Recently, Elder Jeffery R. Holland, apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asked the Brigham Young University faculty to use musket fire to defend the university and the church’s position “around marriage and the whole same-sex topic on campus …”
When it comes to the difficult and polarizing discussions in this space, we should all agree that using musket metaphors are neither helpful or apostolic. We believe that an increase of love and fewer drawn muskets will be what ultimately moves us closer to a better understanding each other.
In that spirit, we delivered a LOVE NOT MUSKETS t-shirt and collection of personal notes to President Holland’s office. We hope that he takes the opportunity to read each message and contemplate the impact his BYU speech had on a marginalized community.
Pictured above is a photo of the t-shirt design we sent to Elder Holland and featured below are a few samples of the messages that were written by many of our Latter Gay Stories listeners.
The written messages are kind and articulate. They were delivered in good faith:
We are sending you this t-shirt and a collection of personal notes expressing our thoughts regarding your recent speech to the faculty at BYU-Provo. I know this isn’t a traditional way of contacting you, frankly nothing about this subject is traditional. I understand the process that shields you from most of the correspondences intended for your attention. You will likely never receive what we have sent you today, but it meant something to us to send it to you—knowing we tried.
Our roots—yours and mine contain elements drawn from the same soil. Our traditions and the traditions of our families are intrinsically Mormon. As a gay man raised in the church, married in the temple, and after eventually resigning my membership in the church, I understand intimately the failures and successes that surround this topic.
I too have scar tissue; I have likewise wept for myself and others in this space.
For much of my life, I was wracked with dissonance and shame about who and what I am. I tried my best to religiously navigate the constant reminders that I was not straight. Through that pain I maintained the fidelity of my marriage and the covenants that I made in the temple. I also believed the leaders of the church who promised that if I served an honorable mission, married in the temple, and brought children into this world, my sexuality would change—and I would no longer need to be troubled with this “mortal temptation.”
I believed you and others. I tried my best to do what was expected of me.
In time I leaned into the stories and lived experiences of other people who were created like me. I empathized in their pain and tried to better understand their journey from their individual points of view. This process was life changing—and life saving for me. I no longer needed to live in shame. And I no longer needed to justify the harsh rhetoric of former church leaders prophetically spoken against people like me. Hearing stories and growing from them became a passion.
Harnessing that passion, I set out to create a platform for those queer stories to continue to be shared. It was through those efforts that the Latter Gay Stories podcast was created, and through that medium you received this package. It contains a t-shirt that was originally designed by the German artist Otto Pankok who likewise navigated a life of oppression and dissonance in Nazi Germany. Additionally, you will find a collection of personal notes and letters.
Many of my friends and listeners wanted to send you these messages expressing their thoughts and feelings on this subject. I have read them. They are poignant and appropriate. They were written first-hand in a kind and articulate way. As you read them, you will witness how each person expresses their pain through words. You will also be able to read how well so many families are doing in this space and how they have found ways to flourish in their journeys.
President Holland, within this community we need more love, not muskets.
We are tired.
We have carried these excruciatingly heavy armor coatings for far too long. We are tired of running from your muskets of love. We long for the day when we can take that armor off and “fill the measure of our creation.”
I am offering my time and resources to help you better understand this community — from a more intimate perspective. We are inviting you into our lives and inviting you to better understand our experiences. I would love to introduce you to some of my friends; people who share the Mormon soil and who tirelessly work to build bigger and stronger bridges between the LDS and LGBTQ communities.
I would make myself immediately available for that type of in-person discussion.
Thank you for reading these notes and for taking the time to “listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing.”
/contact info provided/
Dear Elder Holland
I believe that there is room in LDS theology for the idea that heavenly parents can be any combination of sex or gender. Just because our heavenly parents are heterosexual, doesn’t mean all heavenly parents must also be. Our heavenly parents are one couple amongst many, so they aren’t necessarily representative of all.
