Background for those unfamiliar with the LGBT policy:
On November 5, 2015, the LDS church instituted a policy regarding LGBT members and their children. Same-sex married couples are now labeled “apostates” and face mandatory church discipline, with excommunication as a likely outcome. Children of gay or lesbian parents can no longer be blessed when they are infants, be baptized at age 8, or (for male children) receive the priesthood at age 12. If these children wish to join the church, they must wait until they are 18 years old, move out of their parents’ house, and renounce their parents’ relationship.
This policy was released quietly in the secret Church Handbook of Instructions 1, accessibly only to church leadership. However this policy went public almost immediately and was broadcast by John Dehlin of Mormon Stories.
I originally gave this presentation at the March 2016 Association of Mormon Letters conference in Laie, Hawaii.
I have a gay brother. He came out to our family just over two years ago, at the age of 26. He went through a dark period as he was reconciling his sexuality and his Mormonism. Although he struggled with suicidal thoughts, we are all thankful that he never attempted to take his own life. He ultimately left the church, realizing that it would be impossible for him to be both gay and Mormon.
When my brother told me he was gay–on my 36th birthday!–I immediately thought, I need to make him something! That’s what I do. My love language is making things. So I created this quilt made of upcycled felted wool sweaters. In rainbow colors, of course.
When I heard about the LGBT policy change in last November, I was devastated. And furious. And ready to burn it all down. I wrote my local leaders a letter. But still, I fumed. So once again I thought, I need to make something. I needed to signal that I did not support the policy and that I was an LGBT-friendly face in our congregation. So for the next two months, I survived church meetings by embroidering versions of the phrase Love Makes A Family. In rainbow colors, of course.
I chose this phrase because I believe that love is stronger than religious dogma. If there is an afterlife, I won’t be tied to my loved ones because I said certain words and performed certain actions in LDS temples. I will be knit to them through the bonds of love.
I chose embroidery because it was a stereotypically feminine art–the perfect way to subvert and disrupt “most politely, most politely, most po-lite-ly” (to quote Gilbert and Sullivan).
All my children wanted in on the action. So every Sunday morning, we would sit on the second row and pull out our embroidery.
Well-meaning ladies would come over and coo, “Oooh, what are you making?”
I’d reply: “I’m embroidering Love Makes A Family in rainbow colors because I have a gay brother and I disagree with the new LGBT policy.”
Some people gasped and awkwardly ended the conversation, not expecting this response. A few grinned in solidarity.
In the weeks and months following the policy change, I spent countless hours online witnessing members of my faith community process their pain and disbelief (and some members loudly proclaiming that this was God’s will, a loving policy meant to “protect the children.”) Through all the verbal battles occurring on blogs, podcasts, Facebook posts, and Tweets, I noticed an undercurrent of artistic and creative responses to the policy change: music, poetry, artwork, fiction, embroidery. Tattoos and rainbow scarves. Dreams.
I began making records of these creative responses. I wanted to capture these first raw moments when nothing made sense, when we were still seeking to understand how our church could have done something so unimaginable.
Below are examples, all gathered with permission. The stories and pictures mostly tell themselves; I will add short explanations as needed.
My daughter crocheted a rainbow scarf for me for Christmas after I told her I was looking for rainbow bracelets and necklaces to wear to church. I wore it to the office too (I’m a psychologist), and my gay clients laughed. I hope/think it makes them more comfortable talking about the policy—with a straight Mormon therapist, I mean.
My heart broke in November when I heard about the new policy. I have friends and family who this policy affects. I measure things in my life against what I believe Jesus would do. Years of scripture study and prayer have shown me that Jesus loves and cares for all of us. I believe this policy is against what Jesus stands for. I wear these bracelets each Sunday as a reminder that Christ’s love trumps man’s policies. I wear these bracelets in support of my LGBT brothers and sisters. I love them and will welcome them with open arms, even if our church won’t.
“My jacket that I wear EVERYWHERE!”
