Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ALL in the Family

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PHM0614Flash-1-3A Mormon-founded Valley support group for LGBT Mormons seeks to create acceptance for the gay and faithful.

At the Phoenix Pride parade celebrating the Valley’s LGBT community this April, there was something unusual among the big blonde wigs and boom boxes blaring “YMCA” – a group of about 40 people, dressed in their Sunday best, modestly marching behind a banner that read “Mormons Building Bridges.”“We’re marching because we love our LGBT brothers and sisters, and we want them to know it,” says Vickie Johnson, a Mormon, and the mother of a gay son.

Vickie and her husband are members of ALL (Arizona Latter-Day Saints LGBT), a support group for LBGT Mormons and their families. The group is loosely affiliated with Mormons Building Bridges, a grassroots organization in Utah that seeks to “convey love and acceptance” to LGBT Mormons. ALL has the same goal here. Though unaffiliated with the LDS Church, which officially opposes homosexual sex and gay marriage and was instrumental in helping pass California’s Prop 8 same-sex marriage ban in 2008, ALL may be on the forefront of a cultural shift within the church. Group members hope their existence may be reflective of a softening stance toward the LGBT community both in Mormon wards and within church leadership.  

ALL was started two years ago by Trevor Cook, the openly gay oldest son of active Mormon couple Bryce and Sara Cook. ALL holds monthly gatherings at the Mesa home of the Cooks, who also have a younger gay son. On average, 30 or so people show up.

Discussion is open to anything. The group doesn’t focus on what they’re doing “wrong” or what church leaders might say about them. “We don’t say rude things about the church,” Sarah says, and so far, the respect has been mutual. The Cooks say they haven’t experienced any hostility. The couple’s bishop, David Weed, says he has gone to some of ALL’s meetings (“as an individual, not as a bishop”) and views the group as a “good thing,” adding if he were counseling someone experiencing same-sex attraction, he would recommend ALL as an option.

ALL doesn’t advocate for public policy change or try to “hash out the differences” within the group – for instance, whether gay people should pursue relationships or remain celibate (or, as the church used to advocate, enter into a “mixed-orientation marriage” with a straight person of the opposite sex). “Our main goal is just really to be like the Savior and love people,” Bryce says. The group gathers to talk about their lives, ways they wish their families and church better understood them, and how to love people you disagree with.

While the LDS church has shifted on the issue of LGBT rights in the last decade – leaders don’t recommend mixed-orientation marriages anymore, according to Bryce – it still, as a point of orthodoxy, opposes homosexual relationships. But issues of spiritual conflict and organizational acceptance have become so big for the church that it maintains an official website, mormonsandgays.org, dedicated to the topic. On it, the church gives its official stance: “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

Gay people who pursue relationships aren’t allowed in temples or to hold leadership positions. That raises what Bryce calls a tough question: Can you truly love a gay person while not promoting homosexual behavior, or while opposing the legalization of gay marriage? Essentially yes, Bryce says. “I know people who accept the church’s position,” he says, “and I think they are loving and want to be understanding.”

Attendees at ALL meetings are typically people who, despite their sexual orientation, want to hang on to their Mormon culture. Sara estimates that’s “probably because they love Heavenly Father and Jesus, and they believe in the things they were taught.” They may be holding out hope the church will change its stance, she says.  

Sara and Bryce, too, wonder if that will happen. They don’t publicly discuss their feelings on the issue, wanting to maintain their good standing in the church, but they both note the church has a history of evolving on certain topics  – for example, it advocated for polygamy until church President Wilford Woodruff declared in 1890 he’d received a new revelation that the institution should no longer be allowed, and the church reversed a longstanding policy in 1978 to allow black people to marry in the temples and become priests.

“I just think the Lord presents things to people as they can accept them,” Sara says, noting that coming to terms with her own sons’ homosexuality wasn’t an overnight process. Bryce recalls in a guest blog on the site of openly gay Mormon Mitch Mayne that when Trevor came out, “I was homophobic and had very un-Christlike feelings toward gay people.” He goes on to write, “We knew that if someone as honest, moral and committed to the gospel as Trevor was gay, then pretty much everything we thought we knew about being gay was just plain wrong.” After reading scientific studies and church leaders’ statements on the subject, Bryce changed his views. Now, he says, “If I could change my two sons to be straight, I wouldn’t do it, because this is who they are.”

 

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