Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Suicide Note: How I Almost Became a Statistic

This is NOT a “poor me” post. I'm not looking for sympathy and I don't want my friends and family to think I'm ending my life. I am not here to point fingers or to place blame. I do, however, want to be a little more open than usual about a topic that I have never discussed with anyone:

I have contemplated ending my life a number of times throughout the last 25 years.

News of a few suicides last week among our gay LDS youth racked my soul with grief. I continue to be disturbed, enraged, and compelled to take action as I see this number increase ever since the November 5th policy changes in the LDS church came to light. I have been hesitant to open up to anyone about my suicidal thoughts. Once people know that about you, there's a stigma attached that can be tricky to shake off. There's so much more to me than my sexuality and there's so much more to me than what I'm sharing today.

I am sharing my journey openly with the hope that others can draw strength from it. I dedicate this post to Stockton Powers and Wyatt Bateman and the others who saw no other option last week than to take their own lives. One only needs to read through their obituaries (hyper-linked here, just click on their names) to see how much they had to live for and what a gift they both were to the world.

Because this is a very long post, I split it up into three areas (color-coded for easy reference):

  1. For the LGBT teenagers out there, I'll begin by sharing my struggle to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred.
  2. For my LDS friends and family, I will provide a few thoughts and insights on how we can do away with fear and ignorance while improving attitudes and judgments towards the LGBT community.
  3. For my LGBT friends and family, I will provide some ideas on how we can “meet in the middle” a little more effectively with our Mormon friends and acquaintances who hold so valiantly to what they believe, even when it causes us extreme pain.

As usual, I will try to use an accessible, palatable approach. I will share thoughts that won't be accepted by everyone, but my intention is ALWAYS to bring people together and challenge others to look at things from another perspective.

Let's go back to high school.
This section will sound like I'm bragging, but I'm not. I just need to illustrate an important point by setting things up:

The picture above was taken when I was attending Roy High School as a 16 year old. I was elected as Sophomore Class President, won the title of Mr. Royal, earned straight A's, had the lead in the school play, and felt I could accomplish just about anything I set my mind to. But guess what? I hated myself. I'll talk about why in a second.

I would go on to become elected as a Junior Class Senator and Prom Royalty the following year, and as Royal Choir President and a Student Body Officer my senior year. I graduated in the top 5% of my class and secured full-ride scholarships to three different universities. I applied for the President's Leadership Council scholarship at USU. Out of 300+ applicants, I locked one of the prestigious 20 spots.

I tackled difficult piano accompaniments for the Royal Choir, sang and choreographed for the Chamber Choir and won Superior ratings at Vocal & Ensemble, Debate and Drama competitions. I belonged to at least 10 different clubs, planned and hosted school-wide assemblies, and won an all-expense paid trip across the United States for an essay and speech I prepared.

Here's the point: I didn't appear to be isolated, withdrawn and “at risk” to other classmates and teachers. I had every reason to be confident, self-assured, and love myself. Outwardly, I presented an image that could be admired and even envied. But I was just trying to cover up. To fake it. To trick people. Years before I ever stepped foot through the doors of Roy High, I knew I was gay. I knew I was evil. I knew I wasn't worthy. I knew that I deserved to die.

Why did I feel this way? The biggest factor, quite simply, was because of what I was taught as a child and as a teenager in the LDS church. This statement may be difficult for some to read. But it's my truth. While there was much I loved about growing up as a Mormon (and still love), the reality is that my experience looked a lot different than your experience.

From an early age, I was made to feel gross, unnatural, broken, an enemy to God, and a sinner who stood next to killers and murderers in the chain of command. I constantly had these thoughts on my mind in church, in school, and at family gatherings. It was all I could do to act the part, to never give anyone a reason to suspect what I was. I played the part so well for so long, but it took an incredible amount of effort. Anxiety, fear, depression, and self-loathing were emotions I felt every single day.

Sure, all of the accomplishments felt great. I delighted in pleasing my parents and I truly wanted to make them proud. But in all honestly, most of my achievements were just a desperate attempt to overcompensate for the badness and the evil within. Maybe Heavenly Father wouldn't hate me so much if I just did good things to make up for the secret, sinful tendencies I was cursed with.

