Just three weeks later, Jeff and I found ourselves in San Francisco during their Pride weekend (there are no coincidences) and we were invited to walk in the parade with Mormons for Equality. My second pride in one month (who knew?), and Jeff’s first pride experience! Both of us had a fantastic time. We made beautiful new friends, and our minds and hearts expanded for the better. I blogged about it here.
Another year and another June (Pride Month) rolled around. This time, Jeff and I took the opportunity to volunteer together in multiple capacities with MBB for the annual Pride events in Salt Lake City. Once again, another fabulous, uplifting, inspiring, heartwarming experience ensued.
HUGGED BY A MORMON
On Saturday we volunteered for several hours in the booth at the festival where we offered hugs & a listening ear (and the very much sought after “Hugged by a Mormon” stickers).
Jeff and I were deeply touched by this experience. We met and gave hugs to countless of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and other (LGBTQ+) brothers and sisters, along with their allies, family & friends. Many lingered to share their stories of deep pain and sorrow associated with their church experience. We witnessed the tremendous grief caused by losing their spiritual home, feeling there is no place for them now in a church that they were raised in, and still dearly love.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, one of our church apostles, acknowledges this.
“We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord”President M. Russell Ballard, “Questions and Answers,” BYU devotional, Nov. 14, 2017
Our LGBTQ+ family members struggle with the grief and pain of rejection from friends, co-workers, ward members, and most of all family. Some have even become homeless after bravely coming out. As a parent, I simply cannot fathom that any loving parent – particularly a Latter-day Saint parent – could do that to their child.
And yet, it keeps happening.
An 18-year-old woman wept as she detailed to me how two years ago – at age 16 – after returning from her LDS Young Women’s Camp she finally got up the courage to share with her parents her attraction to girls that she had been denying, hiding and agonizing over for years. Instead of receiving love, compassion, or any level of kindness, this beautiful young woman was immediately evicted from her home. She was told, among many things, that she would never be allowed back into their home until she “stopped choosing to be gay” and they had no choice except to do this because they wanted their home to be a “holy place”. She’s been staying with random friends and strangers ever since, working two minimum wage jobs to try to get by just one day at a time. She didn’t have the chance to graduate from High School yet and she admits it’s hard sometimes to even feel like life’s really worth it.
Stories like this crush my heart into a million pieces. There’s so much wrong, I can’t begin to unpack it. But, just for the record, please let me establish that no one can “stop” or “start” being gay. And, no one can “stop” or “start” being straight. We do not choose our gender identity and attractions. That’s pure biology and science built into our DNA on a cellular level. We are all literally born this way.
Also, I’m 99.9% certain Jesus doesn’t live in that kind of “holy house”.
Imagine not ever being welcome or wanted by the people you trusted most, not being cherished or treated as a 100% Child of God. Being told every day that you do not have a seat at His table or a place in His kingdom just because you are you. Imagine trying desperately to do anything to not be you, and praying for no one to find out who you really are. Every single day, you live in fear and shame, and despair.
When I try to imagine enduring that, it is devastating, demoralizing, and depressing to me. But, for all those actually living it, that would be an unimaginable circle of hell. Is it any wonder how many do not make it out alive? These brothers and sisters are heroes every. single. morning. they choose to wake up and face another day, and try to shine the light God gave them when they were sent to this earth. And I’ve heard story after story of these kinds of cruel heartaches, rejections, fears, shames and discrimination – all meted out on a fellow human being (most often as a child) simply because they exist.
This is so wrong! And I feel desperate to make it stop.
Some church leaders do, too.
What Can I Do?!
It is really easy for me to start feeling completely overwhelmed at this point with grief and frustration. It happens often if I am not taking some kind of meaningful action! Jeff and I are just two humans in a vast sea of humanity teeming with mixed messages, ignorance, blind bigotry, unfounded fears, and self-righteous hate cloaked in misappropriated religion. What can the two of us small humans possibly do to right these terrible wrongs, turn the “hearts of the fathers to their children”, and create a safe and nurturing place within the church for our LGBTQ+ members (including all of the children and youth who are just now discovering and panicking that they “don’t fit”)?
I probably have to accept we cannot change the whole world (I still cling to the impossible dream), but maybe Jeff and I can at least improve the space of earth we’ve been granted by the Lord to occupy from now until our time is up. So, what does the “improving” on our part look like?! I don’t know exactly. I’m fairly new at this, and just feeling my way along. But, I ponder and pray about it. Jeff ponders and prays about it. We have both been guided step by step.