Heather has also designed a tattoo in response to the policy change:
This is one of two tattoos I sketched out and will be getting in direct response to the policy. I believe in a God that lives and accepts all children. This is a geometric pattern found all over nature, called the seed of life. We are all connected, we are all just as we should be, exclude no one.
Frankie shared three tattoos, the first one as a response to when Prop 8/DOMA was overturned.
I got the original [pictured here] when prop 8 / DOMA was overturned, so it has history.
I also went inactive for the first time when prop 8 passed.
I am getting a slash through this equal sign—and that is in part a reaction to the policy.
This is Frankie’s second tattoo, done after the LGBT policy change.
It is a reaction to the policy- saying we are equal with words is not equality in implementation.
Q:How did it feel to have the tattoo done?
A: Like someone scribbling into your ribs with a knife. Kinda like how the policy feels everyday, except this one feels all nice and warm now.
Frankie’s third tattoo is a multi-layered tribute.
I have the queer triangle too—upside down like it was for the patch on gay people during the Holocaust.My partner is getting the same one with an interlocking dotted triangle—both in solidarity with the policy and for their own Jewish ties to the Holocaust (gay Jews had one of the triangles pink instead of yellow in the Star of David).
Today I played “In Humility, Our Savior” on my trombone during my church’s sacrament meeting today.
The same handbook that now states that married same-sex couples are apostates and bars their children of our church’s rites and ceremonies also prohibits brass instruments from being played in our sacrament meetings. This was the most reverent way I could protest the policies of my church that are hurtful, un-Christlike and pharisaical.
Christ wants all to come unto Him. He wants all to love another. If there’s anything that I’m learning through all this is that those two things trump everything else.
“Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving;
Teach us tolerance and love…”
Desiree shared the following dream that was “definitely about the LGBT policy.”
I was in my ward building, near the front bathrooms. The building was falling apart. Holes in the walls, exposed plumbing, wires hanging out everywhere. It was a Sunday and people in the ward were walking by me, dressed in their fancy Sunday best.
I stopped a Sister to ask, “Why hasn’t this hole in the wall been fixed?” She shrugged and said it was the bishop’s job.
I stopped someone else. “Will you help me find someone to fix the roof? Look, it’s leaking all over the place.”
The person was annoyed. “Stop complaining.“
Someone else overheard me and came over, saying, “Yeah, it does need some work.” So I talked with this person, a vague stranger of a person, about finding phone numbers of plumbers and roofers and such.
Someone else walking by interrupted our conversation to tell me that I shouldn’t try to fix anything and that the bishop will get around to it when HE felt it necessary. This person had a child with them. So I said, “There’s wires all over the place! What if your child gets electrocuted, what if they die waiting for the bishop to get around to it?”
“Stop making something out of nothing. My child is perfectly safe here. And if they get electrocuted, that’s their own fault. They should know better than to touch wires.”
Dream Desiree got angry then. “Or maybe it’d be your fault, because you should know better than to bring your child to places where wires are hanging out of the wall and there’s puddles on the floor from a leaking roof. Why won’t you help me make this a safe place for your child?”
“It isn’t my job. The bishop will fix everything when he sees fit. If you don’t like it, maybe you should leave.”
“It’s not that I don’t like it. It’s that I’m not safe here. None of us are. I’m just trying to make it safe so I don’t have to leave. So I can bring my child here.”
“You need to learn to be quiet and stop complaining about the church. It isn’t your job to fix things and you’re just making everyone else upset. It’s the bishop’s job, and if the bishop doesn’t think things need to be fixed yet, then they don’t need to be.” The person took their child’s hand. “My child is perfectly safe here.”
They stormed off, dragging their child behind them.
I watched them walk down the hall, the child ducking under sparking wires and doing their best to sidestep puddles and not trip over debris.
I woke up praying to God that the child made it to the chapel safely.
Lisa also had a dream about the policy change. She explains:
I had a gay father that loved and supported me when I joined the church….My dear friend Jane was my “mom” in the Temple when I got married. Today she is married to her wife and they have a beautiful adopted daughter. These are very important people in my life.
