My name is Susie Augenstein and I do not have a gay child. In fact just a few years ago I didn’t know any LGBTQ people, but now I know and love hundreds and hundreds of them. And I invite them into my life on a daily basis. Many may wonder what is my story? What happened in my life that brought me to this place of now having hundreds of the most wonderful LGBTQ people and their families in my life. You may ask what started me down this road of self introspection and learning how to love all of God’s children better?
Well….about 5 years ago I felt compelled to learn everything I could about my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and their families. I absolutely had no idea why all of the sudden I had this burning desire, but I spent hours upon hours which turned to weeks and then months and then years getting my hands on anything and everything I could to learn about my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and their families . I had an insatiable appetite for information about everything. I wanted to know how the members of the LDS church with gay children felt, how it felt to be LGBTQ and Mormon and what the church was doing about it all. It was all so overwhelming to me at the time and very confusing as I found myself attempting to walk in the shoes of people who were not even in my world at this time.
At the end of the first year I started to wonder if maybe Heavenly Father was preparing me for one of my children to come out. I then spend the next year continuing my learning and also trying to create a home where my kids could feel comfortable talking. I would ask them questions if they knew any gay kids at school and if any of these kids would feel comfortable telling their parents. I even asked them that if they were gay would they feel comfortable telling me and if not, how could I create a home where they and others could be open and honest about who they really were. Needless to say, none of my kids came out to me. Why? Well because they were not gay. After this two year period ended, I felt a very strong impression and a feeling or a voice inside me say, “Your tutoring has been completed and now I need you to wait.” I didn’t know what I was waiting for. Again the feeling came strongly again that just said “wait!” So I did……for only about a week.
At this same time my son was on a visa wait in California to leave to Brazil for his mission. He was really struggling at this point in his mission and was making a decision that week if he was going to come home. After much prayer he decided to give his mission a few more months and boarded his plane to Brazil that Thursday. At the time we were in Washington at my other son’s soccer tournament. I had a strange number that I did not recognize call my phone that day. I usually don’t answer numbers I didn’t know, but I decided to answer it because I didn’t know if it would be my son. It ended up being the flight attendant from the flight my son was on from California to Texas. Her name was Morgan and she called me just to tell me that she met my son and wanted me to know what a pleasure it was to meet him and that he was doing really good. I started to cry and told her that she was a little miracle for me that day because I had been so worried about my son. Because I showed some vulnerability, Morgan then showed her vulnerable side and told me that she was gay. She said that she also told my son that she was gay and that he shook her hand and said, “we love you sister.” She told me about her big Mormon family in Utah and how her mom always encouraged her to reach out to the missionaries and that she couldn’t wait to call her mom about meeting my son. It was a wonderful conversation. Mine and Morgan’s friendship continued over the next year even though she lived in Colorado at the time. During this time she married her wife and they moved to Utah and were expecting a baby. She invited me to their baby shower at her mom’s house. I had not even met Morgan in person at this time yet. As my daughter and I walked into her mom’s house for the baby shower, I was completely taken back by what I witnessed. Here was this big Mormon family, with church music even playing in the background, celebrating their daughter and her wife having a baby. It was so beautiful and I had so many questions because I had never been a part of something where an LDS Family was totally embracing and loving their daughter and her wife and their future baby! My daughter and I had a wonderful time at the shower getting to know everyone better and after this I had to figure out what happened in this home that created so much love and understanding. So I spent the next few months getting to know both Morgan and her mom even better and they told me their story. Their story wasn’t always easy and they told me about the ups and the downs and where they finally had arrived. It was beautiful and I believe Heavenly Father put them in my path for me to keep learning.
After this, at a family reunion, my nephew asked if I would go on a walk with him. He did not know all that I have been experiencing in the last few years. He told me about his struggle and that he thought he was gay. Because of what I learned from Morgan and her family, I was able to use their example in my conversations with my nephew. I was also able to help my sister navigate this new information about her son in a positive direction. In the end when my nephew officially came out, our whole extended family just showed lots of love to him and it changed nothing about how we all felt about him.
