We are Lori and Curt Leetham, and have been married for more than 22 years. We are each other’s best friend and have been blessed with four special children. Luke, Madi, Max, & Aubrey (oldest to youngest). We are what some may call an “open” family. We talk about everything. We put a lot of emphasis on family and not just loving one another, but truly caring and working to understand each other in our individual lives. One unique part of our journey is that we are both converts to the church. Curt was baptized at 18, served a mission in Minnesota, and baptized me at 20.
We raised our children in the gospel, attending church, holding family home evening. We both have served in many callings throughout the years, including relief society & primary presidencies, counselor in the bishopric, primary teachers, young men & young women, etc. Our children grew up knowing this was a big part of our life. There was a moment when Luke was about 10 years old where we had put him in all sorts of sporting activities that he was terrible at, but at the age of 10 we put him in a local musical and WOW! It was like a fish to water. He was a natural. We both thought for a split second, “could he be gay”? And as fast as the thought came, it left. We moved from Arizona to Utah in 2011. Luke, our oldest, was 13 and was changing schools and making all new friends during the 7th grade. The impact of this change was softened by knowing there was a ward waiting to receive our family and help us to feel part of the community right away. Luke was an Eagle Scout, involved in his quorums, held callings, and did everything that was expected as a young man and priesthood holder.
Luke came out to us a week before his 17th birthday. Lori was having a conversation with Luke and Madi about a boy Madi liked and how a few of her friends thought he might be gay. Lori said, “In today’s day and age you just come out, no need to stay in the closet…” Luke responded with, “Really?” Lori replied, “of course, if you’re gay, you’re gay!” Within a few seconds Lori received a text message that read, “Mom, I’m gay.” That text message came from Luke’s phone. Lori looked at Luke and said, “Are you sure?” Luke nodded and Lori gave Luke a big hug and let him know how much she loved him. Shortly after Lori and Luke and I talked through a few things about what this meant. Mostly absorbing the shock of the news, but mostly trying to start the process of figuring out what this meant for Luke and this new path he would be navigating.
After Luke came out the biggest fears that crossed our minds was how would he be treated by his peers, teachers, neighbors, general public, and even our own family members? Other thoughts and concerns were about his mental health, his safety, well-being, and overall physical health. How would his association with church change from this moment forward? How would he be able to navigate this life of getting married, having children, and being gay? We just had so many questions. Above all, we knew love would prevail. Shortly after Luke came out, the November 2015 policy was released. At first we thought it was fake, and were shocked when we realized it was not. It broke our hearts to hear the word “apostate”. To think that our future grandchildren would be faced with a huge conflict between choosing parents and church weighed heavily on our hearts and minds and still does to this day.
What we love about the church is the strong family values, a sense of community amongst neighbors, and the structure of organizations. We struggle big time with some policies and feel that the church sends conflicting messages of “acceptance and love” on the one side and yet creates policies that cause pain and rejection. We struggle with feeling like we are a minority with few that understand what we are dealing with. We struggle with getting the masses of the LDS population to understand that LGBT people are born exactly how they are. We struggle knowing that our future grandchildren will be faced with some difficult and heart wrenching decisions given current policy. We struggle knowing some wonderful, faithful individuals and couples that have been excommunicated or are shunned by the church for being who they are. We struggle with sitting in sacrament and hearing members of the congregation speak on how same sex attraction is a “lifestyle” choice. We struggle with members telling us that we need to read our scriptures more, and pray harder and to stay active in the ward. Our hearts seem to break and bleed more often than not when faced with these issues. We try our best to again focus on love. The love of Christ.
Our son Luke no longer attends church and really doesn’t affiliate with the church at all. Every single day is a very real struggle. Some days are better than others. Some Sundays we simply cannot attend church while other weeks, we feel compelled to be sitting in the chapel. The “struggle” is trying to reconcile for ourselves very conflicting issues. First, we believe that LGBT people are born the way God made them. Second, the church and its policies are very clear on what they think of LGBT people and that they are apostates. Elder Ballard gave a talk recently where he claims, “there is a place in this church for you” speaking to LGBT brothers and sisters. If there is a place in the church, how can they be called apostates?
We need people to be more loving, accepting, patient, and listen to understand what many are going through. Our ward is good. Some of our friend’s wards are not. There is a large gap between what people believe at the ward level and what the policies are at the top levels of the church. We need more people to walk with us and not try to fix LGBT brothers and sisters. They are not broken.
We love the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are patient on our journey, looking at each day with love. We recognize the tender mercies of the Lord in our lives and are so grateful for the graces of God. We have seen change in others, who in the beginning were very much against anything LGBT. We have seen changes in ourselves, in our family, changes for the better. Our children are more open to loving others who are different from them. We look for and focus on the good in others. We are all imperfect human beings (even the prophet and apostles) navigating this life the very best we can with the limited knowledge given us. We feel we must press on for those who are just beginning their path with a child or loved one who is learning for themselves who they are. Never in a million years would we have thought that we would be where we are today, but we are so grateful for the opportunity to be on this journey and to have grown so much in such a short period of time.
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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.