Thursday, January 29, 2015

LDS Leadership Calls for Right to Discriminate Under Guise of “Religious Freedom”

I am trying hard to disassociate from my old religion. It is really difficult for me to do, however, because the Mormon Church has taken such a spotlight role in the anti-LGBT movement. So here I am, with two identities I had no choice in which are in constant turmoil with each other. I was devoted to my religion for the first 25 years of my life. I was born into it. I am also gay, and always have been. I still feel the sense of responsibility for what Mormonism does in the world- after all, I brought people into the church. Its hard to move on when the organization that I once sacrificed for and believed in for so long has been so insistent on striping me of dignity. First, by trying to prevent me from the right to marry the person I love and be a legitimate, recognized and protected family under the law. And now, by trying to ensure anyone has the legal right to discriminate against me at any time and any place.

While moving across the country shields me from the daily onslaught of LDS rhetoric, it is an ineffective barrier when the Mormon Church makes national press. If you haven’t heard, I’ll sum up what high-ranking church leaders said in the "historic" press conference. Put simply, the LDS leadership offered a “concession” (in their eyes) wherein they would support legislation that protected LGBT people from being fired or evicted simply for being LGBT. There are many who think this is a big step forward and deserves praise and celebration. Really? How kind of the leaders, who claim to be representatives of Christ, to say gay people deserve to live and work without fear of being fired or evicted simply because they are gay. How gracious. How benevolent.

But, wait- there is one condition. You see… this was a “concession” they are willing to make *if* we stop bullying them and expand religious liberty so as to allow individual believers to discriminate against LGBT people in the public sphere if they feel it goes against their “strongly held religious beliefs.” The exact example Elder Holland gave is "a Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so.”

Now, don’t be fooled. Elder Holland uses the hot word “abortion” because it draws immediate reaction and emotion. It is a scare tactic much like those used by the Church during Prop 8. A 2011 study shows that only 14% of OB/GYNs will perform abortions even though 97% of them have been approached by patients who needed/wanted them. In other words, they are not being forced to provide abortion services, though one could argue that if an OB/GYN is, by definition, supposed to care for the health of female reproductive organs and manage childbirth complications and abortions are sometimes necessary to protect the life of the mother, perhaps a person who is unwilling to perform an abortion shouldn't be an OB/GYN. But thats another story. Read what Elder Holland said again:

“A Latter-day Saint physician who objects to performing abortions or artificial insemination for a lesbian couple should not be forced against his or her conscience to do so.”

This isn’t about forcing someone to perform abortions or artificial insemination. A catholic doctor, for example, does not have to offer birth control procedures if he/she doesn’t want to. Its about giving a physician who DOES already offer these services the right to deny those services to a certain group of people- in this case, gay people. Another way you know Elder Holland is manipulating your emotions with the word “abortion” is to ask yourself this:

If they are talking about LGBT rights, why throw in "abortion?" How many lesbians, do you think, mistakenly get pregnant and want an abortion?

It’s laughable really. I don’t think abortion clinics are seeing a whole lot of lesbians come through their door except in the case of danger to the life of the mother or terminal illness of the child. But if LDS leaders can connect "abortion" to the LGBT rights movement, they can manipulate you into grouping those two things together- once you start breaking what LDS leadership says- you’d be surprised how common this is.

There are legal words that will help explain exactly what LDS Leadership was talking about. They were speaking about two different things. The first is housing and workplace protections. The second in public accommodations. Let me define each one to make this easy to understand.

Housing and Workplace Protections

In the United States, we already have established that is it illegal to fire or evict someone due to their race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. These are protected classes. You notice that most of these things (except religion) are things we have no choice in. We are born that way. Our nation heavily protects religious freedom and that is why religion is included. It is also important to note that, not only is religion included, religious organizations, and their subsidies (like church schools or businesses owned by a church) are already EXEPMT from this law. Religions have the right to discriminate at their leisure within their organization. This is why Mormons can exclude people from their temples or why they can refuse to perform marriages for gay people (they could even refuse mixed-race marriages if they wanted), and kick people out of BYU for whatever reason they deem valid.

