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 mormonsandgays.org: 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.




57 comments:

  1. Thank you Nate for sharing your thoughts and story. It helps me to know what I can do better to promote positive conversation and progress in the LDS church.

    I am one who has been trying to find a way to remain in the LDS church since studying the Gospel Topic Essays and the November policy. I choose to stay in the church and create change not silently walk away.

    Thank you again Nate.Sending prayers and lots of love your way:) Denise Lamphiear

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Denise. Thanks even more for the prayers. I respect your decision to stay in the church and wish you the best in your journey.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I too went through many of those experiences, but I was lucky to have a sense at an earlier age, post mission, that gay is who I was created to be and part of my nature. I'm glad for the challenge as it has forced me out of the cave of cult, where every word is "the church, The Church, THE CHURCH, and out into the the light and a world of other ideas, philosophies and spiritual paths. My venture into other paths has enriched my life in a way that Mormonism did not, this journey gave me true spiritual freedom, instead of the idea that I'm bound to a system of belief that I'm not allowed to disagree with. It took about 10 good years to become more comfortable and another 20 before I would confront the falsity of the so called standard works and the history's they purport to be truth and on which "the church" is built on. There is so much out of the mormon box to explore and embrace or reject that I would never want to go back in that box, even if they had a so called revelation. I have my own revelations. I am my own master and responsible for my own inner light and not reliant on others. So while it is sad what the LDS church does to us as gay kids, it is also a gift, as leaving it is one of the best things that happened to me as a gay man & spirtual seeker. I now realize that I am IT and IT is me, that I am the divine manifestation of god/nature/great spirit/IT, just as I am, for better or worse, it is impossible to not BE IT.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, much good has come from being raised in the LDS church, I agree. Isn't it amazing how our journeys can differ from each other's and yet, we can teach each other so much? All the best to you as you continue your path.

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  3. David Troy Anthony BJuly 6, 2016 at 9:26 AM

    Thank you, dear brother. I'm always encouraged by your thoughtful perspective.

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    1. I've seen you many times since I posted this, but I'm just now getting back to comments. Love you, brother. I appreciate (and very much rely on) your support and friendship.

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  4. being a gay mormon is just so hard. both sides attack you. no rest, no respite.

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    1. Yes, it can be tricky. My hope with this post was to examine that a bit. Pressure doesn't just come from one side. I'm not gay enough. I'm not Mormon enough. It all adds up on our impressionable youth. I'm so lucky to have reached a healthy balance. It continues to be a challenge at times. Not everyone is so lucky.

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  5. This is beautiful, Nate. It's a wonderfully honest and compassionate call to action. I particularly like your emphasis on being able to admit there is a problem without feeling like the church is under attack. Just the simple act of acknowledging that there are things we can do better is an excellent step in the right direction.

    As you know, I was never LDS, and my experience as a "not heterosexual" person thus far has been vastly different from yours. I'm grateful for the blessings in my life but sometimes I regret not being able to share those experiences with my LGBT friends. I'm truly sorry for everything that you and those like you have gone through and though I can't relate on a personal level, I hope that doesn't devalue my desire stand in solidarity.

    I respect the hell out what you are trying to do here and I think that, for those that are willing to listen, there is a wealth very good advice to be found in your post (and your blog as a whole). Thanks for being a role model to the rest of us on how to be civil and have a conversation without attacking or becoming defensive.

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    1. AJ, you've quickly become one of my favorite friends. Your words are so appreciated, but your actions are what mean the most. Thanks for standing by my side, buddy.

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    1. Aw, thanks so much, Karen! I appreciate the love. It's appreciated and returned in full.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your tender feelings. I hope I can be the kind of person you would be honored to call friend.

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    1. Not sure who this is, but I really appreciate you taking a minute to comment. Even that simple act suggests you're the kind of person I'd consider a friend. :)

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  8. This is powerful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
    Lani Young, Samoa

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    1. Thank you, Lani! Nice to think that my message reached Samoa.

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  9. I really loved this. I wish this could be posted in the Ensign. The people in the church at large need to be educated. My heart breaks for what you have gone through. I know this is not what Christ wants. I am one who prays for a change. I stay in the church to be an advocate for the LGBT cause. It may take decades but I believe the church's stance will change.

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    1. Not sure who this is, but thanks so much! Keep on praying for change and thanks for backing those prayers up with action. I appreciate your efforts to be an understanding ally.

