During the surprisingly painless Sunday school lesson on the Family Proclamation a couple months ago, someone in my ward mentioned a class the Logan Institute of Religion had done for LGBTQ+ allies, and said they were going to do it again. So I sought it out and signed up. It's not a standard class, but rather a seminar that started partway through the semester and is held once a week. It's had three meetings so far. They're an hour and a half each, but unfortunately I can only stay for about fifty minutes because of a time conflict. They're led by Brother Diamond, who's also in my stake presidency, and I've heard him talk about LGBTQ+ things before when he taught a class about all the controversial things. I didn't know what to expect from this seminar but just knowing that it exists with the institute's approval gave me hope for a better future.
As it turns out, Brother Diamond does very little, which is great. He opens by showing a music video - so far we've gotten two selections from Zach Williams and one from the Bonner Family - and then reiterates this quote from M. Russell Ballard: "We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord." That's essentially the course objective. Then he turns the time over to an LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saint attending USU who shares their story for thirty or forty minutes. Then everyone breaks into little groups and discusses what they've heard for a few minutes, and then the LGBTQ+ person takes questions. (Brother Diamond told everyone the first time to stay respectful during this portion, and he said he feels protective of these people and he's from England so he knows how to be rude.) Notably missing from this format is the teacher feeling a need to constantly remind us of church teachings on marriage and gender as if we're somehow at risk of forgetting about them. It's all about listening, learning, and loving. I'm very happy that the LGBTQ+ people get to speak for themselves and be as real and honest as they want. Their faith strengthens mine, though of course I never want to fall into the lazy self-serving "Look, here are some LGBTQ+ people who haven't left the Church, so everything is fine" trap.
So in the first meeting, this guy with an interesting hairstyle got up to speak and I thought, "He must be gay." He turned out instead to be asexual. I couldn't believe they started off the seminar with an asexual person. It was only the second time in a church setting - the first one being the aforementioned Sunday school lesson a couple months ago - that I heard anyone acknowledge the existence of asexual people, and the first time I heard the term used. I could imagine people seeing this as a copout, since he doesn't have any real desire to get married and he can just not get married and not deal with as much heartache as someone who does want to get married but is told their otions are to marry nobody or to marry somebody they're not attracted to. For me, though, it was kind of incredible to hear him speak. I'm vaguely aware that I fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, but I don't give that fact much thought. It causes me some angst because I do experience some romantic attraction and some desire for companionship and some awful cognitive dissonance about whether or not I want to get married, but that decision has been made for me and I don't feel like it affects my life much at this time. I 100% came to this seminar as an ally, not as an LGBTQ+ person seeking something for myself. But I got something anyway.
He talked about how he came out to his mission president, and his mission president totally dismissed his concerns and said he was too young to know this about himself and insisted that he will be attracted to his wife, and insisted on meeting with him every transfer, which was very embarrassing. Then a recent gay convert knew exactly what to say to cheer him up. I could relate a little. When I've told peers in the Church about being asexual, typically they didn't know what that was but could understand and accept it as soon as I explained. It's not complicated. If some people's hormones make them want to have sex with boys and some people's hormones make them want to have sex with girls and some people's hormones do both of those things, it's really just common sense that some people's hormones can't be bothered to do either of those things. And because I know what the Greek prefix "a-" means, I started identifying as asexual long before I knew others were doing the same. But my parents refused to accept it. My dad yelled once, "You're not 'asexual'! Maybe that's the buzzword..." When I asked, then, what terminology he thought I should use to indicate the fact that I've never had the slightest urge or desire to have sex at any point in my life, he said "Chaste, or celibate." Of course neither of those words is adequate because they describe behavior, or more accurately a lack thereof, and say nothing about the underlying cause that differentiates me from most people.
I just loved that this guy didn't hold back on sharing his experience with his mission president and how negative it was. During the Q&A session, someone asked if it had damaged his testimony that the mission president was called by God. He said it had made him angry at the time, but maybe the mission president needed that experience and maybe someday he'll remember it and be better for it. He said that church leaders have made plenty of mistakes, that church leaders are just like us, that the only difference is they have more authority. I just loved that kind of real talk. He was in my discussion group, but I didn't say anything because all I could think of was how much his experience resonated with mine, and I didn't want to make it about me. Then I left early. He probably thought I was offended.
