As I mentioned in my last post I spent the weekend in Salt Lake City attending the Mormon Stories gathering called Circling the Wagons. Here are my thoughts and immediate reactions. I didn’t take notes, but I wish I had… there was some good stuff. I started to write this as a summary and a review, but I bored myself to tears so I’m going with a more stream of consciousness approach with bullet-points.
- The general tone and theme was historic for that fact that the main organizers and featured speakers were all straight allies who feel the desire to stand up and say, “I love and support my gay family members and friends.” This wasn’t something put on by homosexuals clamoring for recognition or justice. Organizer John Dehlin, and participants Jimmy Creech, Bill Bradshaw, Carol Lynn Pearson, Bishop Kevin Kloosterman were all straight folks. It was all very pro gay and generally pro Mormon, but without being the “you must fit into this box” type of Mormon meeting.
- One of the other attendees I met during one of the breaks was a young straight BYU student who has no personal investment in the LGBT struggle other than a gay uncle and a roommate he suspects is gay. He shared that he wants to make a safe environment for his roommate to come out but more importantly he’d like to reach out to this uncle of his whose coming out caused a rift in the family. I told him that if a nephew of mine called up to tell me that he loved and accepted me regardless of the turmoil in the family that I’d be thrilled. I hope he makes that call. Things sure have changed a lot at BYU since I was there! They have a Straight/Gay Alliance that this student is part of and which meets on campus!
Jim Dabakis – Jim is the newly elected Democratic Party Chairperson in Utah, the first gay man to hold that office. He was interviewed at length by John Dehlin on Friday night. He reminded me of Gordon B Hinckley of all people. He had that “Isn’t is wonderful? Isn’t it marvelous? Everything is improving and growing better” air about him. It’s at the same time politically savvy, irritating and probably true. I liked his impish sense of humor. He actually provided unique insight into the changes in LGBT community in Utah and with the church. He spoke about high level meetings with church leaders and gay community leaders in Salt Lake City. It was interesting. I thought his last comment was awesome: “Find your passion. Find what you love and make it happen in your life and you’ll find joy.” The same solution for happiness and fulfillment for anyone.
- The Statement of Purpose for the meeting that can be found here, which I agree with and appreciate.
- I hadn’t been to a Mormon meeting in years and I was a bit taken aback by the rhythm, structure and even the accent that took me back to those church days. The opening sounded like a stake conference. Joseph Bloom of Invictus Pilgrim fame started everything off and he looks like he could be my friendly gay neighbor in Palm Springs but he sounds like an LDS general authority with the tonal dropping off at the end of sentences and slow pacing. Read his blog. It’s a must for any gay Mormon man.
- They had a “testimony meeting” at the end which came off a bit more serious than I had anticipated. Still, everyone who spoke occupied very far ranging points on the spectrum when it came to their relationship to the LDS church…from the faithful Mormon woman with a lesbian daughter to the gay atheist who hadn’t been to church in years. Even at worst it was a guarded appreciation for Mormonism rather than a bitter resentment.
- John Dehlin, the man behind Mormon Stories, is tall, with very kind eyes (and looks better than his pictures). This man is doing a lot of good in his own way and I admire him – and his wife and kids for coming to the event too. I think he’s misunderstood in
Mormon and Post Mormon forums and blogs. His concern isn’t to support nor to tear down any institution, but to provide support to individuals on their faith journeys regardless of where they end up. Yes, he lies probably more on the faith side than I do but as I’ve grown and matured away from Mormonism myself I find it more comfortable and rewarding to interact with people like him who see many paths and many faces possible rather than the false dichotomy of being 100% in or 100% out. I’d rather be friends with a believer who sees shades of gray than a non believer who can only see black and white.
- To shamelessly employ stereotypes, homosexuals tend to be extremely talented, organized and creative folks as evidenced at this conference. It’s the LDS church’s loss that the vast majority of us elect to leave or are pushed out. And if you don’t believe it has happened near you, you are wrong. I’d bet that right now there’s certainly someone in your ward who is a stellar example of a Mormon, but who hides his/her true thoughts and feelings because it’s not safe to share them. They’ll just walk away one day like I did because it’s a facade that can’t be maintained and remain healthy.
Lee Beckstead – Lee is a gay man, professional psychologist. I loved what he said about finding your own truth in life. Coming to a place of truth and peace is an individual struggle that no one can prescribe for you. I just wish I could remember more of what he said. I do recall his use of the blind men and elephant analogy. Each of the the blind men is touching a different part of the elephant so each describes what he is experiencing differently. It’s a great way to describe the different approaches gay men have to coming out and reacting to the church. If I were living in Utah and felt like I needed a therapist I’d go see him. I don’t know where he stands with regards to the LDS church, but he seems to be a former member with little to no investment as to where his clients might land on that spectrum.
