Ask Gay Mormon Guy: What's the best way to make LGBT Mormons feel welcome in my ward?
I’ve stolen a page out of my friend Joanna Brooks’ Ask Mormon Girl site for this one—with her permission, of course. I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately from allies looking to help LGBT Mormons, some of whom are active church members. And I think that’s terrific.
I also think how we go about offering our support and help to LGBT Mormons is keenly important. To that end, I’m sharing an email I got from one sister (anonymously—and also with her permission) since there seems to be a theme running through my email box lately.
Her email and my response are below. What other advice would you give her?
There’s a 24 year-old returned missionary (RM) in my home ward. I really like him, and I guess he triggers my mothering instinct. I suspect he’s gay, and I would very much like it if my ward welcomed him for who he is. What do you think about me taking the Family Acceptance Project materials to my bishop, and seeing if he’s interested in having a conversation with the RM? Or would you suggest something else?
First off, I think it’s a pretty amazing thing that you want to do the Christ-like thing and ensure everyone feels at home in your ward. Thank you for that, and we need more like you.
The Family Acceptance Project materials you mention are a great resource for both families and Bishops, to help them understand how to respond to LGBT Mormons in a way that keeps them safe from significant health risks—including depression and suicide.
That said, I would proceed with caution here. You have no way of knowing where this RM is in his process. For example, if he’s not out at all (perhaps even to himself), you could do more harm than good. When I was 24, if my Bishop had pulled me aside and essentially “outed” me, I’d have been mortified—and chances are I wouldn’t have come back.
Likewise, the perspective of the bishop is also important. Is he of the mindset that everyone should be welcome into the ward family—wherever they are in their personal life? Or does he hold to the outdated school of thought that LGBT Mormons should be confined to a life of celibacy, and if they don’t, they should be excommunicated? If it’s the latter, he may not be the best resource to help LGBT Mormons feel welcome.
Bottom line, sexual orientation (gay, straight, or anywhere in between) is a pretty personal thing, and up to an individual to not only define what it is, but decide when it’s appropriate to share it with others.
But there are some things you can do to signal to this RM—and everyone in your ward—that you’re a safe space when it comes to LGBT Mormons.
First, you had the complete right idea about the Family Acceptance Project materials. What I would do if I were you is order several copies from the website (they are available at cost, since the production and development of the Mormon materials was unfunded) and ask to meet with your bishopric and relief society presidency to discuss them. Keep the focus on the research itself, and not on your RM friend.
It may be that your leadership team is receptive and ready, and genuinely appreciates the approach outlined in the materials. In an ideal scenario, they may want to host a more formal training for the ward or stake—and let me know if they’re interested, Drs. Ryan and Reese and I make ourselves available to travel to locations to host these kinds of sessions, and have done many to date.
Second, speak up. When you hear an uneducated or un-Christlike comment made about your LGBT fellows (or anyone, for that matter) speak your mind. This isn’t about being angry, confrontational, or demanding doctrine must be changed. It's simply about helping people understand that we really are all one human family, and exemplifying the kind of peace and good will our Savior would like us all to have for one another--and helping establish a Mormon culture where that comes to life.
Words can hurt, and it makes a huge difference when you speak up. You’re not only educating those around you, but you’re sending a message that you care about how these comments make people feel. And by so doing, you give others permission to speak up for what is right, as well.
Think about the closeted person who may have heard the comment and felt shame because he couldn’t respond and speak up for himself. Or think about the woman who has a lesbian daughter and felt she couldn’t respond because she was afraid of her Mormon fellows casting judgment upon her.
Then think about what your Savior would do.
You can also sign up to join Mormons Building Bridges or Mormons for Marriage Equality on Facebook. You’ll find like-minded allies and LGBT Mormons who can share their stories of success with you. Additionally, you’ll likely locate other allies in your immediate area who can lend support, ideas, and help you build a community of supportive allies.
Most important of all, be kind. I know this sounds trite, but often the best thing you can do for LGBT Mormons is just to be nice to them. That means sitting with your friend at church, letting him know he’s missed when he doesn’t come, and inviting him to do things with you/your family outside of church. It’s really fellowship 101: Treat him the way you’d like to treated. If it turns out he is gay, your gestures will go a long way toward helping him feel safe and loved. If he’s not, he’ll still end up feeling loved. Either way, you both win.
Make sure you extend that same level of kindness to those who don’t quite support you in your new venture. You’re likely to get some push back—and maybe even from within your family. But keep in mind, our Savior’s policy of “love everyone” wasn’t altogether well received in His day, either—so keep the faith.
And remember, through all of this, the only opinion of you that should really matter more than your own is that of your Savior. I’m pretty sure he’d be pleased with your heart on this one.