FROM THE ONE
TONY COLLETTE, a former physical therapist and database marketer, creates
motivational tools for individuals and corporations. He welcomes discussions of
the ideas in this article at P.O. Box 60288, Oklahoma City, OK 73146. Tony
prepared this article for publication in 1995-96. In September of 1997, he
resigned from the Church. Punctuation, capitalization, and grammar in documents
quoted in this essay have been standardized.
So, whatís it like being a gay Mormon? Well, that depends.
The gay Mormon experience is quite different for each of us who are members
of the Church and happen to discover that weíre attracted to folks of the same
sex. Some of us choose celibacy, some stay single, some marry, some live in
same-sex relationships lasting years or decades. Whatís it like being gay
and Mormon? Well, hereís one life story, sort of a documentary history in
a wayóa spiritual journey and life history told through stories, letters, and
When I was a little kid, my family lived in Paterson, New Jersey, about
twenty miles outside of New York City. It was loud, dirty, noisy, and crowded,
complete with slums, drug dealers, and violent crime. I hated it. So I was
thrilled, at age thirteen, when we moved to Edmond, Oklahoma, a suburban town
where I could go barefoot and where cows mooed just three houses down. There
wasnít even one minority student in the entire school system. This was
definitely a new world.
One day a woman from the local Baptist Church stopped by and asked if Iíd
like to catch the Sunday School bus which ran right in front of our new suburban
home. Well, why not? Dad came from a Methodist background but was solidly
agnostic in those days. Mom, an Italian, was a nonpracticing Catholic. Neither
one objected. For the next few months, I attended First Baptist Church in
downtown Edmond. My spiritual journey had begun.
Iíll always he grateful for this friendly introduction to Christianity, but
I soon started attending other churches as well, anxious to learn more. The
singing at the Church of Christ was fantastic, but it soon came down to a
contest between the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church for my allegiance. I
took the authority issue with deadly seriousness. The Catholics claimed that
Heavenly Father gave Jesus authority, who passed it along to the apostles, who
passed it down to the popes, who sort of kept it in cold storage right up to the
present. The Mormons asserted that Heavenly Father gave Jesus authority, who
passed it along to the apostles, who were killed, ending
their authority. But since God loved us today as much as he loved the folks back
then, he felt the need to restore the church, and so his authority was brought
back to the earth in our own day. I continued to study the standard works and
asked endless questions of the missionaries. For the first time in my relatively
short life, religion began to make complete sense. Although still nursing some
fears and doubts, I resolved to pray for greater understanding. Thatís when a
peaceful, calm feeling settled over me, reassuring me that if I would simply
proceed with baptism, everything would work out just fine.
Quickly thereafter I was baptized by the missionary who had been involved in
teaching me from the beginning. Our tiny branch met in an old funeral home. The
podium was situated where the bodies used to lie in state, and we teenagers held
Sunday School class in the old embalming room, suitably grossed out by the floor
which sloped to a grated drain.
About this time, I started noticing that I was different from most of the
guys I was hanging out with at school and at church. They talked about girls a
lot, were obsessed with thoughts of female anatomy, and completely preoccupied
with making out as often as possible. Being sexual with a girl seemed to be the
number one priority. For them. I was too busy noticing other guys.
I never chose to be attracted to men. It just happened. In fact, I chose not
to be attracted to them, but it didnít make any difference. Pretty soon
the message sunk in. I was different than my friends. I liked men. I knew this
wasnít in the script for a Mormon boy. I told my branch president. Although
concerned for my welfare, he didnít seem particularly disturbed. We set up a
weekly schedule to get together and talk. He simply counseled me not to be
sexual with anyone because that would make the situation worse. He told me I was
going through a phase, that Iíd grow out of it. I was greatly relieved. Hey,
he was the branch president. I believed him a hundred percent. I followed his
advice. Since I figured the gay facet of my personality would eventually go away
and because I couldnít imagine anyone being hurt by the situation, there didnít
seem to be a great need to do anything.
