29 June 2011

Where Are They

Several friends have recently told me of numerous e-mails they’ve each gotten from schoolmates or mission companions who’ve essentially come out in those e-mails, either explicitly or implicitly by asking questions that only a closeted person would think of. It’s startling, really, how many. Active, faithful Mormon guys. And these are only the ones I’ve heard of. Obviously there’s got to be more.

Statistics I’ve seen from various sources say that between 1% and 10% of any given population will be gay. In 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young single elders. I’ll assume that proportion is still current. As of the April 2011 General Conference statistical report, there were 52,225 missionaries serving at the end of 2010.

Combining these statistics suggests that somewhere between 400 and 4100 of the LDS missionaries now serving are gay. And these are just the guys (I couldn’t find statistics for how many single female missionaries were serving). They will come home and, if they’re strong enough, start looking for people like my friends who are out and who can answer questions about how to reconcile who they are with what they’ve been taught.

I admit, I envy these guys. Things still aren’t where they should be, but they’re a lot easier now. When I returned from my mission, before the days of widespread acceptance of civil unions, growing acceptance of marriage equality, and the openness that now prevails, I intuitively understood that coming out of the closet was unthinkable. So I did what I was told was my only hope for happiness: stifled and tried to kill off that part of myself, got married to a beautiful girl who did not deserve what ended up happening, and learned to be a very good actor.

Imagine living your life as if you were on a stage 24/7. Every waking moment having to monitor your own actions, words, nuances, thoughts, even the way you move and dress, for fear of tipping someone off to who you really are because if they found out, you’d be at risk of losing everything. That’s what it was like. Exhausting. Ultimately the marriage ended and that made it possible for me to get off the stage.

So now I’m hearing all these stories about gay Mormon guys popping up right and left. Some more traditional types think it’s an “epidemic” of people who have “decided” to be gay. That’s silly, of course; it’s well-settled that nobody “decides” to be gay. Or straight, for that matter. You just are what you are. All we’re seeing is more gay people who are comfortable de-cloaking and being at ease with who they are. And that’s a good thing.

But it makes me wonder, too. According to everything I’ve read, the proportion of gay people in any given population has always been fairly constant. That means back when I was a missionary, and just afterward when I was at college, there were hundreds of gay guys serving and at school with me too. Yet I look around me and see how many in my demographic there aren’t as compared to, say, the missionary age guys, and I ask myself “Where are they? Surely they’re somewhere. Where?”

The only thing I can think of is they’ve already drifted away from the LDS church, or they did what I did and are still there, but padlocked in a basement below the closet door. Married, with kids, working jobs and in the church, set in careers and being husbands and fathers and doing all that normal Mormon stuff. And probably just suffering in silence. Still on stage, like I was. Perhaps they’ve already given up any thought or hope that things could or should be different. Too invested in marriages and kids and reputations and careers now, fearing it’d cost more to disentangle than they’d recoup by coming out and being true to who they really are.

Some of them may be content with that. Some may still be suffering, perhaps even agonizing, over the what if’s. Some may have gotten so numb from the suffocating that they can’t imagine ever changing things. On auto-pilot. It’s easy to do in the Mormon church, where virtually every aspect of your life can be dictated for you, if you let it.

It was tough when my marriage ended. It’s still difficult sometimes. I feel awful for what happened to both of us because I, trying to be the faithful priesthood holder, trusted the “inspired” counsel of leaders who obviously didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

That’s past. Now I’m able to build a new more authentic life. And it’s been great, wonderful, exhilarating. I can’t imagine going back on stage. Nothing would be worth carrying that burden again.

But I look around at my demographic on the road of life, a ways ahead of those friends who are getting all the e-mails. And there are far fewer of us I can see on the road at this stage than at theirs. I know there must be just as many of us in the world. But it looks like most of them are still cloaked. And if they’re still cloaked at this stage, chances are that’s where they’ll stay.

If they freely choose that, then okay, that’s their prerogative. But I freely chose it too, and I know how I ended up feeling. And how I feel now. So my heart breaks for those of them who are staying silent and invisible out of duty, or fear, or inertia, or apathy. Because I know how they’re feeling and what they’re missing. I wish there were some way I could find them and say “I know. I understand. I’ve been there. It can get better if you want it to. It’s really not as scary as you think. There are so many of us waiting to welcome you.”