Loving families and loving people who want to follow God, follow the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, are found amongst people of ALL sexual orientations. Please don’t exclude groups of people because of traditions of our fathers that are wrong. There is nothing special or sacred about tradition. True sacredness is in the learning and growing of our spiritual and earthly knowledge. The church was founded on bucking tradition. Let’s be that again!
Elder Richard G. Scott said, “A key to improved prayer is to learn to ask the right questions. Consider changing from asking for the things you want to honestly seeking what He wants for you. Then as you learn His will, pray that you will be led to have the strength to fulfill it.”
I ask that you, the other Apostles and President Nelson reach out to Heavenly Father and ask the right question – ask how the gospel has the capacity to incorporate same sex couples, transgender and non-binary people. Love them with inclusion. Truly love them. Truly love us.
[……] Ward, […….] California Stake
Dear President Holland,
I have so much to say to you, but I can’t. I cannot find the words to adequately convey how irresponsible and dangerous your words are to my friends and family. I beg you to apologize for the harm you have caused and to prevent future pain in the coming days, weeks, and years.
A mother of three gay children and faithful Latter-day Saint
When [my daughter] came out to us two years ago, I was serving in our Stake Relief Society presidency. Truthfully though, my belief was hanging on by the thinnest of threads. The ever increasing weight of my cognitive dissonance was causing unpatchable cracks in my foundation.
I felt numb, empty inside, like an imposter just going through the motions. I knew what was expected of me. I’d been doing this long enough to know the drill. Take your Xanax, put on a nice dress, smile, drag your kids to church, attend your meetings, pretend, pretend, pretend. It’s fine. Everything’s fine.
By the end, none of it was real. It was all an act. And it was lonely as hell.
No one actually talks about their doubts, their questions, their problems. That’s not the Mormon way. Stay silent, stuff it down, put it on the shelf, and lock it away.
I knew the rules and I understood the consequences of stepping off the path. So, not surprisingly, I clung to the edge of that cliff like my actual life depended on it. Not because I genuinely believed it was the right thing to do, but because of the fear of letting go. I was deeply ashamed of disappointing the people I loved. I betrayed my own inner knowing because I was so conditioned to please, uphold an ideal, and be what I was taught to be…an obedient, unquestionably faithful member of the church.
Until I couldn’t anymore.
When the pain of staying finally overpowered the fear of leaving, the dam broke and everything I had been holding back came rushing out with such force that its power actually shocked me.
Four weeks after [my daughter] came out, our presidency was tasked with holding a dessert social following the October 2019 Women’s Conference. We planned and organized for months. We prepared extravagantly decorated tables with all the most beautiful fall décor, delicious food, and coordinating napkins, all elegantly displayed atop neatly ironed table linens.
Women and girls began quietly filing into the chapel to find their seats and anxiously await the inspired program. We sat together as a presidency on the stand and welcomed everyone and thanked them for joining us. And the broadcast began.
The lineup of speakers was introduced, and when it was announced that Dallin H. Oaks would be addressing us, I instantly felt a knot begin to form in my stomach. If you don’t know, he has a reputation for being consistently insensitive when it comes to LGBTQ issues in the church.
I was dreading what might come out of his mouth. Especially because, for the first time, I was listening with new ears and seeing everything through a rainbow filter.
He began speaking. And true to form, he went right after our precious queer kiddos.
You know that feeling you get as a new parent when you take your innocent, sweet little toddler to the playground and witness another child shove your kid to the ground? Imagine that x10. That’s the kind of mama bear energy and rage that I felt boiling up inside of me.
My entire body began to tremble. I was suddenly freezing cold. My breathing quickened, my heart raced, sound became distorted and I was starting to sweat. My eyes welled up with tears as he continued to speak. It felt as though my heart was being ripped out of my body. Absolutely everything inside of me was screaming…
No longer will I allow you to shove my child, or anyone else’s, to the ground.
I know my child. I know they were born worthy and whole. They are not broken. The system is what’s broken.