I became more and more involved in the Church as years passed, serving in a
variety of different positions and callings. Eventually I accepted a mission
call to Finland. Two years later, after an honorable release, reality reared its
disturbing and ugly head on the long plane ride home. After years of carefully not
thinking about being gay, I was confronted with the simple truth that the
"phase" the branch president had spoken of so reassuringly six years
earlier showed no signs of being over. I was more attracted to men than ever.
Although I had shifted the "gay thing" to a back burner six years
earlier, it hadnít cooled, as I thought it would. Instead, it simmered. Like
my very Italian motherís tomato sauceóan all-day affair that bubbles on the
stove, the flavors intensifying, the texture and consistency changing with each
passing houróthe gay issue had become strong and compelling. I climbed off the
airplane in the United States knowing that, in the matrix of my Mormon
orientation to the world, gayness was a core issue in my life.
Ignoring my sexual orientation hadnít made it go away, although it gave me
in retrospect a safe and relatively peaceful adolescence, despite periodic
disappointments, and allowed my commitment to the Church to become strong and
mature. Now I tried to figure out what being a gay Mormon meant. I ventured out
a little bit, visiting gay clubs with my best friend, who was and is probably
the straightest man on the planet. Did he earn the Friend of the Year award, or
what? He hated going, but he loved me, so he went. Eventually I went without
him, met some gay friends, had my first sexual experience, and moved to Dallas,
the biggest city in our region. (I discuss the events in my life in greater
detail in my statement to the 1989 high council below.) At this time, I had a
physical therapy practice, providing treatment to accident patients, folks with
terminal diseases, and athletes.
Itís important to know that, up to this point, the Church was everything to
me. I was passionately religious, and none of that zeal was pretense. It had
survived and even thrived in a mission as challenging and demanding as Finland.
I had experienced intense, intimate association with the Spirit. God had come
down and wrapped his arms around me many times. Mormonism wasnít just a
philosophy or religious theory to me. God himself had laid his hand upon me in
testimony of its truthfulness.
So the incredible pain and difficulty I experienced when trying to reconcile
my spiritualityóa very real, concrete thingóand my sexualityóalso a very
real, very present, insistent forceómade life miserable, almost unbearable on
occasion. I simply had to figure things out. I experimented by staying away from
the Church for a while, putting some distance between myself and it, just to see
if that would help. Yet, anxious to know other gay Mormons, I also hooked up
with Affirmation, a social and support group.
As I got to know more gay Mormons, I kept hearing horror stories about how
they or their friends had been terribly mistreated or unnecessarily offended by
rough handling from bishops, stake presidents, or General Authorities. Such
negative experiences seemed really stupid and completely avoidable. There was
absolutely nothing in my personal experience that came even remotely close to
what these friends were talking about. Iíd always been treated fairly and with
a tremendous amount of respect. But there was no way around the fact that a lot
of other people were having a very different experience. For them, being a gay
Mormon was proving to be far more difficult than it was for me.
Eventually I decided that for my own sanity and the good of others, there had
to be a way to do things differently. There simply had to be a way to integrate
sexuality and spirituality. I couldnít imagine ripping the Mormon part of me
away, but I couldnít pretend to be straight when I was definitely gay. What
would happen if I went to church, participated in the meetings and discussions
in class, and let a few people know that I not only sympathized with gay people
but actually was a gay convert, a gay returned missionary? This may not sound
very brave or original, but to me in the mid-1980s, it was revolutionary. And a
little on the kamikaze side.
I began attending a singles ward in Dallas in the spring of 1986. Things went
pretty well for a while. At one point, at least half our singles ward of about
150 members knew that I was gay. Except for an occasional half-joking grumble
from a woman frustrated with the dating situation, no one seemed to be
particularly bothered. Everyone was kind. Most were friendly. Some were even
affectionate. When one woman asked the eldersí quorum president for "the
scoop," as she put it, on me, he calmly and without the least bit of
negative sentiment explained as best he could. When my home teachers seemed
ready, we spoke about the gay issue for a couple of hours. They were mellow and
caring. They didnít seem to be especially bent out of shape over it. They in
turn spoke with Bishop Madaris who called me into his office. We had a pleasant
time together discussing the issues during a frank and pointed hour. Bishop
Madaris knew me well. I was very active and involved in the ward; and itís
always been my experience that the more a leader knows me personally, the more
understanding he is and the more temperate his response about my gayness.