Everyone has to decide what's best for their own life, of course. But I think Professor Dumbledore was right: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

28 June 2011

What's The Difference

I've actually gotten this question from friends and family. Why do you have to shove this in our faces? Why do you have to advertise it? Why do you force us to confront something we find distasteful? Why can't you just keep it to yourself? Why can't you be satisfied with civil unions and leave marriage alone?

Well, with Davey Wavey's help ("borrowed" from his Break the Illusion Blog), here's what I hope will be a new perspective on those questions.

The Heterosexual Privilege

As I’ve mentioned more than once, I think being gay is pretty awesome – and it comes with a number of benefits, including never having to deal with tampons. But let’s face it: When it comes to privileges, straight people definitely take the cake.

The Heterosexual Privilege Checklist is a list that helps straight people get a better understanding of what it’s like to be gay in a very hetero world. It makes it a little bit easier for straight people to put themselves in the shoes of their gay friends and family. I encourage you to share this article, which I’ve reproduced below, with your nears and dears in the hopes of facilitating some meaningful dialogue.

On a daily basis as a straight person…

I can be pretty sure that my roommate, hallmates and classmates will be comfortable with my sexual orientation.

If I pick up a magazine, watch TV, or play music, I can be certain my sexual orientation will be represented.

When I talk about my heterosexuality (such as in a joke or talking about my relationships), I will not be accused of pushing my sexual orientation onto others.

I do not have to fear that if my family or friends find out about my sexual orientation there will be economic, emotional, physical or psychological consequences.

I did not grow up with games that attack my sexual orientation (IE f*g tag or smear the queer) [I actually heard one of these phrases from a friend just a week or two ago. He realized what he'd said and immediately apologized. Just goes to show you how entrenched this stuff is.]

I am not accused of being abused, warped or psychologically confused because of my sexual orientation.

I can go home from most meetings, classes, and conversations without feeling excluded, fearful, attacked, isolated, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance, stereotyped or feared because of my sexual orientation.

I am never asked to speak for everyone who is heterosexual.

I can be sure that my classes will require curricular materials that testify to the existence of people with my sexual orientation.

People don’t ask why I made my choice of sexual orientation.

People don’t ask why I made my choice to be public about my sexual orientation.

I do not have to fear revealing my sexual orientation to friends or family. It’s assumed.

My sexual orientation was never associated with a closet.

People of my gender do not try to convince me to change my sexual orientation.

I don’t have to defend my heterosexuality.

I can easily find a religious community that will not exclude me for being heterosexual.

I can count on finding a therapist or doctor willing and able to talk about my sexuality.

I am guaranteed to find sex education literature for couples with my sexual orientation.

Because of my sexual orientation, I do not need to worry that people will harass me.

I have no need to qualify my straight identity.

My masculinity/femininity is not challenged because of my sexual orientation.

I am not identified by my sexual orientation.

I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my sexual orientation will not work against me.

If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has sexual orientation overtones.

Whether I rent or I go to a theater, Blockbuster, an EFS or TOFS movie, I can be sure I will not have trouble finding my sexual orientation represented.

I am guaranteed to find people of my sexual orientation represented in my workplace.

I can walk in public with my significant other and not have people double-take or stare.

I can choose to not think politically about my sexual orientation.

I do not have to worry about telling my roommate about my sexuality. It is assumed I am a heterosexual.

I can remain oblivious of the language and culture of LGBTQ folk without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.

I can go for months without being called straight.

I’m not grouped because of my sexual orientation.

My individual behavior does not reflect on people who identity as heterosexual.

In everyday conversation, the language my friends and I use generally assumes my sexual orientation. For example, sex inappropriately referring to only heterosexual sex or family meaning heterosexual relationships with kids.

People do not assume I am experienced in sex (or that I even have it!) merely because of my sexual orientation.

I can kiss a person of the opposite gender without being watched and stared at.

Nobody calls me straight with maliciousness.

