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Why We Love 7-Year-Old Transgender Activist, Avery Jackson, And Her Incredible Family

Why We Love 7-Year-Old Transgender Activist, Avery Jackson, And Her Incredible Family

Why We Love 7-Year-Old Transgender Activist, Avery Jackson, And Her Incredible Family

Posted: 05/21/2015 10:00 am EDT Updated: 05/21/2015 12:59 pm EDT

By Alex Temblador | The Next Family

via Why We Love 7-Year-Old Transgender Activist, Avery Jackson, And Her Incredible Family.

Debi Jackson gave an amazing speech on Avery’s transition that went viral. She counteracts the ignorant and hateful comments about transgender persons with humor and Bible verses.
Debi Jackson spoke on the “Listen to Your Mother Show” about Avery’s transition, a speech that got a lot of attention on YouTube. Her speech is honest and at times, humorous. More importantly, it shows the diversity of transgender families and the amazing love and support that any mother (and father) should show their children regardless of gender identity.

Mama Dragons

Mama Dragons

Need a Mama Dragon or want to become one?

Mama Dragons is a space of support for women navigating the waters of LGBTQ issues within their family or community. We strive to make this space free of judgment between members.

We strive to create a safe place for conversation and support for individuals regardless of their beliefs or participation in religious community.

We validate that this journey is one that requires humor, anger, patience, and love and honor each person wherever she is currently. All stages are to be simultaneously honored here.

Consequently, Mama Dragons is not the place for mocking, arguing, or attempting to convince anyone of anything.

Click here  to Mama Dragons…

Oblivion (A Mormon Teen Speaks Out for Others)

By Susannah Montgomery (also posted at NoMoreStrangers.org and posted at FeministMormonHousewives.org)

 

Oblivion (noun): Official disregard or overlooking

 

My name is Susannah Montgomery and I’m fourteen. I have a gay brother named Jordan and he is a year older than me. He is my best friend and I love him. As his sister I feel like I have to defend him and other gay people also. A few weeks ago Jordan and I went to EFY. One of the classes I went to had about a hundred people there, so on average about ten of them were gay. The teacher brought up the topics on what the church thought about gay people. He said that it is a choice and you can only be happy if you follow the commandments and the church’s definition of family. I noticed that Jordan was in the class and was close to tears. I raised my hand and said, “So are you saying that gay people should be alone for the rest of their lives?” The teacher said yes. So then I asked, “Does the church have a position on being gay?”  I already knew the answer but I wanted to see if he did. His answer surprised me because he said no. I said, “Yes they do. The church just came out with a website called mormonsandgays.org that says in the first sentence that being gay is not a choice.” He didn’t respond to me. I thought to myself that this man is completely oblivious to these gay people’s lives and the trials that they have to go though.

 

After class was over I went to talk to the teacher. I told him about the website and we had a very long discussion on the gay topic. This man had no idea about what he was talking about when we had this conversation and his lesson.  He kept saying that marriage is between a man and a woman, which is great and the church says its right, but he also said that’s the only way to be happy.  I told him I know plenty of gay people and they are some of the happiest people I know. They’re not choosing to be gay. They are born that way. God created all of us and he never made a mistake and we are all sons and daughters of God.  I think that is what most people disregard or over look. Also Jesus said love everyone, he never said love everyone except gay people. The church is always telling us to be more Christ-like and they’re right.

 

About half an hour later the teacher left and the president of EFY came up to me and I felt like he was completely oblivious to the gay community as well. We had a very similar conversation that I had with the teacher. Both men had never read the mormonsandgays.org website and had never met a gay person that was out of the closet. They just assumed that being gay is wrong because they weren’t educated on what the word gay even meant. They never took the time to learn about the gay community. Many young gay people are depressed and in Utah there is about one gay suicide every week. They are depressed because they are thrown out of their homes and they lose their families. They are also depressed because they are tired of being told that they are evil and they are choosing to go to hell. They are bullied and some find themselves committing suicide. When our conversation was over I noticed that a friend I met a day earlier was with me the entire time. She thanked me for standing up for the other gay people in that class including herself.