At the time, I was sure Bishop Madaris understood clearly that I had been
sexually active, if only infrequently, in the past. I wasnít involved with
anyone at the time of our discussion, but it was never my intent to gloss over
the past or to leave a false impression of my intentions. Yet he may have
received a mixed message and heard only part of it, for Iím absolutely not the
type of person to engage in casual sex. I donít say this as a boast about any
kind of inner virtue. Itís just that being intimate is such a tremendously
emotional experience that I found it impossible to separate the emotional from
the physical. It simply hurt my feelings way too much to be intimate with
someone without the sweetness that accompanies sex when two people truly care
for each other deeply. To experience sexual "intimacy" over and over
with people you donít know, and then say good-bye, maybe never to see them
againówell, thatís simply not what I wanted in my life. But I didnít see
myself making a commitment to a life of celibacy either.
So it came as quite a surprise when Bishop Madaris recommended me as a stake
missionary. He said shortly thereafter that he thought Iíd be a good
missionary and that the gay thing wasnít a big concern to him. President
Gibbons, in his interview, told me that God had called me to the position of
stake missionary. "How do you feel about this call from the Lord?" he
"Well, I think itís great," I told him. "Iím really
looking forward to it." Then I added, "I want you to know that Iím
gay but it wonít interfere with this calling at all."
He was distressed. Visibly upset. We talked a little longer, and he suggested
getting back in touch in a day or two. When he did, he said, "Under the
circumstances, the calling cannot be extended." He requested that we meet.
In that second meeting, he said he was really offended by my breaking the
I told him I was really offended by his using the phrase "God has
called you." "Look," I said, "If God called me to be a stake
missionary, he already knows Iím gay. If he already knew, thereís no need to
rescind the call. If youíre simply asking me to accept an assignment in the
stake, thatís perfectly fine, but you should say what you mean."
This rather pointed exchange was the beginning of a relationship that started
in confrontation and distrust but which developed into reconciliation and
President Gibbons and I met every three to four weeks for several months. He
wanted me to repent, renounce my "beliefs," sacrifice my hope of
finding a reconciliation between my gayness and my Mormonness, and "go
along" with what the Brethren have to say on the issue of homosexuality. I
told him I couldnít repent of being who I am, that my beliefs were a personal
revelation from God, and that I respected the central LDS leadership but didnít
feel they understood. Two people could not possibly have held more divergent
points of view. But we kept meeting. Iím convinced that his inner sense of
responsibility to his calling and his deep concern for me as a person were the
primary motivations for his persistence. For months he resisted the idea of
beginning any formal action against me. He hoped that by using gentle
persuasion, my situation would change and Iíd "come around" to
seeing things his way. But the likelihood of changing a gay man into a straight
one is just about the same as changing an apple into an orange. It was a
physical impossibility. President Gibbonsís patience eventually wore thin.
On 15 January 1989, we found ourselves in a high council court. Ours was a
new stake center, and the high council room looked like a minimalistically
decorated, austere corporate board room. The high councilors were mostly men in
their fifties and sixties. I hoped that the few younger men would be a little
more sympathetic than the older members. Knowing that theyíd be a captive
audience and thinking that this would probably be a one-time opportunity, I
prepared a written statement. After President Gibbons briefed the high council,
I read my statement. It took about twenty minutes.
Richardson Stake High Council, 15 January 1989
I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with you all today. During the
past few weeks, I have met with Bishop Madaris and President Gibbons numerous
times. I have felt of their great concern and care for me; and as we begin, Iíd
like to express my gratitude for their love and support. This process has not
been comfortable or easy, but I believe it is the right thing. For this reason
I have willingly agreed to be here with you all today to discuss some of the
most personal and private aspects of my life.