The next week, we got a speaker who was asexual and genderfluid. Though biologically female (at least on the surface - other things may not line up, but it would be kind of gross for me to speculate on the inner workings of a stranger's body, so I won't, but I just want to be clear that I'm not oversimplifying biological sex or its connections to gender dysphoria), often they feel more male and sometimes they don't. I really wish I could understand what that feels like. I only know what it feels like to be one person - me. I don't have any point of reference to know what it's supposed to feel like to be a man or what it's supposed to feel like to be a woman. If I did feel like a woman, how would I even know? I guess a big part of it is just feeling like you're in the wrong body, but I don't even know what that feels like. The important thing, then, is for me to recognize that just because I haven't shared and can't personally relate to an experience doesn't make it less real or valid for someone else. They related this experience to Romans 8:16-18: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
Before I had to leave, I was able to ask if they've had any struggles with the temple or other highly gender-segregated aspects of the Church. They said yes, some, but they feel so good at the temple that those struggles are minimized. In response to someone else's point-blank question, they acknowledged that they believe some things in the Family Proclamation are wrong, reiterated that church leaders receive revelation through their biases just like we do, and said that some things probably aren't going to change as long as certain people are around. I am so grateful to the institute for providing this safe space for them and others to be honest about beliefs that the institute would not likely share or endorse. We simply cannot "listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing" if we pressure them to self-censor and only say what they think we want to hear. In any case, church members of all stripes should all be able to accept that more light and knowledge on God's transgender children will be forthcoming. Dallin H. Oaks said in 2015, "I think we need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with lesbians and homosexuals for some time, being acquainted with the unique problems of a transgender situation is something we have not had so much experience with, and we have some unfinished business in teaching on that."
The third week we heard from a gay woman. (She preferred to identify as "gay" rather than "lesbian", but in this context it's the same thing.) Growing up, she realized that she liked girls and that other girls didn't like girls, and she tried to get over that by looking at boys and thinking "If I liked this boy, what would I like about him?" and acting more boy-crazy than any of her friends. She said a lot of gay people do this kind of masking, so if they come out later in life, it's not helpful to say "But you weren't like that before!" I could relate a little to this experience too. I've never been gay, but being called "faggot" five times a day on the school bus made me a little defensive regardless. I made a big screaming deal out of all my crushes until people got really annoyed at me. "Look," I tried to say, "I like girls, I like girls so much. Just girls and that's all."
Growing up in the Church, she heard the teaching that "the attraction isn't a sin but acting on it is," and thought that meant she wasn't supposed to think about it, talk about it, or read about it. She wouldn't even acknowledge it to God. A Young Women leader told her class that same-sex attraction wouldn't exist in the next life, and she interpreted that to mean that God wanted her to kill herself so she could be fixed. Fortunately she didn't go through with it like many others have. As she pointed out, an LGBTQ+ youth aged 13-24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the United States. Again, I loved this kind of real talk - not that I loved what she said, of course, but I loved that she didn't sugarcoat it to make straight people more comfortable. And then, like so many others, she believed that her same-sex attraction would go away if she served a mission. Fortunately that wasn't her only reason for serving a mission, and she said she loved everything about it. Afterward, when she found that she was still gay, she finally opened up to God about it and got into a healthier place. She acknowledged that the lifestyle options left open to her by church teachings aren't thrilling, but she was hopeful and faithful. I don't remember more specifics about that and I missed some stuff because she talked for a long time and I had to leave before we even got to the group discussions.
None of the speakers had quick and easy answers for how to make their lives in the Church easier. If quick and easy answers existed, this seminar wouldn't need to. But I think they taught us how to create a healthier and more inclusive and accepting community. Again, this works in large part because Brother Diamond recognizes that it isn't his job or our job to be obsessed with whether LGBTQ+ people are "acting on it". Adding a caveat to every expression of love is not loving at all. They know the Church's teachings, and they are following the Church's teachings, but if they ever change their minds about that, it's between them and God and doesn't absolve any Latter-day Saint of the commandment to love them, mourn with them, and comfort them. This seminar is exceeding my expectations.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.