I felt a surge of courage rising up inside of me.
I knew better. And it was time to do better.
I heard a voice inside my head. The message was so clear, so powerful. It’s truly something I will never forget. “You need to leave now, you’re not safe here…it’s going to be okay…take your family and go…I will go with you…you will never be alone.”
In that moment, the fear that had paralyzed me for so long was replaced with resolve. Resolve to never abandon my inner knowing. Resolve to no longer accept the things that insult my soul. Resolve to stand aligned in my integrity. Even if it means standing alone.
I walked out of the chapel that night and true to my commitment to myself and my family, have not returned since.
The gospel of Christ doesn’t involve muskets or friendly fire. It will never require you to further marginalize the marginalized. The gospel of Christ will never ask you to be careful that your love and empathy for your LGBTQ family and friends never gets interpreted as condoning and advocacy.
The gospel of Christ doesn’t harm people with exclusionary doctrine and then cry about how hard it is for them to keep doing it.
The gospel of Christ is love. Period. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not being truthful.
Dear Elder Holland,
I am a current member of a stake presidency, former bishop, community leader, and most importantly, the father of two sons who are attending BYU programs in Provo and Idaho. Fortunately, for our family, both our sons are gay. Our oldest came out to my wife and I shortly after he returned home from his mission. These were difficult times for our family. We were unprepared for the coming out experience and because of our deeply held religious views we were unable to meet the needs of our son at a time when he needed us the most.
As a family we have learned that the Church (and as a result of speeches like yours at BYU) is causing unnecessary harm to these incredible people. We, as a religious institution, are failing our queer population. This failure is gambled away to protect a building, or an idea, or a concept that isn’t safe or sustainable. Our children are our greatest treasures and we are casting them away to keep the bigoted and homophobic traditions of BYU and of our faith institution.
This must end. Today.
In time, our second son also came out to us. He was able to see his family come to a place of love and acceptance after his brother’s coming out experience. He knew that we loved him and he FELT that love through our family experiences. He openly admits that the Church is still an unloving and tenuous place for him to exist. This hurts my heart. I’m hurt for my sons and for others like them. I am hurt for the church and for those who are being cast away. I am hurt for you and for the people you are ostracizing as a result of your ignorant, harsh, and inaccurate rhetoric.
You are capable of doing better. God has blessed you with the ability to succor His people. Why do you choose to continue to abandon them in the times of their greatest need?
At some point soon the Church is going to steer themselves into complete irrelevance. Without any influence from you or the Church, the number of queer kids and queer families will still gorw and will still thrive in the spaces where you once had an opportunity to commune and join with them.
If our rigid and dogmatic family can make these changes, so can you. I beg you to try.
Thank you for listening,
Dear Elder Holland,
I was just painfully excommunicated from my faith community… one of the reasons being my advocacy for our Latter-day Saint LGBTQ members. When I heard you talk about musket fire in a time where we have much social upheaval in regards to public shootings and hate crimes against gay, lesbian and transgender people in our community I was appalled. Especially when you have been a champion for sound mental health practice in the past.
Please stop being part of the problem that me and so many of my colleagues see on a daily basis in our offices. I do not say this out of pride nor anger. I say this truly from a pleading space. We have to stop hurting so many in our community in what we think is the name of God. I did not feel the spirit at all during your speech. I call on you and the brethren to repent for the blood you have on your hands in regards to these “least of these.”
I hadn’t felt truly hurt by church leaders until your musket talk. Never have I cried like that realizing that my family was now forced to choose between the church and loving me. Can’t we just be like Jesus and love one another without this battle rhetoric?
I just cannot see any Jesus in what you are openly advocating for. I am not self-serving or blurring the lines of advocacy and condoning in my love for my LGBTQ friends. Do you know any gay people? Have you broken bread with them? Have you hugged them when they were denied job opportunities, kicked out of their homes, battled depression and suicidality? It is typical for a leader to be so distant from his devotees that he forgets or becomes uncapable of seeing their true needs. Come down from your station and meet us at the kitchen table. We have stories to tell. Perhaps you can come to see what we have seen?