Many states have added, or are trying to add, sexual orientation and gender identity to that list (again, not things we choose). In Utah, they have tried for 7 years to add it and although most Utahns support adding those, the legislature has refused to even consider it and the LDS Church has failed to endorse a state-wide bill despite being asked every year by equality groups for support. On a national level, we have been trying to do the same with ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), however much of the right (not unlike LDS leadership) wants broad exemptions, not only for religious institutions, but for anyone that wants to claim exemption based on their beliefs which would, in effect, make the legislation only really applicable to non-religious people.

LDS leadership has come out to support this as long as we expand exemptions to these laws under the guise of “religious liberty."

Public Accommodations

"Within US law, public accommodations are generally defined as entities, both public and private, that are used by the public. Examples include retail stores, rental establishments and service establishments, as well as educational institutions, recreational facilities and service centers. Public accommodation must be handicap-accessible and must not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Again, religious institutions are exempt from following these anti-discrimination laws. There is already movement to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to this list as well.

But, what the LDS Church wants in exchange for workplace and housing protections is to expand the exemptions for public accommodation protections that would not only include religious institutions (which, again, are already exempt), but also anyone who is religious who wishes to be exempt from non-discrimination laws based on their “strongly held beliefs.”

So what does this mean? It means that any person with any job anywhere can deny service to gay people on the basis of their “strongly held religious beliefs.” Again, lets take the example Elder Holland gave… but lets simplify it and not use such scary words:
“A Latter-day Saint baker who objects to gay marriage, should not be forced against his or her conscience to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.” 
“A Latter-day Saint nurse who objects to gay parenting, should not be forced against his or her conscience to aid in delivering a lesbian’s child.”
But it doesn’t stop there. In the United States, we protect all religious beliefs equally, so if this call for the expansion of “religious liberty” WAS heard and legislation WAS passed, it would also mean:

“A member of the KKK (who cites the bible for justification of their bigotry) should not be forced against his or her conscience to serve a Jewish person food at a restaurant.” 
“A Jehovah’s Witness doctor who objects to blood transfusions, should not be forced against his or her conscience to recommend blood transfusions to patients.”

So ask yourself: Is this the world I want to live in? One in which next to every register there is a sign that details who will not be served? Didn’t we already create a society like that once? When did it become prudent that we make sure we don’t offer service to anyone who doesn't live a life we believe is acceptable to God? Surely, the LDS Church has never come out and said that LDS servers at restaurants shouldn’t have to do their job and serve alcohol to customers because it goes against their beliefs to drink. And LDS Bishops can marry non-LDS heterosexual couples, even if they are drug addicts or alcoholics or have a child out of wedlock or engaged in any number of “immoral” activities. Why is it that LDS leaders insist on protecting the right to discriminate ONLY against those “sinful" LGBT people?

If you sell cakes- the process is the same. You make the cake. You decorate the cake. You sell the cake. How is selling a cake to a gay couple go against your “deeply held beliefs” any more than selling and serving a beer to someone who drinks? It is offensive to me that my old church is continuing to try and place roadblocks in my life. That they would like a world in which a doctor could deny me healthcare services. A world in which a baker can refuse to sell a cake to “those gays.”

In the LDS Church people throw around the phrase, "you can leave the church, but you can’t leave the church alone.” My experience has been, “you can leave the church, but the church won’t leave you alone.” How dare the white heterosexual male LDS leadership claim they are the victims. How dare they call the very people they have been trying so hard to prevent from obtaining equal status in our society “bullies.” I have not seen one suicide of a Mormon person because "those gays" just made living so unbearable for them, they couldn’t stand it any longer. I have not heard of one Mormon shaking and crying and praying at night, unable to think of anything but death because “those gays” are getting closer to obtaining full equality. There has not been one single piece of legislation proposed to prevent Mormons from marrying the person they love or from raising children.