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  10. This wonderful, amazing, and so unbelievable that you are able to consider the requirements of progress with those of opposing viewpoints when you're experiencing such excruciating pain. I wrote a post on this topic as well, a letter to my younger self as a bit of an attempt to remind TBM members that there isn't only one answer to this issue. Sometimes we forget that life is about getting to the next baby step, and being understanding and patient with those we help along the way. I know the progress will not be fast enough for the LGBT community - the church's stance needed to change twenty years ago - but we're working with people so we have to be as patient understanding as we need them to be be with us.

    Anyways, brilliant. Much love. Here's my post if you're interested to read it:
    https://writersoftherain.com/2016/07/06/dear-young-jane/

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    1. Just read your blog, sorry it took me so long. I loved your vulnerability and authenticity. What you shared was beautiful, thank you. I agree with you. Sometimes we expect others to have our same point of view and stance right this second! After all, we're in pain. But as you suggested, we have to be gracious and patient and allow others (who have not walked our paths in our shoes) the time they need to understand and consider what we have to say. Add me on FB, would love to follow you.

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  11. Thank you so much for openly sharing your experience. I think it can be so hard for members of the church who don't have a lot of experience or connection in the gay community to really understand homosexuality without more of this kind of dialogue. So thank you! It's given me a ton to think about and consider how to reframe and discuss these issues with my kids as they grow up.

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    1. Not sure which Melissa this is, but thanks for your comment! I appreciate your open mind in considering what I have to share. :)

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  12. As a non-gay, active member, thank you for sharing your story. There needs to be major changes in the church's approach to the LGBT kids and adults in our midst. Hopefully, I'm seeing little rays of hope. A few days after the Orlando shooting, we held a Mormons Supporting the LGBT Community Prayer Vigil. I have asked my Stake President to consider calling an LGBT Outreach Coordinator. You mentioned several ways to take action that did not include calling on the church to change doctrine. Then you graciously suggested that you would be open to contact for more ideas. I plan to do that. I'd like to take a tentative plan when I meet with the Stake President.

    I want you to know that I don't view you as broken or defective in any way. Certainly not by being gay. All my best to you, my friend.

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    1. Sam, I know we've been in touch outside of this blog, but just wanted to say thanks for being so supportive. I'm encourage to hear about the action you are taking in your neck of the woods. Thanks again, friend!

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  13. I appreciate your thoughts and the perspective shared of pressure from two sides.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it, John!

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  14. Thank you,your words are as beautiful as your soul. Continue on your journey to becoming the most authentic you, knowing you are loved and appreciated.

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    1. Thank you, Tif. Not sure which Tif or Tiffany this is, but your support encourages me to do just what you've asked. I appreciate it!

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  16. Years ago, I was married to a gay man. He had been assured by a counselor that if he got married, he would experience the joys of being married to a woman. It just didn't work! He was never happy, trying to conform, and I was unhappy by the lack of attention I was getting from him. We divorced, amicably, after four years. I went on to marry a heterosexual man and he found happiness with a great guy I really like! I was happy to read your thoughts, finding them balanced. I hope you'll continue to love yourself and look to our Heavenly Father with faith and joy.

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    1. I was promised some of those same kinds of things. I appreciate that some are able to make mixed orientation marriages work in a way that brings about much peace and happiness. But my experience is that for every mixed orientation I know who is making it work, there are twenty others who gave it everything they had and ended up miserable. I'm pleased to hear that you've stood by your ex and that you've found a new love. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  17. Hi i'm Micheal and I've been gay all of my life, and most of the time I have tried to hide this Ugly secret. The first time that I told my Bishop that I was 28 and dealing with these feelings he panic and sent for some information from the church. I was put on probation for two years, and it was difficult seating up front of the church being the Sunday School chorister, and not being able to take the sacrament.Then my mother asked why and I lied to her.
    Well to make a long story short I been married for 38 years. I married the "girl next door", that is because she'd moved into the basement apartment next door while I was living in the basement apartment at my parents home. I too have been involved with theater, music groups and all that kind of stuff trying to show everyone that i was a normal person. I was excommunicated for three years and had to beg to be re-baptized. We have been blessed with seven children and four of them are "gay", but we love them still and have many conversations regarding their feelings about the
    church and their lifestyle. My stance on the church and what has happened I agree fully with what the brothern have said and what they have done for the LGBT, and I know that it is a hard pill to swallow but the Lord love us all. I am a member of the Church of JESUS CHRIST of latter day saints, and not anything else matters, I came back to be with my Savior and my family and no matter what other local church leaders think I'm here to the end

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    1. Michael, thank you so much for sharing what you've been through. My heart aches for the painful experiences you've endured. It sounds like you are in a good place and I'm happy for you. May you continue to feel peace as you move forward.