At the age of 11 I knew I liked girls just as much as I liked boys. At the age of 15 I joined the church. I have always loved the Gospel… At the age of 15 I learned well what my church thought, felt and spoke about me. The words were etched in my heart, soul and mind. They cause much shame, self-hate and self-harm. Words that at 52 I am working hard not to believe; that I’m vile, perverted, evil, less than.
I am grateful that I also know the unconditional love of a husband that has always known who I am. I know the unconditional love of my Heavenly Father and my Savior…I don’t think we have all the answers about Heavenly Fathers’ LGBT+ children. When the policy came out I told my husband, “my church hates me. You will never know how hard it is to love the Gospel and feel so hurt and unsafe at church.”
Lisa had this dream shortly after the new LGBT policy came out:
In my dream I am driving in my car. Ahead of me I see a family getting into their car, but they have forgotten one of their children. This child is trying desperately to get into the car. I keep honking my horn to get the parents’ attention. In horror I watch the girl almost get in the open car door only to slip, falling under the car and being ran over. I stop, get out of my car and run over to her. I hold this little girl in my arms as the parents continue to drive away not even knowing they have harmed their child and are leaving her behind.
I feel so strong that the LDS church is harming Heavenly Father’s children and leaving them behind. They have the responsibility to love and protect ALL of Father’s children.
Maureen created this hand-lettered print for care packages being sent to LGBT Mormons via Safespaces.org (no longer operational). The text reads:
You have a purpose. I’m not just talking about Future You, Someday You, or Eventually Down-the-Road You…Today you have a purpose, so put your chin up and head high because you are the one & only person who is so perfectly you.
Haley wrote a poem “Where Are You?”. I have included three of the stanzas.
Have you felt the pain
Of being forced to know
That you do not belong
That it’s time for you to go?…
Where are the followers
Of the One who happily ate
With sinners and with lepers
Leaving no one at the gate?…
Let us mourn with those that mourn
And speak out with one voice
Let us love all those around us
And let them have their choice.
Heater’s poem wonders if Abraham failed the test when he led Isaac to be sacrificed–and if we are failing our own test today.
What if it is
an Abrahamic sacrifice
leading these beloved
innocent children upward,
to the mount fit for sacrifice,
in obedience, ever obedience
to our perception of God’s will,
But, wait. Are we not
His hands here on Earth, His ministering angels bidden
to do his will? While we watch skies
waiting, ever waiting for herald flashing robes, could it be,
Our own hands, voices, trumpets needed
to scream and slap the knife away?
Kristen wrote The Shelf, a reference to a common term among Mormons about their shelves breaking when they become too heavily weighted with doubts and misgivings. Below are excerpts:
We Mormons have shelves,
Wide, sturdy ones carved by hand,
Our birthright from our pioneer heritage.
It’s where we keep our funny collection of doubts,
Those silly curios that pop up now and again.
A shelf is useful to have around.
Where else can one put the dusty pickled pig fetus called “polygamy,”
Or the stoppered vessel of tears called “priesthood and temple ban”?
There’s room for a hot, flaky pan of gender rolls
And maybe even a small bottle of consecrated oil called “women healers.”
A juniper tree named Asherah,
A rainbow flag.
There is room, room for all the things.
My shelf was full of the usual suspects,
The ordinary lineup.
Occasionally I would pull down an item to examine it from a different angle,
Or dust it off a bit.
I would add an additional item now and again.
But this is expected.
A shelf is meant to hold things.
It’s not necessary to understand all the things on a shelf
To appreciate that a shelf is a worthy addition to one’s faith.
It is not given to us to understand all things….
I ignored the shelf full of interesting relics of my former faith,
And it became encrusted with the detritus of time,
The barnacles of passage.
Just when I thought I had moved past the hurt,
I saw the news that the church of my youth would exclude children,
Labeling as apostates people who love one another.
And my shelf didn’t break.
Emily worked for several weeks on this embroidered skirt. She comments:
It was all I did for about four weeks after the policy, with the exception of the time that I was in the hospital for suicidal ideation. It’s not super policy related except that it’s all I could get myself to do for four weeks after I heard about the policy.
Erin created her own version of the Proclamation on the Family.
