It doesn’t matter who we are or where we live; it doesn’t matter our political persuasion or the breadth of our testimony. Our income doesn’t matter, nor does our level of education. None of that matters when we face the startling reality that Mormons who are LGBT, particularly the young, often feel devalued and alienated from their faith community–rejected by us, their fellow Mormons, and the Church they were raised to love. A recent Salt Lake Tribune article suggests that the suicide rate, as well as the rates of attempted suicide and homelessness, are higher among young, gay Mormons than the national average, at least in the state of Utah. This means not only are we burying so many of our beloved family members, but we have in our midst an untold number of those who suffer the unquenchable thirst we call grief. In response, this Sunday, December 7, 2014, has been established as the first annual LDS LGBT Suicide and Homelessness Awareness Day. Members are asked to wear traditional (black) mourning attire to church, and, if willing, a rainbow ribbon as an outward, visual demonstration of their individual, inward commitment to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. It is a simple gesture of love for LGBT individuals and their families, a group of people who have, too often, felt alienated and excluded.
I know. Awareness days have become almost trite. A dime a dozen. How much good can wearing a ribbon possibly do? Well, in this case, quite a bit, considering Mormonism’s history with homosexuality. Not until recently has the church advocated that homosexuality is not a choice nor a character flaw, but an inborn drive. (See mormonsandgays.org, a site published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) I remember the days when homosexuals were openly called “deviants” and “perverts” in LDS circles. Reparative therapy was, to one degree or another, advocated in the Mormon world. Parents of gay children were told they had inadvertently turned their children against “natural affection” with their poor nurturing skills. Throw in Proposition 8 and the very public efforts made by the church to stop the legalization of gay marriage and we can begin to glimpse how our messaging to gay members and their families has been exclusionary. Whether we intended it or not (and often, particularly in past decades, we did intend it), our chapels were, and often still are, perceived as bearing signs that read “No Homosexuals Welcomed.” And that, quite plainly, is the antithesis of Christlike love.
So, for one Sunday, organizers are asking us to wear black clothing and/or a rainbow ribbon to church, largely as a symbol of our willingness to mourn with those within our faith community who have buried their LGBT family members after suicide, but also as a way to acknowledge that too many of our LGBT brothers and sisters face homelessness because of rejection. LDS LGBT Suicide and Homelessness Awareness Day is not a political movement advocating for gay marriage, nor is it any kind of “agitation” directed at the Mormon hierarchy. Truly, your–our–political or religious positions on these issues are of no consequence. All that matters are those families who sit in our congregations who have lost, or nearly lost, a loved one. What matters are all the “lost” LGBT men and women, young or not-so-young, who are homeless because of rejection. What matters is where our heart is and where our hands reach. Please join me in reaching out this Sunday, December 7.
(Please visit the LDS LGBT Suicide and Homelessness Awareness Day Facebook page for more information. Remember to click “join” to show your support.)
And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:11)