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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Opening Prayer from San Francisco Pride (transcript)


For years—since likely well before the difficulties of Prop 8 in California—there have been those among the Mormon ranks who have experienced pain around the issue of LGBT individuals and how they fit within our faith. Many, if not all of these individuals, have prayed diligently for clarity, a softening of hearts on both sides of this issue, and an opportunity to help play a role—however small—in helping bring that about.

In 2012, the Pride Parades across the nation presented such an opportunity. And given the heartfelt and spiritual desires of those who joined this effort and marched in the celebration, we treated this very much like a worship service. In effect, we saw this as our chance to bring our spiritual worship service to the streets and directly to the LGBT community and their allies.

And in that same spirit, we opened the march with an opening hymn, and an opening prayer. We walked in our church clothes. We chose signs that reflected the best of our scriptures and statements of welcome from our leadership. We carried a deliberate and well planned message of love and inclusion.

Below is a transcript of the  opening I prayer I offered at the San Francisco Pride Parade on June 24, 2012. (Special thanks to our friends at NBC for providing the transcript.)

We were recognizably Mormon, and we did that purposefully—to let others know that we love and welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters. 

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"Our dear Father in Heaven...

We bow our heads humbly before you today in gratitude, for the opportunity to be ambassadors of your unconditional love. We ask for you to bless us today with loose tongues, with free spirits and open countenances that others around us might understand our sincerity and our heartfelt desire to reach out to them--to love them as our peers, our equals, our fellows, as part of our human family. We ask that in turn that you might soften their hearts, so that each step we take today may be a step closer to unity between two communities that long for love and reconciliation, and who belong together as your children.

We ask these things humbly in the name of our Lord, our champion and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen

(Group: Amen)

Alright you guys, march safe--and thank you, thank you, thank you!" (crowd cheers)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Changing the way Mormons talk about gays

A repost of my wonderful Bishop's op-ed written about Family Acceptance Project's LDS materials designed to help keep LGBT Mormon youth and young adults safe, and help keep families together.

Yes, my Bishop makes me get up painfully early on Sundays, but the privilege to work with a man like this is well worth those missed hours of sleep.

Enjoy.
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I am going to use heartfelt, strong language as I stress the importance of a new, groundbreaking publication that has — in my opinion — the ability to save lives. Its subject matter is far too important to be ignored or taken lightly, especially when we regularly read about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and adults who leave the Mormon Church, never mind the senseless loss of many to suicide.

Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-Day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children, co-written by Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, and Bob Rees, a former LDS bishop, may well be the tool that gives Mormon families what they need to accept their LGBT children.

I am a physician and have provided clinical care to patients for 30 years. I am also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and love my religion. I was recently released from my calling as a counselor in our stake presidency so that I could serve as a bishop — my third opportunity to do so. How members of this church treat LGBT people is, in many cases, not in keeping with what I feel is the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

This must change.

My wonderful ward is diverse and may have the distinction of having more gay Latter-day Saints than any other on the planet. Though I am straight, I have family members who are gay and who have patiently helped open the eyes of my understanding. It seems clear to me that while they have been here in mortality their only "choice" related to their sexual orientation is to be honest about who they are — sons and daughters of God who are gay.

My executive secretary is a wonderful member who is very open about being gay. His recounting of the bullying he had to endure as a youngster has moved me more than anything in my memory. Check out for yourself this powerful link

Working as a bishop in the Bay Ward, I have heard firsthand the stories of members who are gay and felt their pain as I work to bring them back into church activity. The emotional pain and isolation of LGBT members rejected by parents, friends and loved ones after coming out is more severe than any other I have yet experienced in my ministering, and it motivates me to continue in the work I am doing.

As a physician, I have learned the importance of evidence-based practice and the critical role of science in informing our understanding about human development, interaction and care. There is an urgent need to provide evidence-based guidance for LDS families with LGBT children and also more generally for our congregations as well. These new educational materials from the Family Acceptance Project are aimed to help LDS families and our church family support LGBT youths and adults, to reduce serious risk for suicide and HIV, to foster wellness and keep our families together. I feel strongly compelled to recommend these new materials to you — much good will come if you take the time to carefully study these well-researched documents and consider their application in your life.

We often use the term "closeted," relative to issues of same gender attraction. Because of the real fear of bullying and prejudices, this concealing of identities and inclinations continues today — especially among those who belong to our church. Good, solid epidemiology makes the math quite simple. Multiply your church membership numbers by 4 percent and you will have the number of gay members in your ward.

It is apparent to me that within the "culture" of our religion, widespread bullying is still occurring — and this extends across all age ranges. This is often done without malicious intent, but nonetheless, it inflicts serious and unnecessary emotional wounds.

