OPINION: An Open Letter to Utah

First, let me put a disclaimer here; this post is strictly opinion. It is intended to seek understanding, empathy, compassion and love. Second, it is directed to Utah, but I hope that it will be applicable to anyone, anywhere in the world. Okay, last thing before we get started; this post will have a slightly more serious tone than my previous ones. Oh, don’t worry there will probably be some sarcasm here and there. Because, let’s be honest, I just can’t write without a little well-intended sarcasm.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling (or more accurately, the lack thereof) there have been some major changes to the marriage laws in several states, including Utah. A lot has been said, from all sides and various opinions. Much of it has been constructive, but much of it… well not so much. Before you close this post as just another marriage equality opinion piece please consider one thing. People are dying and your ignorance is strongly contributing to it. Do I have you attention now?

It’s true, Utah has one of the highest LGBTQ teen suicide rates of anywhere. First, for those of you not familiar with the acronym it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangendered and questioning individuals. It’s not the most eloquent acronym out there, but it attempts to be inclusive of a broad range people. So why might this suicide rate be so high? Let’s get some context first. Utah you are a conservative state. You are conservative politically, socially and religiously. It is known worldwide as the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Most people know them by the name of Mormons. A large part of the population are LDS church members. They dominate the culture and tone of the state. So much so that it appears to be a monoculture (we won’t discuss it here, but there are many fascinating layers to Utah culture). Why is this important? Current Church doctrine strongly states that marriage is between a man and a woman. Period.

Let’s go with an analogy. Yes, another analogy. Can I write a post without at least one? Nope. Okay, so let’s pretend that your eye color is purple. This is simply an outward sign that the only vegetables you really want to eat are beets. This desire for beets will never go away… ever! But, here is the caveat. Eating beets is a sin. Yes, if you actually eat it you can’t receive all your religious blessings in this life or after this life. Remember, this desire for beets will never go away… ever! You can eat as many carrots, green beans, and peas as you want, but you will still want beets. Your religion gives you two choices. You can try ignore this desire for beets your entire life and never eat any, ever. Or, you can put on colored contacts that change your eyes to blue or brown and pretend you really want carrots. From your outward appearance you will conform to your social and religious standards, but inward you will have a constant and permanent struggle. This is a very poor analogy for LDS Church doctrine and same-gender attraction. The Church has publicly admitted, in writing, that people attracted to the same gender will always be attracted to the same gender (at least in this life, after this life the Church has stated it does not know what will happen to these feelings). It cannot be changed. This stance is also supported by almost every major study worldwide. Your gender attraction is something you carry with you throughout the scope of your life. If you don’t believe that then I encourage you to do your own personal research. Look at recent talks, posts and discourses by Church leaders. Then look at scientific studies from around the world. They all support this. Okay, so moving on. So now we know that same-gender attraction won’t change in an individual; what options does the LDS church give it’s members with same-gender attraction? Well, to maintain good standing in the Church you really only have two options:

Option 1: The Celibate Life. You can remain celibate and never act on those attractions. In this option you will never enjoy a romantic, or deeply emotional partnership like that of a marriage. And in the Church that is truly the ultimate blessing enjoyed in this life. In fact, an LDS temple marriage is believed to be eternal. You get to carry that amazing relationship into the next life! Some of you non-LDS married folk are thinking that doesn’t sound so great. Until death do we part and then good riddance! In the LDS Church this is not the case. The ultimate goal is for an “eternal family”.  So, if you are attracted to the same gender and choose this option you don’t get any chance of a romantic relationship in this life and no promises in the next. You will also be constantly asked why you aren’t dating, married or starting a family. You will constantly be taught about how family and relationships are the best blessings available in this life. You will be sold on goals and dreams you will never be able to achieve. Essentially, you will be teased and taunted with the way things could have been were you not born the way you were.

Option 2: The Mixed-Orientation Marriage. Your other option is to marry someone of the opposite gender even though you aren’t fully attracted to them. This is called a mixed-orientation marriage. Yes, there is a term for this. Basically, in this relationship one member is fully attracted to the other, and the other… isn’t. Honestly, I find this type of marriage kind of sad. I can’t see how it can have the same depth, emotionally and physically, as a marriage where both parties are attracted to each other. I’m not saying that it can’t work for some people. Attraction is not black and white. We can all recognize attractiveness in both genders. Research shows that attraction is a scale instead of one side or the other. That being said, I don’t consider recognizing attractiveness and true attraction to be the same thing. I would also like to mention that attraction holds much more value in a relationship than just physical desire. It plays a huge role in emotional connection and the overall depth a partnership. Statistics show that mixed-orientation marriages largely do not work. A large majority of them end poorly, cause huge amounts of emotional damage, and often implicate children. This is so evident that the LDS Church no longer recommends them for members with same-gender attractions. Seriously, go look it up. This is the “official” stance of the Church.