Near the end of my senior year, I was extremely worn out from all the work of doing, accomplishing, faking, covering up. Our family went through a pretty significant challenge around this time and I let down my guard and turned to a dear friend for comfort during the summer before my freshman year at Utah State. I've written about that in past entries, so I won't share much here except to say that he and I did things that were seen as extremely grievous and sinful. It resulted in me not being able to serve a mission until I was 22. Had I done the same things with a girl, I would've received a slap on the wrist and there would not have been any kind of delay with my mission.

Those four years, from 18-22, were among the darkest of my life. I had to end things with my friend even though he was the biggest source of joy in my life at that time. In addition, I had never faced such extreme judgment and speculation from my LDS peers. I made up stories and excuses as to why I was not yet on a mission because even though I was willing to tell my priesthood leaders the truth behind closed doors, I couldn't be as transparent to friends and family.

Before I turned 18, I had fantasized about how nice it would be to not have to live anymore, to not have to keep up the production. But during this four-year period, these feelings progressed to something much darker. I began to think about how I would end it. Could I find a gun? Did I dare to hang myself? Would I just sit in an idle car running in the garage? If I drowned myself, could I make it look like an accident? Would I get someone to help me? To keep it a secret? No, I had to do it alone or else they'd try to stop me.

I wrote a suicide note that I intended to leave to my brother Neil. I don't have a copy of it anymore, but the main message was that I couldn't feel joy or peace about either decision. The decision to be lonely, celibate and faithful for the rest of my entire life seemed too overwhelming. I made it to age 36 before I waved my white flag, by the way. The other alternative was to be authentic to myself, to come out, to just be gay and embrace that part of myself. Even though I have arrived at that place now, there was simply no way I could have felt peace with that decision all those years ago.

Neither option sounded worthwhile. Both decisions would cause people that I loved a great deal of pain. As I've discussed in past entries, my whole purpose was to please others and to come through for them. Forget what I needed or wanted, I was motivated to meet the expectations many others had of me.

Clearly, I never went through with it, and I never presented that suicide note to my brother, but I thought about killing myself all the time. I remember when Brother Kendrick, the principal of the seminary program, asked me to come up and bear my testimony at my high school seminary graduation. There I was, in front of most of my graduating class at the old Ogden tabernacle, sharing what I “knew” to be true. I did what I had to do, I said what I had to say. It was all about survival mode. In contrast, I remember the relief I felt when I played a song I wrote at my main high school graduation later that week. I sat at the piano and sang an ode I wrote to my graduating class, backed by the Royal Choir. My entire class gave my song a standing ovation and I remember thinking, “Whew, I've got 'em fooled.” I just ended my high school career on a good note. What a relief. That struggle, that production, that exhaustion was coming to an end.

I went to USU a few months later and as I met the other members of the President's Leadership Council, I realized that I was surrounded by other over-achievers. They were such amazing people who could match me and even top my list of accomplishments. They just weren't carrying around a secret like I was. I had just ended things with my summer boyfriend and felt a tremendous sense of guilt over that. What should have been beautiful and regarded as my first shot at love became tainted and something I was taught to feel shame for. I would later pledge to FIVE different priesthood leaders about how sorry I was that I had made such grievous mistakes with that boy.

None of the other members of the Council knew what had just happened over that summer, they just assumed I was a good Mormon boy. For the most part, I was. I just felt a scarlet “G” on my chest all the time. Of course, the other members of this Council weren't perfect. I'm still lucky enough to be in touch with a few of them and it's been eye-opening to see that each of them has had their own struggles. But as a freshman at USU, I felt so lost and hopeless. I'd wander around campus not wanting to be there. All of the other guys on the Council put in their mission papers and got their calls and everyone was just kind of wondering about my mission call. I got so worked up about it that I left USU earlier than everyone else that year.

