20 October 2012

THT: Mormons Building Bridges Revisited

My previous post about MBB received a lot of comments. I have read arguments on both sides of the spectrum. There are extreme opinions on either side, and there are also well thought out ones. I feel that I should put a final word in on the matter now that I have had the opportunity to talk to and read comments from people on both sides of the issue.

It was not my intention to make it sound like MBB does nothing good. It was my intention to bring to light some of the bad that has resulted from the actions of the group. I felt that the attention that was being given was unfairly biased and did not take into account the many negative experiences people in the community have had with it. I felt like someone should speak out and give a voice to those people. It is obvious that many people had a lot of things they wanted to add to the discussion and that this was a real issue for a lot of people.

Having said that, I want to talk about some of the comments I feel were fair and affirming as far as MBB is concerned in general terms. I'm going to break down the positive aspects of the group and discuss each briefly:


Quite a few people expressed fear when they first joined MBB. They were afraid that their membership would be at stake and they didn't know what repercussions would be due to their alignment with a group that promoted understanding when it came to LGBT issues.


There were also many people who described the group as the reason they began learning more about LGBT issues. It was described as being a "stepping stone" rather than a "final resting place." A group that would get people's feet wet with the issues rather than diving into the deep end of a pool so-to-speak. It was described as "the primary approach" or the "milk before meat."


People also talked about it being a place where they were first exposed to the idea that LGBT youth were being harmed in LDS environments and that whatever was happening wasn't working. One woman said, "Recently, I've spent hours each week trying to understand. Most of that is in the form of listening and reading--connecting to others and trying to understand. In our family, those efforts are translating into training materials for our stake.


As one woman said, "we are still in the church and trying to effect change from where we are. The equality groups are mostly outside the church and are trying to effect change from there." Another said, "I stay because I feel like I can help bring about change from the inside"


I believe that all these things are good. I would not argue against them. Having said that, I don't appreciate those who commented with a condescending attitude that brought issues such as my age or maturity into play. Personal attacks might help you dismiss what a person says, but it doesn't make your argument any stronger.

Now, let me recap some of the arguments that show that MBB has hurt the LGBT community:


Many people commented on their personal experiences with censorship. Comments about marriage equality or comments promoting changes in the Church's official positions on the issue were targets. A lot of these people also talked about feeling bullied and unwelcome when they made these kinds of comments both by the group moderators and members. Some were even banned from the group.


In the early formation of the group, many agreements were dismissed - "They asked Utah Mormons for Marriage Equality to "stand down" and just make one big march, with the promise they'd promote already planned, but later-occurring marches after we went to a great deal of effort to promote the SLC march, including inviting hundreds of people personally and After SLC's march was over, they used the attention for self-promotion, and mentioned nary a word about Mormons for Marriage Equality. Nobody could even be referred to Mormons for Marriage Equality via their forum. Nobody was allowed to say that we even existed and they refused to follow through on their promise to promote our marches in exchange for the work we'd done for them."


A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. was shared to demonstrate the feeling many got from MBB. He wrote it in response to the "White Moderate" and what their efforts were doing to the civil rights movement. "I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another mans freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro the wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."


At the original march, they prevented anyone who wanted to march in the parade with a sign supporting rights or equality from participating even though they had asked that other groups who supported equality to stand down and join their march. Those who marched were to wear "Sunday best" to look like Mormons, though many of them were inactive or no longer members. To the spectator, it would seem like a group of active LDS people who were affirming the LGBT community. Reports on the march resulted in many falsely believing that the LDS Church was a safe and affirming place for LGBT people including one lesbian couple with a daughter who thought they should check it out and start attending.


One thing to note is that the affirming comments were mostly from heterosexual individuals who are active members while negative comments tended to come from members of the LGBT community who have different levels of affiliation to the church.



I don't know that my conclusion has changed, but perhaps now I can articulate it better. MBB is great for active, heterosexual "beginners." It is bad when it tries to step into the public eye as a Mormon to LGBT outreach group. Since it is a place where people feel a little hesitant to even be a member in fear of repercussions, I would argue that it would be better if it wasn't so public (ie marching in Pride). These people obviously feel a certain level of discomfort when talking about LGBT issues. They want to learn more about the issues and hopefully gain the resources and courage necessary to begin having conversations with others in their social circles. They don't want to risk loosing friends or family over the issue, and definitely don't want to risk membership. That is fine. It is a good "AA" type group for Mormons with closeted interest in LBGT issues.