People can use terms that describe my sexual orientation and mean positive things (IE “straight as an arrow”, “standing up straight” or “straightened out” ) instead of demeaning terms (IE “ewww, that’s gay” or being “queer” ) .

I am not asked to think about why I am straight.

I can be open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job.

All of this isn’t to say that straight people have it easy by virtue of being straight. We all have our challenges and obstacles. But the heterosexual privilege may help some straight people get a better and deeper understanding of what it’s like to be gay in today’s society.

26 June 2011

An Amazing Day

Last Friday. Wow. It's gonna be hard to beat that one.

A year ago on 24th June I stood on a stone jetty on the shore of Cape Cod and had the privilege of officiating at not one but two marriage ceremonies, both read from an iPhone. It was picture-perfect. Blue sky, blue water, clear sunshine, smiles and happiness as you'd expect at any wedding. All four new spouses dear friends of mine. So Friday was their anniversary. I can't believe it's been a whole year!

I will always remember that day as one of the highlights of my life. Not only that, it was my birthday as well. How many guys can say that on their birthday they performed two weddings for four friends? How amazing is that? What a birthday present they gave me. Thanks guys!

And then this year, not only do I get a flood of birthday greetings from friends far and wide, and not only do I have the happiness of thinking of those weddings, but the New York state senate gives us all a gift and passes marriage equality. On my birthday. And on friends' anniversaries. Of all days! What are the odds?

A friend in Tennessee had a power outage at home for about 3 days, and on Friday, his lights came back on. He posted a Facebook status about it, to which I replied that thanks the NY state senate, the drive for equality across the country can say the same thing: "My power has come back on."

One of the ways we celebrated was with a trip to the annual Highland Games yesterday. My family's sense of Scots tradition is strong and we enjoy attending these events. I wore my kilt the whole day, though, not just at the games, including for morning excursions around downtown San Diego. You wouldn't believe how many compliments I got on it, including while walking down the street, a guy driving past slowed down, rolled down his window, honked, gave me a thumbs up, and shouted "love the kilt!" I shouted back "Thank you!"

I pity any guy who's never worn a kilt, or who doesn't have the guts to do it in public. It feels great. And imagine all the adulation they're missing out on. Plus you get the fun of being playful with brazen women who ask the predictable question. This actually happened to me yesterday. I told her nothing was worn, everything was in perfect working order. She said she still wanted to verify for herself. I told her take a number and call my admin, there were others queued up ahead of her. She laughed and got the message, I think.

I amused myself yesterday morning by reading through the comments to a news story about New York marriage equality in Salt Lake City's Mormon-owned newspaper. There weren't as many Chicken Littles predicting impending doom of civilization as I expected, a nice surprise. Sure there were some, trotting out all the old arguments that they don't know have been thoroughly debunked already. And I was surprised at my reaction most of all. A couple of years ago I would have jumped into the fray and started jousting with these people. Now I just shrug and smile. Not worth the effort. They won't be persuaded, their fears are groundless, and marriage equality is inevitable anyway. My challenging them won't change any of that. Demographics alone are turning the tide and bending the arc of history toward justice, as Dr. King said. I'm glad I'm along for the ride.

And now it's a beautiful perfect summer Sunday, quiet and relaxing. Time to catch up on sleep, go to church, relax and read, chat with friends, blog. I have a lot to be grateful for.

12 June 2011

To LDS Friends & Family

I'm about to ask you to do a difficult thing. It is to read something. Something you probably wouldn't otherwise run across, or choose to read even if you did see it.

So, with respect, I will remind you that Joseph Smith himself said "by proving contraries is truth made manifest." That means we can learn truth by comparing and contrasting competing, disputing and opposing positions on things. And so in that spirit, that's what I'm about to ask you to read. This will challenge some of your beliefs. But remember that Pres. J. Reuben Clark said if the church has the truth, then it can't be harmed. So there should be nothing to fear.

This article was written by a friend of mine and it's been picked up by a national news blog. Please read and give good faith consideration to what it says. It may make you uncomfortable. But it seeks to do what Joseph Smith said, make truth manifest by examining contraries. Nobody should be afraid of that.


