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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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