My name is Tyler Parra. I know there are a lot of people who are a little worn out from seeing protests and posts about LGBTQ students and church members who have been hurt by the honor code changes within the last few days, so feel free to simply move past this post, but I wanted to share my experience being gay and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a student at BYU. And I know this is a long post, so if you don’t feel like reading, I can understand that too.
First off, this is not a hateful or attacking post, or even one to make a statement about policies/doctrine that I’m claiming should be changed, or anything like that. I think it’s safe to say that if you grew up with me, went to school with me, served a mission with me, were in the same ward with me, or have simply been around me, you know that I love the gospel and I love the church. They have been such huge parts of my life and have helped me know and understand eternal truths while solidifying my identity as a child of loving heavenly parents. This is a post to share another very important part of my identity which I have not understood and even hated for most of my life, and in doing so, hopefully share some understanding and love, regardless of your own faith or sexual orientation.
As a teenager, I could always tell that I was attracted to guys, but this attraction was, and is, something well beyond just sexual or lustful, as if it’s some temptation or addiction that I need to overcome. It’s something much deeper and meaningful than that. But growing up, there was such a deafening silence around LGBTQ topics in my community, in the church, and in my family setting, that I assumed being gay had to be bad, especially when the only things I heard about gay people were pretty negative. This silence increased the immense amounts of shame I already placed on myself. I attributed these feelings to sin, and hid them deep down so no one, including myself, would ever know or have to deal with it. I filled the social roles I was expected to fill and I acted the part, always hating myself for being more interested in making a connection with my male friends or even for day-dreaming about holding a guy’s hand someday, because that was all sinful and God must have been disappointed in my lack of control or lack of drive to pursue an eternal marriage and eternal life.
I got accepted to BYU and was ecstatic. Both of my parents had gone to BYU, and I knew it would be a place where I could pursue a great education while building my testimony and spiritual strength being surrounded by peers and faculty who shared similar values and beliefs. Perhaps I thought that this would be a place to find safety from my same sex attraction, maybe even be a place where I could “overcome” it, and hopefully, I’d be able to find my eternal companion. I soon realized, though, that dating brought me a great deal of anxiety. How could I build a relationship with someone when I was just hiding behind my desire to fulfill my patriarchal blessing, the pressure to meet everyone’s expectations, and my own need to overcome my homosexual feelings? I was far more excited about the idea of having a girlfriend than I ever was to actually date a girl, and I know that I hurt people along the way because of this. I decided to take a break from dating because I was tired of always being the bad guy, cutting things off with girls with no real good explanation because I wasn’t ready to tell them what was really going on since I hadn’t accepted it myself. I had heard of other gay people who decided to live single or celibate lives, so maybe I’d give that a shot. It was incredible how quickly loneliness and depression filled my mind and heart as I watched so many of my closest friends find companionship and love. I longed for connection, companionship, love, and a way to truly share my love and affection with someone.
It was during this time that I was forced to face reality and come to terms with my sexuality. I read so many different articles, watched all sorts of coming out stories, searched Mormon and Gay until I had seen everything posted there. I read my scriptures and prayed more fervently than I ever have before, and through it all, I simply felt loved. There were still so many questions left unanswered, and still such uncertainty, but what I realized is that my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother have a perfect love for me. The Savior himself suffered in the garden of gethsemane for me and knows personally what it is like to be gay, along with all of the shame, confusion, self-hatred, and lack of belonging that came with that. I started feeling more comfortable with the idea that I could be attracted to men and still be loved by God and be a member of the church, so I started coming out to friends and family, worried that people may not see me the same way God and the Savior saw me, but again was surprised to find mostly love from the people that I opened up to.
When I first started coming out, I wouldn’t tell people that I was gay. Instead I would tell them that I was “dealing with same sex attraction” because, even though I was more comfortable being attracted to men, it was something that I still hated about myself and I would rather treat it like some trial or temptation than accept it as part of my identity. Even though I had come out to lots of friends at this point, I still felt so much shame and confusion because I refused to accept this as a lasting part of my eternal experience. I continued to pray about the future and what that would look like for me, and from this came one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have ever had.
As I thought about this all one day, I remember having a very clear conversation with God, as if we were talking inside my head. He basically told me that he had been listening for all these years as I’ve thought about my sexuality, and offered me a scenario. If he could come down that day and snap his fingers to make me straight, like I had so often wished and prayed for, would I accept and choose to be straight from then on? I had to think about this for days, which actually surprised me since I had been so adamant about not wanting to be gay for most of my life, but I finally came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t accept that offer. Being gay has had such a huge part in making me who I am today. I have learned to ask hard questions and seek truth, I’ve learned to love myself and appreciate the difficult times along with the good, I’ve made deep and lasting connections with some of the best friends I could have ever asked for because we chose to be vulnerable with each other, I’ve learned to be more of an empathic person and learn to listen to other people’s perspectives, I’ve grown in my testimony and have the strongest relationship with God and my Savior that I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve learned to love all of my brothers and sisters in their journey through this mortal experience regardless of how similar or different we may be. Once I made this realization, the most sound peace fell over me as my Heavenly Father and I finally saw eye to eye and he helped me realize how important this part of my identity will be in my life. He made me this way for a reason. I am not a mistake and am loved just the same as all of his other children.
Now I’m proud to say that I am gay. I’m proud to say that being gay is part of my identity, because guess what? God is proud too. This doesn’t mean that I have all of the answers, nor do I claim to, but at least I don’t question and hate myself anymore. So before we start attacking others and making claims that people should leave our schools, that they don’t know or understand the same truths that we do, or that they aren’t trying to support God’s plan, maybe we can listen to each other and try to understand each other’s experiences. Instead of making things about “us vs them”, maybe we can simply appreciate the beauty in diversity and acknowledge that we don’t have all of the answers. Also, I’d hope that anyone who doesn’t identify as LGBTQ would at least try to understand where a lot of the hurt and loneliness comes from.
There are times that I question my position in the church and whether or not it will always be part of my life, but I never question whether God and my Savior will be. The people that have impacted me the most in my decision to stay are not the ones that preach to me and feel the need to remind me that “acting on my gay tendencies” will never lead to an eternal marriage and therefore never lead to exaltation. No. I know what the doctrine is. I’ve taught it myself, and my testimony has never been stronger before. Nor am I calling the church to change it. But I do hope that we can be treated as fellow children of God. The people that have truly shown me what a disciple and example of Christ looks like are the people who love me unconditionally. They’ve shown me what the pure love of Christ looks like and created a place for me in their lives and hearts where I feel totally welcomed.
Loving someone does not mean you have to agree with everything they say or do, but I have never seen the Savior shy away from loving someone because they didn’t meet his standards of righteousness or discipleship. Guess what? None of us do, because none of us are perfect. He simply asks that we love him, and that we love our neighbor.
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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.