Timed for the annual gay pride celebrations, the LDS Church’s official magazine, the Ensign, has an anti-gay manifesto in its current issue.

The article is written by Elder Bruce D. Porter a General Authority who was formerly a political science professor at BYU. The article’s subject is political, not spiritual.

Placing political op-ed pieces in the Church’s educational materials is not a good idea. In fact, mixing politics with religion, in general, is a bad idea. It results in bad politics and bad religion.

Three things struck me when reading the piece. First, there’s the virulence of its anti-gay sentiment. The article contains no words of compassion, just condemnation and a call to political action against families the Church doesn’t approve of. Then there’s the cowardice. The article doesn’t mention gay people by name, and it doesn’t use the term homosexuality. It is written entirely using code words. And finally, the article repeatedly claims victim status for the Church. It evades all responsibility for the disaster that was Proposition 8.

You can read the essay for yourself, but I will respond to a few of the most egregious parts.

The first four paragraphs lay the foundation of a straw man argument. Porter presents as controversial the completely uncontroversial position that the family is an important social institution. (Can you see where this is going yet?) After this set up, Porter gets ready to attack his straw man:

[M]any of society’s leaders and opinion-makers increasingly seem to have lost their bearings when it comes to understanding the vital importance of the family.

We live in a day … when good is called evil and evil good. Those who defend the traditional family … are mocked and ridiculed. On the other hand, those … who seek to redefine the very essence of what a family is, are praised and upheld as champions of tolerance. Truly, the world has turned upside down.


For the record, those of us who are on the receiving end of the Church’s political campaigns do not mock the Church. We disagree with the Church’s political actions, and we are harmed by the practical consequences of those actions. There’s a difference between disagreeing and mocking, even if the Church doesn’t see it.

As for the argument that proponents of marriage equality want to “redefine the very essence of what a family is,” one can also ask if President Kimball redefined “the very essence” of LDS priesthood in 1978. Extending the rights and benefits of marriage to a small minority of people has no effect on existing marriages, just as giving the LDS priesthood to blacks did not “redefine” the priesthood already held by others.

As usual, just exactly how same-sex marriage is an attack on the traditional family or on traditional marriage is not explained, it is merely taken for granted. For a thorough discussion of these issues, I would recommend to Elder Porter the transcript of the federal court case that overturned Prop. 8 in California. (Why was Elder Porter, an expert from BYU, not a witness at that trial?)

Next, Porter dismisses tolerance as a virtue while simultaneously accusing any who engage in debate over gay issues as intolerant:

Latter-day Saints are often accused of narrow-mindedness or lack of tolerance and compassion because of our belief in following precise standards of moral behavior as set forth by God’s prophets…. Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination. It meant civility in the political arena; in other words, respecting the right of others to express their views, even if we do not agree with them. It meant treating all people with decency and respect. Such tolerance is an important and vital part of our American heritage.

Today, however, the world is in danger of abandoning all sense of absolute right or wrong, all morality and virtue, replacing them with an all-encompassing “tolerance” that no longer means what it once meant. An extreme definition of tolerance is now widespread that implicitly or explicitly endorses the right of every person to choose their own morality, even their own “truth,” as though morality and truth were mere matters of personal preference. This extreme tolerance culminates in a refusal to recognize any fixed standards or draw moral distinctions of any kind. Few dare say no to the “almighty self” or suggest that some so-called “lifestyles” may be destructive, contrary to higher law, or simply wrong.

When tolerance is so inflated out of all proportions, it means the death of virtue, for the essence of morality is to draw clear distinctions between right and wrong. All virtue requires saying no firmly and courageously to all that is morally bankrupt.

I don’t know where to begin with this kind of twisted and self-serving statement. First of all, the Church is hardly in a position to bring up racial tolerance. Its racist policies were firmly in place within recent memory (I grew up with them), and it used virtually the same language in arguing against civil rights for blacks as it now uses for gay people! The argument, then as now, was (mis)framed in terms of morality and supporting families.

