GUEST POST: Growing up in primary, it was ingrained in me that I always needed to live like Jesus because, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was special. People are always watching so we need to be an example of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That lesson has stuck with me. I’ve always tried to be like Jesus, which is hard when the authorities of your church and others who love you tell you living as a gay man is incompatible with discipleship.
I was raised in Salt Lake City. As I grew older, I realized that I was having “evil” thoughts, some would say “unnatural,” about other boys. I became especially careful at about not doing anything that would give away that I was battling “demons” on the inside. After all, people were watching. They’d see. They’d treat me as an aberration and maybe an enemy of the Church. At some point, my actions became less about setting an example and more about not letting anyone know my secret. I was afraid that my community wouldn’t accept me. So I hid my true nature and pretended to be someone that I’m not.
Who am I? I’m a returned missionary and a former branch president. I’ve been a member of Elders Quorum presidencies and bishoprics. I spent over a decade as a gay man in various singles wards. Along the way, I have made many LDS friends, but I hid part of myself. And I watched.
Instead of being the example other people watched, I became the person who was always watching and listening to members of the Church, looking for their example. I listened to the talks during Sacrament, Stake Conference, and General Conference. I paid attention to the Sunday School lessons and comments by ward members. I heard about the gay agenda and gay attacks on the family.
At church social activities, I heard the jokes, and I paid close attention to how people in my circle laughed. I heard how they referred to gay people and others in the LGBT+ community. I listened to find acceptance and a safe space where I felt I could belong. I didn’t hear it.
I stayed in the closet for way too long–until I was 44 years old–because I didn’t feel safe to come out. There were no allies in my world speaking out about loving and accepting people like me. Rather, I heard about conversion therapy, mixed orientation marriages, and other ways of treating this “illness” called “same sex attraction” that nobody could explain. Back in those days, the LDS Church managed gay members by encouraging us to be quiet, to pretend to be straight, to live “as if’ by entering into mixed orientation marriages, and to just pray it away. Basically, stay in the closet because the God who made me gay wanted me there.
The address that Jeffrey Holland gave on August 23, 2021 to BYU faculty is the same message that I heard thirty years ago, but this time it’s packaged as much for the outspoken LGBT+ allies as for gay members. Be quiet. Embrace a doctrine that you know in your heart is wrong. Stay in the closet. It is so sad to see the Church’s leadership using the same fear they used on me to now keep allies in the closet. When they attempt to silence the voices of our allies, they take away our safe space and push LGBT+ members deeper into the closet with all the loneliness, isolation and depression that comes with it.
I have watched the reactions of my friends when the Church changed its policy on baptizing children of gay parents and then changed it back again; I watched the reactions as BYU removed the language on homosexuality in the BYU Honor Code and then, after students came out publicly, put it back; and now I’m watching the reaction (or lack thereof) to an apostle calling for BYU faculty to take up their “muskets” against gay marriage. They can’t “fire” at gay marriage without firing at gay people like me and my husband. I don’t know if it was Elder Holland’s intent to make the lives of LGBT+ members much more difficult, but he did.
After I first came out, I didn’t participate in Pride events. I told myself that I wasn’t one of those kind of gays. I don’t march in parades and fly flags. (This was partly due to the emotional baggage I still carried.) Then I realized that the only reason I had found the courage to come out was because I had seen others before me come out. I had seen the love and acceptance they received from our allies. I had witnessed people just like me with full, happy lives. Now, I fly the rainbow flag every chance I get. I don’t do it for myself. I do it for others that are where I was ten years ago, looking for that safe space where they can be who they were created to be.
When I decided to live as an out gay man, we had social media, but not the public LDS allies I see today. I knew a community existed outside of the Church where I would be accepted with open arms, but I mourned the thought of walking away from everything and everyone I had grown up with, including my family and friends, if they chose not to accept and respect me. I had to mentally prepare to lose everyone. This was desperation not desertion of principle. Imagine what kind of place you’d have to be in to say goodbye to your family, your friends, your entire community. That was where I was. I didn’t want to lose any of them.
Over the years since I’ve come out, I’ve been repeatedly heartbroken at the perceived lack of support I have seen from my LDS friends and family members. It’s become incredibly easy for people to take a public stand on things they care about. A “like” or “love,” a retweet or share, or even exclamation points or other emojis are all it takes. In an age where people have no problem sharing how they feel about presidential candidates or vaccines, the Church membership largely refuses to directly share their love for their own LGBT+ community.
I’ve seen “friends” be there for me when my little sister died of cancer and then be absent two months later when I got engaged to an amazing man who also has an LDS background. When searching for a wedding venue, my fiancé and I were turned away by the owner because he said our marriage was not part of “God’s plan.” Only a handful of our LDS friends reached out with their support, but do you know who was there for us? Episcopalians, Unitarians, Presbyterians, atheists and many others, all acting a lot more like Jesus than my “friends” from the church in which I was blessed as an infant, baptized as a child, received the priesthood as a young man, and served continually.
I heard unexpectedly from other LDS friends who were closeted and in mixed orientation marriages but who just couldn’t keep it in any longer and a friend whose teenage child was outed unexpectedly and then attempted suicide. These are active members of the Church. They are also watching and listening to Church leaders and to the members surrounding them. We are all watching, listening, and waiting for you to speak up.
We are not going away. A recent survey suggests that up to 23% of Gen Z members of the Church identify as non-heterosexual. LBGT+ members of the Church (especially youth) need to see that they have people who love and accept them exactly as God created them, despite what church leaders or society tell them to reject. Our gay youth need allies that aren’t afraid to publicly speak out for them, to accept them as equals, let them know they aren’t broken or a mistake, and give them a safe space where they can live their authentic lives.
I don’t share this message for myself. I am not looking for validation or acceptance. I have found my tribe that loves and accepts me unconditionally and celebrates my marriage. I write these words for your co-workers, for your neighbors, for your fellow ward members, for your extended family members, and for your children. I have been where they are, desperately searching for affirmation and acceptance and only hearing silence.
I understand that it is easier to just go along with the Brethren, but members of the Church have remained on the sidelines on this issue for way too long. Put down your muskets and lift up your voices. Remember what you learned in Primary. You are special, you are an example to the world–a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints–and we are watching.
Jeff is a finance executive turned real estate investor who lives in Dallas, TX with his husband Aaron, a high school choir director. A descendent of George Cannon, whose sister was married to John Taylor, the third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints, his family history dates back to the earliest days of the Church. He is an avid tennis player and enjoys traveling the world with his husband whenever school is not in session
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. ~ Matt 25:40