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  18. Thank you, Nate. I wish I would have read this years ago. Light and knowledge have many sources.

    George Johnson

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    1. Thank you, George. I wish I would've reached some of these conclusion years ago. Interesting how it all works out, right? What matters is that life continues to be a teacher and I try my best to be a willing student. All the best to you, George!

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  19. I cried reading this. Your words were healing. Thank you.

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    1. Thanks, Luiza! I'm glad this post was of some comfort to you. :)

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  21. I cried reading this. Your words were healing. Thank you.

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  22. A compassionate and balanced look at both sides. Thank you. I have been an active member all my life, but while I'm straight, the issues with the church and LGBT policies have caused a faith crisis for me. I can only imagine what it is like for those in the LGBT community.

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    1. Sunny, thanks for your comment. I find that many in the church are having a bit of a faith crisis based on the November 5th policy changes or based on the church's stance on the LGBT community. Thanks for seeing that this isn't just an issue for the gay members of the church, it affects us all.

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  23. Nate, You are a beautiful human-being with a beautiful soul. You were created as a perfect being by a perfect God. Any religion, person or organization that tells you otherwise is not the mouthpiece of God. If you want to honor those who have taken their lives, be your true self!! Be happy in love and companionship. You deserve that. May God bless you with this knowledge. Dave Powers (Stockton's dad).

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    1. Dave, I am simply overwhelmed with gratitude for your comment. My heart continues to go out to you and your family. I will do exactly as you challenged, on behalf of Stockton and on behalf of all of our sons and daughters who have or who will yet experience the same kinds of soul-crushing heartaches and setbacks we've endured. If I can do anything for your family, please don't hesitate to ask.

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  24. Nate, I never thought I could love you more, but I do. As ever, your raw, powerful honesty is teaching and helping us all. Love you Xx

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    1. Claire, I know we're in touch outside of this blog, but I'm finally replying to comments here. Thanks for your love and undying support. For others reading this comment, I want you to know that I baptized Claire as a member of the LDS church in 2000. And here she is, loving and supporting her missionary as a gay member of the church. THIS is what is means to be a true disciple of Christ.

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  25. Thank you for sharing your perspective Nate. It helps to understand others.

    I'm interested to know what changes you think should be made in the church with regards to policy and addressing homosexuality? Because certainly we want to make those with SSA feel welcome and loved, while at the same time following God's commandments with regards to homosexuality.

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    1. Thanks for asking, Anonymous. For starters, I'd like to not be referred to as "apostate" in the official church handbook. I'd like for my children to be able to be baptized at age 8, if they so choose. I'd like the church to stop encourage my future children to disavow my marriage to a someday husband. I'd like for the dangerous messages to stop across the GC pulpit. I'd like for more sensitivity and an attempt to truly understand what it's like to be a gay member of the church. I'd like for leadership to truly consider what they're asking of gay members of the church. Fine if gay people can't be sealed in temples. I don't expect that the church will change their stance on gay marriage. But I simply cannot believe that if I get married to a great man and I actually have the audacity to have sex with him, my membership in the church is dunzo. That's where I'd start.

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  26. I too grew up in the church and this post speaks to me strongly. I am a mostly straight woman and stopped attending church for their treatment of gay people among other reasons. While I know too well how true your post is, I have to disagree with one thing. You wrote that gay people in the church don't have the same experience as straight. While I certainly did not experience the same difficulties you have faced, I understand them to a degree. While I was in the church, I felt continuously dirty and unworthy of love from God simply for being attracted to men. I felt that my strong sexual desires were something inherently wrong with me, because as a woman in God's plan, I should be chaste and virtuous. I remember crying for hours after making out with a boy for the first time, because i had enjoyed it very much, and I knew that was wrong. I continued to feel increasingly conflicted as I realized how strong the sex drive is, and especially when I realized I was attracted to women. The sex drive is something so basic and natural, and because the church has such incredibly stringent and unforgiving control over it, anything that strays from the acceptable leaves people feeling horrendous guilt. Again, this is hardly comparable to the systemic mistreatment of gay members, but I cannot believe that the church is a church of love and forgiveness when it only aims to control people with guilt and shame.