We had a Council meeting halfway through the school year where our director did a workshop on tolerance. He started the meeting with an experiment by saying, “Someone in this room is gay.” I remember how everyone looked around with wide eyes and how quiet and tense it felt in that room. I felt that my facial expression and physical reaction would give me away. So what did I do? Covered my ass with some comedy. My roommate also happened to be a member of this council and I shouted across the room in a playful singing tone, “Roomie!” Everyone laughed and it became a running joke. Even now, this roommate and I greet each other that way. Our director didn't really know anyone was gay, he just wanted to see how we'd all react. I remember how ashamed I felt that I was the gay one in the room and that I felt I needed to put out that fire stat. To everyone else on the Council, it's a funny memory. To me, it was a painful moment because it reminds me how scared I was and how I wasn't allowed to even consider being gay at that time. I was 19 and could not live my life in a way that would make me or anyone else happy.

I finally got to put in my mission papers at the age of 21 after getting approval from the First Presidency and then I flew to the UK when I was 22. I'd always had a desire to serve a mission, but I'll admit, having to get authorization from that level of leadership in the church just made me feel awful. I had to endure several counseling sessions with LDS Family Services and countless evaluations and meetings with bishops and stake presidents. Meanwhile, all of my friends had served their missions and returned home to move on with their lives. I could not have felt more alone and wounded by those years of preparing to be “good enough” to serve a mission.

The over-achiever complex continued during my LDS mission to England and Wales. To this day, I loved the experience and I am still in touch with several people who have become lifelong friends. But I conducted myself in such a way that would not allow any of my peers to suspect that I was gay. I served as a Zone Leader for 6 months, the Financial Secretary of the mission for 6 months, three times as a District Leader and three times as a Trainer. I can't say that I aspired to these positions, but I was definitely relieved when they came because it added to my “narrative”. In addition, I believed that my willingness to work hard in these capacities would cure me of my base, evil tendencies after my mission was completed. After all, I'd had a bishop and stake president who assured me of this.

I've never shared this with either mission president I had, but one of the most heartbreaking memories I have from my mission is that during my time as an office Elder, President Taggart and his wife were on their way home and President Whitehead and his wife were on their way in. What a great opportunity to be in the mission office during this transition. Well, I knew that my missionary file had a “mark”, and I had to do something about it.

There was paperwork in my file from LDS Family Services. As I mentioned above, I had to be evaluated by trained therapists to make sure that I was fit and safe to serve a mission, despite being a homosexual. President Taggart knew about me and we actually had some wonderful conversations about it. He was loving and supportive. But I always wondered what he really thought of me. Because I know him to be a compassionate, loving person, I assumed the best. However, there was no way that I was going to let my new, incoming mission president see that paperwork. It was too damning and I didn't want that “mark” to affect how he saw me. I just wanted to be Elder Benincosa, not “the gay one that we need to keep an eye on”.

I remember how much relief I felt when I took the key to the filing cabinet from my companion's desk, accessed my missionary file, pulled the gay papers from it and shredded the damning evidence. It made me feel so free and relieved. In the years that followed my return home, I regularly took measures to try to “shred the evidence”. I was really good at it, too. Sure, there were some people who probably knew or did the math, but I spent my twenties living in fear of being found out. That the terrible person I was would be revealed and that the lynch mob would come find me with their shouts and pitchforks.

Remember that closing line from “Phantom of the Opera”? Christine runs off with Raoul and the Phantom is miserably sad. The music box starts to play and he sings the last line: “Masquerade, paper faces on parade. Hide your face so the world will never find you.” I've seen the show a few times, but that part gets me every time because of my own experiences. My secret was just as ghastly as the Phantom's hideous face. I crafted an effective mask over the years that shielded me from the disgust and disdain of others.

I hated feeling that way. What if I actually managed to enjoy the admiration I secured and inspired others to do the same? What if I had fully embraced every part of who I was and had others in my life who did the same? How differently would my adult life have played out as a result of not growing up in the LDS church? I think about it all the time. By the way, I'm about 85% sure that a “mark” continues to exist on my church membership record. This mark will prevent me from ever having a calling to serve with the youth because apparently, if you're gay, you're also a pedophile.

