March 8, 2016
Dear Mormon Friends,
Although I have remained close with many of you, I know we’ve had few church-related conversations in the 15 years since I left. My silence hasn’t been due to a lack of interest in sharing my thoughts about the Church or in hearing your own. I just didn’t want to come across as judgmental or threatening. However, recent events have prompted me to share some thoughts with you and to ask for a favor.
I’m sure all of you are aware of the Church’s November 2015 policy change regarding adults in same-sex relationships and their children. After it seemed like the Church was shifting to a more compassionate approach towards the LGBT community, it adopted several punitive guidelines in the treatment of these Mormon families.
I’m not sure where each of you stands these issues, but most of you have seemed fair, open-minded and willing to follow your conscience on moral issues, even when those views didn’t completely align with official Church policies and practices. Like many in the Church, you may feel that the handbook changes are at variance with some of the basic principles of Christianity and tenets of LDS theology (the inherent innocence of children, the emphasis on unconditional love, the importance of strengthening family bonds).
Some see a parallel between the recent policy changes and the Church’s priesthood ban blacks of African descent. Although this practice contradicted scripture regarding God’s equal acceptance of all people, Church leaders and members developed a narrative explaining why this practice was not only justified but had the imprimatur of revelation. By the Church’s own official admission, what was assumed to be a revelation was actually just a policy—a policy based on historical racism prevalent in American and church culture and on a misreading of scripture. This policy required a change that has greatly benefited the modern church.
If you haven’t already, I ask you to consider whether the recent handbook change might also be based on limited understanding, whether core principles regarding the treatment of all of God’s children should be the primary influence on our behavior towards others (especially, in this instance, the LGBT community) and that, like the priesthood ban, the policy could change at some point.
That’s not the favor I’m asking for, however.
A few things have happened since November’s policy change. One is that, in part due to the discord created by the change, many good people have left the Church. Another is that, according to some reporting, there has been a significant increase in suicides among LGBT youth. Although some may question the exact number of suicides related to the policy change, even one constitutes a tragedy, especially for the family and friends of the person who takes his or her own life. Whether we are members or former members, we should do everything we can to prevent such tragedies.
Unfortunately for the LGBT Mormons who stay (by choice or circumstance), some members who have left have been among their best allies. I am concerned that the community of support within the Church for LGBT Mormons may be dwindling and that some people, especially children, will suffer by not receiving the love and compassion that they deserve. Adult LGBT Mormons have a choice to stay or leave the Church (however difficult that choice might be). Despite the challenges and mixed messages sent their way, many LGBT adults find meaning in the Church and find a way to make activity work.
My concern is for the children of LGBT parents and for LGBT children who are born into the Church, for whom staying or leaving might not be a choice. Some have accepting, supportive and loving families, Church friends and leaders. Others–a group that includes many who suffer alone and have contemplated suicide–aren’t so fortunate. Even those whose family members accept them for who they are live in a culture that can undermine expressions of love and acceptance.
The purpose of my writing is to encourage those of you who are still active in the Church to be aware of such children and adults, including those in same-sex relationships who live in your ward but who may not be active. I am asking you to seek out those who are most vulnerable, who would otherwise go unnoticed and who are most in need of love. Please sit with them in Church, express your love for them and ask how you can help. If you find someone who needs help but, for any reason, you are not in a position to provide it, know that there are people out there (active and inactive members as well as some who have left) who are willing and ready to step in. If you need, I can help identify such people.
Whenever it is possible and appropriate, Jeri and I would also like to help. If someone needs a meal, a ride, a place to spend the night or just a hug and a listening ear, we would love to provide it. In doing so, we will be respectful of the Church and of those who still believe.
Most of you know that due to an autoimmune disease, I lost my hair as a young child. Although this wasn’t the most difficult of childhood experiences, it wasn’t always easy either. I often felt alone and different from everyone else, and I longed to connect with others who could understand my particular pain. Although they couldn’t fully relate to what I was going through, my family and Mormon community recognized my need for support and provided me the unconditional love and acceptance that helped me cope. I hate to imagine that there are LGBT parents and children who are suffering needlessly and not getting the kind of love and support they deserve, and that was such a gift to me.
Please look out for them, for me. And let me know when I can help.