Hi, my name is Chrisann. I am married to Packard Toelupe, and we are the parents of four amazing boys Christian (21), Micah (18), Gabe (15), and Kainoa (3). Our family loves Disneyland, long trips to Costco, and binge-watching The Office.
I guess I’ve always suspected that our oldest son, Christian, was gay. His development was atypical of most boys. He loved the Little Mermaid and wrapping blankets around himself to mimic dresses. We tried gently nudging him into sports, and other “manly” activities. The more we nudged, the more shame he felt. We decided it was better to support him in his interests and let him be who he was meant to be. He started flourishing in music: playing the violin, singing, writing, and producing his music. Not fitting the gender norms was definitely challenging, but Christian still thrived because he was being true to himself.
When Christian came out to our family, we let him know of our unwavering love for him and told him we would walk this road together. Although I was not surprised by the news, I was scared for what this meant for our perfect Mormon family. I was even more afraid when I found out we had another gay son, Micah. Surely we were the only Mormon family with two gay kids. (I since have learned there are many wonderful Mormon families with more than one LGBTQ child.)
Micah was the first to come out publicly. He came out while Christian was serving a mission in the Philippines. (Yes, you can be gay and serve an honorable mission.) I am so grateful for all the wonderful church leaders, members, friends, and family who reached out to Micah to let him know of their love for him. Many ward members brought us treats (such a Mormon thing to do). We lovingly referred to these tasty morsels as “Yay, you’re gay” treats. Even though many Mormons were reaching out with love, Micah didn’t feel there was a place for him at church. There he learned that gay marriage was bad which led him to believe he was bad too.
Micah sank into a deep depression and was hospitalized for suicidal ideation. Sadly, this is a reality for many LGBTQ youth. Suicide is the leading cause of death for teenagers in our home state of Utah. LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to commit suicide than their cisgender/heterosexual peers, and eight times more likely if they don’t have loving and supportive families. Micah is thriving as a result of intensive therapy, counseling, medication, and the many LGBTQ resources available in Utah.
Christian is now home from his mission and continues to have a firm testimony of the gospel. However, he does not feel like there is a place for him at the table. The majority of the lessons for young adults are about dating, finding a mate, and getting married, yet as a gay member, he is expected to remain celibate. He must deny himself the right to fulfill one of the most fundamental human needs of being loved, enjoying companionship, and having a family of his own.
I am sad to say that church attendance has become difficult for many in our family. We love the gospel and miss our weekly church attendance, but we hear with different ears. When we hear the traditional family is under attack because of the LGBTQ community wanting basic human rights, we feel like our family is under attack. Why is our family not considered a traditional family? Is it because we have gay family members? We have built our family around traditional family values. We love and honor each member of our family. We work together towards common goals. We support each other in our interests. We listen and help each other when one of us is struggling. We pray together, laugh together, and once in a while we annoy each other.
I love my eternal family and wouldn’t change anything about us. Let’s honor all families, all ward members, and truly become the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12) Growing up with gay brothers has shaped Gabe, our 15-year-old heterosexual son, into the person he is today. He is a fierce supporter of his gay brothers and has become an LGBTQ ally. He wears his Encircle shirt to school at least once a week – partly because it’s super comfy and partly because he wants LGBTQ classmates to know they have a friend. One day in class, a boy confided in another boy that he was gay. The boy then refused to sit by the gay classmate, so Gabe went over and sat next to him. Many times, families don’t want to tell their other children that they have an LGBTQ sibling. Your children will follow your lead. If you show love and support for your LGBTQ child, they will as well.
Our heterosexual/cisgender children will help create safe spaces for all of our LGBTQ children. They need safe spaces in our communities including schools and churches. I believe in the goodness of the church. I believe members want to do the right thing and create a safe place for LGBTQ members. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or what to do when finding out a family or ward member is gay. “Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27) Statistically, LGBTQ/SSA members are sitting in every church meeting. Study the church’s website: mormonandgay.org. Learn important information so that comments made in church come from a place of love and understanding instead of ignorance. I would also say listen more and talk less. LGBTQ members want to be heard. Please listen, even when it’s hard to hear. As it states on the church’s website, people do not choose to be gay; they can’t pray it away, and it’s not contagious.
It’s important for us to reach out to all of God’s children including those who are LGBTQ. We need to continue inviting them into our homes. They need love, acceptance, and a community. We will save lives. We should continue to be loving and kind even when LGBTQ members step away from the church. We should always reach out with love and kindness, not because we are trying to re-activate them, but because we see their value as children of God and honor their journey.
I believe in the fundamental truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also believe my boys are exactly the way God intended them to be. They are perfect in His eyes and in my eyes. How do both of these truths exist? I don’t know. I pray for answers and only peace comes. For now, I will love my family and trust Heavenly Father has a plan for ALL of His children. I feel His love as I interact with the LGBTQ community. He knows them; He loves them, and I feel Him bless my life as I reach out to this beautiful community and they reach out to me!
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.