However, when it promotes the idea that it is connecting Mormons to the LGBT community by showing love, support, and understanding- THAT is where the problems begin. LGBT people get involved thinking it will be mutually beneficial and uplifting. But soon they realize that they don't have a say in how people show them love, support, and understanding. They feel like they have no voice. They feel like they are being demonized by members who consider it preposterous to suggest that they march for things like marriage equality. In the meantime, the press gets the wrong idea about the group. It is touted as being an outreach/support group for the LGBT community headed by Mormons, when in-fact, it is a support group for Mormons headed by LGBT (or at least LGBT-friendly) Mormons. This is great, but it shouldn't promote a false image. It is that farce that does harm. Just as any gay boy or girl knows, when we pretend to be someone we aren't, monumental damage can and will ensue.

Just as the woman quoted above said, "we are still in the church and trying to effect change from where we are. The equality groups are mostly outside the church and are trying to effect change from there." So, that being said- do not try and be both. In my opinion, MBB should either be the quite and constant support from within, or be the energized, fully-affirming voice that is needed outside. But by trying to be both, it is diluting the external pressure that institutions like the LDS church and Utah government NEED to feel. They NEED to know that we are not simply asking for kindness, we are demanding full equality. Government WILL respond. It is only a matter of time. And once we are equal under the law, the Church will likely follow
(albeit reluctantly) in the years to follow. The MBB "voice from within" can help ease that last step, but if it tries to become the voice on the outside- as it has been- is will set both movements back.

15 October 2012

THT: Shame on Dallin Oaks

My last post received a lot of comments from both sides of the issue I talked about. I plan on responding to the comments and attention that the subject drew. I think there were good and bad arguments on both sides of the issue. But first- Oaks.

My first real impression of Oaks as a man was at BYU. I worked for the Office of Information Technology in the lighting branch of the Multimedia Events department. Our little team did the lighting for all sorts of events, from EFY dances to awards ceremonies to concerts to CES Firesides. (It is funny now to think that I ran the lighting for some of those firesides in the Marriot Center). Anyway, at one particularly high-end dinner/awards program, Oaks was one of several General Authorities in attendance. I remember watching him from the mezzanine. People were finding their seats as the program was about to start and his wife was still chatting it up with people by their table. Dallin Oaks (believing his wife to be behind him), pulled his wife's chair out and when he realized she was talking to people he just stood and waited patiently behind the chair. She was one of the last to wrap up conversation before sitting down and Oaks, of course, kindly scooted her chair in after she sat before taking his seat.

I share this story because I don't want people to think that I have completely vilified the leaders of the LDS Church in my mind. I know that many of them (maybe all?) are decent guys and if they were simply another person on the street, they would likely be likeable enough to just about anyone. However, they are not like a random person that you might happen to bump into. They proclaim themselves to be the voice of God. And people can say what they want about them being "imperfect men," but lets be honest with ourselves. We look into history at any mistake a past "prophet" made and we say, "he was only a man." Brigham Young for example. Mormons are quick to acknowledge that he was imperfect and made many mistakes and had questionable judgement. But if you even suggest that a current prophet is wrong, it is blasphemy. And not only are they treated like, as one facebook friend proclaimed during General Conference, "surrogates for the Lord," they are also treated like celebrities.

And as much a people would like to say that this is just a cultural issue, and not one that is perpetuated by the leaders themselves, it simply isn't true. You are not encouraged to question the teachings of President Monson. You are not told to read the ensign with a critical eye. What we are encouraged to do is "follow the prophet." So when someone in that position teaches false principles and ideas- it is dangerous. And as sweet as it was that Dallin Oaks pulled his wife's chair out for her, there is no excuse for an educated man who's words hundreds of thousands will interpret as scripture to say things of the nature that he did in General Conference. I don't know how his talk could be any more hypocritical.

He talks about the evils of victimizing children and selfish adult-interests while at the same time demonstrating that equation. How is re-enforcing the idea that single parents are less fit to raise children good for the children in single parent homes? How is making the already guilt-ridden woman haunted by her teenaged decision to abort her child feel evil make her feel valued and loved? And how the hell does telling people to "ASSUME" that same-sex couples with children are incapable, selfish, child-abusing parents do anything to help that child make friends in school and in their communities?

I'm sorry, are you telling us Mr. Oaks, that a child is better off in a foster home than being raised by two loving parents who spent the time in countless meetings and screenings and approvals to get the chance to provide a stable home to him or her? And sure, you were nice enough to pull that chair out for your wife, but isn't it a bit ungrateful to your mother who raised you alone in a world that can't have been very kind to her and her plight? Don't you think that if the toxic idea that she was ill-fit to raise a child wasn't so ingrained into our society that she might have had a better chance? Condemning single parents then didn't improve your situation, sir, so why do you feel it is your job to continue that poisonous teaching?