I am not here to teach you or to instructóthat isnít my place. But we
are here to discuss the issue of homosexuality; and because you may or may not
be very familiar with what itís like to be sexually attracted to members of
the same sex, the responsibility is on me to openly and honestly share what I
know with you. I will speak directly and forthrightly, but please do not
mistake this boldness for prideóit is not.
I believe this gathering is meant to help me and to help you and to help
people in my position whom you will meet in the future. Because this is so
important, none of us nor the Lord nor his church would be well-served by
shyness or hesitancy. But this openness is not pride. This meeting isnít,
however, simply an opportunity to share information. This is a high council
court and the stakes are high. My continued membership and activity in the
Church are on the line. And because I have a very strong testimony of the
gospel and the Church, this has great significance. The decisions which are
reached here today will have great impact on my life and the lives of people
like me. For this reason I would ask, with great respect for the position you
all hold, to please lay aside your preconceived notions and prejudices about
what a homosexual person is. It is only natural that you would have them, but
I am very afraid that these deep-seated ideas might get in the way. I have
prayed to the Lord that this might not be the case. I would not ask you to
accept or agree. But I do ask you to be willing to understand.
I became a Christian at thirteen and accepted the restored gospel and was
baptized into the Church at fourteen. At fifteen, I realized that I should
discuss my sexual attraction for men with my branch president. We met numerous
times, and he offered very helpful counsel. The difficulties became more
obvious as time passed; but because of the strong testimony of the gospel
which was within me, I continued being very active in the Church. I was
advised that this "phase" would eventually pass but that any sexual
contact would make the situation worse. Accordingly I was celibate from this
time until I was twenty-three years old. I was told that, if I obeyed the
commandments, God would take care of the rest.
While a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood, I assumed that, if I was a good
priesthood holder, Heavenly Father would change me. So I threw myself into
activity and service and must admit that my life became much fuller and
rewarding. With youthful optimism and great anticipation, I awaited the day
when I would become a priest. The ordination came and wentóbut my attraction
to men stayed. This was a crushing disappointment. With the naivete and blind
faith of a sixteen-year-old, I put complete faith in the power of the Lord to
bring about a transformation in my sexual orientation. But it hadnít
happened. I couldnít understand why this was happening to me.
The hurt feelings subsided as I eagerly looked forward to the conferring of
the Melchizedek Priesthood. Such a monumental happeningóreceiving the
priesthood of Godósurely as I obeyed the commandments and served in the
Church as called, the Lord would intervene. There was no doubt in my mind that
this would be the great turning point in my life upon which the entire future
of my life depended.
I vividly remember the day I was sustained in stake conference for
ordination as an elder. When the stake president called my name I proudly
stood. I was excited, happy, and humbled. My home teacher conferred the
Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained me an elder. It was thrilling. To have the
priesthood of God, to stand and administer in the footsteps of Jesusówhat
greater thrill could there be?
As the next few days passed, I slowly realized that my sexuality had not
been affected. Is it possible to describe the fear, anguish, anxiety, hurt,
depression, anger, resentment, self-hate, and sense of abandonment that I
felt? Desperate thoughts went through my mind. For what good reason was this
happening to me? What horrible, unthinkable atrocity had I committed in the
preexistence to deserve this? Why did God hate me so much? Why bring me to an
understanding of the concept of an eternal mate and then cruelly deprive me?
Why had this happened?
Time passed. It seemed to me that going on a mission was the right thing to
do. Surely doing the Lordís work for two years would prove to the Lord my
intentions. Surely this would be an acceptable offering. The thought of
entering the temple and receiving my endowments became the next focal point.
The temple was a sacred, special place where God communed with his servants.
Miracles had occurred in temples since the early days of the Restoration. It
seemed clear to me that, in the temple, my prayers would be answered. I
believed that through participation and acceptance of the sacred ordinances of
the temple, the Lord would change me.
