Gay Mormons, You Are Not Alone
Last night was a unique night in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Every seat was taken in Room 445 on the second floor of the Martin Building (the MARB) on Brigham Young University’s campus in Provo, Utah. As 7PM approached there was standing room only as people pressed in to hear four young Latter-day Saints openly discuss their faith and their sexuality.
The occasion? A panel and open forum hosted by the Department of Sociology to discuss homosexuality within the Church. Renata Forste, chairwoman of the sociology department, began the evening by introducing the four students who would be sharing their experiences with Same Gender Attraction. She explained to the crowded lecture hall how all students and faculty have signed the Honor Code and agreed to abide by it. “These students, like any other students, are living within the standards of the Honor Code,” she said. After explaining that the forum was taking place to build a community of understanding, 3×5 cards were then passed around the jam packed room (which now had people sitting cross-legged on the floor and lining the walls) for questions to be submitted to the four panel members to answer.
For Brandon Bastian, Adam White, Bridey Jensen, and Nathan Paskett, two open gays, a lesbian, and a bisexual, it was a night to never be forgotten. As active and faithful BYU students they became the face of Same Gender Attraction for the Mormon Community literally overnight.
As each student panelist proceeded to tell the audience their stories with Same Gender Attraction a hush fell upon the room. Brandon Bastian, a second year law student, began by telling of coming to know he was gay as a young man when he realized he wanted to kiss other boys. He came out to his bishop when he was in high school and lived according to gospel standards. He eventually met a young woman with whom he had a strong bond, and although she knew of his homosexuality, they decided to get married and raise a family. Today they are happily married with children. He described his situation as extremely atypical though, and not for everyone. “I can tell when a girl is cute,” he said. “But my wife and I both think Ryan Reynolds is really hot.”
Bridey Jensen introduced herself to the audience next. She also realized early in life that she was different. “I wasn’t attracted to boys,” she said. “I would go to my mom and ask her, ‘Is something wrong with me?'” She was told to just be herself and things would change. But they never did. In high school she always felt like she was doing something wrong, and she was scared a lot of the time while struggling with her lesbian feelings. When she got to BYU her new bishop said, “You are okay,” but that did not stop her from having depression and struggling with thoughts of suicide. She ended up leaving school for a semester, but knew she needed to return. Feeling alone and closeted she reached out online and finally found Brandon Bastian. She says, “He really taught me that it does get better and that God does love me.”
Adam White also knew of his homosexuality as a very young boy. He remembers playing with ponies and hoping that one day attraction to women would come. When he was older he eventually got a girlfriend. When they kissed for the first time all he could think in his head was, “No,” and he felt like he was living a lie. When he and the girlfriend broke up for other reasons, he openly came out of the closet to her, and she lovingly said, “Adam, just be true to yourself and figure out who you are and you’ll be fine.” Through a series of events, including being sent by a church bishop to a Sex Addiction Group, he eventually found a community of Saints like himself.
Nathan Paskett realized he was bisexual when he hit puberty. In eighth grade he remembers sitting in a class and being attracted to both another guy and a girl in the class. “This may be a problem later in life,” he jokingly thought to himself at the time. He told no one of his bisexual feelings because he knew the Gospel Standards were the same no matter what his sexual orientation was. His parents, aware that something was different and were genuinely concerned, sent him to a therapist as a teenager. The therapist asked him pointedly, “Are you gay?” Eventually he ended up serving a faithful mission for the Church, during which he eventually came out to a companion he was very close to. Nathan shared his frustrations with is feelings to the missionary companion, and his anger towards the Church for the way it made him feel. He also told this confidant that he was afraid of the way other members would treat him if they ever found out. Compassionately his companion said, “Maybe you are short selling people; maybe you should be talking about it openly.” Once he returned from his mission and started dating women he decided it was best to let them know early on in their relationships that he was bisexual. His mother told him that he didn’t have to tell people. “But,” said Nathan, “I can’t imagine carrying that secret into the marriage.”
The panelists pointed out that approximately 6% of the U.S. population is homosexual. If the national ratio is the same at BYU, then that would mean there are about 1,800 gay students on campus. Also meaning that in every BYU student ward there is an average of 15 gay Church members, and in a BYU class of 50 there are an average of three gay classmates.