Them the victims and us the bullies?? Not tolerating intolerance is not the same as intolerance itself. I will not bow down and thank LDS leadership for allowing me to work and live without fear of being fired or evicted while they try to ensure I can be denied access to public accommodations because, for some reason, treating me like a regular equal human being goes against their “deeply held religious beliefs.” Since when did everyone around you need to accept and follow your beliefs in order for you to treat them fairly. I must have forgotten the rest of that scripture- “Love thy neighbor as thyself. Unless they're a faggot. In that case, feel free to deny them service and send them on their way to find someone who isn’t rightfully offended by their very existence.”

I don’t expect an apology for all the wrongs the LDS Leadership have committed against the LGBT community. After all, Elder Oaks said it himself:

"I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them," Oaks said in an interview. "We sometimes look back on issues and say, 'Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,' but we look forward and not backward.”

Thats fine. Don’t apologize and don’t atone. But if LDS leadership doesn’t stop meddling in my ability to be treated like an equal citizen- I will not back down. I will fight until they allow me to live my life in peace and stop trying to exert power over my existence. I will fight until they are reminded that they have no authority over me any longer. One day they will wish they had never used God to justify their bigotry.

In the meantime, I ask my LDS family and friends to consider how they can sustain and support those men as they ask for the legalization of the systematic discrimination of LGBT people. It is wrong.

Lastly, lets consider Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan. After all, these men claim to represent Christ. A man lay beaten and robbed by the side of the road. The priest (representing the law) and the Levite (representing the prophets) cross the road and refuse service or help to the man. By their laws and decrees- he was probably unworthy, unclean, or otherwise underserving of their help. But the Samaritan, (representing Christ) took compassion on the man and helped him despite those things. Why are LDS leaders raising their voices to protect and defend the right of the priest and the Levite to deny service to the injured man, whom they may despise, instead of teaching Christ’s message to be the good Samaritan and show compassion, even if it involves a person you might deem "unclean?" Why do they seek exemption for followers of Christ from anti-discrimination laws when Christ himself taught the opposite message? They do not speak for the God I see in scripture. They do speak, however, an awful lot like the Pharisees and religious leaders that Christ himself criticized in his day.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Reclaiming My Power

I am not a victim. This is something I’ve tried hard to remind myself a lot lately. Being raised in a religion that taught me to hate such an essential piece of myself took a toll on me. It has defined many of my life’s struggles. But I’ve made very intentional decisions to help me reclaim my power and to become the author the life I wish to live rather than to be consumed and paralyzed by feelings of guilt, anger, and shame.

“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”
-Brené Brown

Most parents have expectations for their children before they are born. Society places expectations on all those who operate within it. Religion defines for us what deity requires of us in order to be acceptable. We all enter this world with a list of things that we ought and ought not to be. Often times, when we break from these expectations, we are issued a good dose of shaming. Not all of this is external, however, because often, somewhere along the way, we adopt these expectations as our own.

I did that. I was so concerned of what people might think of me if they knew that I was gay, that I did everything in my power to be everything everyone expected of me. That was a choice I made. Rather than risk the possible fallout, (the ridicule, the isolation, the rejection and the judgement) I made the decision to bury what I felt and who I was so that not only would I pass, I would be embraced as remarkable. The result was that I ultimately believed all the bullshit and never actually believed I was remarkable, despite the praises of others.

I believed that to be happy I needed a wife, two kids, and a house with a white picket fence. I believed that to be acceptable to God, I must be heterosexual, attend church every Sunday, and pray for forgiveness. I believed that the measure of success was a closet full of nice clothes, a nice car, and a big house full of nice things. I believed that to be good and worthy of love, I had to deny myself pleasure. But today I call bullshit on all of that.

“What you believe is very powerful. If you have toxic emotions of fear, guilt, and depression, it is because you have wrong thinking, and you have wrong thinking because of wrong believing.”
-Joseph Prince

I’ve lived too much of my life as a victim, allowing my past to dictate my future. A couple years ago, I resigned my membership in the Mormon church, in which I was raised, as a step towards extinguishing my “wrong believing.” Lets just say it was an "outward sign of my inward commitment,” if you’ll allow me to borrow from the Mormon vernacular. I even decided to move my blog over to this space in order to walk away from the presumed context of my former religion. While I feel I have successfully realized this goal, the problem that remains is that I haven’t done much to fix the patterns of “wrong thinking” that had already been well established by the time I rejected my former beliefs. I have still given my power to those patterns of wrong thinking.