One of my family members, who still has a strong, abiding testimony, has not attended church in several years. He states, "If they knew who I was, they would not want me there." Unfortunately, that is a reality. This ought not to be. Is this what Jesus would do if he were a member of your ward?
As LDS Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland has said, "Some members exclude from their circle of fellowship those who are different. When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of church membership, we fail them — and the Lord."

With humble hearts we all need to look inward to see if there are prejudices the Savior would have us cast off. Unconsciously, we may be guilty of bullying, ourselves.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A way out: Preventing suicide and homelessness for LGBTQ Mormon youth

A repost of my recent articles on Huffington Post and The Advocate, talking about the importance of new work from The Family Acceptance Project that helps the Mormon community understand how to support their LGBT children in a way that honors our faith and eliminates the illusion that we must choose between our children and our church.

Download your copy of the materials here.

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I am not your typical gay man. Nor am I your typical Mormon. For the past nine months, I have served as the executive secretary in the bishopric (the religious leadership) of my home ward in San Francisco, CA, as my authentic self—an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint.

For years, I’d been writing about my experiences as an openly gay Mormon and accepted this calling in a way that honors both my orientation and my faith. As with all callings in the Mormon faith, mine is both a duty and a privilege. It provides me with an opportunity—and a responsibility—to be of service to both the Mormon and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) communities, and help those around me better integrate deep and often conflicted parts of their lives.

Over the course of the past nine months, thousands of LGBTQ Mormons and their families have reached out to me to offer their support, and in many cases, to ask for mine. I have, because of the position in which I have been placed, become the repository of stories of deeply wounded women, men and youth who struggle greatly to understand how LGBTQ Mormons fit inside our faith.

I’ve been quite open about my own turbulent past growing up as a gay Mormon. As a youth, I tried and failed to kill myself. My life was given back to me. But many are not so fortunate. While no formal statistics of gay Mormon youth suicide exists, most estimate it to be between four and nine time the national average.

For each of us—of Mormon faith or none at all—every LGBTQ youth lost is a loss we feel personally, whether we recognize it or not. Among those we’ve lost are potential leaders who could have contributed to make the world a better place. We may have lost the next Nobel Laureate. We may have lost the scientist who would have discovered a cure for cancer – or the skilled orator who could have brokered peace between troubled nations.

But now there is hope that this can change. On June 15, The Family Acceptance Project released an LDS version of their evidence-based, family education booklet that enables families and communities to support LGBT youth in a way that reduces their risk for substance abuse, diminishes their risk for STDs including HIV, and dramatically reduces suicide and depression risk.

When I met with Dr. Caitlin Ryan, Director of the Family Acceptance Project, and saw these materials, I was amazed at how skillfully she and her team had blended the compelling science of her research with the best parts of the Mormon faith—the parts that carry with them true compassion and Christ-like love. Dr. Ryan left me by myself in the conference room when we neared the close of our meeting. What she never saw—and what I’ve never shared before today—is how intensely I cried in those moments I was alone.

I mourned for my Mom, who wanted so much to do the right thing and keep me safe, yet, without the resources to understand and support me, instead told me it would have been better for her if I had been born dead than gay.

I mourned for my Dad, who also loved me, but lacked the tools to deal with his gay son—and instead told me I should change, that I had bitterly failed him, and then withheld his love and companionship from me for the bulk of my life.

I mourned for my 16 year-old self, trapped inside a cycle of isolation and despair, with nowhere to turn. I mourned for the years I spent trapped inside self-loathing and depression, and I grieved the many subsequent bad decisions I made that exacerbated my pain and low self-esteem. And I wondered how my life would have been remarkably different if I, my parents, my teachers and my ecclesiastical leaders had access to research that demonstrated unequivocally how to keep LGBT youth safe.

But I also felt gratitude. More than anything, I was deeply grateful this kind of research was finally available—and for what this means not only for Mormons, but for the LGBTQ community as a whole: We don’t have to wonder how to keep our gay youth from killing themselves anymore. Our solution is here.

This is not marketing based on focus groups. It is not speculation. It is not opinion—even ecclesiastical opinion. This is science. For LGBTQ Mormons and their families, this is a lifeline of hope that has not existed before. Gone are the days where Mormon parents—many armed with good intentions but alarmingly little data—feel compelled to choose between their children and their faith. Family relationships are a cornerstone to our faith—and we’re taught that “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” David O. McKay. The Family Acceptance Project materials have eliminated the illusion of that horrible Sophie’s Choice.

As my LGBTQ fellow, I want you to share this information with your friends, your families, and your networks—independent of faith. This is an opportunity for us as well—to help the most vulnerable among us emerge healthier, happier, and grow up in an environment dramatically better than the one many of us experienced.

This is our chance to do for others that which we wish had been done for us.