When each had concluded sharing their touching stories some of the questions submitted by 3×5 cards were read and answered. When a question about homosexuality “as a choice” arose Brandon Bastian stated that calling homosexuality a “choice” was offensive. He continued by saying that anyone attending BYU would not “choose” a lifestyle which would put them at odds with the general population. The panelists agreed that they would rather have people who have questions regarding their sexuality approach them instead of another source. At least twice during the forum the audience was directed to LDS.org for the Church’s official position’s on homosexuality, and Brandon Bastian reminded the listeners that they weren’t there to discuss “doctrine”, just open a dialogue.
It was a watershed event for a school sanctioned event that was advertised campus-wide with fliers which read “Everything you wanted to know about being gay at BYU but were too afraid to ask.” Of course the forum did not sit well with all. Earlier in the day an ultra-conservative group of Latter-day Saints called the “Standard of Liberty” had protested the scheduled event by sending out an email in which group president Stephen Graham said,
[The BYU forum] will be harmful, harmful to the souls of those giving the talks, harmful to those young minds listening who will be supported in covering both inward and outward sins and initiated further into homosexuality, and harmful to all those these people come in contact with.”
Not even the most optimistic of forum organizers could have expected the turnout though. Officially for BYU students only, the event ended up turning several students and visitors away due to the crowd. A number of BYU police were even called in to maintain security in case anything got out of hand. But as the hour-long discussion progressed, many of the attendees said afterwards that a true spirit of fellowship and love emanated from the proceedings.
One compelling question submitted via 3×5 card was
What is the role in teaching chastity to SGA youth?”
Panelist Adam White responded by saying that at some point most Church members will end up teaching a class of youth. “Treat the body of youth as if there is a gay or lesbian in your group,” he said. He continued by saying that most gay youth grow up wondering why this isn’t talked about openly in the Church. It makes them feel like they are outcasts. He then paraphrased the Lord’s words from 3 Nephi 18:30 where it says to not cast any out, and he finsihed by saying, “Gay people don’t feel welcome in our congregations because of things that have been said in the past.” His conclusion? When gay people don’t feel at home in our church congregations it may lead them to go out and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
Bridey Jensen was asked if she imagines herself as always being single. She said that when she imagines a happy relationship she imagines it being with another woman. “I don’t know how reconcile that with the Church’s teachings though,” she stated. Adam said that while he has a strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he cannot imagine himself ever in a relationship with a woman. He openly stated he could see himself having a family, and even children, with another man. If so, he said, he would ensure that they still attended the LDS Church together. – That single remark was the only one of the night in which something contrary to official Church stances was said.
The final question of the evening was
I’m gay too. I feel like I can never be happy in eternity or in a temple marriage. What can I do?
In a crowded auditorium, and from an anonymous questioner, the final statements of the night were incredibly personal, and it brought a hush upon the crowd.
“I feel for you,” Adam said. “It’s really easy to believe that you will never be truly happy or happy in a heterosexual marriage. But I want you to know that there are so man people who believe in you. You need to trust in God. Trust [that God] listens to you and wants to talk to you. In the end a heterosexual marriage might be what makes you happy, or it might not. – Figuring it out will bring you closer to God.”
In the closing statement Bridey Jensen paraphrased 1 Nephi 11:17 saying, “I do not know everything, but I do know that God is there, and He has not left you alone.”
With few dry eyes left in the room, the panel received a standing ovation as the night came to a close.
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As the panel at BYU was occurring I was following along as best I could via a live blog on BYU’s The Student Review website. Afterwards, having received an audio recording of the proceedings, I was touched by the spirit of openness which obviously existed there.
Growing up in a small town in central Utah, and then moving to the small southern town of Jasper, Alabama during my teenage years, it wasn’t very common to hear the words “gay” or “homosexuality” ever used in public. My freshman and sophomore years of high school were typical of most American teenagers at the turn of the 21st century. But when I returned from summer vacation at the beginning of my junior year of high school, things had changed. During the summer three of my peers had openly came out of the closet as homosexuals. And as the year progressed more people I knew and loved began coming out of the closet. As a theater student I seemed to be surrounded by homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexuals. And although so much had shifted and changed around me; so much had also not changed at all.
These were still people and classmates whom I loved. Despite having differing opinions on sexuality, morality, and especially matters of faith, we were friends, and my friends knew that although I disagreed with their lifestyle choices, I would still always love them. That was over a decade ago, and things have not changed since.
