Op-ed: Gays and Mormons, Do Unto Others

Op-ed: Gays and Mormons, Do Unto Others

I think it’s no secret that I’m an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint. In August of last year, I was called to serve as executive secretary in the bishopric of the Bay Ward in San Francisco — as an openly gay man. Yes, I have been in a monogamous, committed relationship with someone of the same gender. Yes, I was deemed worthy to hold this post and sustained in the identical fashion any heterosexual man would be. No, I have not committed to a life of celibacy, nor have I denounced my sexual orientation. I won’t apologize to the Mormon community for being gay — but I won’t apologize to the gay community for being Mormon either.

A week ago someone sent me a link to Fred Karger’s site The Top 10 Craziest Mormon Beliefs. At first I thought it was a joke (and frankly, still kind of do). Anyone, anywhere (Mormon or not) can submit “factual Mormon doctrine” to the site, so really there’s little legitimate fact to be found. It kind of reminds me of the urban myth that was circulating a few years back — about the man who woke up in a bathtub full of ice, only to discover his kidneys had been removed for sale on the black market.

Like the kidney story, most of the content on The Top 10 Craziest Mormon Beliefs is fringe belief stretched to the point of complete urban legend. The content isn’t really worth a point-counterpoint debate since, quite frankly, there’s such little substance.

But there is something here that is worth addressing, and that is the principle behind why such a site exists in the first place — especially given the remarkably similar histories of persecution shared by the gay and Mormon communities.

First let’s talk about the LGBT side.

For years, we in the
LGBT community have fought battle after battle (largely with the
religious right — some of them Mormon) to gain the freedom to marry the
one we love. As part of that battle, we’ve tried to demonstrate that we
in the gay community are alarmingly similar to the straight community:
We pay the mortgage. We argue with our partners about whose turn it is
to take out the recycling. We celebrate together when one of us gets a
promotion. We mourn together when we lose our family pet. Our
lives — just like those of straight people — are shockingly dull.

At
the same time, we’re relentlessly portrayed in the media (again,
largely thanks to the religious right) as a segment of society that is
devoid of morals and values, and as people who are a threat to
ourselves and others. By and large, this is accomplished by pointing to
elements of our own culture that are somewhat on the fringe (such as
the Folsom Street Fair), then embellishing these stories with heavy
doses of half-truths and rumor, and holding them up to the rest of
society as “truth,” all in an attempt to keep us viewed as
fringe-dwellers and to discount the normal (and admittedly sometimes
dull) lives that we actually lead.

Yet, here we have Mr.
Karger, someone who has assumed a bit of a leadership role in the LGBT
community, turning around and doing the exact thing to another segment
of society that we decry as unfair in our own community. The site — just
like what the right has done to us in the LGBT community — contains
little fact, is inflammatory, and seeks to shame and embarrass a
segment of society (and admittedly, an imperfect one) by using
caricatures of who Mormons really are.

For us as a gay
community, this is counterproductive at best and destructive at worst.
As a member of the LGBT community myself, I’m more concerned with
keeping my gay brothers and sisters safe and sane as they walk through
the coming-out process while grappling with the real beliefs of their
faith, regardless of what that faith is. I’m much less concerned with
propagating the urban myths surrounding their individual
religions — doing so will only make their difficult jobs even more
challenging.

The bottom line for us in the gay community
should be this: We can’t very well ask for equality, compassion, and
understanding if we’re not willing to be among the first to give the
same to others. And we can’t very well decry the tactics of the
religious right as unfair when we are, in essence, doing the same thing
to the Mormons. We need to give what we seek to receive.

Now let’s look at the Mormon side of this.

Let’s
just get honest here. The Mormon Church (in my opinion and in the
opinion of many other Mormons) deserved the black eye we got for our
involvement in Proposition 8. It was, perhaps, among the least
Christlike things we’ve done as a faith. It was certainly not the most
shining example of what we really strive to do as a faith, and that is
emulate the kind of compassion and charity our Savior showed to all
humans.

I’m not happy about it. A lot of other Mormons — both gay and straight — are not either.

And
to continue that thread of rigorous honesty, there are certainly
elements within the Mormon faith that ascribe to some of the fringe and
folkloric beliefs on Karger’s site. That’s a statement, though, that can
be made for any collection of people or community — we all have our
outliers. But it certainly doesn’t mean it represents the bulk of our
faith, nor does it address the full humanity of who we are as
Mormons — the same way the fringe elements of the gay community paraded
around by the religious right don’t represent the full humanity of who
we are as an LGBT community.

As Mormons, we have a lengthy
history of being persecuted, demonized, and even killed for being who
we are. And much of that hatred was spread through exaggerated
propaganda, much like what we see on Karger’s site. Yet we are so quick
to forget our own history, and turn around and do the exact same thing
to the gay community. Far too often we base our own opinions of gays
and lesbians — and worse, how we treat them — on cartoonish
misrepresentations of who they really are.

Can we, then,
genuinely tell ourselves that we’re fulfilling one of the primary
missions of our faith — to strive to be examples and emissaries of our
Savior’s unconditional love? I know I could not — and I know of thousands
of other Mormons who could not either.

I am human. I get
angry. I want to lash out. I understand that for both sides, an eye for
an eye may feel really good in the moment — but it’s not going to get us
any closer to where we want to be in the long run. If anything, it just
makes deeper the divide.

Both communities have harmed others
with this kind of exaggerated negative stereotyping; both communities
have been harmed by having it aimed at us. But both communities also
have an opportunity here, if we so choose to see it. And that
opportunity is simply this: Let go of your anger for a moment, and look
at the kind of human you become when you participate in this kind of
tactic against your fellows — independent of who they are. And then ask
yourself if that’s the kind of human you genuinely want to be, and
whether or not it will accomplish what you really seek to gain.

My response, as both an openly gay man and a Mormon, is a resounding “No.”
 

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