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The Unlikely Prophet

The Unlikely Prophet

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Brigham Young University student Cary Crall had always been very religious and a leader among his peers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But when the church began a heated campaign to pass California's Proposition 8, the self-identified "Moho" (Mormon homosexual), whose family goes back in direct line to the church's founder, Joseph Smith, found himself conflicted.

Following Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the lawsuit challenging the anti-marriage equality proposition, Crall discovered that many of the church's arguments against same-sex marriage either didn't hold up during the trial or weren't even presented. Wanting to shed light on the subject, he wrote an editorial that was published last September in BYU's campus newspaper, the Daily Universe, which concluded that "the real reason [church members supported Prop. 8] is that a man who most of us believe is a prophet of God told us to support the amendment." His piece lasted a few hours online before the paper took it down, claiming readers had found it offensive.

The Advocate: When did you first become aware of the church's involvement in Prop. 8?
Cary Crall: I had just gotten back from my LDS mission in July of 2008 and they talked about it in church, about how the church would be involved.

How the church would be involved -- meaning, "We're taking this course of action"?
Sure. There was a message read in the Sacrament Meetings, the main meeting of the LDS church service. It said, "There's this legislation, Proposition 8"-- and this came from the first presidency of the church, which includes the Mormon prophet and his two counselors -- and it said, "There's this legislation, and we believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and we ask that you use all of your time and means to support this ordinance and help it pass."

They always say they never told anyone how to vote, and they didn't in so many words. But they said "Do all you can to get this to pass." I don't know how that's not an endorsement of how to vote.

Where were you in terms of your sexuality at this point? Were you out to anyone? Were you out to yourself?
I knew I was gay. My parents knew I was gay. And a few close friends. But I thought I would either find a way to make things work with a woman, get married, have a family, and be LDS -- or I would be celibate my entire life.

Before you go on an LDS mission, you go through the Mormon Temple. And part of going to the temple is making covenants with God. One of the things you promise is the law of chastity, which says you'll only have sexual relations with your wife, if you're a man, and no one else for the rest of your life. So I felt like I had already made that promise when I was 19, and it felt very binding.

How did your parents respond when they found out you were gay?
They responded well. They had some inklings from when I was younger. Gay boys will get different things on the computer than straight boys. [Laughs]

I actually think the LDS church is not as bad as some other churches in how they deal with homosexuality because the LDS church has been explicit -- at least since I've been growing up -- that having homosexual feelings is not in and of itself sinful. And because of that, my parents didn't think I was evil, but I think they felt as if they had failed early on. If you go to a counseling service sponsored through the church, a lot of the theories espoused as to causation of homosexuality have to do with distant father, overbearing mother, things about sexual abuse -- and that's the paradigm they were looking at.

But my mom has always been very loving and tried to understand what I go through. She's supportive of me. My dad is a very laid-back, easygoing man. He wasn't raised LDS, but the Mormon Church is kind of his first family. He's expressed how he loves me.

Did you attend any pro-Prop. 8 rallies?
No. During that summer [following my work as a missionary], I mainly went to church and to church meetings. You have meetings throughout the week, kind of like a youth group, where we were spoken to by someone in our congregation and given the kind of the slippery slope argument supporting Proposition 8. We were told that we would be organized and going door-to-door, talking to people about it. It was part of a church meeting, but it was very political.

How did all of this make you feel?
I felt terrible. And it definitely gave people around me the chance to be homophobic. Mormons are typically really nice people. They don't like to be looked at as being mean, but it unleashed some of the latent meanness that was inside some people. And it made it so that my homosexuality, which I had hoped to just diminish and not have at the forefront of my mind, was always there. Because it was the main issue being talked about.

What prompted you to write your editorial for the Daily Universe?
I felt like my fellow students at BYU were very smug in their position on Prop. 8, as if their views were supported not just by their religious beliefs but by studies and science. And after the trial I read Judge [Vaughn] Walker's decision -- the entire thing -- and saw how there weren't experts willing to testify to the things that these people were considering true. There was no real support for these "rational" arguments for Prop. 8. And I wanted to just point that out. And also to say, "Even if you were to read these studies and see that there's no support, you would still support the amendment because of your belief in the LDS prophet. And you should be honest about your motives. You're a Mormon person, you believe in being honest, and you're not."