 

Another experience I’ve had was at girls’ camp, a week before EFY. All the girls my age went on a two day hike and once we set up camp we had dinner. After dinner we had a question and answer lesson where the girls asked the questions and our Stake President would answer. So I asked, “If a gay couple adopts kids can they be sealed together?” I could tell by the expression on his face that the question caught him by surprise. He talked for a few minutes and to sum it up, he basically said that they can’t. He kept trying to change the subject but I wouldn’t let him. I asked more and more questions and he didn’t really have the answers.  The last question I asked was, “Does the church have a position on being gay?”  He said, “No, they don’t.”  Here is another person who is completely oblivious to the gay community. So I said, “Yes they do. The church has a website called Mormons and gays that says that it is not a choice being gay.” He ignored me for the rest of the lesson, no surprise to me. The word spread on what I had said and done. I got some not so nice looks when we got back to camp. But to my surprise some girls and church leaders came and told me that I have their support and some told me some very personal stories that were about people or family members that were gay. They thanked me for saying what I did.

 

These experiences I’ve had have taught me that you have no idea who you’re helping if you stand up for what you believe. They’ve also taught me that not everyone knows about gay people and they don’t know that what they say can really hurt people. So, if anyone doesn’t understand, it probably means that they are oblivious and need someone annoying like me to tell them the truth. If you don’t know any gay people, you should try to meet one because it helps open your eyes to see what they go though and you will become more understanding to everyone.

 

Part 2

Hi! Its Susannah Montgomery again! Just a quick recap, I have a gay brother named Jordan and he is my best friend. I’m fourteen and Jordan is a year older than me. Last year Jordan was in high school and I was stuck in junior high.

Every day I wore my rainbow ring that looked like the lifesaver candy to school to support my brother. We had about one quarter left in the school year when a girl in my PE class came up to me and asked why I wore the ring every day. I told her that I wore it to support my gay brother. We started to hang out more and about a week later she told me that she was bisexual. She also told me that her mom doesn’t accept her for being bisexual and she used to cut herself. She said that she has had many thoughts of suicide and that if she didn’t meet a friend who accepted her for being bisexual she would have tried. She says that my ring is truly a lifesaver. We are like best friends now and we go to PFLAG together.

I have an important question for you. Are you willing to stand by and watch as gay people start believing that their lives are worthless and have thoughts of suicide and some even commit suicide? We cannot afford to lose precious lives because people have bullied them and made them fell worthless. I encourage you to be the one to sit with the person alone in the corner or stand up for the person being bullied. You may make a new friend, or even be a lifesaver.

Susannah is 14 year old Mormon teen living with her parents, her 2 brothers and her 2 sisters. Susannah’s hobbies are playing harp and crocheting. She loves playing with her 2 dogs, and she plays an awesome game of basketball. (Her family is featured in the Family Acceptance Project Video ‘Family’s are Forever‘.)

A History of Fire: The Sin of Sodom and an Exploration of Goodness | No More Strangers: LGBT Mormon Forum

A History of Fire: The Sin of Sodom and an Exploration of Goodness

by Josh DeFriez • August 10, 2013 • 1 Comment

The first time I heard the story of Sodom and Gomorrah I was sitting on a wooden chair in the primary room of a chapel in St. George, Utah. One of my friends had been asked to prepare a brief talk that week to share with the primary and had brought an illustrated book of the story of Lot and his family to read out loud to the rest of us, showing us the colorful pictures inside as he did. The part that struck me most was the very end when Lot’s wife, overcome with sorrow, looks back at the city and is transformed into a pillar of salt. In the book there was a picture of a family on a hill walking away from the city in the background, leaving behind what looked like a mound of white sand.

Whenever I heard about Sodom and Gomorrah I couldn’t help picturing Lot’s wife turning back to look at the burning city; the illustration of its flames from my friend’s book burned in my mind. It wasn’t until a few years later I learned that the great sin that had incurred the fires of heaven to reign mercilessly on the two cities was the sin of homosexuality, one which had been known for hundreds of years as the sin of Sodom, or “sodomy.” In fact, it was encased in this parlance that homosexuality was first mentioned in an LDS General Conference in 1897 when George Q. Cannon asked of sodomy, “How can this be stopped? Not while those who have knowledge of these filthy crimes exist. The only way, according to all that I can understand as the word of God, is for the Lord to wipe them out, that there will be none left to perpetuate the knowledge of these dreadful practices among the children of men”.[1]

Reading this, one cannot help but feel that Elder Cannon was unacquainted with the history of the fire of Sodom. He couldn’t have known of history’s brutalities towards gay men, how many times those in power had tried to “wipe them out,” or how many more times they would.

