What I first want people to know about me is I still love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church has been there for me in the darkest of times, and I know my Heavenly Father is there and loves me to an extent I cannot comprehend yet. There have been dark times in my life while in prayer I have heard a distinct voice saying, “Everything will be alright my Son!”
I am Jake Shepherd, and I grew up most of my life living in McKinney, Texas, a town just 45 minutes north of Dallas. I love finding things to keep me busy and out of the house like hikes or running, but honestly, I enjoy spending time at home more than anything. After 17 years in Texas, I finally decided to take control of my life and move to a place I could find likeminded people, and so I moved to Utah. It has been almost a year, and I don’t regret the choice to be here.
I came out at 17 to a few of my close friends in high school. Then, later on, I told my parents, the day after junior prom and Mother’s day. I was so scared for them to know it made me incredibly sick to my stomach. I could see, they had several theories of why their son could be gay: I was rebelling to hurt them, maybe my testosterone was low, or this was just a choice I needed to change.
I visited with the bishop and a family services counselor through the Church to correct what I thought was a problem. After several meetings with both, I ended up making a full retreat back to safety. I left for college at Brigham Young University in Idaho, and this made the resort back to living what appeared to be a straight life easy, even though I was far from reaching it. I had hoped to date girls, to marry, and to have kids. As a result, I found my hopes dashed after this first year at school because I could never make dating work.
After my freshmen year of college, a year of inactivity followed from the Church. Through a friend, I was able to regain my testimony and become an active member. I served in countless callings many of which were a part of the Elder’s Quorum over the next few years. Somewhere along the way, something changed, and I finally determined my mental health reached its all-time low. It was evident I was lonely. I think the thought of being celibate or unmarried began to weigh on me.
I gave up on dating girls especially when I would take a girl on a date and then revert to being friends and hanging out. At age 27, I finally admitted to my parents I was still gay and nothing I had done to be the best church going person changed the fact. I never attempted to commit suicide, but I had planned to overdose on my antidepressants. I researched if it would be easy to take and slowly slip away. I only found it would make me ill until I emptied the contents of my stomach. I then contemplated using my handgun to commit suicide and eventually decided to turn it over to my Father, which prevented me from using it on myself.
When emotions improved out of a depressed state, I started dating men and learned to balance the Church, finding I could still love my religion and attend services. Some people might say otherwise quoting Matthew 6 about “no man serving two masters.” I see I am not serving two masters, the principles of the Lord gave us, teach us how to build healthy meaningful relationships. I recognize the good the Church has done for me in my life. I know I have a testimony of many of the doctrines and principles teachings, but I also know my mental health suffers when I feel shame from the Church’s culture making me think I am an abomination. I have learned the Church’s doctrines do not view me in this way and my worth is immense, it is the Church’s cultural view which makes me feel this way.
Three principles I have learned about the Plan of Happiness. First, we must determine what happiness is for ourselves. God gave Adam and Eve contradicting commandments to make choices; to know the good and the bad, the light and the dark. Is it not possible we can be contradictory so we can have the same opportunity as them? Second, we cannot diminish anyone else’s journey to find their happiness. Third, everyone’s circumstances are different and shape them differently; we must seek to understand them before we can purely love them. I continuously pray for the leaders of the Lord’s true church to seek revelation as their understanding grows while finding methods to more purelyunderstand and comfort us.
I feel we should emphasize to those learning about the LGBT community is this: I knew I was gay at the age of 12 and I cannot say one thing made me this way. I hate the debate of nature versus nurture because I believe from my perspective, it is a mixture of both depending on the person. We should not play the game of how these circumstances came to be. Instead, our role is to love purely as children of God, a being who is omniscient and can love perfectly. We do this by learning all facets of humanity to be better brothers and sisters. The human condition tends to have us discriminate against people, ideas, philosophies we do not understand. Instead, let us learn to love more like our Savior.
As members of the Church, we can do better for those LGBTQ+ members by doing several things. We need to have a safe space in our congregation to allow individuals to express who they are, to come out, and to learn how they fit in our religion. We need to enable members to have hard discussions within our meetings and give them the tools to help support their brothers and sisters. We need to allow for a broader more in-depth understanding of the Gospel of Christ. We need to stop seeing things not as black and white extremes; for example, marrying when we know it will fail because of sexuality, or staying unmarried, celibate, and lonely. There is a midspace where the marginalized few can also find strength, happiness, and peace from the Gospel. Everyone belongs, period, that is how Christ would want His church.
My main fear now in life is finally finding someone who loves me, who makes me happy, makes me feel safe, helps me progress, but admit I cannot love them like straight couples in the church. These couples can sit by their husband or wife, play with their kids in sacrament meeting, hold callings, and attend the temple. For a gay couple visiting, all that would be allowed is to sit through church meetings without partaking of the sacrament because at some point excommunication would strip all of the privileges of these ordinances. I plan to attend church as long as I feel welcomed and loved.
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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.