I have written much about Oaks and his discussion about what parents of gay children should do. I don't think I need to spend any more time showing how damaging his teachings about LGBT people are. But wake up people. THIS is the voice of God? How can people sit through that talk and come away feeling that it was uplifting and inspiring? I wish members were empowered to be able to stand up and say, "I'm sorry sir, but you are wrong- and there is no bell of truth that sounds when you speak."

10 October 2012

THT: "Mormons Building Bridges" is bad for the LGBT community

In my last post, I alluded to the fact that certain groups and people who from a distance seem progressive and helpful are actually becoming stumbling block for the LGBT community. I feel that experiences I've had over the past week have justified my speaking more plainly on the matter. Mormons Building Bridges is one of a few that I believe fit this category. I will explain why.

First, lets take a look what MBB says it is:
"[MBB] is dedicated to conveying love and acceptance to LGBT individuals. Acknowledging the sad history of strife and heartbreak within the LDS Church regarding issues of sexuality and gender identity, we seek to overcome past grievances and build new bridges of understanding and respect. Therefore, we facilitate communication and organizational efforts that help our gay brothers and sisters to feel supported in their life’s path and welcome in our homes and congregations. We are particularly focused on the plight of LGBT Mormon youth and hope to help curb the tide of LGBT Mormon youth homelessness and suicides. MBB is not sponsored by nor do we represent the LDS Church or any political party or caucus."
Sounds great right? I have to admit, I thought it would be a great group based on what the goals were. I had no preconceived notion that it was anything but good for the LGBT community as a whole, and specifically for those who have ever identified as Mormon. But lets read the fine print. I will bullet-point the conditions under each headline. The full text can be read on the MBB page here.

  • For anyone interested in building or finding support as pertaining to the issues of homosexuality, gender identity, and the LDS community
  • Only invite people who will respect the group's goals
  • After requesting to join, the potential member will receive a message from administrators who will ask them to abide by group guidelines
  • Pseudonyms not allowed (with few exceptions)
  • If a member blocks a group admin on facebook they will be removed
  • A place for fellowship and support and not political or doctrinal debates
  • Be civil and respectful of others
  • We want everyone to feel welcome
  • We do not promote specific philosophy/theology/ideology
  • Foul language, threats, harassment, and discrimination not allowed
  • Members are asked not to explicitly campaign for marriage equality on the Facebook group
Infractions of Guidelines
  • If a group admin determines a member is non-compliant to guidelines, they will be asked to modify, remove, or otherwise correct their post or comment
  • If member in question has not responded within one hour, the post/comment will be removed
  • Members will be removed and/or banned if admins determine that the member is not willing to comply with group rules
Quoting the Church's PR press release following Packer's offensive general conference talk:

"This [LDS] Church has felt the bitter sting of persecution and marginalization early in our history ... Our parents, young adults, teens and children should therefore, of all people, be especially sensitive to the vulnerable people in society and be willing to speak out against bullying or intimidation whenever it occurs, including unkindness toward those who are attracted to others of the same sex. This is particularly so in our own Latter-day Saint congregations. Each Latter-day Saint family and individual should carefully consider whether their attitudes and actions toward others properly reflect Jesus Christ’s second great commandment -- to love one another."
One thing you might be able to pick up on is the level of control the administrators assume over the members of this group. You must agree to a set of rules. You may very well be censored. You cannot debate politics or doctrine. You cannot explicitly advocate for marriage equality. And you can be kicked out and banned if the leaders see fit. Sound familiar? The group may not be endorsed by the LDS Church, but there sure is some resemblance.


When I began to realize the sentiment within the group, I voiced my concern. I made a post that asked how the group intends to achieve it's goals without talking politics and policies. My reasoning was this: How is an LGBT youth to feel loved, supported, and accepted in a community that also seeks to delegitimize the love that child feels toward another of the same sex by seeking to prohibit same-sex marriage. How is that child to understand empty words of love and understanding when actions show that the love and understanding is limited and conditional. "We love you, support you and we understand how you feel, but don't you dare expect that we will support changing discriminatory policies that our leaders support."

The response to my question was outrage. More than a few people threatened to leave the group if it was going to allow people to suggest that we ask more of our community by way of ACTION rather than simply WORDS. One woman was shocked that I dare hint at the idea of rejecting the clear message by prophets of the Lord that marriage is only intended for a man and woman. I was shocked. I was soonafter reminded by an administrator that this was not a place to discuss politics.  

This was the group that was going to "convey love and acceptance to LGBT individuals?"


