How many deaths will it take
til [they know] too many people have died?
I spent the evening remembering young gay Mormon men and women like Todd Ransom who have committed suicide. Three this month in Utah. And the list was already too, too long. Adding on to the toll was the accidental death of two matriarchs of the gay Mormon community, Ina Mae Murri and Stella Butler. While we cannot stop accidents, I hope and pray we can stop the suicides and the attempts.
For all the people who were upset about blacks not having access to priesthood and temples and even prayers during Sacrament Meetings, they didn’t kill themselves over it. For all the people who were upset about the Church’s support for the ERA or the banning of women praying in Sacrament Meeting or of mothers with children at home working in temples, they didn’t kill themselves over it. What is it about young gay Mormons? We must find a solution because too many lights are going out.
I’ve hesitated putting some of the following links on this site because they are hard to read. But we cannot solve problems until we know what those problems are. We cannot answer the why? questions until we have some insight into history.
We are all products of our culture. What we grow up learning, hearing, reading and watching influences the way we see the world and the way we communicate about it. Our experiences frame our questions and our answers.
So what have today’s LDS leaders heard, read, and listened to regarding homosexuality? And what are they currently saying?
Certainly, we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long road ahead.
Finding information about what LDS leaders have said about homosexuality is not always easy, because they were more likely to use euphemisms (Crime Against Nature; Deviate Behavior; Perversion; Same-Gender Attraction; HLM (for homosexual lesbian marriage)). Not surprisingly, other sex-related terminology is dressed up in non-precise language as well – Self Abuse; Virtue; Morality – for instance.
In 1970, the Church published a pamphlet for local leaders called, “Hope for Transgressors.” It advised that “homosexuality can be cured…. [and]… forgiven.” It encouraged leaders with particularly difficult cases to contact [Quorum of the Twelve] President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder Mark E. Petersen if they needed specific assistance. As men worked through the curative and repentance processes, leaders are counseled:
When you feel he is ready, he should be encouraged to date and to gradually move his life toward the normal….If they will close the door to intimate associations with their own sex and open it wide to that of the other sex, of course in total propriety, and then be patient and determined, gradually they can move their romantic interests where they belong. Marriage and normal life can follow.
In 1971, a pamphlet specifically written for homosexual men, “New Horizons for Homosexuals” was published over Spencer W. Kimball’s signature. It begins, “I am your friend, your real friend, for I am trying hard to help you save yourself from pitfalls which, I am sure, you do not fully realize are gaping wide to swallow you, the victim.” It clearly follows the advice for leaders given in the “Hope for Transgressors” pamphlet, providing appeals to confidante relationships, scriptural references, a purpose in life, reason, assurance of loneliness, and the path of repentance.
In 1969, while Kimball was in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Miracle of Forgiveness was published. This book has been a go-to reference for all sorts of transgressions and sins, quoted in lesson manuals and distributed by bishops guiding people along the path of repentance. Most, if not all, English-speaking adult members of the Church have heard of this book and many have read it cover to cover. We’ve discussed in other places some of the quotes found in his tome.
In October 1976, Elder Boyd K. Packer addressed the Priesthood session of conference, focusing his talks to the 12-18-year-old young men in the audience. This talk was later published as a pamphlet called, “For Young Men Only.” A theme of both this talk and of many official church documents was that, “There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it.”
There are two parts to this argument: First, that there is something you can do about your orientation (change it, cure it, overcome it, fight it, ignore it); and Second, that God doesn’t make mistakes and create people destined to live with abominations. It could imply that there are other causes for homosexuality, for instance: Something non-genetic/non-biological/non-hereditary, Parental failure, disease/contagion, Satanic influence, biology, environment, pornography, masturbation, selfishness, abuse, speaking about it, and others (see this .pdf for a sampling of what causes were said in what year).
Since 1990, church leaders have acknowledged that they don’t know what causes homosexuality, specifically relieving concerned parents from the burden of worrying that their actions somehow caused their children to be attracted toward members of the same sex.
In March 1978, Elder Packer addressed an older group of people, BYU students. Again, his talk was published as a pamphlet provided to anyone dealing with homosexuality in the church, entitled, “To the One.” Advice from that talk included:
“You must learn this: Overcoming moral temptation is a very private battle, and internal battle. There are many around you who want to help and who can help – parents, branch president, bishop, for a few a marriage partner. And after that, if necessary, there are counselors and professionals to help you. But do not start with them. Others can lend moral support and help establish an environment for your protection. But this is an individual battle.”
In November, 1980, President Kimball addressed the youth of the church about morality. His words as prophet reiterated what he taught a decade earlier in his book on repentance:
“Sometimes masturbation is the introduction to the more serious sins of exhibitionism and the gross sin of homosexuality. We would avoid mentioning these unholy terms and these reprehensible practices were it not for the fact that we have a responsibility to the youth of Zion that they be not deceived by those who would call bad good, and black white.”
In light of this history of rhetoric, it is a breath of fresh air to read current publications and statements about homosexuality:
“You are a precious son or daughter of God. He not only knows your name; He knows you. His love for you is individual. You lived in His presence before you were born on this earth. You cannot remember your premortal relationship with Him, but He does. Although His children may sometimes do things that disappoint Him, He will always love them.”
“Some people with same-gender attraction have felt rejected because members of the Church did not always show love. No member of the Church should ever be intolerant. As you show love and kindness to others, you give them an opportunity to change their attitudes and follow Christ more fully.”
We’ve certainly come a long way, but there is still much farther to go. And as we approach Pioneer Day, the day when we remember Mormon ancestors who walked across a continent in order to establish a religion, we remember all those who walk alongside us as well as those who have fallen by the wayside. In the words of Carol Lynn Pearson, author of No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones:
“When we see a need, we respond. When we are conscious, we act. That new pioneer journey I spoke of in the first part of this book is a journey of consciousness. Now that you have read the stories of anguish and of healing, have met our gay loved ones and the parents, sisters, brothers, and friends who have circled the wagons around them, you have journeyed in consciousness and have, I believe, arrived at a new place. Now you know….
“Today there is a despondent gay man somewhere who has checked to see if his father’s gun is still where it used to be. Tonight there is a lesbian who again cries herself to sleep over her awful alternatives, ‘You may choose between being gay or being a member of this family.’ Today there are parents whose tears are for the pain of their loved gay child, for the lack of support they receive from their church, for the condemning rhetoric they continue to hear, and for the fear that the members of their congregation might find out the family secret. Today there takes place a marriage ceremony for a young, gay man, anxious to please God and his church, and an eager starry-eyed young bride who believes her groom’s romantic restraint has come from his righteousness. Today a child cries before going to school, terrified that a classmate may learn that his father is gay and start calling him names.
“These people are still on the plains. I am asking you to load up the wagons. You can do it without fully understanding, even without fully ‘approving.’ You have the supplies, parcels of love, compassion, encouragement, respect, good information, and humility in knowing that there is much we have yet to learn. You have the words of Jesus: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’ And you have the words that still echo across the century and a half: Go and bring in those people now on the plains.”
What have you done today to silence the rhetoric? To shout the love? To save a life?