In his essay “Self-reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “he who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” The story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the history of its use to justify atrocities against gay people forces us to do just what Emerson advocates—to truly question our definitions of good and evil and be sure to assign the right labels to the right actions. We too often allow attitudes formed by cultural history and institutionalized prejudices to shape our definitions of good and evil rather than engaging in a true exploration of goodness.

“Sodomy” first gained popularity as a word to exclusively describe homosexual acts in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,[2] but the growing condemnation of homosexual relationships began nearly a thousand years earlier in the fourth and fifth centuries AD as the first laws prohibiting homosexual acts were enacted in the Roman Empire.[3] Despite these laws and a growing cultural distaste for homosexuality, gay literature and homosexual relationships continued in Medieval Europe. In times of difficulty, however, gay people were rounded up with Jews as the scapegoats for disaster, and were often burned or driven out. (To apply the term “gay” to people of the past is perhaps an anachronism, but I use it for conversational convenience as well as modern applicability.)
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During the Inquisition the story of Sodom began to be used in more abundance as justification for the harsh treatment of gay people. Peter Canisius, a leading Jesuit intellectual of the late 16th century updated Aquinas’s teachings on the morality of homosexuality in his Catechism with an inclusion of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, warning that men “should not deal carnally” with each other “because it was an abomination” that would be met with the same fate as the men of Sodom.[4]Tragically, in the absence of God’s punishments, the men of the Inquisition seemed to be determined to enact this fiery fate themselves. It was as “sodomites” that gay Chinese couples were rounded up by Jesuit priests in the Philippines in 1588 and put to death for practicing marriage among gay men. These executions, to the Chinese, were an attack on the traditional family. The inhabitants of the Fujian Province area in China who made up the primary Chinese population in the Philippines at the time had long practiced gay marriage, and gay couples would often together raise children of their own.[5] During his 1581 visit to Rome, Montaigne noted that a few years previously several marriages had been celebrated between men in the church of St. John and that the couples “went to bed and lived together” for quite a while before being burned at the stake.[6] Jesuit fathers leading missions in China and Japan repeatedly condemned those kingdoms for their open acceptance of the “sin of Sodom,” and men were burned as “sodomizers” throughout Christendom.[7] .
And so with that same fate of the vivid fire painted on the pages of my friend’s book, the lives of countless gay men were brought, burning, to a brutal end, and as Lot’s wife was turned to salt when she looked back to mourn Sodom’s fate, so the sympathizers of “sodomizers” were equally condemned.[8] .
The sin of Sodom also began to be used as an explanation for the downfall of past empires. The fires of Pompeii were said to be a punishment for rampant homosexuality, and Rome itself was said to have fallen because of its lax moral attitudes and open acceptance of gay relationships. This same argument was echoed by George Q. Cannon in his 1897 conference address when he said that the “crime” of sodomy “was practiced by the nations of old, and caused God to command their destruction and extirpation.” This argument has continually been mentioned by LDS church leaders in the last century, and survives to this day. In fact, an article was just published on October 15, 2012 in the USU Statesman in which the author once again repeated the age-old and still-ridiculous claim that the Roman Empire fell because of its open acceptance of homosexual relationships.
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In reality, the last few centuries of the Roman Empire experienced a dramatic decline in the publication of gay literature, the popularity of gay relationships, and witnessed the Empire’s first laws passed against gay relationships.[9] If correlation equates with the will of God, then it could be much more persuasively argued that the rampant praise of gay relationships in the first two centuries of the empire’s founding and the repeated occurrence of gay marriages[10] caused God to give a long life to the empire until the Romans angered God by removing legal sanction from the intimate relationship of those of the same gender.

Clearly Sodom’s sin provides no explanatory power at all to the rise and fall of nations.

As we know, the Inquisition period did not end the dealing of death to gay men and women. It is often forgotten that the tradition of a common fate between gay men and Jews was continued into the twentieth century as over 100,000 homosexuals were imprisoned alongside the countless Jews that met their end in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

A history such as this leaves one pondering the true nature of sin and exploring what it truly means to be good. It seems quite apparent to the modern reader that the fiery inferno imposed upon “sodomites” in the past millennium is by far the greater sin. This brings us to the ultimate question we must ask of the story of Lot’s family and their encounter with angels, fire, and pillars of salt.

What, exactly, was Sodom’s sin?