This is my Proclamation to The Family. Love is love. It is crochet, granny squares. I made it after a difficult time (divorce from my gay husband). I am an LGBT ally.
Anonymous: “Rainbow Girl”
This image was posted with permission on John Dehlin’s Facebook page; the artist wishes to remain anonymous.
I found this Facebook comment particularly salient:
Mormon children wear all white when they get baptized. I love the symbolism of the girls in white except for one in gray. Black and white, evil and good. A more nuanced approach.
And the way they have formed a circle reminds me of the pioneer wagon trains. The girl in the middle is supposedly being protected by the curve of wagons around her. But she clearly does not feel safe.
In his 2016 short story collection The Tyranny of Silence, Townsend includes one story directly about the policy change: “With Friends Like These.” The story narrates a day in Arthur’s life immediately following the news of the LGBT policy change. Arthur and his husband Carey, both former Mormons, have been together for 17 years.
Johnny Townsend’s story documents the explosion over this policy change, the Facebook wars in particular. As he’s browsing the internet, he describes some of the reactions he sees:
Not only the Ex-Mormon group but also Q-Saints, the gay Mormon group, were up in arms.
“Jesus wants me for an apostate,” someone wrote, amending the children’s Primary song.
“I stand all amazed at the hate Jesus offers me,” another person posted, altering the Sacrament hymn.
And one woman from the Ex-Mormon group changed the words to the most famous Mormon song about the sanctity of family. “There is beauty all around when your 18-year-old children tell you your love for each other isn’t real and reject you as their family.”
Arthur is a stay-at-home husband, a quilter, and still very Mormon at heart:
Carey worked all week in a downtown investment office and spent most of his weekend selling subscriptions to his Party newspaper Revolt or planning a protest or promoting their cause in one way or another. We’d been together seventeen years, and we’d always had separate activities. I loved singing in the chorus with the Mountaineer Quilting Club. The women there were mostly conservative but they’d eventually taken to me after an initial coolness. I was working on a quilt depicting the Salt Lake temple right now. I designed all my own quilts, and whatever one might say about Mormonism, there was no denying that the Salt Lake temple was an extraordinary piece of architecture.
Plus, I couldn’t help but hope on some level that my Mormon friends and family would think better of me when I posted a picture online of the finished product.
Of course, that hadn’t happened when I posted photos of my other quilts—a path with an iron rod leading to the Tree of Life, a hole in the ground revealing the Golden Plates, a covered wagon crossing the plains.
Carey refused to allow any of the quilts to remain in the house once I was finished. I donated them all to the University of Utah. . . .
I wished I had more money to donate to the political causes I liked. Not having a job of my own meant that Carey handled our money for the most part. I had a separate checking account into which he deposited funds regularly, and my “allowance” was generous enough. But I was dependent on him. . . .
Odd how I’d ended up living the life of a Mormon housewife.
Arthur finds himself sucked into the Facebook wars over the policy change: insults hurled, family members unfriending each other. After a post where he compares the policy to the infamous Milgram experiment, his niece Shannon responds:
“Uncle Arthur, I’m unfriending you. I can’t allow myself to be contaminated by your wholesale commitment to wickedness anymore.”
“It’s retail,” I replied.
There was no answer.
I sighed deeply and looked at Shannon’s comment a long time. I’d half expected that kind of reaction, and I realized now that part of me was perhaps hoping to provoke such a response. If my devout Mormon friends and family were the ones to dump me, I wouldn’t be the bad guy. But suddenly I began to wonder where I fit on the Milgram scale myself. It seemed I was delivering as much pain to them as they were delivering to me. And did my ridiculous hope of finally having a church-going Mormon approve of me make me an Uncle Tom, too? . . .
If I was already resigned from the Church, maybe it was time now to resign from Mormons themselves. I lingered over each of their names, took a deep breath, and hit Unfriend.
It didn’t feel liberating.
I went back to the Mountaineer Quilting Club page. Perhaps my next quilt should be of a waterfall surrounded by trees. Or a soaring mountain range. Or maybe the home I shared with Carey.