I entered the temple with many great expectations. The experience was
lovely and uplifting. It provided one of the greatest spiritual moments of my
life. It was wonderful. But as I walked Out of the gates of Temple Square in
Salt Lake City, it became painfully obvious to me that I was still
attracted to men. I was surprised and disappointed, but I immediately began to
think that what the Lord was requiring of me was two years of full-time
service as a missionary. Surely as I served the Lord as an ambassador of the
gospel, he would change me.
I was assigned to Finland. In some ways it was a typical mission, but in
others it was unusual. I taught conversational English in international
business colleges, functioned as a fill-in branch president, and was
specifically reassigned to work with a suicidal member to keep her alive.
Because of an illness which one of my companions suffered, I was alone for
eleven days in a two-missionary town. Knowing in advance that my companion
would be hospitalized for quite some time, the mission president trusted me
enough to be alone for eleven days. I took this as a great compliment and did
nothing during that time to damage his trust. During my mission, I was not
involved in any sexual conduct even though one companion was gay and I had
other opportunities available to me.
I was not an ordinary missionary, but I was effective in many ways. I was
on the Lordís errand, doing the Lordís work. Sometimes I felt really
awkward or stupid, but that was okay because the scriptures say itís okay to
be a fool for Christ.
The close quarters of mission life provided for some difficult, tense
times. The only way to convey an understanding for the situation is for you to
imagine a red-blooded twenty-year-old elder with a twenty-year-old sister
missionary as a companion. Can you imagine what it would be like for them to
dress, undress, and sleep in the same room? Thatís what it was like for me.
Tense moments aside, the experience of being on a mission was wonderful. I
developed a greater appreciation for the love Heavenly Father has for all his
children. The idea of the one-ness and the shared experiences of all of us
here on earth made me appreciate the people more. I developed an intense love
for the people in Finland and found amusement, more than irritation, in the
differences that growing up in our separate cultures had provided. In working
with the suicidal sister, Heavenly Father required me to develop an almost
endless patience for her. I would submit myself to listening and counseling
with her when it seemed no one else would because this was the way the Lord
had provided for me to love someone else more than I loved myself. Really,
thatís what the entire missionary experience was about.
As the last few days of my mission approached, I again realized that my
sexual attraction for men had not changed. A familiar sadness settled over me.
In a quiet moment, without anger or bitterness, I reflected on the many events
that had led me to Finland. Where along the way had I failed the Lord? At what
point in my life had I so disappointed him that he felt it appropriate to
consign me to be single, alone, without a wife for the rest of my life? After
much introspection, I came to the conclusion that I hadnít done anything so
wrongóat least, not wrong enough to deserve this.
After returning home, I began dating a lovely girl from Holland who was
great fun to be with. Although she was very desirable, I was never sexually
attracted to her. But I believed that, after we were sealed in the temple, the
situation would resolve itself. There was simply no other alternative. I asked
her to marry me; but it was called off shortly thereafter.1
At this point I was twenty-three years old. I had been sexually attracted
to men since before I understood what sexual attraction was. I had never felt
any attraction for women. I was a member of a Church that worships the concept
of marriageóand I was unmarryable.
I was crushed after my ordination as a priest.
I was disappointed after my ordination as an elder.
I was confused after the endowment ceremony had not changed me.
I was saddened as my mission drew to a close.
I was completely disheartened as I realized that marriage, even a temple
marriage, would not change who I was.
How my spirit ached. Sadness overwhelmed me. During this period, tears were
no strangers to me.
It was then that I truly accepted the fact that I was a homosexual.
Although I had chosen to be attracted to women innumerable times during the
previous eight years, it never happened. I never chose to be sexually
attracted to men. Thatís probably the most important thing Iíll say here
today. Like most gay people, in or out of the Church, I never chose to
be attracted to men. Why would I? What sane, rational personógiven a chanceówould
so choose to complicate his life? Would you make such a decision? Well, I
wouldnít either, and I didnít.
Decision or no, the situation remained. I was twenty-three years old and I
was gay. "Gay"óthat was such a foreign word. Although I had heard
the word since childhood, it was only then that I began to think that
"that word" was a part of my identity.
