BS Business Management ('97)
Describe your BYU experience
Generally I loved university, it was a good time and I loved the academics of it, but I wasn’t out and didn’t see any upside in acknowledging my orientation. It would mean getting kicked out of school, losing my church community, my Mormon identity, and being ostracized by family. I didn’t have any positive role models of gay people and what that life could be like.
When my bishop spoke to me, a closeted gay teen, about preparing for a mission, I went home and prayed hard. I asked if God loves me, loves me for who I am, all that I am. Warmth radiated across my body. I knew with certainty that I’m loved and I am not broken. It’s sad that an 18-year-old who attended church all his life didn’t know the answer to this question until that moment.
Serving a mission in Korea is one of the great adventures of my life. I learned so much about myself. I rose to the challenge. I worked hard and made some life-long friends. Weekly service at orphanages really buoyed me. Korean men are more affectionate with other men as a sign of friendship than we are in the United States, so holding hands with them was one of my secret pleasures. The one thing is that we were asked to read The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball, the things he wrote about homosexuality actually disgusted me, I knew they were not true.
I don’t remember who recommended Ricks College (now called BYU-Idaho), but the price was right. I arrived in Rexburg, Idaho in January of 1993 and met my handsome roommate. A few days before the end of the semester I learned he was bi and he allowed me my first sexual experience, which was just to feel him up a little bit. However the next morning he turned us in to the bishop and I was put on probation and I felt so much hurt & shame. He left college, but I stayed, kept my head down and worked hard and basically swore off any interest in dating & romance.
In 1994 I transferred to BYU for Fall semester. I found Provo a freer place because there’s so many more people. I really enjoyed my time as part of the BYU community.
The dating culture in Provo is powerful and I wanted to do all the things my roommates were doing, but with guys. However, there was a part of me that was a little paranoid. I’d heard the Honor Code Office would conduct sting operations in which they targeted gay students, so I was extremely cautious and limited my opportunities. Also I learned about BYU’s history of dealing with queer people, so when I found there was counseling for gay students, I didn’t trust that people employed by BYU would have my best interests at heart.
One time the school paper ran a week-long series on gay students attending BYU. I desperately wished I had a way to meet them, but the paper kept their identities anonymous. My roommates, on the other hand, made comments about how they didn’t come to BYU to read about such perversions and these individuals should be identified and kicked out. That sort of epitomized my gay experience at BYU, not welcome unless it’s completely hidden.
Describe your post-BYU experiences
It’s this weird thing where I’m Mormon, that’s who I am, and yet I know the things taught and preached about me are wrong and harmful. For a long time I didn’t really see leaving the church as an option. Instead I built walls around myself, kept my head down, kept my secret, and hoped for the best. This is the life I chose and did my best to make it work, but it came at a high price.
Whenever I came across a story that some LDS person is gay, I tried to contact them. I had hopes that maybe I could talk with somebody like me. I know they were flooded with messages and didn’t have time to read and respond to all of them.
I stayed close with my family, and I feel like I kept sacrificing what I wanted in order to keep the peace with them, to not rock the boat. My 6 brothers & sisters married and had children and being an uncle is the greatest joy in my life. Also, several times I worked for Mormons or had Mormon landlords, so coming out looked like a costly option to me.
Eventually I went back to school and earned an MBA, which I then used to get a position at a university. I wanted to work someplace that was more open and accepting and where I could say that I’m gay and not risk getting fired.
Right around the time I turned 40 I’d had enough (I'm a late bloomer). What was the point of having a life if I was never going to live? I was tired of hiding and pretending, of censoring myself. I decided enough was enough and from that day onward I was extremely honest.
As I’ve been more authentic about who I am, my assignments at church changed to have a lot more responsibility and better job prospects have come at work. A more whole and healthy me was clearly seen as an asset.