I don't blame anyone but me. My membership in the LDS church has not been bad news completely. I have written many times on this blog of my love of the church and how I still value my membership in it. I learned a lot, I developed a love of the Lord and even now, I have a faith in Him that is sure and constant. No one forced me to be active in the church. No one forced me to make the decision to not date guys until I was 36 years old. No one forced me to serve a mission, to earn the grades, to become obsessed with securing the most votes, to put so much pressure on myself. I did it all. My choices. But these choices were heavily influenced time and time again by what others needed or expected from me. These choices were deeply rooted by what church leaders taught me, by what society demanded of me, and by what I believed God required of me.

Suicide is similar in a way. No one but Stockton himself made the decision to take his own life and no one but Wyatt made the decision to take his own life. It's impossible to place all of the blame on another person, to place all of the blame on another group of people, or in these two cases, to place all of the blame on the LDS church. HOWEVER, we get to have conversations about what is leading our gay and lesbian youngsters in this church to take their own lives.

The blame game doesn't accomplish much. I hold the LDS church somewhat responsible in my own experience, but I don't blame the church completely. To me, there's a difference. We don't need to be defensive as a church and we don't need to pretend that there isn't a problem. It's okay to acknowledge that the church is experiencing a suicide crisis. It's not an attack, it's just a true statement backed by some pretty damning statistics. I'll get to this in the next section.

For now, to my fellow LGBT brothers and sisters in the LDS church, regardless of age: I love you. I pray for you. I understand you. I stand with you. If you are currently feeling some of the same things I experienced, please reach out and get the help you need. I am relieved that things aren't as forbidden as they were when I was a teenager. But let's not pretend that it isn't still extremely unsafe for young people to come out, let alone to come out in the LDS church. Please read some of my other entries to see how I was able to get to a better, healthier place. This entry is already long enough as it is, but I hope that some of my previous entries will bring you hope, options, understanding, reassurance, and most importantly, a reminder that you are loved.

I will end this section by saying that the struggle continues. It wasn't just during that four-year stretch that I felt suicidal. I remember feeling at risk upon my return from my mission, upon aging out of the young single adult program in the church, and upon coming to terms with how miserable I was two years ago. The past three weeks have also been especially dark for me, only to end with news of more LGBT suicides. I had a breakthrough this weekend that seems to be helping me climb back out. I suspect that the suicidal feelings I've experienced at various times will continue to resurface in the future as well.

Sure, there are things I can do. Steps that I can take. Resources that I can utilize. A support system that I can lean on when needed. But consider this: I will always be affected by the damaging messages I was bombarded with as a young, gay member of the church. I will need to monitor how I'm really doing on a consistent basis.

I'll confess that the first half of 2016 has been another especially dark season for me. But I'm not as scared as I used to be. I love myself and I finally feel worthy of love from God and from others as well. I'm no longer putting so much energy into disguising who I am. I don't view being gay as sinful or wrong. I am grateful to be gay and to serve as a shining light in a new way. I may no longer be that 18 year old go-getter-extrovert who could accomplish anything he set his mind to, but I am more loving, more accepting, and most importantly, more Christ-like than ever before (or at least trying to be).

I have expressed so many ideas to my LDS and LGBT friends and family over the past year that I will try to keep these next two sections down to a few thoughts. But if you've made it this far, may I suggest that you check out some of my past entries on this blog?