So there you have it, those are your two options to keep good standing in the Church. That’s it. There are no other options. Utah, I tell you this to seek understanding for why the vast majority of LGBTQ individuals ultimately leave the LDS Church. They are not leaving the Church because they’ve been tempted or led astray. Many are faithful tithe payers, scripture readers, and weekly church goers right up to the day leave. Many leave the Church reluctantly. Many would like to stay but don’t feel they have the options within the Church for growth and progress in this life. They lack central support, education and understanding from the Church leadership. They suffer in Utah’s culture that is reluctant to accept, love or welcome anything outside of the norm.

Lots of members think that those two options are more than adequate. They liken them to a drug addict (drugs and alcohol are also off limits to retain good standing in the LDS Church). They say that a former drug addict will always have that addiction, that desire for the drugs. This is not at all a fair comparison. This former addict can enjoy all the blessings and good standing in the Church by simply not acting on those desires. They can have a happy temple marriage, a family, hold church positions, and participate in all church activities. A Church member with same-gender attraction that chooses Option 1 gets no romantic relationship and no family other than a “church family”, parents, siblings, and extended family. Yes, they can hold church positions and participate in church functions. But, the Church HIGHLY encourages, practically requires, all high ranking positions go to married members. Just look at the church leadership at almost any level and you’ll see what I mean. Marriage is all but essential for most callings. Members with same-gender attraction that choose Option 2 will never experience the same level of depth in their marriage and run the HUGE risk of the marriage failing at some point. So no, I don’t consider the former drug addict (or alcoholic) to be a fair comparison at all.

Why did I go into so much detail on this? Imagine now that you are a member of the LDS Church with same-gender attraction. You see these two options and both look daunting, inadequate and unfulfilling. But every week at church you are taught that acting on this attraction is wrong. Your parents, friends and family members talk bad about the “gay lifestyle”. You might even participate in the conversation. Inside you are feeling something you cannot change, but outside you are trying to express the opposite. You are surrounded by a culture that doesn’t talk about sex, not even “healthy” sex in the confines of marriage. Sex and talk of sex is so “hush, hush” that you don’t feel comfortable going to your parents, your church leaders, or even your friends. You can’t talk to anyone! You don’t see a good solution in your religion, but the stereotypical “gay lifestyle” that is talked about so negatively around you goes against everything you’ve grown up with. Either you choose an unfulfilling life in your church or you choose a lifestyle that goes against everything you’ve been taught. I know some of you are having difficulty following these thoughts. You can’t connect with them. I BEG you to please keep reading. There are hundreds of your friends, neighbors or even family members that are suffering from this battle as you read this. Many in the past have turned to drugs, unprotected sex, internet porn addiction and/or eventual suicide attempts. They felt they had nowhere else to turn. Something has to change and soon! Please keep reading!

How can we change this trend? I think the first step is learning. By reading this far I hope you’ve learned a little already. Maybe I’ve piqued your interest and you’ll research a little more. I encourage that. Maybe you think I’m wrong, spreading lies, and encouraging bad ideas. Cool, as I stated before, this is my opinion. Do your own research. Go out and read what the LDS Church has said recently. Also, go seek learning from the scientific community. See what research has shown thus far. Even go see what some of the research from the LDS Church’s official university, Brigham Young University, has shown. I bet you’ll be surprised! Don’t take my word for anything. Get out and learn more. Ignorance isn’t intentionally malicious, but it can cause major misunderstanding, poor actions and harmful rhetoric. Also, please keep reading this very long post!

Another major step to making the culture more approachable to those with same-gender attraction is to debunk the idea of a “gay lifestyle”. I truly hate this term. It is used way too often. It encourages a stereotype that has been mostly harmful to LGBTQ individuals. But it is so prevalent that we can all picture what it refers to. It gives the impression that all gay men are flamboyant, sexually-promiscuous individuals that want nothing more than to party and sleep with as many men as possible. Do these individuals exist. Absolutely! Are all gay men like this? Do I really have to answer that? I hope not, but I will. There is no one “gay lifestyle”. Just like there is no single straight lifestyle. There are thousands of same-sex relationships built on fidelity, trust, and family values.  In straight relationships, just like in same-sex relationships there is infidelity, partying, promiscuity, etc. There are a broad range of lifestyles. To lump LGBTQ individuals, or straight individuals for that matter, into one category is hugely unfair. LGBTQ individuals are your neighbors, your coworkers, your doctors, your nurses. One may have even designed your home, engineered the utilities or services in your community, or constructed the building where you work. They are all around you. They participate in bringing happiness, beauty and health to the culture. Not all gay men are effeminate and not all lesbian women are masculine. LGBTQ individuals won’t fit any stereotypical mold. Statistically speaking you probably have one, or more, in your family. They may be too afraid to tell you or anyone else. Have you created a warm and loving environment for them? Are you approachable and loving of all people? These family members want… no NEED to talk. Somehow the culture has to be changed. They can’t feel like suicide is the best course of action, but many still do. How sad…