Dear Elder Holland:
I am a native of Utah County. I served in Hong Kong during the handover. Married in the temple. Discarded and divorced in 2015. I survived the FLL airport shooting. My oldest son survived the MSD shooting in 2018.
I’m in a shooting survivor network and through that have become close friends with transgender survivors from Pulse. My HK mission companion was an Air Force cadet. She could fly an F-16. She married another pilot in the SLC Temple. Her husband came out publicly as transgender last year. That kind of shocked me so much I couldn’t sleep one night. They are staying together.
A month later my son told me he was bisexual. He was planning to serve a mission, but now he has left the church because he doesn’t feel like he belongs. My youngest is also out of the church and pansexual. ? of my offspring is LGBTQ. People don’t leave the church because they don’t believe. They leave because theologically they feel they don’t belong.
As a shooting survivor, I am concerned about the musket metaphor. I like the “schools where students will be taught not afraid of being shot” speech better. I’ve learned so much on this journey and I do hold on to the truths I know, but I hope for a day where ALL will be valued in the church.
A Concerned Member,
Dear Elder Holland,
There are only a handful of times I have been appalled at the messages of modern day apostles. Your message to the BYU faculty was one of them.
Absolutely. Appalled. At. Your. Message.
We love our lesbian daughter and we will wave an extra flag in her honor at BYU this weekend.
Thank you for making us stronger as a family. The church doesn’t deserve the LGBTQ community, they are so much better than what you are offering them.
I did not hear love from you. I heard a man. We need a disciple of love. You can do that for us.
Dear Elder Holland,
You used to be one of my favorite apostles to listen to. However, your message from inciting musket fire against me and the LGBTQ+ coming community changed that despite the reverent tone you used. Making yourself and the church out to be victims of the queer community was beyond the pale. You talk about all the tears you and other leaders have shed and the scar tissue you have. You are completely tone deaf to the queer youth who lie in graves because of preaching like yours which teaches them (and their families/communities) that they are a threat to God and salvation. I suppose their deaths don’t warrant your real love and concern. These youth learn to hate themselves for something they cannot change and which you can’t explain but are quick to condemns. The suicide rate for Utah teens is one of the highest in the nation especially for queer youth.
Queer youth cry in the depths of agony and confusion. The church that professes to love them and should love them…doesn’t. It calls for musket fire against them. The church has no answers for them. It only condemns them and sets the church community against them. We are not your enemies. We are your brothers and sisters. YOU are the one labeling us as the enemy.
Our people harm themselves and kill themselves. THEIR tears, THEIR scar tissue is what matters. It’s not about you. If you do not understand where queer people fit into the Plan of Salvation, then get out of the way so we can commune with God in peace. God has answers for us. And love. You have neither. The Pharisees of old thought more about their rules and policies than love and compassion—so much so that they crucified their Christ.
Jesus never asked us to defend the institution of the church. He asked us to show we follow him by love one for another. Your “musket fire” rhetoric isn’t love and isn’t what Jesus would teach.
Dear Elder Holland,
When my daughter came out last February, I knew I couldn’t stay in a church that fought against my daughter. It was that space that allowed me to leave an abusive marriage and allow myself to be open to my own sexuality. I’m now with a woman and finally happy— celestially happy. How many stories do you need before you stop hurting people? No one is attacking you and you have blood on your hands.
It’s not suicide. It’s murder.
Dear Elder Holland,
I never would have thought such a divisive message would come from you. I am sad that you think wearing pride pins and waving pride flags is an action that “believers” need to fire muskets at. If I had a gay child, there is no way I’d send them to BYU or teach at BYU. I feel like you just asked all of the current staff and professors to support the brethren, SLC and The Church over their supporting their gay family, and that is wrong. Please don’t think I feel like the brethren have really wrestled with this if you say you’ve spent “hours” on it… wow, hours. That’s a lot. Pretty sure family members of gay people or gay people have spent years of not their entire lives grappling with being gay. And please stop calling it “same sex challenge” or “same sex attraction”… just say gay.