A Few Thoughts For My LDS Brothers and Sisters
  • We often take this approach: The church is perfect but the people aren't. I don't agree with this statement. I believe that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ are perfect. The church does a lot of good, but it is far from perfect. If we truly subscribe to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught within the LDS church, we also accept the teaching that Christ leads this church through imperfect people. The church is made up of its leadership and its members. The church IS people. Because people are imperfect, the church is imperfect. It's okay to say that. It doesn't mean anyone is trying to take anything away from you. When gay members of the church are given this adage as an explanation for some of the awful things that have been said, it is of little comfort.
  • Gay people are not having the same experience that straight people are having in the church. To me, it continues to be a spectator sport for the gays while their straight counterparts are given full participation rights. “But Nate, didn't you read the message from church leadership about how they love the gays?” Yes, I have, but it's a pretty empty statement: The church has repeatedly stated that those who feel same-sex attraction and yet choose to live the commandments of God can live fulfilling lives as worthy members of the church. Well, what this really means is “If a gay man chooses to be celibate and lonely or to marry a woman even though that would bring him intense loneliness, he can be a worthy member of the church and live a fulfilling life.” Really? Those are my options? So, my straight friends get to date and marry who they want while remaining worthy, but dating who I want makes me unworthy. Put simply, I just think active LDS members of the church truly need to consider the options that are presented to LGBT members. It's pretty bleak. I made it to 36, would you have made it longer than me? If so, more power to you. Yes, there are some who are doing well in mixed-orientation marriages and I wish them nothing but happiness. But I have too many friends who tried that to the best of their abilities only to have it fall apart.
  • While the church has attempted to explain the reason for the November 5th policy changes, LGBT members of the church are still devastated, scratching their heads. The church has not done much to comfort the LGBT community about these changes. Instead, the approach seems to be unapologetic. After all, who are we to change God's laws? When an apostle states that it was direct revelation from God to refer to gays as “apostates” in the church handbook, it's just a hard pill to swallow. When another apostle states “There are no homosexual members in this church,” it just makes LGBT members feel that much more marginalized. We can sustain our leaders and heed their counsel, but if something doesn't feel right, we can ask questions. We can have conversations. We can speak up without attacking. We can comfort our LGBT members without making them feel like we are choosing the church over them. But statements like “doubt your doubts” are of little to no value to LGBT members who are on the brink of suicide.
  • The church's official stance, according to The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. If you were a gay member of the church, would this be of any comfort to you? It is rare that I personally feel love and understanding from church leadership, I have to be honest. If your research about the gay Mormon experience is limited to a review of this website, it doesn't tell the full story. The website does not seek input of gay couples who are making the church a part of their lives. It features only those who are in a mixed-orientation marriage or who have chosen to remain celibate, single, and lonely. The website is a step in the right direction, but I'm Mormon and I'm gay and I don't feel that this website represents me at all. At some point, members of the church have got to be willing to learn about the real experiences that LGBT members of the church are having. The whole notion of “It's okay that you're gay, as long as you don't act on it” is damaging and dangerous. When I started coming out to my closest friends after my mission, I reassured them that, at all costs, I would NOT act on it. Some friends and family needed this reassurance while others assured me that they'd love me no matter what path I chose.
  • To the LGBT community, talk is cheap. When they see members of the church offering lip service or hollow exclamations of sadness, and then those same church members continue to perpetuate harmful messages that result in self-loathing and self-hate among our LGBT members, it's empty. Taking action does not mean that the gay community is asking you to abandon your beliefs. Sometimes, the action needed is just a willingness to sit down and have a conversation with LGBT members about what their experience is really like. Other suggestions for action: If your gospel doctrine teacher says something hateful in his lesson, speak up. If you see a gay deacon passing you the sacrament, accept it gladly without condemning him. If you want to know if your bishop or high council is doing anything to deal with the increase in LGBT suicides in your area, ask them. So many ways to get involved and take action that is not antagonistic. Contact me directly if you'd like more ideas.
  • One source of anger and pain for the LGBT community is that the LDS church has attempted to tell non-members how to live their lives. If you support traditional marriage, that is your right. But when you support a religious organization of any kind that seeks to stop non-members from enjoying basic civil rights, it's at least worth a conversation. It doesn't mean you have to support gay marriage. But at least have an awareness of how your religious views can block others from pursuing a life of liberty and happiness and how many would see that as bigoted behavior. One of the most disheartening things I see is when the members of the church justify their homophobia or discrimination of others in the name of religious freedom.