Now, as then, the Church seems unable to distinguish between what influence it should exert over civil laws and the influence it has over religious laws. Why isn’t Elder Porter railing against the evils of alcohol and coffee? Where’s the Church’s support for a referendum that would outlaw alcoholic beverages and Starbucks? And if religious views are so important to respect, where’s Elder Porter’s support of gay-affirming churches who want to bless gay unions?

The theme of Mormons-as-victims continues:

Curiously enough, this new modern tolerance is often a one-way street. Those who practice it expect everyone to tolerate them in anything they say or do, but show no tolerance themselves toward those who express differing viewpoints or defend traditional morality. Indeed, their intolerance is often most barbed toward those of religious conviction.

In other words, Porter thinks the right of free expression is stifled by open political debate. Porter confuses the right of free expression with an (imagined) right to say whatever one wants without having others who disagree get their chance to present their own arguments. But, apparently, the opinions of others (including those actually harmed by the Church’s political actions) don’t matter. According the Porter, the Church knows better than the people whose lives it seeks to disrupt:

By defending the traditional family [i.e., legislating against families the Church doesn't approve of], Latter-day Saints bless all people whether others recognize it now or not.

Excuse me for not extending my thanks as I watch my partner lose his right to live in the same country as me due to the Church’s efforts to “bless” my life whether I recognize it or not. Please, spare yourselves the effort! The Church is accruing some pretty bad karma with its effort to ‘bless’ people like me by attacking the one thing in our lives we care most about: our families.

In the middle of all the politics, Elder Porter does bring up one religious point. However, it’s the heretical idea that has recently been introduced by LDS leaders to the effect that God’s love is conditional.

God’s love is sometimes described as unconditional…. But while God’s love is all-encompassing, His blessings are highly conditional, including the very blessing of being able to feel and experience His love.

[This is an example of bad religion, and it's not coincidental that it is linked to unjust politics.]

Finally, it’s back to politics for the wrap-up, with a call to political action:

The Church is a small institution compared with the world at large. Nevertheless, the Latter-day Saints as a people should not underestimate the power of our example, nor our capacity to persuade public opinion, reverse negative trends, or invite seeking souls to enter the gate and walk the Lord’s chosen way. We ought to give our best efforts, in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions, to defend the family and raise a voice of warning and of invitation to the world. The Lord expects us to do this, and in doing so to ignore the mocking and scorn of those in the great and spacious building, where is housed the pride of the world.

The sense of persecution is just breathtaking, and in case you missed it, the call to “give our best efforts” means to donate money, and to do this “in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions” means to give money to groups like the National Organization for Marriage, a political organization that was created by the Church to get Prop. 8 on the ballot in California. (Elder Holland’s son Matthew was a member of the original board of directors.)

But there’s more:

May we as members of the Church rise up and assume our divinely appointed role as a light to the nations. May we sacrifice and labor to rear a generation strong enough to resist the siren songs of popular culture, a generation filled with the Holy Ghost so that they may discern the difference between good and evil, between legitimate tolerance and moral surrender.

Many younger LDS people are not okay with this message. It is not “popular culture” that makes young Mormons sensitive to the plight of their gay peers; it is an emerging sense of justice. I know many devout members of the Church who are heartbroken over the harmful ideas that Elder Porter repeats here. Many members are ashamed of what their Church is doing, and rightly so.

Elder Porter, please know that demeaning someone else’s family does not strengthen your own.

I thought things were changing with these folks. Apparently, they are not. Is the Church warming up for the fight in Minnesota in 2012?

There is a silver lining here. It’s clear that Elder Porter’s op-ed sermon is very defensive. He knows that the Church’s position is unpopular with many members of the Church and that its involvement in Prop. 8 was a PR disaster. The subtext of the article is a sense of panic that the Church is losing this one.

01 June 2011

To All Christians who Oppose Marriage Equality For Religious Reasons And Say They're Defending Marriage And Religious Freedom For Our Own Good

To such Christian friends:

If you ever wonder why your protests of love and concern and "defending the family" and "we're watching for your souls so you must try not to be or at least try not to act gay" and "we're not discriminating,we're defending morality" ring oh so hollow, just consider the words of one of your favorite Christian theologians:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."

—C. S. Lewis

Is that how you would want to be treated?