As the years have passed, I’ve served a mission, moved away, and eventually came back to Jasper, Alabama. I have dear friends in every corner of the United States, in South America, Europe, and even Asia. In my various places of living and in my travels I have came into contact and became dear friends with countless members of the Church. And in every place, in every corner of Zion, and in the crowd of temple recommend holders and full-tithe payers, I have always seemed to befriend a homosexual member of the Church.
They are here. They are among us.
And often, whether knowingly or unknowingly, we have offended them. We have pushed them out from among us. We have spoken of homosexuals and lesbians as if they were the vilest of sinners, while forgetting the beams that are usually careening back and forth from our own judgemental eyes.
Each and every gay Mormon friend I have ever made, I have loved. And for those who have been active in the Church, their faith, their sincerity in prayer, and their zeal for life has always far surpassed mine. And it pains me, so very, very much to see when any one of my brothers or sisters who is gay within the Church get offended, or get ridiculed, or even persecuted for being the people they are.
Being a homosexual is not a sin. Breaking the Law of Chastity is. – Being inclined to lie is not a sin, only unless the liar succumbs to lying.
We are commanded to love all men and women, no matter the circumstance.
Let me state emphatically that I stand entirely by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without equivocation I can say that I know it is led by Prophets, Seers, and Revelators who deliver the very mind and will of the Lord to us in our own day. I believe, as stated so plainly in holy writ, that marriage is ordained between a man and a woman. The Plan of Salvation was give to us to allow us the opportunity to return happily back to our father’s presence as families. However, for those Latter-day Saint with Same Gender Attraction, there are challenges and struggles that the rest of us cannot begin to understand.
Wednesday night’s forum at BYU was not about changing Church doctrine. It was not about gay rights. It was not even about same sex marriage. Wednesday night’s forum at BYU was about openly discussing an issue so many of our brothers and sisters are living with each day. When we entered the waters of baptism we covenanted that we
are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yeah, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death, that [we] may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that [we] may have eternal life.”
See Mosiah 18:7-10 for full context.
As Latter-day Saints, let us mourn with our brothers and sisters with Same Gender Attraction. Let us comfort them as they try to live their lives. Let us stand as a witness of the divinity of the Church’s teachings and the Lord’s doctrine at all times and in all places. But most of all let us love each and every person with true love. Let us pray for charity, the pure love of Christ, the very ability to love others the way our Heavenly Father and our Savior love them. As Moroni put it, “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” for that charity and love, and go and share that love with your brothers and sister in Christ.
There are many good, faithful, and kingdom-building gay Latter-day Saints among us. Let us keep them among us with our love. And for those that we have lost for any reason, let us reach out to them, share the Savior’s love with them, and invite them to come back and enjoy all the blessings that our Father in Heaven has in store for them.
To my fellow Latter-day Saint who live with Same Gender Attraction, I want you to know that I love you. I am here for you. I am your friend, and I will do whatever I can to help you. It does get better.
And to my fellow Latter-day Saints who do not live with Same Gender Attraction, look around you, because someone you know does. Make sure you make them feel like one of the fold and a part of Zion.
If I had been in Provo last night I would have stood and applauded with the rest of that crowd, because God loveth His Children. I know it to be true.
– Stan Way
If you are an LDS student at BYU you are invited to join the Understand Same Gender Attraction Group on campus. More information can be found on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/byuusga.
For more information regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s official stance on Same Gender Attraction please visit this website which contains multiple links and resources.
*Update 7 April 2012 – I was initially unaware that the audio recording I had received was in direct violation of the request of the BYU Sociology Department that there be no audio or video recording of the event. The entirety of this blog post was written by myself based off of conversations with friends who were there and the audio recording itself. However, I have decided to keep this post up with its original content and message. On the “Stats Page” of this blog I can not only see the amount of traffic each page receives and where each view has came from (Google Search, Twitter, etc.), but I can also see how many times links within the page itself are clicked. Frankly, this page has received so much traffic in the past 48 hours, and the links above have received so many clicks that I feel it would be a disservice to delete or edit it at this point . As someone who has had many friends reach out for help in the past, I cannot in good conscience remove something that may be of benefit of others.
– Stan Way