I had the opportunity and privilege to go to the "Circling the Wagons" conference put on by Mormon Stories. I flew in from California on Friday night and made it to the session amid the snow the next day. The conference was by far better than I even imagined.
Ten years before, just after turning 18, I went to the Evergreen International Conference with my Dad, around the time of September 11th. We had to drive because there were no flights available. This was my first experience being a "Gay Mormon" and meeting other "strugglers." Evergreen has it's place. I feel like many that it is unfair to talk totally negatively of the experience of for the first time in your life having a space to talk, to vent, to share with others.
The problem is the misinformation there. See at this conference "experts" like A. Dean Byrd told me that homosexuality was in fact a mental illness, that if not curable, was treatable by therapeutic means. Research had been done that showed that homosexuality was most likely caused by several factors, but possibly by an absent father, an overbearing mother. He and other panelists waxed on and on, peddling their wares about how they could change us, help us "diminish our unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction", help us to get married heterosexually, etc.
What a contrast, to step into Salt Lake, ten years later, in the early snow of Autumn, to the First Baptist Church, and meet my true brothers and sisters, straight, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, SSA, whatever they preferred to identify as, and simply be with them, in the open, talking openly and freely about our feelings, our worries, our pains, was incredible. We talked about the real pain that we had felt being gay and Mormon, seeking to bridge understanding between allies and LGBT members. In reality it isn't an us and them thing. We were all there together questioning, thinking what can we do, right now, to make our lives and the lives of those around us better.
Carol Lynn Pearson's gave a talk about the hero's journey, how we as gay members of the church or just gay people in general had been called to a journey, refused the call, been initiated or forced to adventure, and then to take home what we said. For those unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell's work that was the source for the talk, think of it as being Luke Skywalker, on the desert in Tatooine, unaware that an adventure was to be had. Lucas followed Campbell's model and created Star Wars. We as gay men and women are like Luke Skywalker, thrust out onto an adventure we didn't choose but that we have to face all the same.
As Lee Beckstead put it, you all prayed and fasted to overcome being gay. Let them pray and fast to cure their Homophobia. Homophobia is curable. Homosexuality is not. People are often too afraid to learn the truth about homosexuality, deal with their own inadequacy or their own fear of difference, their homophobia (fear of gay people: let's call it what it is).
The other talks and panels were helpful as well. Lee Beckstead's talk was about bridging and navigating conflict with our communities and with our families, and this was an important theme and one that carried into the panel discussion. As Carol Lynn Pearson said, the truth is that people should not have to choose loving their son or daughter or the church, that this needs to end and stop immediately.
I was inspired. The musical numbers, the visiting bishop's testimony, the testimony's/testimonials at the end. There was an amazing spirit of love, tolerance, and true Christian worship there in a Baptist church in Salt Lake. And that's something I can be proud of when I say I'm Mormon. And it's something that can lead me to say I'm proud that I'm a gay man. I'm grateful that I have so many wonderful brothers and sisters who love and support me in being who I am. For not having to hang my head or be ashamed for existing, or loving or being attracted to people who happen to be of the same gender as me. It was....wonderful.