The reason that Sodom has so long been associated with homosexuality is because after the angels came to Lot and his family, the men of Sodom demanded the strangers to be brought out “that they might know them.” Of the 943 times that this Hebrew verb for “to know” is used in the Old Testament, only 10 of them are used as a euphemism for physical intimacy.[11] None of them refer to homosexual acts. Overwhelming evidence points that the story of Sodom is not referring to sexuality at all.

There are numerous references to Sodom and its fate later in both the Old and New Testaments, and not a single of them mentions anything to do with homosexuality. In fact, only one mentions anything to do with sexuality at all. Jude teaches that the men of Sodom went “after strange flesh.” The term “strange flesh,” however, was most often used to refer to prostitutes and was never used to describe homosexual relationships. The Greek term that would have referred to homosexuality would have been “alien flesh.”[12] That Sodom becomes a symbol for abhorrent wickedness is clear,[13] but both later scriptures and centuries of interpretation preceding the Inquisition point to an alternative definition of Sodom’s sin, and thus a different definition of what it is to be wicked.

Christ connected the sin of Sodom with the sin of inhospitality when he taught that “whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”[14] In the book of Ezekiel the sins of Sodom are listed when God announces that “Behold, this was the iniquity of… Sodom, pride, fullness of bread… neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy.”[15] This proclamation supposedly by God himself concerning the sins of Sodom written by the hand of an ancient author much more intimately acquainted with the story than any of us today mentions nothing of homosexuality, but rather lists sins whose most distinguished attribute seems to be the failure to love.

Centuries of rabbinical tradition and Christian interpretation preceding the Inquisition labeled the sin of Sodom as its inhospitality to strangers, its pride, and ignoring the hungry and the needy.[16]

The wickedness of Sodom was its lack of love, not love between people of the same gender. And so it is with irony that history’s true sodomites were not the men who married each other in Rome in the 1580s, and nor were they the gay Chinese men of the Philippines, but rather their persecutors. The true “sodomizers” were those who met difference with inhospitality.

When I think of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, I feel like Lot’s wife turning back to gaze upon the burning city. I look back on a history of fire. I remember who the inhabitants of Sodom really are and the tragedy that occurs when people misinterpret goodness. The image that burns vividly in my mind is that of flames falling not from heaven, but from the hand of man out upon his fellow man, tormenting countless thousands and unjustly ending their lives because of the way they expressed their love. I remember that there is a “trap of tolerance”[17] and that we fall for it every time we tolerate hatred and bigotry. We fall for it when we tolerate definitions of goodness that result in realities of torment instead of exploring if our definitions of right “really [are] goodness.” We fall for it when we forget the history of fire.

[1] See October 1897 General Conference, pg 66
[2] See John Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” ch 4
[3] Ibid.
[4] See Jonathan Spence, “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,” ch 7
[5] See Albert Chan, “Chinese-Philippine Relations in the Late Sixteenth Century to 1603,” pg 71
[6] See Montaigne, “Journal de Voyage,” p. 231 and 481
[7] Spence, “The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,” ch 7
[8] Ibid.
[9] Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” ch 3
[10] Ibid.
[11] Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” ch 4
[12] Ibid.
[13] E.g., Deut. 29:23, 32:32; Isaiah 3:9, 13:19; Jeremiah 23:14, 49:18, 50:40; Lamentations 4:6; Ezekiel 16: 46-48; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9; Matt. 10:15; Luke 17:29; Roman 9:29; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7. With all of these references to the wickedness of Sodom, it would make sense for at least one of them to mention homosexuality as the root of its wickedness if that were indeed the case. In fact, none of them do.
[14] Matt. 10:14-15, see Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” ch 4
[15] Ezekiel 16: 48-49
[16] See Boswell, “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” ch 4 for more information and for analysis of other Biblical teachings on the morality of gay relationships
[17] See Boyd K. Packer’s most recent conference address

Rob & Kathryn Steffensen

0mh32gek

Salt Lake City, Utah

July 2001

To whom it may concern from Kathryn and Robert Steffensen:

We are both fifth generation Latter-Day Saints and descendants of Mormon pioneers. We met at the University of Utah and have been married forty eight years. We are parents of three sons and twin daughters. All have graduated from college. Our two oldest sons and one daughter have law degrees. Our other daughter is a pharmacist. Our youngest son, Erik, graduated first in his class from Otis-Parsons School of Art and Design. He is gay.

