From as young as 4 years old, I have understood that I am different, unique, special. Growing up the oldest of 4 children in a tiny apartment in Compton, and then later another cramped home in Tacoma (aka Ta-Compton). I learned from a young age that this world is a cruel place.
I had terrible social skills, cared little for my outward appearance, and couldn’t afford the latest trends, so I didn’t make a lot of friends very easily most of my childhood. Even at church, I often felt like the outsider. My two saving graces were my siblings and the music we made at church.
I started learning to play piano around 5, and by the time I was 10, I could play every song in the primary and sacrament hymnals. At age 11, I received my first calling as our ward organist. I was told that this calling was an honor, that God had given me these gifts of musical talent so that I could serve with them. Throughout my childhood, I continued to play the organ and piano in several different callings, for up to 3 different wards in two different stakes by the time I was 16 years old. I also served in other capacities in the priesthood, Boy Scouts, in our stake youth programs, at school, and in my local community. While I appeared to have it all together on the outside, I hid for years all the pain, fear, and uncertainty on the inside that comes with being gay and bullied.
As a teenager in my ward, I endured lots of bullying from other kids because of how girly and weak I acted. It didn’t just come from other kids, either: I received it from adults in my ward. Sometimes, it came from the obvious jeers, name-calling, or even pushing or slapping. Other times, it occurred when authority figures witnessed the teasing and would allow it to continue, even when I was obviously hurt. The worst kind of bullying was “doctrinal bullying”: where a leader would try to use scripture or teachings from the brethren to shame me and others like me who were obviously (or not obviously) wrestling with tough crosses like homosexuality. Constantly, I was made to feel like I was sinning for simply having a desire I never asked for or wanted. Even my own father was guilty of this when talking to us at a Boy Scout trip about chastity.
The music I found at church kept me sane all the active years I spent there. The messages of hope, of beauty, and of love filled me with continuous courage and hope for a better future. I came out for the first time when I was 19, to my family and close friends, and continued to come out of the closet for years while I remained active and temple-worthy. I didn’t start exploring other religions until I was 28, when I finally opened myself up to dating men again. I got myself into a significant relationship with a great guy from Great Britain who was Catholic. We went to church together, and prayed together often. At first, I was nervous that God would not approve of this, or that He wouldn’t answer. Not only did I receive answers, but they were from the same God that answered my Mormon prayers, and my Catholic prayers, and eventually my Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic prayers. After I turned 30, I started to go inactive in the Mormon faith, but it wasn’t until I started studying early church history that I started rethinking my membership. When Thomas S. Monson and the brethren decided to update the policies in November 2015 in response to the US federally recognizing gay marriage, I decided I was through with the church altogether.
I was angry, bitterly so, for many reasons. I was angry for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who still wanted an active place in the LDS church. I was angry for my LGBTQ friends who were previously counseled to marry heterosexually, and now are divorced parents to children who are impacted by this update. I was angry for my future children who will now be deemed unready to make the same decisions as their 8-year old cousins that they’ll want to go to church with on Sunday’s. However, over the last year, I have made a concerted effort to tame the anger, and not let it get in the way of my relationships with wonderful LDS people that bless my life, like Tyler Augenstein and his family. The more we’ve come to know each other, the better we understand each other, and the more we’ve come to love one another.
Earlier this month, I had the great honor of marching in the SLC Pride Parade with Encircle. I love the parade so much, and it was a special treat getting to march in it for the first time! My heart was on fire the whole time with love for the people I marched alongside and the people in the crowds cheering in support and love. We chanted “No sides, Only Love” and we meant it! It was such an empowering message! At one point, I overheard a voice in the crowd yell, “Yeah, well you need to pick a side.” I was immediately livid! I thought, “How dare you! How dare you try to tear down something so beautiful with your ugly, box-type thinking!” My reaction was so strong that I had to stop and ponder it: why was I so upset by it? Here I am, this very gay, very outspoken, very non-religious homosexual, and I’m ready to pounce on another gay person for verbally attacking my friends in Encircle, many of whom are active Mormons and heterosexuals. I realized that I had arrived at a place that this person had not come to yet: a place of understanding that breeds love for the very people I do not always understand. This experience moved me, so much so that I finally agreed to write this account for my friend Susie.
If I had one wish for those reading this, it would be that we all are able to come to this kind of place where we are not only tolerating those around us who are different; we are loving and accepting one another, and embracing each other because of these differences.
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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.