The battle for marriage equality has been, and continues to be a very heated one. A lot of this is due to ignorance and misunderstanding on both sides. I will only attempt to cover one side here today. Those in favor of marriage equality have sought this basic understanding, “Our relationship is not that different from yours”. Please try to think outside the religious context you may be in. This is hard, but helpful for understanding. I am not asking you to think against or put to the side your beliefs, just to think culturally and legally. True, same-sex couples cannot biologically produce children. But this is not the only purpose for marriage. If it was, marriages for infertile couples and couples where the woman is too old to bear children should be dissolved. We all know that this is not the case. They continue on. Marriage means more than just procreation. If marriage and family was so closely tied to blood and relation then adoption wouldn’t be allowed and adoptees would never be considered family. Step-parents or step-siblings would never be considered family either. Yet all around us we consider them family. Heck, at times we even accept friends or others as family and “adopt” them. Most of you are thinking “this is very different from a same-sex couple”. I would disagree. Research shows the romantic feelings, and their physiological and relational effects in a same-sex couple are NO DIFFERENT, than in a straight couple. That’s right. Physically, emotionally and relationally there is no difference, no matter if the couple is of the same gender or opposite genders. There is even BYU research that supports this. Also, the other purpose of marriage is legal, social and cultural protections. Imagine you couldn’t visit your dying spouse, or make their important medical decisions when they are incapacitated. You are literally shut out because you are not “family”. This happens all the time with same-sex couples. No matter how long you’ve been together or how faithful and loving the relationship is. Or this very sad example; Imagine your spouse dies and now you have zero legal right to your very own children. You could have raised them for years, changed countless dirty diapers, laughed and cried through their growth and now you can’t do a single thing because they aren’t “yours”. You weren’t legally able to adopted them because you weren’t legally able to marry your spouse. Children are essentially being orphaned. These aren’t the only the legal ramifications, there are many more.  This doesn’t take into account the social, emotional and cultural effects of the idea of marriage has on a couple.

Some research shows that committed same-sex couples are HAPPIER, on average, than straight couples. Research also shows that children raised by committed same-sex parents are happier and more successful, on average than children from many straight couples. There is research that supports both sides, so I’m not trying to be one sided. I just want you to consider that committed gay relationships can be very positive for the couple and for children. Not always, but often. The fact is that many gay relationships probably look a lot like the happy straight marriages you know and see all around you.

By now you have probably gathered a little about me. I lived 23 years of my early life in Utah. I am Mormon and grew up in the LDS Church. I even served a faithful LDS mission to Arizona and Texas. It was two of my favorite years of my life. I am gay and have always known I was gay. I tried to “change” my attractions and struggled within myself for years. I tried to kill these feelings with righteousness. A couple years ago I went through a deeply personal process. I decided to come out to my family and friends and then publicly. I remained faithful to the LDS Church throughout the whole process. I ask that you don’t perpetuate the inaccurate idea that members that leave the Church were unfaithful in some way. I was never abused, physically, sexually, or emotionally. I never had a bad example of a relationship. I grew up with happily married parents in a loving family. I was not exposed to gay porn a young age or anything like that. I remained faithful, read scriptures, paid tithing throughout my entire process. I no longer attend church. It was a difficult, emotional and deeply spiritual decision for me. I will not post my experiences here as I don’t feel they would be understood by the majority of my readers. If you would like to hear it please feel free to contact me directly. I am now very happy. I am engaged to someone I love very deeply. I have a relationship I never thought I would have. We connect on such a deep level. We are very similar, yet very different. I now understand the term “fall” in love. I never understood it before, but it is truly an involuntary act, out of your control. It is wonderful. I’m now part of community that seeks understanding. Do some research Utah. Learn what your dominant religion truly thinks. I will post an official LDS Church website at the end of this post. Please read it thoroughly. Watch the videos. We don’t necessarily seek a change in doctrine. We seek compassion, love and understanding. Most of us do end up leaving the church. Don’t make assumptions why. There are many reasons. I hope you better understand some of them from reading here. The law is now on our side, in Utah and in most states across the country. The culture and society has a long way to go though. Hate crimes, hurtful rhetoric and misunderstanding abound. We are not people to fear.
Get to know us. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I promise! We aren’t really any different from you.

Holy Crap! You’re still reading. Way to go! You deserve a pat on the back. Any of you seeking understanding or having input, please contact me. If any of you have same-gender attractions and need someone to talk to please reach out to me. I’ve been told I’m a good listener, haha. For the rest of you here is the official LDS Church website on the topics discussed here today:

http://www.mormonsandgays.org

I will NOT post links to any of my other research. I do not want to slant your opinions in any way. Do your own research. There are many groups, in and out of Utah, that have links to these topics, and others. Google is an amazing tool. We truly live in the information age and nobody has to live in ignorance.

If you would like to speak to me privately, for any reason, simply leave a comment below with some contact info and I’d be happy to reach out to you.

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