  • I'm very sympathetic to what African-Americans in this country go through. I have done my homework when it comes to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I believe that things like Black History Month and the BET tv station are good things although others would respond with “Do you know how much black people would freak out if we had White History Month?!" Statements like that disgust me. Such individuals who makes these kinds of statements are simply unwilling to admit that Black History was not taught in schools as it should've been and that every other channel on tv is a White channel. A careful study of how black men and women are treated in the workplace, in the educational system, and by law enforcement compared to how their white counterparts are treated is staggering. I can't believe some of the racist or ignorant comments I've heard on these topics. So when I see someone plead “ALL lives matter”, I roll my eyes. I mean, it's true. All lives DO matter. But the #AllLivesMatter movement is insensitive. It just takes away from the painful, real experiences our African-American brothers and sisters have had to endure in the past and will continue to endure. I could go on, but there is an interesting comparison happening among LGBT people in the LDS church. Some members find it necessary to defend the church and plead that suicide isn't just limited to the LGBT community and that the church is not responsible. They go a step further sometimes and state that if gay people are going to “live that lifestyle”, they should just build their own church and leave this church behind. I have addressed these kinds of attitudes in past entries. Put simply, it's okay for active, devoted members of the church to admit that we have a really big problem with the increase in LGBT suicides as of late. One can still have a testimony, serve in a calling, attend the temple, and take the sacrament while having an awareness that something needs to change. My attempt is never to get a member of the church to leave the church. Who am I to take away from the peace and assurance that living by LDS standards brings to others? But, at the same time, we can't be in denial. We can't just close our eyes and plug our ears.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again. Words like “lifestyle” and “agenda” are just fear-based hate speak. The gay people I associate with want a lifestyle that looks remarkably like your lifestyle. The agenda that I see gay people pushing is simple: Equality. If you have something against gay people, look within and try to determine if what you're feeling is fear-based or just borne out of ignorance. If you feel that the LGBT community is aggressive and scary, please be willing to do some research to better understand how the church first hurt them. Most of the things I've seen and heard from the LGBT community regarding the church is reactionary. It's in response to something the church did or said.
  • LDS people can't assume that all gay people are miserable and devoid of the Spirit. The gay people I know are among some of the happiest I've ever met. Their relationships are solid and rewarding. “Yeah, but Nate, that happiness won't last. We can't give up what we really want for what we want right now.” I don't buy that. I think that I've experienced untold amounts of sadness, despair, and depression over the years. It has only been since I stopped agreeing to a life of celibacy and loneliness that I've begun to reclaim hope and happiness. And guess what? I don't feel a complete absence of the Spirit in my life. I continue to feel God's love for me.
  • I can readily see why any straight, married couple in the church wants to attend church, go to the temple and serve. What is promised to such a couple is simply amazing. There is nothing in the church that is taught over the pulpit that is in conflict with a temple-married couple's union. On the other hand, I've had friends and family say to me “Nate, you just have to make the same choices I've made and you can have every blessing I have.” This simply isn't true. I'd encourage members of the church to truly consider that LGBT members aren't just lacking in faith. I've had faith in spades, I've prayed the gay away for years. And I'm still in the same situation I was in 20 years ago. Maybe it's not the Lord's will for me to be “cured” of my homosexuality. It's actually quite beautiful to consider how the LGBT community fits into God's plan. After all, the LGBT people I have in my life are some of the loveliest, kindest, warmest and most positive people I know.
  • Church leadership has presented many teachings that have later been updated or corrected. For instance, contraception of any kind used to be regarded as a “gross wickedness”, African-Americans used to be dismissed as the seed of Cain and regarded as an inferior race, and sexual orientation was something that was chosen. Since then, the Brethren have had to apologize and acknowledge that they were working with a limited knowledge. I'm not suggesting that the Brethren are going to suddenly announce that gay marriage is okay, but sometimes as members of the church, we become so fiercely defensive of church leaders, that we can't admit that, at times, they got it wrong. It doesn't mean they're bad people, it doesn't mean they're not inspired. It just means that they are human and they make mistakes too. It also means that, at times, personal beliefs, prejudices, biases and traditions were presented as doctrine that came directly from God. Most LDS members I know accept every word that comes out of the mouths from the First Presidency and the Twelve as solid truth without questioning it. I don't have that luxury because sometimes, what is presented puts me at complete odds with God. Sure, we all have General Conference talks that “kick our butts”. I need to keep the Sabbath day more holy, I need to do better about paying a full tithing, I should read my scriptures more consistently. Compare those kinds of take-aways to mine: Who I am and what I want in life makes me an enemy to God. I challenge each of you to listen to the October conference with an LDS-LGBT set of ears and just try to imagine what that experience actually feels like.
  • I could go on. I'm just asking my active LDS brothers and sisters to approach this topic with sensitivity and an open mind. I don't think my sister will mind me sharing this: She has always been supportive of me. She is one of the most loving people I know. We had a conversation earlier today that meant the world to me. She was asking a lot of questions in an effort to understand me better. There were several moments where tears filled her eyes and she just apologized for the things I've had to go through as a gay member of the church who is still trying to stay involved. She was truly open and teachable and willing to mourn with me and just as willing to get excited with me as we talked about what my life could be. That is what LGBT members of the church need, someone like my sister. Not only that, talking with her helped my attitude change a little. I learned a lot from her perspective as an active member of the church, which leads us to...