This week I went to my first PFLAG meeting. I went with my boyfriend's mother who had been once before. I was shocked to find out that even though the Salt Lake Chapter has been established for 25 years it only had about 15 people there that night and only around 35 paying members. Membership is $35 a year. $15 of that goes to national, the rest is used by the chapter for things like reading materials that are supplied at booths that they run at several events. One of the more prominent women there expressed her shock that at a recent event, MBB was charging people $5 for a pamphlet. She said, "our whole purpose is to educate and get the information out there. We want to get that to anyone with even the slightest interest. And yes the pamphlet costs us $5, but putting that into the hands of an uninformed, but curious individual is priceless! We do not charge for information."

Okay, maybe she didn't say those exact words, but that was the gist of it. My point is, MBB boasts some 2,300 members. PFLAG in Salt Lake has 35. You'd think that with all those people wanting to convey love and support to the LGBT community would manage to hand out a few pamphlets free of charge. But the words of love and understanding and support just don't translate. Sure, it may have the affect of making people feel as if they are more understanding and loving than the average Mormon, but clearly there is a disconnect between words and action. Actions speak louder than words.


Recently there has been a move to create a MBB choir. When a facebook friend messaged me about it, I responded that I didn't think my philosophy meshed with MBB. In fact, I knew it because of the quick backlash I received for sharing my opinions. Well, now- weeks later, the director of that choir has released a little information about why all their practices have been postponed and rescheduled and canceled over the past few weeks:
"As of now, rehearsals are postponed until further notice.

I had a meeting with MBB Leadership today and there have been some concerns addressed, ones which I will not go into right now. The president of MBB would like a week to pray, think, and talk to others about what to do.

The reason we no longer have a rehearsal space is that we failed to make sure the exact details of LDS Church policy. Yes, we did have someone recording audio for the NPR interview. We did not know how serious of an infraction this was, and we are to blame for that. They also stated that we were videotaping the rehearsal, a accusation that is 100% false. I am trying to speak to the LDS Leadership of that building, and of other churches and rehearsal spaces.

Due to the present situation, I am hereby cancelling the Circling the Wagons 

I must also inform you that, while MBB has not said yes or no to continuing to sponsor the choir, both myself and MBB leadership has discussed us breaking away from the MBB organization and continuing the choir without their name."
I wish this were surprising to me, but again... when it comes to action, groups like this seem to become a blackhole for the progressive action that needs to take place in order for our communities to be places of respect, tolerance, and love for LGBT persons. But why?

Because there will always be room for intolerance, prejudice, hatred, and bigotry as long as LGBT people are treated differently by the law. Change starts there. Imagine if African Americans decided that instead of demanding equality- instead of taking that seat on the bus or walking into that school or ordering from that bar they would just share stories to spread understanding and love. Imagine that they agreed not to talk about voting rights or desegregation as to not offend or push politics or ideology. Imagine that the mere suggestion that they march to Washington caused their alleged allies to turn their backs in rage. Where would that have got them?

And for those who think that it makes sense that the LGBT youth will feel love and support and understanding by joining a group that says you are reaching out to build a bridge when at the same time you refuse to consider or talk about politics and policy changes, I would ask that you consider this analogy.

Let us say that somehow all the godless non-mormons of Salt Lake got a law passed to make temple marriages illegal in Utah. If you were found to have participated in such a marriage, the consequences were these:
  • You're marriage would be considered null and void by the state
  • Insurance providers could refuse to cover anyone other than the employed individual (no family benifits)
  • Renters could evict you from your home
  • Employers could legally fire you for being married in the temple
  • Hospitals did not have to recognize family members, and therefore they had no visitation rights
You get the idea. But wait! There is a new group that has formed whose mission is to support temple-wedded couples and families. They want to reach out in love and understanding and make you feel valued and welcome in Utah. They want to build a bridge across the pit of suffering. But there are rules. You can share your story, but don't say anything to suggest that you should be granted equal recognition. Don't talk politics or policies. Don't try and organize a protect or march. If you become unruly, you will be promptly removed and banned. After all, this is a place for respect, love, and understanding! We have lives to change and people to save!

Do you feel the love? How about understanding? Respect?

I would hope that you would expect someone who claimed to understand, love, and support you to fight for your equality. To take your hand and sit with you in that seat on the bus. To help you carry those books into that segregated school. To order that drink for you from the man who hates you. I would hope that you would expect for that person to speak up in defense of your rights- especially to those in power. I would hope that you would expect that person to walk with you down the aisle on the day of your wedding and celebrate with you as you commit to cherish forever the one you love most in this world. You want to build a bridge? This is your chance.