Our four straight children served LDS missions in Brazil, Germany, Japan and Holland. Both of our daughters have passed away. Our two oldest sons married in the Salt Lake Temple (as did we) and have enriched our lives with eight grandchildren. These sons and their families live in Salt Lake and one lives in our Ward, the Monument Park 14th ward in the Monument Park Stake. We enjoy attending church with them. Erik lives and works as an artist in Los Angeles.

We are both retired educators. Kathryn was born in Logan, Utah in 1931. Her father, Dr. Franklin L. West, was a physics professor and dean of the faculty for twenty-eight years at the Agricultural College (Now Utah State University). In l934 he was called by President Heber J. Grant to be the Church Commissioner of Education, a position he held until he retired eighteen years later. He is the author of five books. Three are texts for use in the seminaries of the Church: Discovering the Old Testament, Jesus, His Life and Teachings, and The Apostles and the Early Church. His Sunday evening radio addresses were compiled into the book, The Fruits of Religion. He also wrote a biography of his grandfather, Franklin Dewey Richards.

Kathryn’s father grew up in Ogden, Utah next door to his grandparents, President of the Q Quorum of the Twelve Franklin D. Richards and Jane Snyder Richards. Kathryn remembers the vivid stories her father would tell of his relatives’ involvement in the affairs of the Church and of their intimate acquaintance with the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was particularly impressed by his gallant ninety-eight pound grandmother who drove her own wagon team during the exodus from Nauvoo because her husband was on a mission. She is the quintessential pioneer woman and her tragic journey to Winter Quarters has been the basis of Sesquicentennial plays in Iowa and in the documentary, “Trail of Hope” where her words, “I only lived because I could not die” represented the courageous spirit of the pioneers. Her words are still inspiring to her descendants whenever they begin to lose heart.

Kathryn’s mother, Violet Madson West, was nurtured by the entire Danish immigrant community in Brigham City, Utah. Everyone was Cousin This and Uncle That. She was known as the most beautiful girl in Box Elder County, and she caught the eye of Franklin West at the annual Peach Day Celebration. She was as beautiful inside as out, and was a wonderful mother to Kathryn and her three siblings.

Kathryn graduated from the U. of U. with a B.S. in Home Economics. After her children were in school she went back to the U. of U., earned a M. Ed. and taught second grade for twenty years.

Robert was born in SLC in 1926. He attended South High School, the U. of U., BYU, and the U. of U. receiving a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. respectively. He taught Seminary at Olympus High School, was a counselor in Granite School District, and an information system designer at the Utah State Office of Education. He was an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at the U. of U. He served an LDS mission to Norway, loves the gospel, and currently is an instructor in the High Priest’s group in the Monument Park 14th ward.

We are telling you about our early lives and the influences which shaped us to illustrate that nothing prepared us for the possibility that one of our children might be gay. We lived our entire lives in a very insular community with little exposure to diversity. We accepted our culture’s messages that homosexuals were confused heterosexuals and had chosen to live an abnormal lifestyle. We didn’t think that they should be persecuted and harmed but we thought that they should be encouraged to change and should not be around children. Actually we didn’t think about homosexuality very much.

We recognized that Erik was different from his brothers when he was a small child. We felt some concern, but since we were fairly confident in our parenting skills, we didn’t think that we fit the stereotypical absent father and overbearing mother who might cause a child to become homosexual–a Freudian notion. We communicated through subtle messages that we did not approve of homosexuality. We were convinced that Erik was such a fine person that he would never make such a choice. All of this did not prevent Erik from being gay, but it did prevent us from being any support or help to him during a very important part of his life.

His teenage years were very difficult. He thought he was the only gay person in his high school. He had no positive role models. He had serious moments of despair. He later told us that if he had believed the things that our culture was telling him, he would have killed himself. But he did not believe that he was evil. He believed he was a person of worth. This innate belief in himself sustained him through those years of isolation. In the meantime we continued to socialize all of our children as heterosexual and idealized temple marriage. As a result, the subject of homosexuality was never openly discussed. Erik suffered through this on his own.