We found Mormons Building Bridges soon after we felt called to be allies – about 18 months ago. We found their list of things we can do. So far, we’ve attended two free contemplative retreats (life-changing, beautiful, highly recommended!), we volunteered (or were we ‘volunteered’? 🙂 ) for running a booth at 2018 LoveLoud (exhausting & wonderful), we’ve participated with events like pride parade and hugging booth, and interacting on the Facebook page … and most recently we attended the International Affirmation Conference held last week in Provo, Utah (another soul filling, life-changing, friendship building, unconditional love teaching experience that I haven’t even begun to blog about yet!)… but here’s a sneak peek…
Each of these experiences have provided us unique ways, step by step to think deeper about the really important deep things about life and faith, and how to grow closer to Jesus Christ and what His gospel really means on a personal level to me. We get to know and learn so much from our amazing LGBTQ+ community of brothers and sisters as well as meeting and socializing with all the other amazing church members, friends, parents, and others who are also feeling inspired and internally nudged – just like us – to become educated, caring allies and improve their bit of earth. There are more ideas here we haven’t even gotten to yet, and our horizons are broadening. Step by step we are led along on our journey with Love.
What are other things that we can do? We can acknowledge and validate frustration, anger, and pain. We can abide frustration with the inconsistencies and mixed messages from the Church, and still choose to cling to our testimonies and strive to be a positive influence from within. We can mourn with those who mourn for their loss, suffering, and injustice. We can affirm the infinite worth of every soul. We can create and become a safe space. We can accept that every person is on their own journey and in their own place in their processing. We can let each person we meet know that no matter what any others may say and do, THESE Mormons – right here – yes, us – cherish and love you. We will ALWAYS have a seat saved next to us at church for you if that’s where you would like to be. And if not, that’s okay. We understand. Our door – and our hearts – are always open. If you need a meal, let’s eat. If you need to talk, let’s talk. If you need to hang out, come binge-watch Netflix with us. We will be your allies, your brother & sister, your friends, or a surrogate Mom & Dad, if needed.
We also give good hugs.
As the Pride festival was winding down, a man wearing a pair of stunning gold sparkle cowboy boots stopped by the booth and asked Jeff for a hug. Jeff obliged, and the man got really emotional afterward. When he was finally able to speak, he said “Thank you so much. You have no idea how much that means to me. You know, that’s the very first time I’ve ever received a hug from a Dad.”
Jeff was deeply moved. This confirmed the sacred nature of answering his call to serve at Pride.
“With gratitude we acknowledge God’s continuing guidance and love for all His children and invite our members to renew their commitment to follow the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ to love God and to love one another.”LDS First Presidency, April 2019
A Renewed Commitment To Love
The Savior’s admonition to “love one another” wasn’t just a suggestion. Jesus also never mentioned “love one another except…” Nope. On the contrary, Jesus announced that Love was actually God’s “New Commandment” and he was sent to introduce it to the world (spoiler alert, it didn’t end well). Love was the theme of Christ’s entire ministry. Every story, every selfless act, every parable, every healing, every miracle, every moment in his entire life and in his entire death – all teach us how to Love like God. “For God so loved the world…” all culminating with Jesus’ Ultimate Loving Sacrifice which underscores that Love isn’t loving until it is offered unconditionally.
I love the scripture from the Book of Mormon that teaches “All are Alike Unto God“. Black and white, poor and wealthy, bond and free, believing or not, gay or straight… Every person on this earth has a unique gift and a divine purpose. I know with all my heart that our loving Heavenly Parents have a plan and a place in their kingdom for every child. Especially their LGBTQ+ children.
Not one child is a mistake.
Where Love Is, There God Is Also
Blessedly, not every story at Pride was heartbreaking!
A college student who identifies as lesbian recently moved back to her Utah home. Her Dad is serving in an LDS leadership calling. He invites her to family scripture study and family prayer, and she joins. He also gives what she calls his “open-ended invitation to church every week”. Most of the time she doesn’t go. But, “every week, he extends the invite”. One time, she says, she got a text on Sunday morning. It was her Dad, apologizing because he had forgotten to invite her to church that morning before he left. She confides “you know what? That really touched my heart that my Dad thinks of including me in this little ritual and yet, he also totally gives me all the space I need to be myself and choose my best path. He honestly trusts who I am, and my judgment. I think his church invite is really just his way of letting me know that he loves me, I’m welcome and wanted, and that really means everything to me.”
