For 30 years, I have been a leader in my church and community of Mesa. I announce to the world in this column that I am a gay Mormon. Putting those two words together in print is the hardest thing I’ve had to face.
Perhaps this article will shed some light on one of the key issues in our society today — gay rights and religious conservatism.
Coming from a gay man in a church whose members are, for the most part, conservative, my announcement will surely cause discomfort among many because of the tension that exists between science and religious policy on this issue. Some may not know what it is like to be a gay Mormon; hopefully, this column will shed some light and open a door to serious, well-directed discussion. Up until now, I have kept secret my sexual orientation. “Coming out” has now allowed me to embark upon a more intense journey toward inner spiritual peace. I realize that this will seem ironic to most.
For my fellow Christians, I want you to know that Jesus is my best friend. It is wonderful to have his love with me, His assurance that he loves me just the way I am. I have been taught that I am made in the image of God. Yet even with his help, I realize that the future holds many trials for me as an openly gay man in a conservative religion.
My predicament is not unique in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By some estimates there are as many as 500,000 gay Mormons. For us, the church has erected a crippling series of obstacles which have driven many gay Mormons to suicide. Utah has the highest rate of suicides among males age 15-24. Hardest hit by church policies are younger gay Mormon men who have had to create “anti-suicide pacts” to help each other live until they can eventually cope with a church that denies them life-affirming relationships. Many of us are living a life of closeted denial and secrecy as our leaders and fellow members compare our “condition” to Down syndrome, autism, alcoholism or drug addiction.
In a church that teaches constantly about marriage and family, we are told that to be accepted we must remain celibate as gays, without the blessing of a companion. We are denied respect for our God-given feelings for one another and the spiritual aspect of our devotion to a companion. I am convinced that, just as for straight people, gay people too get nearer to God through life-affirming, enduring relationships.
I find it puzzling that in a church that emphasizes intellectual attainment and education and boasts leaders in academia, the weird practice of so-called “reparative therapy” is still the treatment often recommended by some church leaders to gay members of their congregations. This therapy is not only unscientific and ineffective; it can be damaging and has been debunked by both of the leading professional societies in psychiatry and psychology. I told the therapist I was referred to that I didn’t want anything to do with reparative therapy because there was nothing wrong with me that needed repairing. It is clear to me, as it must be to most literate people, that homosexuality is simply a human biological variant, an immutable trait appearing in an ever-present segment of the human population.
With the continuing advance of scientific knowledge, particularly in the area of genetics, I believe that the church’s policy on gays will eventually change. I understand that the church wishes to remain in the mainstream in the eyes of our society. When a tipping point comes in social enlightenment about the situation of gays, as it surely will, the church will undoubtedly respond as it did to the civil rights movement when the priesthood was allowed to men of all races in 1978, or as it did when the practice of polygamy was discontinued in the 19th century in response to social and governmental pressure. Until that future day, I remain saddened that some families may be torn apart, and many of my gay brothers and sisters will grieve and be denied a loving companion.
After being in denial my whole life — denial which was encouraged by a policy that I consider unfair, a policy of a church I have loved and served — I am now allowing myself to be free, and to be me. It is my prayer that my church will move quickly toward that day when its policies will change.
If I help others through this column by encouraging kind and tolerant discussion and not rancor, I will be pleased and know that I am advancing God’s will in helping others who have lost faith in their church but wish to remain true to their God and his son and to themselves. I will stay true to the person I was from the beginning, a gay man, a good man, with a better future and a God who doesn’t make any junk.
Robert Parker has been a community activist
and church member for more than 30 years.
The Trevor Project operates a 24/7 crisis and suicide prevention helpline for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. If you or a friend are feeling lost or alone, call The Trevor Helpline at (866) 488-7386.