As parents, we carry a burden of guilt because we were not prepared to help and support him through this difficult period of his life. We unquestioningly accepted our society and church’s public disapproval of homosexuality. Erik did not feel we could be trusted with his terrible secret. He feared that we would throw him out of our home as he knew other parents had done. Or we might enroll him in the reparative therapy programs of electric shock and aversion therapy which were conducted at BYU. Consequently he struggled alone. He did not talk with his siblings, friends, teachers or anyone. He did not see how he could ever hope for a life of dignity and purpose. However, his high school years were filled with personal accomplishment. He had a group of outstanding friends who were admired for their academic achievements and their extracurricular activities. He did not experience any overt gay bashing. He was a Sterling Scholar in art and attended the U. of U. on an academic scholarship. He graduated from Otis-Parsons School of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

When he was twenty-two he told us that his only hope for a productive life was to accept the reality of who he is and to stop trying to become something he isn’t. With tears streaming down his cheeks he said, “I don’t think I am an evil person.” These words broke our hearts because he was and is one of the finest persons we have ever known. We had suspected his homosexuality for a long time, but thought if we ignored it, somehow it would go away.

We didn’t know where to turn for help. We grieved because of the loss of our expectations. We were (and still are) fearful of the reactions of our friends, family, and members of the church. We are alarmed by the level of hateful speech directed toward gays. We are horrified by acts of violence. We fear for Erik’s safety. For several years we kept this matter to ourselves. We were voiceless.

While we were living in silence and isolation, Erik was embracing life and opportunities. We were stagnating and he was flourishing. He decided we needed to meet some other parents. We didn’t think that there were any other parents of gay children in Utah and certainly not in the Church. We were laughably naive. He called the national headquarters of P-Flag and discovered there was a small group of people who met in the home of Gerry Johnston each month. They were known as “People Who Care.” He insisted that we attend. It was the first time we had openly stated that we had a gay son. Gerry introduced us to the editors of a newly published book, Peculiar People. We began meeting each month with Marybeth Raynes and Ron and Wayne Schow. This led to the first Conference on Sexuality co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Social Work at the U. of U. We were on the committee for that conference in l993 and thus began our journey out of ignorance and into gradual understanding and enlightenment. It was not easy to shed all the myths and misinformation with which we were so comfortable. We read voraciously, and we discussed the subject endlessly. We became friends with wonderful gays and lesbians who were leading productive and meaningful lives. They were not the miserable, hopeless people we had expected them to be. We grew to love the L.D.S. parents with gay children whom we met at social and educational events. They became our dearest friends and truly a life line during our odyssey.

Ron Schow asked us in l993 if we would be willing to be part of a gay-friendly group of L.D.S. people who could extend a hand of friendship to the gays and lesbians in our community. The first meeting of the group which would become Family Fellowship was held in our home. We didn’t really have an agenda. We didn’t agree on what the Church’s response to its gay members should be or how gays and lesbians should live their lives. But we could all agree that families should not reject their gay members, and that all of God’s children should be loved and valued. In the ensuing years the official Church pronouncements on the subject have seemed harsh and hurtful. But to our knowledge never has a General Authority publicly advised parents to turn their gay children out of their homes and cut them out of their lives. So we think that our original intention to build bridges and offer unconditional love is still consistent with the official Church teachings on the subject.

After so many years of prayerful study and thought, we are very different people than we used to be. We are more compassionate, less judgmental, more dedicated to community service, and more grateful. We are concerned about social injustice. We have grown as human beings. We have come to believe that the cause of homosexuality is very complex, consisting of genetic, neurobiological, and hormonal factors. We believe that it is involuntary and immutable. The term “lifestyle” connotes choice. Neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals choose their sexuality. They discover it. Many researchers have concluded that sexuality is determined at the early age of two to four years. We do not believe that therapies designed to change orientation are effective or morally defensible and can even cause serious harm.

Since Family Fellowship does not include advocacy for human rights in its mission statement, we began to seek out groups which work for social justice. We have been members of the Salt Lake City P-Flag group since its beginnings. We have made our services available to the National Conference of Community and Justice which is the oldest anti-discrimination organization in the U.S.A.

We are supporters of the Gay and Lesbian Center in S.L.C. We were featured in a KUED documentary, “Friends and Neighbors – A Community Divided.” This documentary recently won a gold medal in an international competition. We speak at the Sunstone Symposiums, which is one of the few public forums with L.D.S. connections which addresses this issue. We are quoted in the newspaper. We have become accidental activists.