Had you done any activism prior to this?
Soulforce had come to my campus my freshman year, and it took all the courage I could muster just to go to their rally. That is the most I'd been involved in any sort of activism before this point. And it was scary. One of the things I was dealing with was finally talking with church leaders about my homosexuality and trying to figure out if that would keep me from being a missionary. And ultimately, they decided, "As long as you can control your feelings, you're fine." But the Soulforce people could, of course, see right through me. They all understood that I was this closeted person who was very conflicted because of my religion. And it was very difficult to deal with because I was trying so hard not to appear gay. [Laughs]

Weren't you concerned that putting your name on an editorial challenging Prop. 8 would clue people in?
I was aware that that was a possibility. But there are people at BYU who are completely impervious to the idea that people around them are gay. It's like if you don't believe in ghosts, all sorts of weird things can happen around you and you'll never call it "seeing a ghost." But as soon as you've seen one, everything looks like a ghost. I think that's how a lot of kids at BYU are: Their friends are so gay, but they never put it together until one of them comes out, and then they realize how many people around them are gay.

What sort of response did your piece get?
I was actually expecting a little more negative feedback than I got. But because the Daily Universe pulled my letter, there were no letters of rebuttal published against it, so I only got a few private Facebook messages from people who disapproved.

You told a reporter last year, "I will be interested to see how the appeals go. If new information is presented that contradicts my viewpoint, I will gladly change my mind." Did you really think that was a possibility?
That statement was about this: I feel the big problem is that people are not being reasonable on this issue. A reasonable person by definition changes their view when information that contradicts their view is presented. And I was trying to live the Golden Rule on that point. Just as I was calling out for other people to be reasonable, I was trying to show that I also would be reasonable.

[Before the trial] I thought maybe there was some great study, that an expert would be willing to testify to the fact that children raised by gay couples actually are less well-adjusted. But that's what really got me going: There were no experts willing to testify to any of the things that I had been presented with during the campaign as reasons to support Prop. 8. Their "expert witnesses" dropped out, and the ones who did testify weren't really experts in their field and were completely discredited. And I just knew that no one on my campus paid attention to this issue.

You're now working to get housing and employment nondiscrimination ordinances passed in Provo.
This is something I'm very excited about because in the aftermath of Prop. 8, the LDS church issued a statement saying that they supported gay and lesbian rights and thought [LGBT people] should be protected -- they had just wanted to protect marriage. And they were kind of taken to task for that. Some of the Democrats from the Utah legislature tried to pass a nondiscrimination bill and asked the church to support it. And initially the church did not. But when the city of Salt Lake went to pass the ordinance, they did a good job of courting the church's public affairs and were able to get a statement from the church saying they supported it. And that made all the difference for Utah. That ordinance is now passed in 10 communities throughout the state.

My community [Provo] is the most conservative. I have a friend who was fired from his job here in Utah County because he was gay. He was working as a youth theater director for a summer camp, and when some of the parents found out about his orientation they started pulling their kids out of the program and he was fired. It was a really tough thing for him to deal with.

We targeted the city council members, starting with an e-mail campaign. Then we started calling individual members. We have a few who've been very excited in support, but most have been dragging their feet. So, really, we're just fighting inertia. There's a state senator, Ben McAdams, who's a real hero. He's a straight LDS man who really champions gay rights in Utah, and he's trying to get it passed in the state legislature. And he feels like if it passes in Utah County, it will inevitably pass in the state legislature for all of Utah. Which is something to really be proud of.

What's next for you?
I'll be attending medical school in the fall.

Will you be doing any more activism?
Of course. When being Mormon was my primary identity, I was very Mormon. And I would defend my church publicly. As being gay is more and more incorporated into my identity, I feel that I will be the same way for the gay community. I have a keen sense of injustice. If I ever feel like something is unfair, it bothers me to no end. And I need to feel like I'm doing something to correct it. I don't have any specific projects with targets on them, but I will definitely be involved if I see a need. I have the confidence that any small effort by an individual can make a big difference, because I've seen it.
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