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    1. Shayn, great insights! Thank you for sharing. I'm sorry that you were made to feel so unworthy. There are some in the church who equate a strong sex drive as sinful. And yet, the church teaches that as long as these desires are explored within a heterosexual marriage, it's all good. But even within marriages, I'm sure there are many who limit what they'd like to do based on what they think the church expects. I guess that main distinction that I could draw here, although you make an excellent point, is that if two teenagers have pre-marital sex and become pregnant, they can still move forward, get married, get sealed one day and remain in the church. But as soon as I decide to have sex with my someday husband, the conversation is over. I'm ex'd. Anyway, we could go on and on about this topic, but I hear you, Shayn. Thanks again for sharing.

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  27. I was baptized at 8 because that's just what you do in Utah, whether your family is active or not. My parents didn't go to church so I always felt like an outcast, but I was interested in religion and tried to go to church services. It was so very clique-ish that I felt very uncomfortable and stopped going (this was during the teen years when everything social is hard anyway). My mom had always taught us that gay people were just people and that the LDS church was wrong in the way they treated them (these discussions happened in the 80s), and that always stuck with me. So much so that when I had an interview with my bishop (around 13? is that the normal age?) I asked him why god would put gay people on the earth if they were abominations. He fed me the bull about how everyone makes a choice about what sort of life they want to live before they come to earth and those people chose a life of hardship. I asked why they were persecuted for choices they didn't know they made before they were even put on earth, and why would that be a choice if god wouldn't accept them back into heaven for making it? I was NOT satisfied with the answers I received and never went back. And I fully believe that bishop from Roy has believed ever since that I am a raging lesbian. It must have been a big surprise when I got married to a man, but not a surprise when I had my name removed from the church rolls when I was 24.

    Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying I've never had much faith in the LDS religion. I was taught of its fallacies from the beginning. But I was also taught that not all of the people were bigots. There are some truly amazing LDS people in the world, who take the wonderful tenets of the religion and apply them to their lives as Christ would. I think it's wonderful that you have shared your journey with us as you struggle to find your place in a religion you have believed so strongly in because I have never felt that strongly about anything. I admire people who can have faith because I am so cynical and unbelieving. I appreciate you reminding me of the good things the church does rather than all the hateful things I hear about.

    This was INCREDIBLY long, but, again, I appreciate you sharing your journey. I think we're all learning something along the way. :)

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    1. I LOVE the way you expressed your thoughts. The message your bishop sent is so dangerous and it's easy to see why so many of our youth are taking their own lives. They're being taught differently than you were taught by your mother, only to go behind closed doors in the bishop's office and be told some really destructive things. I'm in total agreement with you that there are so many amazing LDS people who can observe what they believe WHILE reaching out to and loving people like me at the same time. There is much goodness in the church, for sure. I have to remind myself of that regularly.

      Thank you, Courtney.