As we became aware of the intolerance and discrimination toward gay students at East High School by students, administration, and parents; we sensed the need to form a Coalition for Safe Schools which involves concerned members of our community. We have been heartened by the success which a relatively small number of dedicated citizens have been able to achieve in reducing discrimination and raising awareness of a systemic problem. This effort has placed us on a first-name basis with the Salt Lake City Supt. of Schools, the principal of East High, and the members of the Community Council. Recently a juvenile judge assigned The Coalition for Safe Schools responsibility for overseeing the community service hours which were ordered by the judge as part of the sentence of a student convicted of strong armed robbery and assault on a lesbian student at East High. We were able to assist this girl to complete her graduation requirements in spite of her fear of attending school because the principal refused to guarantee her safety. The girl’s mother was very grateful for our assistance.

We are often asked about our relationship with the LDS church. As we have already mentioned above, we are currently active in the church and have participated in church activities all our lives. We expect this to continue. Some of our friends who have gay children have not been able to do this because they have been made to feel that supporting their gay children is contrary to the policies of the church–namely, homosexuality is chosen and can be changed; homosexual behavior is sinful; partnerships between two homosexuals (i.e. marriage) is not sanctioned by the church and is grounds for excommunication. While these policies are troubling to us because of what we have learned about homosexuality, we are not deterred from activity. Furthermore, because our local church leaders know all about our positions and participation in support groups and other groups which promote equal opportunity under the law, we have been able to maintain temple worthiness. Some of our friends who have gay children are temple workers. Some are BYU professors. All are some of the finest people we have ever known. We admire them for their church service and worthiness.

Because the main problem regarding homosexuality is ignorance, we have made a concerted effort to find several documents and research information which we have organized into a “packet” of information. In this packet, we have documented our experience with our son, Erik, and have mailed or distributed same to all of our relatives, friends, members of our ward, our bishopric, and stake presidency. The common response given by most is that “we don’t really know much about this.” Upon distributing the packet, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response. Each member of our stake presidency personally thanked us for the information and encouraged us to continue our efforts.

We believe that the restoration of the gospel and our God-given children are totally compatible. We intend to continue our activity in the church and we absolutely intend to embrace and love our children. We hope that all LDS parents of gay children will do the same.

With kindest regards,

Kathryn and Robert Steffensen
2500 Promontory Drive
SLC, Utah 84109
Phone: (801) 467-3773

 

Gary & Millie Watts

cgh7ntnu

By Mildred Watts

October 1994 (plus addendum below from February 2012)

Gary and I are fifth generation LDS.  We both claim British ancestors who, after joining the Church, sacrificed all and came to the USA.  They crossed the plains and settled mainly in Southern Idaho and Northern Utah.  They have always been my heroes and heroines.  We were raised in conventional Mormon families with the Church always at the center of our lives.  Our parents chose Logan, Utah as the place best suited for their careers and raising their families.  My father, a family physician in Logan, removed Gary’s appendix when he was thirteen years old and casually told him that I would be starting junior high that fall and that he should ”look me up!”  That he did, and thus began a friendship and romance that has continued to grow and become more meaningful through the years.

We celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary in September!  Gary served a mission in New Zealand.  We both graduated from Utah State University, and then Gary graduated from the University of Utah Medical School.  He completed his internship and residency at UCLA’s Harbor General Hospital in California.  He also served two years in the Air Force.  We have been blessed with six wonderful children that we love dearly.  Gary has been in practice as a radiologist and nuclear medicine physician in Provo for the last nineteen years.

Our second child, and our first son, Craig, is gay.  I hesitate to describe him as gay, because he is much, much more.  Craig was a very delightful child.  He has blessed our lives from the day he was born.  He did well in school both academically and socially and was dubbed early on, I think by his second grade teacher, as “Mr. Perfect,” and though he would disagree, we feel he has always lived up to this name.  He was elected student body president of Provo High and graduated with high honors.  He served an outstanding mission in Dallas, Texas, Thai speaking.  He graduated from BYU in English with high honors and then received a master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago.  He is currently in Kyoto, Japan.  He teaches at the University of Kyoto and is also studying Japanese.  Craig is fluent in Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Laotian, and Cambodian languages, and is also a wonderful writer.  He is athletic and enjoys many sports.  He is a person of great integrity, and has many friends.  When you are with Craig, life is interesting and fun.

