Categorized | featured, opinion

Bridging the Watershed: Prop 8 and the Gay/Mormon Divide

Posted on 09 January 2009 by admin



Reposted from Frontiers Magazine (Los Angeles)

The rainbow-striped flag proudly serves as a reminder of the diversity that makes up our community — the colors, faces, personalities, interests, propensities and … denominations. The upheaval from the subsequent passing of Prop. 8 has fostered a great Mormon/gay divide — fueled by difference, ignited by politics. On these pages, Frontiers gives voice to those least heard, whose dual identities vehemently, so it seems, oppose each other. We asked three “gay Mormons” to share their personal thoughts and experiences, and though the views expressed are not necessarily that of Frontiers, they’re among a small sample of a voice that needs to be heard. We ask only that you listen before trenching deeper into the growing rift. Three perspectives: pain, hope and love.

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” —Kenji Miyazawa

Christen Madsen II (25), Graduate student in MA (Linguistics)

I was expelled from Brigham Young University, barred from serving a two-year mission, went before two Bishop’s disciplinary councils, and was censured by being placed on formal probation, subsequently disfellowshipped, and threatened with excommunication from the Mormon Church for being a homosexual. While active in the Church, I was made to feel like a second-class member, so I was not surprised when the Church opened its coffers and mobilized its members to enact a law that makes gays and lesbians second-class citizens.

Being descended from Mormon pioneers who crossed the Great Plains to escape persecution, I grew up hearing tales of their martyrdoms and sufferings from being a religious minority with peculiar beliefs and a quirky family structure. But one would be wrong in assuming that a culture that recalls injustices from the past would foster an inclusive environment: For years my peers taunted and humiliated me without reproach for my nonconformance. The degradations I suffered were permitted with the leader’s silent condonations.

After being outed to my parents, they forced me to go before the bishop, after which I was expelled from BYU. Due to the divide caused in part by the Church and its teachings, I have isolated myself from my parents to avoid the recurrent fights during which they suggest reparative therapy. Enthusiastically, they responded to the Church’s call for Prop. 8 and even donated money to a cause that diminished the rights of their own son. Of my entire extended family, only my aunt, an ex-Mormon, and my active Mormon brother are accepting.

I was sorely dismayed by the Church’s participation in the Yes on 8 campaign and finally resolved, albeit harrowingly, to formally denounce the abominable actions of the Church by rescinding my membership. Until recently, I valued and proudly displayed my Mormon heritage by donning a CTR ring (the Christian cross equivalent) bearing the acronym of the Mormon motto: “Choose the Right.” I continued to distinguish myself as a gay Mormon—the dichotomy greatly contributed to my personal identity—attempting to exculpate the Church, while disregarding the myriad condemnations: The Church can’t change its core tenets to become totally inclusive; only polite tolerance, never warm embrace, will be our final recompense.

I was futilely attempting to reconcile my heritage with harsh reality.

I thought my words might read anti-Mormon, however, in light of my experiences I think it is justified. I won’t apologize for my anger at being excluded and being made a pariah and I think none would begrudge me that.

In the wake of the elections, I reflected on the incongruity of participating in protests to express my dismay at being made a second-class citizen while associating myself with the Church. Although no longer an official member, I realized that I could not continue to identify as a gay Mormon. I slipped off the CTR ring and have yet to wear it since.

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” —Winston Churchill

M. Nate Green (28), Masters Student (Architecture)

As a child, I remember hearing the stories of a time when my Mormon ancestors were treated differently, and of their courageous fight to find peace, tolerance and respect in a society that found the Mormon lifestyle depraved.

On Oct. 27, 1838, the governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, issued an extermination order that stated: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state.” I remember the stories of cruelty: Unified by conviction, 17 died standing up against an angry mob; wives were torn from their husbands as anti-plural marriage laws were enforced; my Mormon ancestors were driven from their homes, leaving behind their possessions to face the freezing winter plains of the Midwest to create a place of fairness and peace in Utah.

