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.


Dean said...

I agree with you. Thanks.

Sara Long said...

Thank you so much, Jonathan.

One thing I'd enhance the above with is that Mormons for Marriage Equality most definitely is composed of mostly straight, active, returned missionary, calling-holding, temple-attending members. That's who launched the movement, organized it, and in many cities carried out the marches.

There were also a large number of gay Mormons who did not pretend, who were not asked to hide who they were, hoisting signs like "This Pioneer is Queer" (at our Portland march: http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/sexual-politics/Content?oid=6271957) or "I'm Queer and Proud and my Mormon family loves and accepts me" (at our Seattle march: http://seattletimes.com/html/photogalleries/localnews2018521181/3.html). Some cities were also organized by gay, partnered, active(!) members marching alongside straight active members - for instance Washington DC; New York City; Santiago, Chile; Houston; Minneapolis.

While we had ex-Mormons march with us, unfortunately many turned down invitations for participation and spoke against what we were doing; they did not want to make the church seem more progressive than it is.

So what's the difference between these active Mormons and those active Mormons? Purpose, I think. These active Mormons, gay and straight, want equal rights for all people. Period. And we'll stop at nothing less.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hey, Jonathan, can you write to me on richik-19@mail.ru, im live in russia and i have something to talk with you, thank you.

Post a Comment