A few months later I read an article about a new house in Provo called Encircle that was built to help LGBTQ Youth and their families. Their motto was “no sides just love”. The purpose of Encircle was to help prevent suicide and homelessness in our LGBTQ youth and to teach families how they can love their kids unconditionally and not reject them. I knew I wanted to be apart of this and so my husband, who was serving as the bishop in our ward at the time, decided to go and train to be volunteers at Encircle.
Over the next six months we fell in love with all of the kids and families that came through that home. We were able to be a part of their journeys and see great miracles and healing take place in their families. We hosted a big waterslide party at our home that summer for the Encircle house and were able to meet and get to know so many wonderful people. At that party we were joking around about the game Settlers of Catan, and I mentioned to a few people there that we should start a game night so we could play that game. We had our first game night the next month and about eight people showed up. We decided to do it again the next month and about 12 people showed up. I then decided to create a monthly game night on a Sunday and we called the group “Settler’s Sunday”. We have met every month for almost a year and now our group has over 200 LGBTQ Friends, family, and allies. At any given time we get between 30 and 50 people to game night and every month 3 to 5 new people come into our home. It is one of my most favorite nights of the month. It is filled with love, music, games and so much laughter.
Last fall Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a speech at BYU on November 14th, 2017. He said,
“Every member has a place in God’s kingdom. It may be difficult sometimes for gay Latter-day Saints to see “where you fit in the Lord’s church but you do.” Mormon leaders, along with the rank and file, need to “listen to and understand what LGBT members are feeling and experiencing. We must do better than we have in the past until all feel they have a spiritual home … a place to worship and serve the Lord.” My husband took these words seriously and asked our stake president if we could have a meeting in our ward where our members could learn how to listen and understand what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Our sweet stake president extended that permission and my husband asked some of the people that we had met over the last six months to come and speak at our ward. The meeting took place during the last two hours of our block and we had two active gay members speak, two gay members who had left the church speak, and couple who had lost their gay son to suicide speak. The cultural hall was packed with not only the members from our ward but also over 100 extra people who had come to show love and support to our speakers. The room was filled with love and a heavenly presence resided there. Tears were shed and love and understanding began to take place as we were able to touch their crosses and listen to their stories. For about 30 minutes after the meeting took place our ward members went and individually hugged each speaker. We have a huge older segment to our ward, and it was beautiful watching the older people hug and personally talk to all of the speakers after the meeting. Words cannot describe what took place that day. You had to be there to fully understand and comprehend the love and understanding that took place. It was like walking into a little piece of Heaven.
A few months after the meeting took place, I was sitting in our upstairs office and I felt a sadness inside me that the love and understanding that occurred during that meeting was,in time, going to be forgotten. I didn’t want that to happen and I pleaded with Heavenly Father about a way I could continue to help this process of understanding. I then realized that I was friends with so many families and LGBTQ people that wanted their own stories to be understood and shared. So I started the “let’s love better” series. It has been such a pleasure collecting these stories and allowing my friends to express their feelings, concerns, and a hope that others will listen and try to understand their lives. I hope it is making a difference and that by listening to individual stories that we can open up our hearts and our churches to be places where love and that understanding can take place. My motto has always been that “when you know better you do better”. We are all at different places in this process and I know from personal experience that it is possible to shed past prejudices and to look inside a person and see who they really are and to love them unconditionally. I believe that God called me and my husband to personally minister and create a space of love and understanding for all of God’s LGBTQ children. I also believe that He is calling many of you to do the same. It is my prayer that we will all take down our walls and our past belief systems and really listen to understand the stories of Heavenly Father’s LGBTQ children and their families. I hope you will continue to enjoy the stories that I share each week and that you will share them with your families and friends. I hope that in our conversations with others that we can all talk about ways that we can be more inclusive and loving and how we can reach out to the many families and their LGBTQ children with more love and understanding.
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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.