It was like suddenly discovering that your ancestry was Russian instead of
In an attempt to understand what being gay meant, I went with friends, some
of them straight, some gay, to nightclubs and discos that had a predominantly
gay following. They seemed pretty much like all the other discos I had been
to. The idea of dancing and being with friends was appealing but the
"fast track" life-style of drinking, drug use, and casual sex didnít
appeal to me at all. Within a year I had my first overt sexual experience.
Because of a job change, I moved to Dallas.
During this time I became increasingly involved in social activity and a
seeking for information that would help me understand what being gay meant.
Part of what the subculture offered was worthwhile and part of it was not. I
rejected the idea of sex as a hobby or sport and from this time onward tried
to avoid any sexual involvement that was not preceded by real affection and
caring for the person involved.
While still trying to put all the pieces together, I left the Church for
six months to try to determine just how important it was to me. At one point
my bishop and I met and he referred me to Stake President Brough. At his home,
President Brough and I had a very involved and open discussion during which I
related to him my experiences and feelings about what had happened to me. His
reaction was to tell me that a Church court would be held and some type of
action would be taken. He took my home and work numbers and I fully expected
him to contact me with information about a court immediately. The phone call
never came. For reasons which were never explained to me, President Brough
didnít pursue any action.
Another job transfer to Garland placed me in the Richardson Stake and the
Eleventh Ward. During the time away from the Church, I came to realize that
the Church was more than just a habit, it was a vitally important part of my
life. I resolved to get back into Church activity, but on a limited basis. In
the Eleventh Ward I accepted callings which did not require a worthiness
interview. I spoke in meetings and occasionally sang in sacrament meeting. I
was not a home teacher nor did I perform any ordinances or teach classes
because it didnít seem appropriate to represent the Church in such an
official way. While this compromise arrangement might have offended some
people, it seemed very agreeable and workable to me.
About three months ago, Bishop Madaris recommended me to the stake
presidency to be a stake missionary. During the interview with President
Gibbons, I expressed a willingness to serve the Lord as called but was very
open and honest with him about my personal situation. He felt, under the
circumstances, that the calling would not be appropriate and that is how the
process of this church court began.
There has been some confusion about whether Bishop Madaris and I ever
discussed the particulars about my sexual activity. Just so you will know, I
have never tried to hide or conceal any facet of my struggle with
homosexuality from the Church leaders who have had jurisdiction over me.
Indeed, just before moving into this stake, I completely discussed all of
these matters with the appropriate Church authority.
While being open and up front with Church leaders, I have generally tried
to be as low profile as possible with most Church members. It has never seemed
all that important to make such personal things a matter of public knowledge.
I have, however, shared some of this with close personal friends in the ward.
But it has never been my intention to make a big deal out of my sexual
I have lived every day of my life trying to come to an understanding of my
sexual orientation. In my youth that journey of understanding took the form of
blind faith and naive optimism. In early adulthood, these qualities were
replaced with a simple determination to do what I felt was right by attending
the temple and serving a mission. Eventually, I came to the realization that
sexual attraction for men was simply a part of who I am and not something
which I chose. My hunger for understanding revolved more around seeking
information about secular and medical discoveries and about the meaning and
intent of the scriptures which mention homosexuality. These methods were and
continue to be very useful, but they pale in comparison to the method which I
have employed the mostóand that is seeking the Lordís will in meditation
and prayer. Through the past fourteen years I have unceasingly prayed for
guidance and insight. Discovering the Lordís will in all of these matters
has been an almost all-consuming passion. It has not ceased to be so.
During the course of this search, the Lord has made plain to me certain
things which I will share with you. I do not believe that these ideas are
meant for anyone else. But there is no doubt that they are meant for me and
that they have been revealed to me as answers to prayer from the Lord. The
first is that Heavenly Father loves me as intensely and with as much passion
as he loves any of the rest of his children. He knows me and cares for me
beyond description. He is aware and apprised of the situation and has great
compassion for me.