A teen who identifies as bisexual shared how since he came out to his parents he has been “super supported” every day which means to him that, “now I no longer pray every night to die”. People in his LDS ward have been surprisingly kind. A youth in his priesthood quorum brought him a video game they thought he might like and then told him they have a gay cousin, so they just wanted him to know “everything’s cool, I’ve got your back”. A Sunday school teacher brought him some “gay cookies” (yes, I asked – they were the multicolored “rainbow” M&M cookies) to celebrate his bravery for coming out. He explained that he is invited to church youth activities, but if he doesn’t feel like coming, that’s okay. “They’re still being my friends”, he explains with a grateful, relieved smile, and no one ever pressures him to be anything other than himself.
A darling lesbian couple share how their “very active Mormon” families came together in support and attended their wedding! They have been welcomed by their new neighborhood including the local LDS ward members who have been “pretty cool” – inviting them to church and “a lot of random potluck activities”. Recently some meals were organized and brought in by the Relief Society after one of the wives had surgery.
Here are stories of no judgment- just Love and acceptance being extended – free and pure – without any pre-qualifications, conditions, or expectations.
That’s the Church of Jesus Christ I believe in!
The more I live, the more I believe that Unconditional Love should be the one defining and unifying characteristic of a true follower of Jesus Christ. Imagine what that could do for the world? Ironically, the concept of Unconditional Love isn’t consistently practiced by Christians – including my Latter-day Saint community. Too often, scriptures are weaponized to justify placing conditions on love and placing barriers on acceptance. (Apparently, human society still has a visceral reaction to the New Commandment)
As Elder Ballard pleaded, ” we must do better than we have done in the past” when it comes to listening to and loving our LGBTQ+ family. And I know that we can! I love the hymn lyrics “there is hope smiling brightly before us“. Yes, and that Hope is the Son of God, “when Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in my soul“! It has given me hope and joy to associate with so many very good humans. Jesus shines in their smiling face, both LDS and LGBTQ+ across the rainbow spectrum of what it means to be human. I see people “anxiously engaged” in doing so many good things showing love, inclusion, service. Helping and celebrating each other as brothers and sisters. Different, and equal. And this gives me hope.
We Need Each Other
My friend Nancy and her wife Merla were so excited to find me and Jeff at the festival working at the MBB booth! They gave us tons of hugs and then rushed off gleefully into the crowded festival. A while later here they came back again with big grins on their faces carrying a bag of “proper rainbow swag” for us “to wear with those church clothes” for the rest of our weekend! 🙂 #TrueLove ♥ #RainbowsEverywhere
Each year the SLC Pride festival is held on the grounds of the beautiful Salt Lake City & County Building. This elaborate castle looking structure is often confused by tourists as the Latter-day Saint Temple. 🙂 Fun random fact: The building is turning 125 years old this year, on my birthday.
I’LL WALK WITH YOU
The next day, Jeff and I arrived bright and early on the corner of 200 South and 300 West in downtown Salt Lake City to line up for the pride parade with lots of fellow Latter-day Saints arriving to walk as Mormons Building Bridges. This year, MBB even had a beautiful FLOAT to walk beside, honoring Utah’s pioneering LGBTQ+ Veterans!!
The float was the brainchild of MBB founder Erika Munson who tirelessly worked with donors and the designers at Modern Display to build it. They submitted the float idea to the Provo City Freedom Festival committee, and through a series of miracles, it was accepted! Now, the float was making its debut at the SLC Pride Parade and (with fingers crossed & loads of prayers) perhaps it will even be accepted into the Days of ’47 Parade.
Just like last year, I was excited to see all of the creative banners and sweet signs our group created to carry in the parade.
Before the parade, all of the MBB group gathered together for a short devotional (which, due to the crowds and the location involved the use of a megaphone). We began with an opening song “As I have Loved You” and a prayer. Then, the inspirational message was shared from Jodie – an active LDS woman who also identifies as gay. I loved this so much and I was so glad MBB posted a copy on the Facebook page.
Good morning everyone! I’m Jodie Palmer. I’m gay. I’m also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Thank you for being here with Mormon’s Building Bridges. Thank you for being an ally. We need each other. My inspirational thought this morning is on bridge building. It feels so inspiring to all be together! The love is flowing. People are going to cheer and weep as we march along.
Bridge building will feel easy and natural today. But, what about when it gets hard again? And, it will get hard again. Please remember this: Bridges are built over chasms that aren’t going anywhere. Bridges aren’t meant to fill in or change the chasm. Bridges are designed to help us connect to each other over the divide.