Craig told us of his sexual orientation in 1988.  We were very shocked and surprised.  He certainly did not fit our ingrained perception of a gay person.  This apparent incongruity motivated us to study all we could about homosexuality.  Gary brought home many articles written in the medical literature dealing with same sex orientation.  We had to rethink all the things we had been taught and learned about homosexuality through the years, since they were incompatible with our knowledge of our son’s inherent goodness.  We met other gays and lesbians who were very much like Craig – thoughtful, kind, intelligent human beings.  We learned about the broad spectrum of sexuality and individuality.  We now regard sexuality much like a fingerprint – everyone’s is truly unique and deserving of respect.  We learned that same-sex attraction is not something to fear.  One by one, as our other five children learned of Craig’s orientation, we watched them go through a similar process, with the end result always being an outpouring of understanding and a feeling of love and compassion.  Our family has shown a strength and closeness that I would never have dreamed possible.  Having known many families where this is not the case, we feel particularly blessed.  We are truly grateful to our children and their spouses for their love, support, and courage.

Our love for Craig led to a family commitment to do all we can to help people understand more about same-sex orientation.  Not only do we share the scientific research that is coming forth, we also try to help people realize how much discrimination hurts, not only the homosexual person, but his family and friends as well.  It has also opened our eyes to the world of “justified” discrimination that exists in many aspects of society.  Elie Weisel, 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has stated:  “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”  We share his view and have made a conscious decision with Craig’s approval, to be open and public about his sexual orientation.

In September of 1993, Gary and I attended a Family Fellowship retreat.  We met other LDS parents like us who also have homosexual children.  We learned that they felt as we do, that homosexual orientation is not a choice, and that our gay children are among the most kind, talented, and intellectual people in the world.  These other parents also wanted to do something to make the world a safer, more understanding place for our children to live in.  When we returned home, Gary and I talked with our children and decided to begin holding Family Fellowship meetings in Utah County.  We have held three meetings to date, and each one has been very rewarding, bringing new families together.  Our children are actively involved with Family Fellowship.  They help us decide on formats for the meetings, patiently teach their computer illiterate parents, address envelopes, lick stamps, compose letters, and our eldest daughter even conducted our last meeting!

I was invited to participate in an interview for the Salt Lake Tribune.  A reporter wanted to do a feature article on mothers of gay sons for the Mother’s Day issue.  I hesitated to do this, not because I was embarrassed about Craig’s orientation but nervous that I might be quoted out of context, or perhaps make a comment that I would regret later.  I also knew that this would be a ‘coming out’ to many friends and acquaintances that we had not had the opportunity to talk with personally.  I was visiting with one of my daughters, telling her my concerns – when she just suddenly and enthusiastically cried, “Oh, Mom – go for it.”  So I did.  The article was not written exactly as I would have liked it to be, but it opened many doors for us.

Gary and I have met so many wonderful people through Family Fellowship.  The parents we have met are active LDS people and are an inspiration to us.  The gays and lesbians we have met are wonderful, spiritual, intellectual and talented.  Beyond all this we always have a wonderful time talking, eating, singing, laughing, and crying together.  Craig has given our family a wonderful gift.  It has helped us become more aware, tolerant, sympathetic, and supportive of diversity.  We have experienced the pains of discrimination.  As a result, we are a close family, and as individuals we are striving to be more Christ-like people.

ADDENDUM
February 24, 2012

Much has happened since the above article was published.  In 1996, our fifth child, Lori, came out to us as a lesbian.  This time we were not surprised.  We had enough information and knew enough lesbian women to recognize that she was gay before she told us.   Our response this time was more like…Oh, she has found herself.

Lori, like all our children, is a wonderful, loving, responsible person.  We are proud of her.  She graduated from Reed College, participated in the “Teach for America” program for three years, received her masters degree in Social Work at Boise State and is currently working with cancer patients and their families at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Id.  She has always been a good person and is outstanding in the service she provides her patients.  Lori is a wonderful, contributing member of our society.  The world is a better place because Lori is here.

Oh, how we wish the Internet had been available while we were trying to find answers to our questions and information on homosexuality.  I am grateful for a strong, intelligent husband and that we were united in our feeling that we love first and then educate ourselves.

Our family has grown.  We also have three sons-in-law who have joined our family and continue in acceptance, support and love for our gay children.  Our grandchildren have grown up knowing and loving their aunt and uncle.  They recognize their goodness.

As the mom, I still marvel at the wonderful gift our family has received to have two gay members and to also know and love so many gay people, their parents, and their families. I also marvel at how united our family is on this issue.  We are definitely better people and are still striving together to be more Christ-like.  How time flies – we will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this September!