Breaking the Silence: What It Means to Be Gay—and Mormon

On Tuesday, the Mormon church announced support for laws banning discrimination against LGBT people. One gay Mormon examines the announcement—and what it means to be gay.

Dallin H. Oaks, an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, speaks to the media after a rare press conference in Salt Lake City on Jan. 27.  (Photo: Jim Urquhart)

Feb 1, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Randall Thacker is president of Affirmation the international support organization for LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends.

This past Tuesday was my birthday, and I received an unexpected gift from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormon church: the formal announcement that it would support nondiscrimination laws in employment and housing for LGBT people like me. The clarity of the church’s message of support for LGBT people was diluted, though, by the conditional statements about religious liberty protections. Nevertheless, this is a powerful moment on what has often felt like a slow road of progress for LGBT Mormons.

To fully understand the implications of Tuesday’s announcement, we must look at it from local and global perspectives. First, the announcement will help Utah’s legislature engage in a civil debate and hopefully pass a nondiscrimination ordinance that’s failed to gain traction for years. Second, the bulk of the Mormon church’s growth is in the developing world, particularly in places such as Africa, where in recent years governments have vigorously supported legislation that would criminalize homosexual behavior. The strong language in Tuesday’s announcement—that persecution and violence against LGBT people is “simply wrong” and inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ—will empower LGBT Mormons in these countries. It will also help their families come to a new level of acceptance—and turn them into pioneers motivated by their faith to fight discrimination and create safe spaces for all people.

So what about the conditions of religious freedom and reconciling them with gay rights? It’s simple: Live and legislate by the Bible’s golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s ironic that religious freedom has given gay rights the opportunity to flourish. People of faith—including a fair number of heterosexual Mormons I know—say their faith is what compels them to open their arms equally to their LGBT sisters and brothers.

Growing up Mormon in Utah in the 1980s, I often worried how others at church would react if I told them I was gay. I didn’t come out until I was 27, after thousands of dollars and many hours in self-imposed individual and group reparative therapy on the recommendation of Mormon bishops. Within three years, I was in a relationship with a gay man, and I stopped going to church out of fear I would be excommunicated. I spent almost nine years away from Mormonism, exploring other faiths, until I decided, in 2011, to return as an out gay man in a relationship. I was welcomed, with open arms, into a wonderful Washington, D.C., Mormon congregation.

It’s unconscionable that so many LGBT Mormons have suffered so much—family rejection, homelessness, excommunication, despair, and even suicide—because of either the silence or the uniformed advice given by the Mormon church for much of the past half century. I mourn these enormous losses. This is what keeps me up late at night working to provide warmth, community, and resources to LGBT Mormons, their families, and friends around the world.

I envision a future where as LGBT Mormons, we no longer have to choose between our faith and our sexual orientation or gender identity. This will require humility, openness, and willingness from Mormon church leaders and members to create the environment where LGBT people feel fully accepted and spiritually uplifted. LGBT Mormons must also be willing to engage our faith and become the change we want to see within it.