Not Easily Washed Off
The visibility of Mormons on LGBT issues speaks to the depth of the Mormon identity, says Dan Wotherspoon, 2001-08 editor of Sunstone magazine and current host of the Mormon Matters podcast, a weekly panel discussion on contemporary issues in Mormonism.
Wotherspoon views Mormonism almost like an ethnicity. Just as the Jewish identity runs deeper than its beliefs, Mormonism is not something that easily “washes off.” He asks, “How else can one explain the depth of feeling that causes many Latter-day Saints to stand up and try to be witnesses within the church for the truths they’ve come to feel in their hearts about the [LGBT] identity (it not being a sin or something chosen)—even if their standing against the tide causes friction with family, friends and fellow ward members?”
He notes that when tensions arise in other religious traditions, members might seek a new congregation that better fits their theological or political leanings. “But just as most of us, when we are at odds with our family on something, don’t usually abandon our … family,” Wotherspoon says, “many church members care enough about their fellow community members, their ‘people,’ to stick around and be voices that call for more compassion and more thinking.”
Further, Wotherspoon feels that LDS doctrines are not nearly as “settled” as some think they are. The church’s own Articles of Faith contain a claim that there are many “great and important things” yet to be revealed. Wotherspoon isn’t sure that Mormon activists will bring about a theological shift on the LGBT front, but you never know. “Perhaps it will turn out … they are much like those church members who, for decades before the 1978 revelation, stood for re-examination of the priesthood and temple ban for black church members.”
The Mormons Building Bridges Facebook page now has 2,000 members. “We have assembled a core group who is now working together and sharing the labor,” Munson says. They’re using their Facebook group page to support each other (gay and straight), as well as share strategies and successes with starting conversations in individual wards. They’re also gathering personal stories on the page.
Mormons Building Bridges will support the Pink Dot Event in Liberty Park on Oct. 13. The original Pink Dot Event took place four years ago in Singapore, where it is a crime to be gay. Pride’s Larabee says it involved “a brave group of straight people,” everyone wearing pink and forming a circle. “When we saw the video that was produced, we knew that we had to do this event in Utah,” she says.
Laura Compton, webmaster of the marriage-equality group Mormons for Marriage, has been a straight ally for 25 years. She sees Mormons Building Bridges as encouraging LDS people to talk more and understand this issue. “People are having the courage to step out and be public, and it makes a difference. If your home teacher has a bumper sticker on the car that says ‘I am a Mormon Building Bridges’ and you do, too, then you know that there is somebody that you feel safe to talk to. As people connect on the Internet, they are able to talk in ways that they couldn’t talk when they were feeling like they were the only person in the ward who is gay.”
Compton feels that the church is following the same pathway as society in general, in that homosexuality has moved from being “a crime to a disease to a challenge to part of who you are.” Compton adds that, today, the official statement is “we don’t know why people are gay.”
A recent survey from the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy from Brigham Young University indicates that while the majority of Utah voters oppose gay marriage, attitudes toward some legal recognition of same-sex marriage have changed dramatically over the past eight years. The poll found that while 72 percent of Utah voters oppose gay marriage, 71 percent now favor some form of legal recognition. The number of Utah voters opposed to legal recognition of same-sex relationships continues to drop each year, from 54 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2012.
Munson says her children were pleased with the march. Her daughter has a photo of the group on her refrigerator in Los Angeles. “They proudly e-mailed their friends about it. My son called me on march day, just as we finished, and was just so surprised and happy at the huge number of people who chose to march. He continues to find his spiritual practice outside the LDS Church,” she says.
“My children inspired me to consider making a safe place for LGBT people in my church, but my work in Mormons Building Bridges has never been about ‘bringing back’ those of my children that have chosen a different path.”
The night before the parade, Munson’s youngest daughter who lives at home was hanging out with neighbor kids. When they said, ‘See you in church tomorrow,’ she replied, ‘I won’t be at church. I’m marching in the Pride Parade.’ ”
Munson recalls an LDS neighbor said, “‘What? I thought we hated gay people. I don’t hate gay people, but I thought we were supposed to.’ ”
Her daughter replied that she loved LGBT people and wanted to show it.
Just like the discussion that took place between her daughter and her friends, Munson would like to see individuals in wards talking about this issue. Along with seeing gay kids feeling safe and supported by their families, Munson would like to see gay people “feeling welcomed in our congregations and feeling safe in our pews.”