The second is that I have done nothing to deserve the situation in which I
find myselfóthat is, nothing I did grieved the Lord enough to cause me to be
sexually attracted to men. My sexual orientation is not a punishment and it is
not any less a divine part of my identity than your sexual orientation is a
divine part of your identity.
The third is that Heavenly Father does not expect me to be celibate for the
rest of my life. It was not his intention to create me as I am and abandon me
to loneliness in this life or the next. It is his will that I learn to
responsibly and appropriately use the sexual orientation that is within me to
further the same goals which Heavenly Father has placed for all of his
children. And those include the creation of a loving home, the ability to love
someone else more than yourself, and the charity not to use sexuality as a
tool of force or a means of coercion, but as a method of expressing love,
affection, and all of what is good in a person.
I believe my sexuality is just as beautiful, divine, and lovely as that
which can be found in any one of you here today. In my youth I hated it; but
through prayer and meditation I have come to accept my sexual orientation as a
challenge and an opportunityóand in some ways a special blessing. For this
understanding I thank a loving and caring Heavenly Father who has not
abandoned me, but whose hand and influence are present in my life.
Now you will consider whether it is appropriate for me to remain a member
of the Church in full standing. When I came to this stake and the Eleventh
Ward, the most appropriate thing seemed to be the arrangement which I
discussed earlieróspecifically that I accepted callings which did not
require a worthiness interview, spoke and occasionally sang in meetings, was
not a home teacher, and did not teach any classes or represent the Church in
any way. I do not perform any priesthood functions. The limits of this
arrangement have served my needs and the needs of the members of the ward
well. I hope it is possible to continue this in some official form.
As you consider the issues involved, I ask that you remember these things.
First, I did not choose to be gay. Second, I have always been open and honest
with the bishops and stake presidents whose responsibility it has been to
counsel me. Third before coming to this stake, I met with and fully discussed
the situation with President Brough who took no action. Fourth, the main
reason we are meeting today is because, during an interview with President
Gibbons, I was honest and willing to share my feelings with him.
The final thing Iíd like you to keep in mind is that, although the object
of this court is to consider the appropriateness of my conduct specifically,
there are thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people in the Church just
like meómen and women who, through no action or choice of their own, find
themselves in the very difficult position of being sexually attracted to
members of the same sex.
As you consider me and my actions, keep them in your minds and in your
hearts. Just as surely as we are here in this room, they are there. Many years
ago as a youth, the difficulty of the situation became obvious to me. I
believe in a religion whose ultimate expression is temple marriageóand I am
not marryable. As difficult as this is, I did not give up on the Church.
Rather I struggled along through good times and bad, determined to discover
the Lordís will and do it. The Lord has not finished with me. As long as I
am willing to struggle, He is willing to support me. As I did not give up on
the Church fourteen years ago, please do not give up on me now.
Then the high councilors asked some questions. Quite surprisingly, it was the
younger men who got the most distressed and engaged in badgering and even
rudeness. President Gibbons had to call them down on at least two occasions.
Their pointed questions evoked equally pointed answers. When it was over, it
seemed they had every reason in the world to excommunicate me. Even though I
wanted to keep my membership and even though I had tried to be as persuasive as
possible, they now had all the ammunition they needed. I braced for the worst.
The worst never came. The council, really President Gibbons, decided to
disfellowship me for one year. We met every month to discuss what it means to be
a gay Mormon. He agreed to read everything I brought him if Iíd agree to read
everything he gave me. These monthly sessions were really taxing at first, but
quickly became enjoyable and rejuvenating. We still disagreed on some important
ideas, but he was willing to listen, and that made all the difference.
Once he suggested that Godís special calling for me as a homosexual man was
to be celibate for the rest of my life. I asked him, "What sort of reaction
to that idea would you get if you brought any other member of my ward into your
office and told him: Despite the fact that weíve taught you from Primary on
that the ultimate expression of your religion is to couple with another person,
forget all that. Godís got something different in mind for you. Itís not
just a question of circumstance that you remain single, but a matter of personal
choice. God wants you to choose to be single, not just accept the fact
that you happened to remain single."