I know and I believe that there are big holes in what we as Latter-day Saints currently see as doctrine. My friend just came out as gay. He’s 31 and is trying to stay in the church. He wants to get married. He wants to live a full life, homosexual behavior included. How can the Church ask him to choose to be alone in order to remain in good standing? That is like asking me, a heterosexual woman, to leave my husband and marry a woman in order to stay in the Church. I’d leave the church so fast.
The Church has a choice: divide its membership through weaponized messages of “Christianity” like you delivered, or embrace our LGTBQ+ friends and believe them when they say God made them this way, they want/deserve forever families too, and they want inclusion here and now.
Earth life is what counts right now. Please don’t say “it’ll all work out in the next life.” Life is now.
I am a faculty member at a church school. BYU is my home. It is in my DNA. It is who I am.
However, I am not your version of BYU. I honor the experiences of my LGBTQ+ students. I see them for the beautiful sons, daughters, and children of God that they are. Your divisive rhetoric is not reflective of my BYU or Christ’s message of love and inclusion.
Long after you “go to your grave,” and long after your legacy fades, our queer students will still be queer. You cannot change that. You can celebrate and lift them, today. You can support them as they support us. You can see them as God sees them.
I invite you to lay down your musket and defend God, not a university.
(because I can’t openly share these thoughts without fear of being fired.)
The scriptures tell us to avoid “looking through a mirror darkly.” You are only seeing this topic with welding glasses on. Take off the years of prejudice and come to know the gay community like I know them. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Dear Elder Holland:
After years of supporting and defending you, I have given up. I can no longer defend the church and try to keep my son alive at the same time. Your words hurt. Your ignorance in this space is hurting my family. Please, please, please learn from the hundreds and hundreds of stories out there. Surely you see them? Right? Are you so removed from them that you have become blind or are you so distant that you don’t understand that we are in crisis?
We need you. We need our kids. Stop. Do better.
I love you and I love our LBTQ members. There must be a better way to show forth compassion and inclusion than a musket metaphor. I can understand a mistake. Apologize. Come back to the table in good faith and rebuild the bridges that you so easily burned. We need you as much as we need our children to know that they are needed and wanted in the gospel framework.
Dear President Holland,
I was once a student at BYU when you were our president. I cherish those memories. I was also a closeted gay man. BYU was not a place for me to be honest, yet it demanded each of us to function with the highest levels of integrity. How can we ask our youth to be honest whilst at the same time asking them to hide a beautiful part of themselves? This is a travesty to them and to the BYU family. I know you to be a good man and a special witness of God. I invite you to not divide us further.
I have spent the best part of the last two years super interested in learning more about the stories of the LGBT community. I remember when President Ballard spoke at BYU and told us that we weren’t doing a good job at listening to the LGBTQ community. I vowed to do better. Imagine my surprise that you so boldly and candidly told the faculty at BYU to defend the gospel by hiding and shadowing those LGBT stories, especially when on the BYU campus.
We have two conflicting messages from the same campus lectern. President Ballard says to do a better job at “listening to and understanding” and you say “…we are trying to avoid — and hope all will try to avoid — language, symbols, and situations that are more divisive than unifying at the very time we want to show love for all of God’s children.”
I have learned that we do not show love for people by running away from them or telling them that they can not be who they are. Their very language, symbols, and situations are as important to them as your childhood memories of the great Y on the magnificent Provo mountain.
You are a beautiful person with so much to give and receive to this community. I hope that you can learn to love these special people as I have learned to love them.
LatterGayStories LIVESTREAM discussing the LoveNotMuskets t-shirt project and letters to Holland invitation: