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Growing Up Queer and Mormon: A Dangerous Journey

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The church still believes that homosexual behavior is a sin, but now says that’s because gay marriage is wrong and sex outside of marriage is immoral – not because homosexual feelings and inclinations are in and of themselves sinful. It’s a shift in doctrine, but isn’t functionally any better for LGBT Mormons. The church is now essentially telling LGBT members that they need to choose between going to Heaven while living the rest of their lives in celibacy, or leaving the church and having fulfilling romantic relationships. And the Utah legislature is still trying to keep schools from reaching out to queer kids.

It gets worse, though. Mormon doctrine also makes fairly clear through its emphasis on family that the meaning of life is to get married and have children. In fact, Mormons who do not marry are told they will not attain the highest levels of glory in Heaven. Women are told they are unable to enter Heaven without a husband – a belief that’s not only anti-lesbian, but deeply misogynistic as well.

When these are the beliefs being reinforced by literally everyone nearby, are stories of gay Mormon suicides at all shocking?

I want to be clear: many, many individual Mormons are supportive of gay rights. Many Mormons have LGBT friends and family members, and not all of them react badly when they come out. And many Mormons were upset and dismayed to see the money they’d donated to the church they believed in used to fund Proposition 8 and other anti-gay legislation. There are individuals and groups within Utah and the LDS Church – both LGBT and straight allies – who are working for change.

So I don’t want to imply that all Mormons are homophobic. But I do think that the Mormon faith is deeply damaging to queer youth who are raised within it, especially in Utah where it’s so engrained in the local culture. I don’t think it’s wise or safe to raise children who may grow up to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, asexual, or anything other than conservative, vanilla, and straight in the Mormon faith. Not when the official Church doctrine on such matters boils down to these options:

  • Being miserable, celibate, and alone for the rest of your life.
  • Marrying someone you aren’t attracted to and hoping for the best.
  • Having relationships with the people you’re attracted to, but feeling deeply guilty and risking excommunication.
  • Leaving the church and damaging your relationships with friends and family, possibly forever.

My mother and father chose that last option when they realized, for personal reasons and for my sake, that they couldn’t stay in the church any longer. (And a good thing, too, since 4 out 5 of their kids have turned out to be some variety of queer.) It had a price – my mother was never able to reconcile with my grandmother before her death.

The rifts within our extended family have healed some with time, but to some extent they will always remain. It’s difficult to explain why I can never come back to someone who’s never struggled with questions of sexual orientation or gender identity. Why I keep my distance. Why I don’t visit. Why I can’t talk about it.

How can I talk to relatives who insist that gay marriage is an abomination, that my lesbian cousin is “going through a phase,” that homosexuality is caused by overbearing mothers or absent fathers? Where do I begin? What do I even say?

Mostly, I don’t say anything. Those I’m on good terms with I don’t really talk about LGBT issues with. Those I know would mercilessly berate me for expressing any mildly liberal opinion, I don’t talk to at all. Had I been closer to most of them when I was younger, perhaps my life and experiences could serve as a teachable moment. As it is, I know I’m not in any position to actively change anyone’s opinion if they’re not already receptive to it.

I hope that as more Mormons and ex-Mormons speak out about gay rights, things will begin to change within the church, even if it’s just a matter of individual members becoming more accepting. The number of resources which have become available for queer youth in Utah since I was young is encouraging. I believe that Mormons are increasingly becoming aware of, and speaking out against, homophobia.

But it isn’t enough. Not yet. And I’m not sure that it will be enough for many years to come.

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Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr

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11:19AM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

Great job Steve, xx

11:47AM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

I really don't like to speak much on religious issues but Mormon beliefs frighten me and having known that Romney is one scares me even more. I have personally been in many conversations with mormons as they are all over the streets, on the public transportations in Switzerland promoting the Mormon history. I can sense some relief the writer of this article feels. Her courage to speak her experiences is another eye opener for the readers. Thanks for sharing it. I know for sure I would never place a "vote" to support one to run this country.

8:31AM PDT on Jun 27, 2012

Thank you for this very fair, well-balanced, truthful and painfully honest editorial.

1:42PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

It never ceases to amaze me how some "religious" people can justify their fear, loathing and persecution of a whole segment of the population by quoting some scripture passage. The fact that there are numerous contradictory passages matters very little to these closed minded followers of many different faiths. I'm guessing that "Love thy neighbour" has a very limited meaning for some. Also, I'm very grateful that I never inherited a Faith Gene!!

I commend Steve for the moving and very honest video and wish him well. Through brave actions like his, perhaps attitudes can change.

2:20PM PDT on May 23, 2012

I can only imagine how difficult it must be and my heart goes out to all those GLBTQs within the Mormon Church who are presently suffering.

/Avis Marie Sandar

8:52PM PDT on May 22, 2012

Everybody, I am MOrmon, and i raised five sons. One of them(so Far) is gay, and I just want him to be happy and be comfortable with his family.Mormons preach the ideal, and how many of us is ideal? I just hope that Jesus Christ knows my son's heart. He is a good man. I think in the end, we will be surprised at who is in heaven & who is in hell. I expect my gay son to be with me in heaven one day, after he has lived a long life full of happiness, even if it does not include the church I raised him in.

1:34PM PDT on May 22, 2012

Many organized religions and religious zealots scare me because they expect you to fit into a specific mold.

8:03AM PDT on May 21, 2012

Just don't let your hair stylist get his Mitt's on you

7:41AM PDT on May 21, 2012

I for one don't "bash" Mormon' s Brutus B.,in part because part of my childhood was lived in a neighborhood that was about half Mormon,so I was friends with many of them.Still,that doesn't mean I don't consider many Mormon beliefs-magic underwear-strange,and it's not bashing the church to say so. Nor is it Mormon "bashing" for me to mention a couple of issues I have with the church itself.In 2008 it was a major bank roller of California's anti-gay Prop.8,for which I think the church should lose it's tax exempt status,along with my former Catholic church for similar reasons.

And while I always greet people I know are Mormon,from how you're dressed,it would be nice if occasionally you'd just accept my hello as friendliness and not ask if I'm interested in your church-especially on occasions when I'm wearing clothing identifying a one of my favorite bars....

7:35AM PDT on May 21, 2012

And they want one of the mormon faith to run for president. If Mitt would win it would set this entire movement back to the stone ages.

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