Moving across the country and establishing a new life away from the constant reminders of my religious past has allowed me an opportunity to work on my “wrong thinking.” Living in rural Maryland, on a farm, away from the hustle and bustle of city life and away from the expectations of family and friends is ideal for resetting my patterns of thought. I don’t know how long this process will take or how much work will be required to accomplish it, but I do know that the choice is mine.

We all have shitty things happen to us. I came out at 25. Some people stay closeted until they are 60. And other people have far worse servings of life’s shit fed to them. We can spend our lives complaining that they aren’t what they could have been because of x, y, or z until the day we die, but it won’t make us feel any better about our lives or any more hopeful about our futures.

"When we are in a healthy state of thinking and cognitive processing, we can learn from those experiences, forgive and move on. But when we're not in a healthy place, we tend to remain stuck, reliving the victim in ourselves over and over." 

I only have one life. I don’t intend on living it out reliving the victim in myself like a terrible re-run one might watch simply to fill the time. Today I commit to reclaiming my power. Today I commit to owning my future. I am no victim.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Substitute For Love

The desire for deep human connection is common among us as a species. We have a desperate need to eradicate the undeniable sense of loneliness that fills us even in the midst of a crowded room. The truth is, no other person in this world can really share the unique experience that we live out in our minds. Our irrational thoughts, our inescapable fears, our paralyzing doubts, and the seemingly inescapable masochistic self-flagellation that we employ to remind ourselves how far below par we are; Our most intimate hopes, our silly but deeply sincere dreams, and our unquenchable craving for love and beauty— the extent and depth of these can never truly be known by any other human being. And yet, we try.

It seems the closest we can come to eradicating that sense of loneliness is to find a companion, a witness to our life, a deep and abiding love. The longer our person is by our side, the more experiences and life we share. Sean told me of a study that was conducted that showed that the body systems and regulations of couples who have slept next to each other for many decades begin to respond to each other. Their heartbeats, their breathing, the ebb and flow of blood running through their veins become synchronized. It is like a biological extension of how our daily routines become synchronized with our life companion. This, the study suggests, could explain why couples who have been married to one person for the majority of their lives often pass away within a short time of their spouse. Are we made to crave and desire love? Is love our best hope for extinguishing the innate sense of loneliness buried within us? 

Nonetheless, I’ve had to learn from an early age to stomp out love. Growing up gay in a world where being a homosexual was unacceptable, evil, and dangerous forced me to find a substitute. For some it is drugs, for others sex, fame, money or any combination of these and similar things. Mine was work. I worked hard. I worked hard at school. I worked hard to please the God I believed in. I filled my life with hard work, and I succeeded. It gave me a sense of validation to do well. A reparative therapist I once visited said, “perfectionists tend to have a problem with homosexual feelings.” I would argue that many gay people become perfectionists because they are trying desperately to find a substitute for love; To distract themselves from the gaping hole in their life. But it is in vain. 

Eventually, I found that it didn’t matter how many people complimented me or how much recognition I was given for my work, I never took that validation to heart. I knew that if those people really knew about the war raging inside my lonely, tortured mind, they would have nothing positive to say about me. I was a faggot. And so, my substitution for love failed me and rejecting praise became a pattern that still haunts me. It left me desperate to end the loneliness in the only final way I knew- stomp out the light of awareness of my existence. That was almost a year before I met Sean.

Sean loved me. He really, truly loved me. It was a love more incredible than I had ever previously imagined would be possible in my life. I found it almost unfathomable. Love? Me? Why? And for reasons I am still trying to comprehend, it didn’t work between us. Love can’t conquer all. There is some other gap in my being that I have yet to identify. Some chasm that the love of another cannot bridge. And so, for now— I look to my substitute. 