These stories made my ancestors heroes to me, not just because they withstood such atrocities with strength, but also because they used these experiences to better themselves—with resolve, courage and love. And in the aftermath of Proposition 8, I’m saddened that the lessons of the past can be so quickly forgotten.

I remember growing up in the Mormon Church as I became painfully aware of the discord between my religion and my sexuality and how I fiercely struggled to overcome my “evil gay tendencies.” I remember gay friends investigated, excommunicated and forced from their studies at BYU.

I remember my first boyfriend and the journey we set out on. Together, we braved coming out to our families. Together, we tore down a sign on my apartment door that singled me out by name as a “fag.” And together, like my ancestors, we learned that we could not be silent in the face of intolerance.

I remember the day I finally understood that it was not my gay identity that needed to be overcome.

But I also remember the story of my great, great, great, great grandfather, Robert Harris, who became so enraged with the unfavorable rumors he’d heard about Mormons that he organized a mob to attack a Mormon missionary. On the moment of attack, he stopped—he listened—he heard the Mormon missionary’s message. In that single moment he realized that he had been misinformed about the Mormons. He immediately called off the mob.

So today, I can only find words of hope, courage and determination because today, I remember that one voice can stop a mob. Our fight, just like my Mormon ancestors’, will not be in vain. Together—unified by our own convictions—amongst all the cacophony of the last few months, our message will be heard. Despite our setbacks, we are on the cusp of a critical mass—we will find peace, tolerance and respect in this society. I know that soon, just around the corner, I will remember our fight and marvel that there was a time when we were treated differently.

“Love is saying ‘I feel differently’ instead of ‘You’re wrong.’” —Anonymous

George Cole (27), Assistant Executive Director of Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not bad people. They earnestly want to make the world a better place. With Prop. 8, however, they really missed the mark. After an invitation from San Francisco’s Catholic Archbishop George Niederauer to join a pro-8 coalition, LDS leaders convinced their members to give tremendous amounts of time and money to end marriage equality in California. While I don’t believe Prop. 8 passed because of Mormons, they played a key role.

How the Church behaved in this election made me angry, and ashamed of my spiritual heritage. Persecution for peculiar beliefs—especially about marriage—drove Mormons west to what became Utah, and they have leveraged their history of persecution to gain converts and non-Mormon sympathy. I’m saddened that they’ve turned around and persecuted others for wanting only what most everyone else has.

I understand where Mormons are coming from. They believe that God created all things spiritually before they were created physically, and that gender is an eternal characteristic human spirits had in that pre-mortal existence, and that each human being will have in the afterlife. They also believe that God ordained marriage for bringing those unborn spirits into this mortal world. When those beliefs are coupled with their doctrine of eternal marriage, an ordinance performed in their temples, they get really nervous about what might happen should gays be allowed to marry.

Before the LDS Church discontinued polygamy in 1890, the federal government disincorporated the Church and threatened to seize property, including the temples where the most sacred ordinances, like marriage, are performed. It’s no wonder false rumors circulated among Mormons that if Prop. 8 failed they would have to stop performing marriages in their temples in California, even though it’s patently untrue. They also faced lawsuits in the ’60s and ’70s when they withheld their priesthood—normally extended to all male members—from those with African ancestry, a policy they changed in 1978. External pressure has changed LDS practice before, and it makes Mormons nervous.

I don’t advocate that the LDS Church or any other church be forced to accept or marry anyone. I don’t want to be married in a Mormon temple, for the same reasons I don’t want a Catholic or a Jewish wedding: I don’t want or need their approval for whom to love. I simply want them to respect how I live my life and whom I live it with.

For all that, some good things came out of the Mormons’ involvement in passing Prop. 8. First, they helped energize the LGBT community. Second, they ran an effective campaign, and we can learn a lot about how to do it better next time. But most of all, they officially came out in support of many of the rights of marriage for same-sex couples, including civil unions. We’re not going to win them over on marriage equality, but we can get them to hold to what they say they are for.

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Targeting Mormons Unfair?

Equality California estimates that Mormons donated as much as $20 million to Prop. 8, while the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal group, gave $1.25 million to the effort and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, $200,000.



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