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  28. I love this, so many different perspectives I haven't thought of before. I especially like the idea of listening to conference from the perspective of LGBT. It's difficult as an active heterosexual to grasp how to combine our testimony and love of the church and the good that it does with truly loving all of our neighbors and wanting the same happy and fulfilled life for them that we all desire in the church (or out). I personally don't want to see my gay brothers and sisters unhappy or excluded.
    I have a 50 year old (being gay was not discussed really in our time) gay brother who chose to leave the church about the same time he chose to fully embrace being and living as a gay man and marrying his now husband. But before all of that he reminds me so much of how you sounded growing up, amazing overachiever and pretending he was not gay. He was an amazing missionary and example to me with a genuine and strong testimony of the gospel but since he left he denies that the church is true now. But I often wonder if gays had been more accepted and allowed to more fully participate in church if he would still be active, my guess would be that he would. I really appreciated your comments about how much your sister has been there for you and I hope I can be the same for him. I was the first person he came out to in the family and we can discuss and share our lives but there is still a "don't ask don't tell" life he is hiding when it comes to my dad and some extended family members. I think that would be painful and hard. But we have talked about it and I feel bad that he doesn't feel comfortable fully sharing his life with everyone in the family, I do somewhat understand why he has chosen it and I respect his decision. My dad would not disown or be hateful or anything, it's just that we were not very open family in sharing and discussing very personal things with our parents (they were still good to us in many other ways) so my brother doesn't feel a need to do so now.
    But an area we avoid discussing much of is the church. I think this is partly because I am an active member of the church but honestly also because I don't really want to get into some of the deep discussions that could turn into arguments about the basic tenets of the church that make it true. (You know the whole adage of not discussing church and politics with friends and family can be a good advice at times), but I still wish we could somehow have that conversation even though I also want to avoid it. But one of the main reasons I avoid it is because although I truly feel and know that living the gospel truly brings peace for me, I also see the happiness and peace he has from choosing to live his life being married to his husband and that makes me happy for him and I'm not sure how the church would fit in with that. But the part of your post that really resonated with me and got me thinking about this more was that you said your spirituality is also a very important part of who you are, not just your sexuality. I realize a person can and does have spirituality outside of the church, I do personally think there can be another level of spirituality that comes from within the church too and I can tell he misses that spirituality. I want to reassure and tell him he can still have a testimony and be a part of church but I'm not really sure how. I don't want him to feel shamed and not fully accepted as a member. I'm not sure why I'm writing this honestly, he's a grown adult who knows what's right for him, your post just got me thinking more about it and I'm just talking out loud. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Kimberly, it sounds like your brother is extremely lucky to have you as a sister. My prayer for all gay people in the church is that they have at least one family member who will show up the way you have. And yeah, the whole purpose of my blog is show to people that coming out as gay doesn't mean that you lose your spirituality. The gay people I associate with and call friends are some of the most spiritually grounded people I know. Continue to be a support to your bro, but you're right, he's been at this long enough to know what's best for him and what direction his life should go. Your job isn't to get him back to church or to maintain his testimony. It's simply to love him, and it sounds like you're doing an awesome job. Hugs!

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  29. Thanks for sharing.

    Gay or Straight, many of us carry burdens that are not publicized, and that only God knows about (not even a spouse). Those burdens may not be LGBT, sexual orientation, or something similar, but often they are just as heavy as the experience you've described. That includes thoughts of loss, anxiety, addiction, health, guilt, or suicide. If anything, when you've had to personally experience carrying such a burden, your eyes become opened, and you become a lot more forgiving, and and a lot more empathetic. And, I don't think it i necessarily wrong to feel angry and wronged at times.

    I place a lot of of hope in the fact that although things aren't perfect, that God is a just, fair judge, that Jesus actually personally knows our burden and is our advocate, and that after this probationary period (during which we are entitled to be happy), that our understanding will be made clear with a greater, more mature perspective.

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    1. Beautifully expressed. I couldn't agree more. Thanks for sharing, Anonymous. Sorry it took me forever to reply.

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  30. I graduated from your high school in '98, a few years after you, but your accomplishments were so impressive, that your legend percolated through those halls long after you left. We were aware of you during my time there. I'm truly sorry to hear that the driving force behind your achievements was such a negative one. I know that most everyone in high school is desperately trying to hide their vulnerable parts. But honestly, much of what I accomplished in my time at high school was also driven by my insecurities and the desire to overcompensate for my failings. It makes me wonder how common that is. I usually assume that accomplishments are the result of nothing but talent and hard work.

    One of my favorite things about this new generation of kids in school--"milenials" or what-have-you--is how much more accepting they are of their peers. My own quirky, autistic children have encountered far less bullying, and far more compassion, than I expected. I pray that will continue as they move through the rest of their school years.

    I deeply appreciate what you've said here. Without condemning anyone in any position of this issue, you've done a beautiful job of showing us the other side and asking us all to be civil and understanding. And my very real hope is that this new generation of kids--with all the flack they receive for being so focused on individuals--is better prepared than we were to answer these "tricky" dilemmas in a way that provides peace and hope for all.

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  31. I'm just now seeing this, sorry for the delayed reply. What you said just made me feel so good. Sometimes, I don't feel that sense of influence and accomplishment, so it's a nice reminder.

    I agree with your thoughts. This younger generation gets a bad rap. Sometimes, it's deserved, haha! Gen X rules!! But you're right, they're more open to the world in which they exist.

    Friend me on FB if you haven't already. I'm not quite sure who this is, but I'd love to be acquainted. Thanks again for the incredibly kind words.

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