We all leave our footprint behind in this bridge building work. God has given us instructions for how to walk in our bridge building effort. He says, go forth and “multiply and replenish the earth.” So, however you are uniquely called to build bridges, let every footstep that falls multiply goodness, and replenish love in its wake. Don’t be daunted or distracted by the chasm. Keep your eye on connecting across the divide with the commitment to multiplying and replenishing goodness and love. And in the end, chasms have a way of shrinking in the shadow of a bridge.Jodie Palmer, June 2, 2019 SLC Pride
There is so much wisdom and beauty in Jodi’s message for pondering! It not only sums up our entire weekend, but it also informs and inspires our ongoing efforts as LDS Bridge Builders and LGBTQ+ allies. “With faith in every footstep” however small. We continue striving to follow the Spirit of God as we discover how we are “uniquely called to build bridges“, and we sincerely hope we can “let every footstep that falls, multiply goodness, and replenish love in its wake.”
This parade did not disappoint from last year. It was equally amazing. I was just a bit more prepared this time for the wave of emotions and love as soon as we began walking the route lined 10 rows deep! Even after last year walking in SLC and again in San Francisco, it still overwhelmed me to hear all of the voices calling out over and over “thank you so much for being here!”, “We love you!”, “You’re my favorite part of Pride!”, “You’re the best!”, “Thank you Mormons!”, “You’re why my Mom lets me come to Pride!”, “Thank you, Thank you!”… over and over. Then, there are also those who have no words to share because language is swallowed up in the tears. I see the tears streaming. I watch people make hearts with their hands or reach across the barriers to shake our hands and hug us as we walk by. There just aren’t enough words to capture all of the feelings. But, there is weeping on both sides of the barrier, so we don’t even notice any barriers.
It is truly impossible to not feel closer to God and heaven after walking in a pride parade as an ally.
At the end of the route, despite the heat and our hunger and fatigue, we headed back to the festival just to “check in” with the hugging booth. On our way, we even found some vaguely vegan-friendly food (surprisingly more difficult at a pride event than I expected), and then we decided we would volunteer for just “1 more hour” (which turned into almost 5) of hugging. 🙂 ♥
I discovered that I cannot get tired of hugging. I’ve obviously tested this theory now for 10 hours in a 48 hour period and I am thoroughly convinced hugging has magical restorative powers! We all need more hugging in our lives. Doctors should prescribe it. “Take five hugs a day for optimal health”…
Did you know that Salt Lake City has built one of the “most impressive Pride Festivals” in the nation? It’s true. This recent article in Thrillest details Utah’s very fascinating pride festival history and features a wonderful spotlight of Mormons Building Bridges (including an interview with founder and friend Erika Munson). So, I will leave you with a couple of highlights below (plus a few more extra photos)
With Unconditional Love & Hugs, Holly ♥
Mormons Building Bridges is a model for allies everywhere
“…while huge contingents of Salt Lake City Pride Parade attendees were born into the Mormon Church, it is not the case that all of them have left it — several different active LDS groups now march each year. The most visible of these is Mormons Building Bridges, which has sent a float and hundreds of active LDS members to the parade each year since the group’s inception in 2012.”
“It was a big moment when you first had 350 Mormons in their Sunday best marching in the Utah Pride Parade,” says Mormons Building Bridges co-founder Erika Munson. “And I think that indicated, hopefully, to church leaders that members wanted to use the principles of their religion to initiate LGBT outreach. Because of their religion. Not in spite of their religion. We want Mormons who aren’t a part of the parade to see us marching on a Sunday in our church clothes and say, ‘Oh, those people are my family. Maybe I’ve taken some distance but that’s my family.”
“Utah has the nation’s highest youth suicide rate, and that specter hangs lowest over the state’s Mormon LGBTQ youth. “It’s on everyone’s mind here,” Siepp says. “In part, it’s because of the predominant religion here teaching that being gay is wrong.”
“Mormons Building Bridges is now joined by an increasing number of active-Mormon groups like Affirmation, a support group for queer Mormons, and Mama Dragons, a network of Mormon mothers advocating for their LGBTQ children with a particular focus on preventing suicides…”
“…Munson (who is straight) says it’s dangerous to blame the LDS church for suicides — and suicide experts would caution that such rhetoric is dangerous for those who are at-risk — but that it’s something the church must reckon with honestly. No matter LDS policy, Mormons are going to continue having gay and trans children.”
“…Working for LGBT acceptance within the church, it’s a matter of learning how to live, in a healthy way, with dissonance,” Munson says. “But I’ll tell ya, committing yourself to a faith community where many have different perspectives than you? It’s a fabulous spiritual experience — it is amazing how much you can learn about faith, about patience, and loneliness and connection…”