Carol Lynn Pearson – This would be the closest thing there is to a Mormon celebrity (a celebrity for being Mormon, not a celebrity who happens to be Mormon). I got the chance to talk to her briefly in person. I found her to be warm, loving and compassionate in just the few moments we talked. Her presentation was eloquent and wise. Meeting her, listening to her, watching her interact with everyone was worth the trip alone. Someone once asked if I’d ever return to Mormonism and I said, “Absolutely not.” I take it back. I’d return if the prophet of the church were Carol L. Pearson!
- I’ve always felt that coming out and leaving the church made me more like my pioneer ancestors than disrespectful of them. Carol’s poem Pioneers confirmed this for me. She recited it and then it was sung by a choir to an original arrangement. I’m not much of a poem person but I loved the symbolism and truth of this one. This is my new theme.
- And there’s even more from the straights! Bishop Kevin Kloosterman, a Mormon Bishop in the Midwest somewhere flew out to take part in the conference. He shared his “Come to Jesus” moment with accepting and understanding homosexuality. Like Creech, he’s not gay and has no immediate family members who are gay (that he knows of) but he found the courage and strength to address the issue and found himself an ardent LGBT supporter. As I’ve said before, it’s people like this that will make the difference in LGBT civil rights.
The comment of the day was by Bill Bradshaw. During a session on the future of LGBT Mormons, panelists were asked the question, “What top ideas would you suggest that the church could do start to implement change?” The implication in the question and in the answers was that change is hard and so baby step were needed to account for the difficulty. Bill’s comment went something like, “I don’t see what’s so challenging or difficult to expect a Christian organization to act like it.” Amen to that.
- I loved that everyone clapped in appreciation and agreement with that remark and throughout the day. Oddly enough, clapping in church meetings isn’t an LDS custom. The prevailing custom says that it’s irreverent in the chapel, but I think it engenders audience participation and gratitude. This made the event seem less churchy and I was glad.
- Carol Lynn Pearson’s answer to that same question was spot on as well. She suggested that the LDS church needs to change now to give permission to LDS parents to LOVE, WELCOME and ACCEPT their gay, lesbian and transgendered children. I’d only expand that to say that those of us with children would hope that our children are likewise given permission in Primary to love, respect and admire their homosexual parents…and their partners too.
- Kevin Kloosterman later expanded on that idea reciting the Primary song “I’ll Walk With You” written by Carol Lynn Pearson. Maybe if that concept were emphasized more, then the bullying and suicides that have occurred in Utah wouldn’t in fact be happening with such frequency. Contrast the meaning and significance of that primary song with the song we all sang together at the end, I am a Child of God. The former encourages meaningful action towards others. The latter is sentimental and all about the self.
- Speaking of Primary, one of the LDS Mom’s got up during the open mic section at the end and said what needs to happen to implement real change in the church is that enough Primary Moms need to get really mad! I love that. So true.
- Also speaking of kids, thanks for the kid noises! If anything, THAT took me back to what a real Mormon meeting is like. If the person who brought their child reads this, I’m sorry if I’m sounding critical. Believe me, I’ve been in the position where I wanted or needed to attend something for my own sanity and so I brought my kids along because I had no one to babysit or no money to pay for one. If that’s the case, I’m glad you came. It really wasn’t THAT distracting. But it really is a Mormon thing to have kids making noises in the background, isn’t it?
Jimmy Creech was another of my favorite presenters. Not only is he not gay, he’s not Mormon either. Creech is a former United Methodist minister who was defrocked for marrying same-sex couples. He tells a beautiful story of transitioning from not knowing anything or really even caring about homosexuality to having his eyes opened by a congregant who confessed his frustration at being gay in a non-gay-friendly church.
- Mormon It Gets Better Project! Kendall Wilcox and Julia Hunter interviewed conference attendees for a Mormon version of the It Gets Better project. I participated and so once they’ve edited and published it I’ll post the link here. Of course, I felt like I said all the wrong things and came across unlike my real self so we’ll have to see how they edit it.
- LGBT Mormons Get Together (towleroad.com)
- Gay Democrat Wins Utah Party Chair, Courts Mormons (towleroad.com)
- Is The Mormon Church Responsible For Bryan Michael Egnew’s Suicide? (queerty.com)
- Mormon Bishop: Church Treatment Of Gays “An Atrocity” (alan.com)