Hi, my name is Shelly Evans. Marjorie Hinckley once said, “there isn’t a person you wouldn’t love if you knew their story.” This is mine. I’ve been married for 24 years. We started our family very quickly after we got married. Our son came the first year of our marriage and two years later, our daughter Emily was born. She was a rough pregnancy! I specifically remember after months of being sick, the doctor asking me if I wanted additional tests to check for more advanced birth defects. I was Emily’s mom no matter what challenges I had, and that I didn’t care. While Emily did end up being perfectly beautiful and healthy those words would take on a completely different meaning years later.
Emily was what you would call a tom-boy. She had lots of boy cousins and had no problem keeping up with any shenanigan they had planned. She was shy to most around her until she got to know you then watch out! She was always afraid to be wrong so she would act like she didn’t know the answer to something, so she didn’t disappoint someone with the wrong answer. She was so much like me in a lot of ways and the beginning of her teenage years we spent going to concerts and watching movies together. She really was my best friend.
When Emily was 16, she told her dad and I that she was bisexual. At the time I blew it off and told her to just close that part of her off and not to think about it. That was the first of times in this experience I wish I could go back and redo. Emily began to become more withdrawn and spending a lot of time alone in her room. After a car ride with her dad, she again attempted to tell him about her sexuality because she was too afraid to tell me. He told her the same thing, to just close that part off. It took us finding out she had a girlfriend and planning on moving out when she was 17 to wake me up.
We look back at a lot of that time and laugh at somethings now but when I was in it, I felt like my whole world had been altered. I have never cried, the really hard cry like that in my life. That time was spent with my husband and I really grasping at straws. Our faith teaches us to love one another but didn’t really show us how to navigate that when it came to having a gay child. I prayed harder than I ever have in my life, not to change Emily but to show me what to do on most occasions. There were sometimes in prayer was spent screaming out loud in my car, begging God to not make me go through this. When you have a life already envisioned for your child, serving a mission, watching them walk out of the temple on their wedding day, etc. it is almost a grieving process that happened for me and I had to remind myself that this was Emily’s life and future and not mine.
At the time we found out Emily’s current relationship was extremely toxic and there were many factors that were pulling at my emotions. Every time I prayed, and I spent a lot of time praying, I would always get this overwhelming feeling come over me saying “just love her. Love her like I love her and don’t try to change her.”
I specifically remember one night as Emily was sitting on the floor in our basement. She was pretty closed off to us at that point and I remember getting on the floor with her and wrapping my arms around her and holding her so tight and begging her to just be patient with me. That I loved her so much and I was trying to figure this all out and I got no response, no emotion.
It was pretty defeating for me as a mom. I look back and that night reminds me of what the Savior does to us, coming to us, arms wrapped and begging for us to stay, asking us to be patient and most times, He gets a cold response. Emily and I have talked about that night and she has shared with me that when she was 15 and wanting to talk to us about her sexuality, she searched “What do Mormon parents think about gay children?” She said she read all of these horrible stories about parents kicking out their children, conversion therapy, and being disowned and she said she thought to herself, “I can never really get close to my family especially my parents because someday they are going to hate me and I’m going to have to leave them.”
She had prepared herself for us to do that to her and that is something I still cry over when I think about it. I thought I was showing and teaching all my children about unconditional love, but Emily had learned elsewhere that in the reality of a lot of LDS LGBTQ children, that’s not the case. It’s something that I strive to make sure other teens don’t feel that way and we as members of the church need to better at really showing our children that we truly love them no matter what.
Fast forward to today and I can’t tell you how incredibly proud I am of her and that I lucky I am to get to be her mother. She has ripped my heart open and now I feel like I can truly love as the Savior has asked us to do. She has started a fire in me that grows each day. She has a love and empathy for others that I am in awe of. She is so funny and the best sister her siblings could ask for. It’s her goal to do good in this world in her life as well as her career. I look forward to nothing more than watching her find a partner in this life and watching them raise a family together. She still loves the gospel but over the last few years has slowly distanced herself from the church, not because the doesn’t want to be a part of it but because she’s felt like she’s not fully being embraced, like the Savior would be, open arms holding her so tight begging her to be patient.
It’s my hope and prayer that someday that might happen. That Emily and her wife can walk through the church doors with their children. And that she can raise her kids in a religion that is still so much a part of her. That I can watch my grandchildren feel fully loved and embraced without feeling like in some way they are hurting or betraying their moms by trying to live the gospel.
As for me I have chosen to stay, not that it isn’t extremely difficult. It’s like I have these super powered glasses on, and I see things more clearly than I ever have. I feel like I can do more good trying to help to change viewpoints being in the church than I ever could do on the outside. Some days that’s the only reason I keep going, the reason I stay digging in the trenches of the church because I feel like that’s where God wants me to be and that’s where He would be Himself if he were here. It’s my hope, the Church as a whole starts to have that same passion and viewpoint, until then I’ll keep digging alongside of the other parents and allies of these amazing humans.
Things are not perfect for us and there are still conversations in our household that are had to continue to reach love and understanding. In the end love is always the best cure for any misunderstanding and love is the most powerful thing in this world. When you can’t figure out what to say or do, just love.
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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.