A Few Thoughts For My LGBT Brothers and Sisters
  • Could it be that the way we choose to communicate with the LDS church could also use some work? Can our approach be more effective as well?
  • I have LDS family and friends who are some of the best people I know. They are kind, compassionate, willing to have conversations, open to diversity. And yet, they've been dismissed as bigots and hate-mongers. I get it. If these faithful members of the LDS church are simply trying their hardest to live by the doctrines and teachings taught to them, and on top of that, they exercise their faith in a way that is hurtful and damaging to the LGBT community, it's very tricky. But I have seen the hurt go both ways. Not only have I seen LDS attack LGBT, I've also seen some of my LGBT friends and acquaintances spew out some of the most vitriolic words possible. I'm willing to readily understand the source of such rage, pain, devastation. I know it all too well. But can we possibly have more thoughtful conversations leading to change if our approach changes as well?
  • Some of my very own LGBT brothers and sisters have attacked me and made me feel small because I still want some kind of involvement with the church. So, not only am I made to feel unwelcome in the LDS church at times, I am also made to feel unwelcome in my own community. I get it. If the LDS church as an organization has done things that hurt my gay brothers and sisters and then I express that I still have a love of the church, that is problematic. It makes some of you feel like I'm being insensitive to your plight or the experiences you've had. This has been a tricky area for me to manage. I wish I could readily rid myself of any affiliation with the church, but I'm not you and you are not me. I am just navigating my life in the best way I can and trying my best to allow others to do the same. I hope my LGBT friends will do their best to be as open-minded and understanding as my sister was during our recent conversation. Could it be that some of our beautiful LGBT teenagers took their lives because they felt pressure from both sides? We want to point the finger at religion, but we're not as willing to consider how that level of hate toward the church can also have a negative effect on our impressionable youth.
  • I love each of you so much. I see your beauty, bravery, vulnerability, pride, tenacity, and love. I strive to take the best parts of Mormonism and the best parts that I've picked up from my LGBT friends and roll it all up to the best version of myself I can produce. As much as I'm asking the LDS community to allow me to embrace my sexuality, I'm asking you to allow me to continue embracing my spirituality. I get that not everyone feels the way I do, but to me, my spirituality is just as important to me as my sexuality. They are both parts of me that I need to be free to discover and develop. If you block those efforts, you're no different than the LDS community you condemn.

In closing, I hope that sharing my own experience not only helps my LGBT friends and family who have experienced some of the same challenges, but that it gives my LDS friends and family my truest version of what it's really like to grow up gay in the LDS church. I can't speak for other LGBT members or ex-members of the church, but this has been my experience.

We must mourn for our LGBT members who take their own lives. But then we must act, affect change, raise awareness, have difficult conversations, and let everyone worship and love as they choose.

I have every reason to hate the LDS church because of my own experiences. But I don't. I love many things about the church. I love my friends and family members who have testimonies of many things that they regard as sacred truths. I see eye to eye on many of these doctrines. I ache and feel intense pain for some of the other doctrines and policies. But I will respect the journey my LDS friends are having. I will celebrate their right to believe what they believe. I will continue to speak up when I see harm. At the same time, I will continue to be outspoken as a gay member of this church. I will walk with my LGBT brothers and sisters. I will continue to understand their heartache, their anger, their despair, and their need to live lives that are meaningful, authentic, and just as full of purpose as their LDS counterparts.

I am Stockton Powers.
I am Wyatt Bateman.
I am Nate Benincosa.