygamy. Mormon’s chose to redefine marriage from one man, one woman to one man and multiple women. Now they had to be pretty quiet about this type of marriage. The leaders knew that the outside world would think this is wrong but God had commanded it so their hands are tied. Do you think outside of the church others would have believed that “God had commanded it?” Of course not but yet we insisted this is what God wanted. Well we don’t need a history lesson to understand that eventually their secret was found out among others, the prophet and his brother were killed and the saints headed west to settle in Utah and practice polygamy in peace. I’ve often thought about those saints. I’ve always imagined what they were thinking. I imagine it was something like “Why can’t people just leave us alone and let us practice our faith and beliefs?” I’m sure the saints were tired of being a minority group of people that were constantly being told to stop it, get out, we don’t want you here. Our words today may not be as harsh. Yet here we are now, targeting a minority group of people because we don’t agree with their choices.
I’m not here to argue about what is right or wrong, but to share my own experience and hope you’ll understand better. Charlie has always had a hard time fitting in. In his life, we have lived in five wards. In all the wards we’ve been in, he has never once had a friend at church. Yes, he is a bit socially awkward and different but he’s a nice kid. I’ve never one time made a big deal of this to church leaders because I’ve imagined that if I was his age, I may have felt the same way.
We’ve invited kids to birthday parties only to find out that Charlie was not invited to theirs. Have you ever had to look into your son’s tear-filled eyes and not know how to make him feel better? It hurts, it’s incredibly painful. Have you ever been walking in the hallway at church and saw your son out in the hall and you can tell he’s on the verge of tears but won’t talk about it? Then when we get home and you take your son to your bedroom and find out that a kid in the teacher’s quorum called him a fag in front of the class and he sobs in your arms because you’ve taught your kids that words hurt.
About a year ago, a boy from the ward called Geoffrey [Charlie's brother] to see if he wanted to go to the stake dance on a Saturday night. Geoffrey said he couldn’t go because he already had plans. Charlie overheard this and said “I would like to go!” Geoffrey relayed that message over the phone, ended the conversation with, “Oh, okay,” then got off the phone. When I asked what happened he said, “They said they don’t have room in the car right now but if a seat opens up, they’ll call Charlie.” That one hurt: One child just invited and in that same phone call, no more room in the car for another.
Charlie no longer attends stake dances or scouts or scout camp. His feelings have been stomped on over and over again in his life. He has put up a fence to avoid getting hurt by peers. His father and I can tell him all day how great he is, that he is a wonderful person and human being but that pales in comparison to what a peer or a friend can do. He has struggled so hard to love and accept himself.
This past fall, Charlie said some stupid things that earned him a two-day suspension from school. It wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. That day, I began to make phone calls, I found a therapist for my son. I purposely chose a non-religious therapist because I didn’t want church to be an issue here. Even though we completely accepted him, he had to learn through therapy that it was still ok to talk openly about his sexuality. Why? Because he still knows the religious stance on this issue and he still hated himself for it. After two months of therapy, this kid became himself again. He was happy, he was my child again.
The last step was to publicly come out and, since he did it, he’s been even happier. There has been complete silence from my husband’s family but it’s okay. They will come around and if not, it’s their loss. At affirmation this past weekend, it was the first time Charlie had ever told me he felt like he belonged. Do you know how it makes a mother feel to hear that? These perfect strangers he had never met before accepted him and loved him without question. He has never felt that in church before. The gospel may very well bring peace and happiness for many of its members but there are many to whom it brings pain as well.
In September 2014, Charlie asked me to take a drive with him. He began to pour out his feelings about where he found his attractions to be. He hated himself, he knew from church exactly how the church felt about gay people. He didn’t want any part of that. I pulled the car over as I held him in my arms so he could just cry. We cried together, my son, my child was in so much pain. Do you know what that was like? This precious child who has never done anything wrong and was so hurt by the church and people at church. It literally broke my heart. I’m thankful too that he felt okay to talk to me about this because he knew my views on this subject.
Many of our LGBT LDS youth are not nearly as lucky. They don’t have any support because as a church, we continue to teach them that these feelings and attractions are not their fault but if they should choose to act on it, God sees them as disgusting and vile, and doesn’t want them in His presence.
Just as strongly as you believe these policies came from God, I believe that they didn’t. Through my own personal prayer, I did not see my Savior’s hand in any of these policies. I see these policies as driving an even bigger wedge between the straight members and the gay members. A bigger wedge between already fragile LGBT youth and their conservative parents. Just because I don’t see these policies as revelation, doesn’t mean I don’t sustain our prophet and general authorities. They are only human after all. It just means I need to be more patient with them to understand the needs of our LGBT members better. But time is not a luxury we have right now. Our LGBT youth need us, they need our love. We can’t show that to them if we reject them.
I would also ask, how much have you really studied this subject? Not just what you think you know but actual scientific, fact-proving articles? I’ve read A LOT of them. I’ve learned this is not a choice and this will not change. I’ve learned that LDS LGBT youth have the highest rates of suicide and homelessness in the nation. What are we doing to stop that? I’ve learned that only by loving and accepting my child completely will he be able to reach his full potential as an adult. I’ve learned that asking someone to live celibate their entire lives is not only wrong but dangerous. People who choose a life of celibacy are sometimes depressed, suicidal, lonely. Of course they are! As human beings we are hard wired to want to have companions, to be in relationships. We ask things of our LGBT members that non-LGBT members would never be willing to do. We as non-LGBT members are the very definition of a hypocrite. As if somehow we are more special because we were born straight.
We seem so concerned with our eternal salvation when the truth is, no one knows what the next life will be. We have ideas and theories but we don’t know. There are many things we don’t know about in the next life and yet we don’t question that. I have a friend who lost her husband during her first pregnancy. Eventually she remarried but chose not to get sealed to her second husband. Because unlike men, women can only be sealed to one man. So she’s not sealed to this man, her four other children she had with this man are not sealed to either of their parents and yet no one seems concerned by this. No one worries for their eternal salvation even though their family is not sealed together. We say “Things will work themselves out.” I feel that is true in this case of our LGBT brothers and sisters as well. Or how about the dear sister I knew that had a son. She got baptized because of the promise of eternal families. Imagine her devastation a year later in the Bishop’s office when she learned she could not get sealed to her son because she wasn’t married. It tore her apart yet no one seems concerned about that. Often we worry so much about the life after this one that we forget how to live here.
The Heavenly Father and Savior I know and believe in isn't in the business of breaking up families. God is much more merciful then we give Him credit for. He loves us, He created us in His image and that includes our LGBT brothers and sisters.
If my son is lucky enough to find the love of his life, well then his father and I will buy a ridiculous wedding gift, put on our party shoes, and attend a damn fine wedding. I will welcome that future son-in-law into our family and eternal family just as I would any other person my children should choose to marry. Because in the end, it’s how we treat and serve others that matters. The church to which we belong is not our judge, God is. And when I die, I feel completely comfortable being in His presence feeling the way I do. Because I too believe, God will not be mocked.
I love you, and I hope you understand better where I’m coming from
*All names have been changed to protect anonymity.