In my little corner of the church I became well known from serving as the stake Young Men's President and then as the Stake Executive Secretary. I had a blog post go viral about meeting a Seventy and his kind reaction to my telling him that I’m gay. This resulted in many people contacting me and I’ve tried my best to respond to them, knowing they’re looking for a ray of hope. And in writing back to them, I actually developed some queer LDS friends and it’s been great.
I also started meeting with a psychologist, I had years of internalized homophobia to unpack. I needed help in learning to accept myself and letting myself feel things I used to shut down. I also learned I had social anxiety disorder that was directly related to decades of trying to not draw attention to what I am. I feel like I’m going through a second adolescence, doing things that are usually a part of teenagehood. Going on dates is really awkward, I have almost no experience at this. I finally had my first kiss, and now I understand all the songs and poems.
For so long I gave up anything to do with my orientation and it was unhealthy. By embracing it, I suppose I'll eventually be leaving the LDS Church, I just don't see a way to have a balance between the two. In this time before I leave, I’ve been trying my best to leave it a better place. I did a fireside for teenagers in my stake where I delivered a message directly to queer youth. I speak with the bishops and the stake presidency about what it’s like to be a gay Mormon, and suggestions on how to react if someone comes out to them. I’ve spoken with parents of LGBT teens and talked about the hard choices ahead and how they can make home a better, more supportive environment. I also tell everyone not to hold me up as an example of what their teen or twenty-something should be, they don’t know the hard things they’re wishing on their loved one.
What advice or wisdom would you share with a current LGBTQ+ BYU student?
Being gay or trans or whatever is not a sin, it is not the result of a lack of faith, it is not a punishment. God created you and me as glorious, eternal beings. I am a son of God. I am gay. I am known and loved by Him. He is rooting for me, and for you.
If the choice comes down to suicide or your church, choose to live. Protect your mental health by taking a break from religion. God created you as you are. You determine if this will be a blessing or a curse in your life. Enjoy it.
There will also be people who can’t see your worth. Don’t let yourself be one of them.
Be kinder and gentler. Life is messy and we have to make choices without knowing how they’ll ultimately work out. Do your best. Listen to your heart. Use your brain.
Get yourself some queer friends. Especially helpful if you can get some queer Mormon friends because they’ll get you in a way no one else does.
If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore that feeling. In those situations I ask myself these 3 questions
- “Does that sound like me, do I resemble that remark?”
- “Does this sound like the God that I know?”
- “Does this fit with the great commandment to love one another?”
You have claim to two great histories and legacies: LDS & LGBTQ+. Both the queer community and LDS church, in different ways, teach me about being kind and accepting others.
Forgive and try not to carry around all the hurtful things. Allow people to grow and change.
Remember G.A.Y.–God Adores You
Coming out is one of the hardest things many of us do in this life, but it gives us the opportunity to live more authentically, to lessen the dissonance. Even if you want to stay in the LDS Church, in my opinion, it's better to do so as yourself. Just by being yourself, you'll influence people.
Are there any other thoughts or experiences you would like to share?
When I was 15, at church we had a lesson that the quorum president is the leader, the adults were there to guide but the power rested with us. The quorum president said, “In that case, we’re done with scouting.” He asked if the rest of us sustained. We voted to end scouting!
While I was a missionary in Korea, at a branch conference the members voted to not sustain their branch presidency. In other words, they voted out their leaders! I didn’t even know that was possible. I mean, yes, we get to vote, but it’s always more of a formality. I hadn’t realized we have power.
We’re used to thinking of this as a top-down organization, but these two experiences illustrate that it can work bottom-up. The name of our church indicates this is the case. It’s the church of Jesus Christ AND it’s the church of the latter-day Saints (which is what we call the church members), it's a joint venture.
Make your voice heard, and as you speak up, others feel permitted to express their opinions. A number of the breath-taking changes that have happened the past few years in the LDS Church have been in response to members raising their voices and saying we have a problem here and can do better.
Posted June 15 2018