Maybe I could even start selling my quilts.
The website Safespaces.org emerged shortly after the policy change. It sends care packages to LGBTQ Mormons.
A Millstone About Their Neck:
The Gofundme site states:
Help Queer Mormons send a clear message that we will not tolerate this type of hostility toward our families. If we reach the dollar mark, we will have a granite millstone sent to 50 W North Temple in Salt Lake City, UT, with messages of solidarity from the queer and allied current and post-Mormon communities.
The millstone refers to the New Testament scripture in which Jesus says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (KJV Matthew 18:6, see also Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2) The project was successfully funded.
Christmas Hosting Programs:
The first Christmas hosting program was organized by Berta Marquez. She coordinated with members of Mormons Building Bridges to give LGBTQ youth and young adults a “safe and affirming place to enjoy Christmas.”
Jerilyn Hassell Pool organized safeXmas.com. She personally hosted LGBTQ Mormons and organized other host families:
For Christmas 2015, I, Jerilyn Hassell Pool (and a few others), am packing up my family and going to Utah where I will host members of the LGBTQ Mormon community who are not welcome or do not feel welcome in their family home for the holiday. We will have an affirming, fun Christmas where we eat lots of food, play board games, challenge each other to Mario Kart, watch terrible movies, sing karaoke, and wear our pajamas 24/7, stopping only to sleep and maybe rinse off the dishes.”
A woman who wishes to remain anonymous wrote how temple service helped her heal her own and others’ pain due to the LGBT policy change.
I had a bit of a meltdown this morning when I went to work my shift at the temple. I was already feeling a bit shaky about going. I keep hoping for some sign that the personal stories of pain, and disconnect, and broken hearts are being heard by the leaders….
I sat in the children’s room for a while, looking at the pictures of Christ holding the children, and of Suffer the Children moments, and I cried myself dry….[In the celestial room] I felt a message come. There were people who were coming to the temple who were in turmoil, just as I was. I could create a place of love and peace for them.
Then I went and did what I could. For several hours I was able to lay my hands on heads, and offer promises and blessings. I felt that my efforts had greater promise….I was letting my hands vicariously be the hands of God, reaching out and touching each of us….I got to be reminded of and practice within those walls, the much more important work we are all trying to do everywhere. Reaching out, blessing and healing and loving.
#1) In the LDS version of the Adam & Eve narrative, Adam’s pattern was strict obedience, following all of the Father’s commandments. But undeviating obedience means eternal stagnation in the Garden of Eden.
Eve is the thoughtful heroine who rescues humankind from the dilemma of two conflicting commandments: do not partake of the fruit versus multiply and replenish the earth. Eve’s pattern was one of thoughtful departure and disobedience. She realized that in order for humans to progress, they needed to gain knowledge, even if that meant leaving the Garden of Eden.
I think of Adam’s and Eve’s patterns, respectively, as a straight line and a curving line. Adam’s goes onward into infinity, never deviating from the path. Eve’s curves. Ever so slightly. But a curving line doesn’t curve into infinity–it curves back into itself. Into a circle. Into eternity. The LDS theology is an eternity not of stagnation, but of progression. An eternal circle of knowledge and change.
Perhaps thoughtful departure and disobedience from the LGBT policy is the only way to progress towards greater enlightenment, compassion, and acceptance.
#2) Mormon theology is embodied theology. Our God and Goddess have a tangible human bodies. We believe that our bodies are to be celebrated, that this physical world is marvelous and meant for joy. Our sacred texts proclaim that “all spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7).
I find cause for optimism in the creative reactions to the policy change. As Mormons create, they embody the work of God.
#3) I think back to lines from Haley’s poem: “Where is the joy and kindness of which I’ve always read / and listened to on Sundays? It feels like God is dead.”
These creative responses to the policy change cry out, “Where is God in this policy?”
I believe they supply their own answer:
If God is not found in the policy, then God exists in the outpouring of love, compassion, pain, and beauty that arose in response. God is found in a poem, a tattoo, a rainbow scarf. God is in a needle, stitching together our broken hearts and creating the love that makes us all a family.