This time is different. This time around I am my authentic self- exposed for all to see. I am not ashamed that I am gay and I hope that hard work, (my substitute for love), will pay off. I hope that I can feel validated and successful and find meaning and purpose in the work I do as I try to identify and fill in the chasm that threatens to ensure that deep sense of loneliness is never pacified. I don't want to be forever alone, and like I learned in Sunday School in the book of Genesis as a child, "It is not good that man should be alone." Perhaps the bible got that part right.

Friday, January 9, 2015

All I Left Behind

An image that will stay in my mind forever is pulling out of Sean’s parent’s driveway after Sean and I said our goodbyes. We embraced for a long time and I held it together. We walked out into the frigid cold and when I turned my back to round my car I began to lose it. How could I turn my back on so much good? What was I heading towards?
I mustered all the courage I could to prevent a breakdown, but getting in my car and looking up at him as he watched me back out of the driveway for the last time was extremely difficult. I was saying goodbye to my dearest friend, my first real love, and with him-- every sense of home. It felt almost like a horrible betrayal, even though we made the decision to part together and only after careful thought and many long painful conversations.
I came out just as I was turning 25 during the summer of 2010- a year I was lucky to survive. Sean and I began our relationship about 10 months later. In many ways I was starting a completely new life, and he was almost instantly a part of that. We both shared the experience of getting accustomed to our true skin which was, for the first time, exposed for everyone to see. He came out only about 6 months before we met.

Sean's parents
His family quickly became my family. Dinners at their house were frequent and going along on family vacations quickly became the norm. I even met and built relationships with extended family, just as he did with mine. We loved each other’s families and they loved us. We’d spend Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. We shared the same friends because we both were meeting new people in the gay community together. We were each other’s everything. No one in this world knew us better than we did. 
my parents, my sister and her husband
It’s hard not to have my confidant, my dearest friend, my rock and support, my smile on a rainy day, my sweet loving companion. The water welling up in my eyes is a sharp reminder of all I left behind. I left every sense of home and every sense of belonging. I left a network of friends and family and community. People who love me and whom I love dearly. It is a lot for one heart to take.

I try to remember there were reasons for choosing this path. That this seemed to be the path life wanted me to take. But so far all it is is darkness and unfamiliarity and it is hard to see the lesson or growth that might come of it. With each new step into this unknown territory comes a stronger yearning for the warmth and familiarity of home. 

Time. Give it time.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Away We Go

You know those specific points in life that alter your life forever? There are two kinds. The first is accidental. In the moment, you are completely oblivious to how dramatically a specific act ends up altering your life. It is only upon looking back on your life and examining it that you become aware. For example, as a result of some purposeful decision, like starting a blog, you unexpectedly meet your future lover. Or, a dark example is the day you decide to go for a jog to a specific place at a specific time and it happens to put you in the path of a drunk driver. The fact that we can’t know how even the smallest of decisions might change our life in a big way is a bit terrifying.

The second kind are those that you know will change your life in significant ways. Like the moment you decided what college to go to or the decision to marry someone. It’s as if you take an eraser to the line ahead of you (the one you have been walking along) and draw a new line in a completely different direction. Despite these purposeful decisions, they are also almost always at least a little terrifying because, while the decision is intentional, the aftershocks of these decisions are often highly unpredictable. The lack of control can be paralyzing. 

I think this must be one reason why so many people are perfectly content to have someone else make decisions for them, or at least stay on the line they are familiar with. Despite that uneasy, undeniable feeling that things just aren’t right, people stay in jobs they hate, relationships that aren’t fulfilling, and retain religious beliefs that don’t add anything to their spiritual health. Tradition is comfortable. Routine is predictable. There is security there, even if it isn’t the existence you might hope for. I used to be one of those people. Lack of control and unpredictability was too uncomfortable- too hard to deal with. 

But I am not one of those people anymore and I find myself at one of those terrifying points in life where I’ve reached the edge of my known universe and must step into the dark unknown if I wish to live a life not managed by fear. 2,000 miles of unfamiliar road ahead of me, one car-full of belongings, no one but Taylor Swift to keep me company, everything I have known fading into obscurity in the rear-view mirror, and away we go.