He mentally chewed on that for a while and admitted heíd never thought of
it that way before.
I concluded: "You want me to sacrifice my hope, in advance. Thatís
completely different than accepting a situation that has already occurred."
This was the big impasse.
After a year, Church policy required the stake president to reconvene the
council to either reinstate or excommunicate. Those were the only two options.
We were both pretty nervous about it. I told him it would be a total, complete
mistake to excommunicate me or anyone else in a similar position. Who would it
help? Would the Church be better oft? Would I or any other gay individual? How
would excommunicating a gay member prepare the world for the return of Christ?
Exactly what good would it do?
President Gibbons shifted in his chair under my impassioned plea. He shifted
again. His face got red, and tears came to his eyes. He didnít talk for a
while; but when he did speak, his voice was broken and full of emotion. I donít
remember what he said, but Iíll always remember the way he said it. This man
loved me. He felt for me. It left a deep impression.
Within a few weeks, he became aware of a policy change that removed the
former restrictions and allowed him far more latitude in cases of
disfellowshipment. What a relief! We kept on meeting. I ran across an interview
with Stan Roberts, the former bishop of the San Francisco Singles Ward, about
some really progressive approaches to the gay issue. His belief was that all of
Godís children should be included and encouraged; in that spirit, he held a
weekly gathering of gay members in his own home. Just to add a little lightness
to the otherwise serious nature of the gatherings, they named themselves
"the Farside Group." Despite the silliness, the groupís purpose was
quite serious: to provide a safe, nurturing situation so that all who attended
could share their experiences and try to create a greater understanding among the gay and straight members of the ward. The underlying motive was to find a way
to make life better for everyone involved.2
I started thinking about how these ideas migh be duplicated in the Dallas
area. I became really excited by the possibilities as President Gibbons and I
continued to meet. At one point the hope issue came up again, only this time
President Gibbons said something about no one really being able to completely
guarantee their future actions. I didnít read into this any sense of a
loophole or way around anything. But it felt comforting and reassuring, and it
stayed with me.
After some extended soul-searching, prayer, and a lot of thought, I
reaffirmed my basic belief in the divinity of the Church. At the same time, I
came to peaceful terms with the fact that the Church is composed of ordinary
humans, loving people who are imperfect and therefore make mistakesósometimes
small, sometimes big. Obviously these loving, caring people had simply made a
massive mistake in their assumptions about homosexuality. Could I forgive them
for making such a big mistake?
Eventually the answer was yes. The next realization was that the promises of
God apply to me just as much as anyone elseóand they re absolute. Heíll come
through on every promise and every agreement weíve made. With those two
thoughts in place and with a desire to try to replicate in Dallas some of the
progressive things that had been happening in the San Francisco Singles Ward, I
met with President Gibbons and asked him if we could start discussing
One of their big concerns was what I might say in public about the gay issue.
We discussed a variety of possibilities which would restrictóto one degree or
anotherówhat and how I could discuss gay issues in private or in public with
church members. Through President Gibbons, I offered his counselors my
assurances that I wasnít interested in embarrassing anyone, but that I felt it
only appropriate to be given the same freedom and latitude in speech that any
other member of our ward enjoyed. This seemed far more compatible with gospel
principles, and we all tentatively agreed that this was the right choice.
President Gibbons discussed this option with his counselors, then brought it up
with me again. Obviously the counselors and, to some extent, President Gibbons,
were really nervous about what I might say in public, or possibly from the
stand. Understanding the tension they felt, I tried to reassure them again, but
their doubts were persistent. They were truly worried.
He called the high council together, and we had a very pleasant meeting.
President Gibbons briefed them again and then asked me to bear my testimony and
answer some questions. The council had gotten a lot younger in a year and a
half. This worried me. Although the questions were blunt and the answers
blunter, the texture of the meeting stayed friendly and nonthreatening. Since
Bishop Madaris had been released a few months before, the current bishop of my
singles ward, Bishop Folger, accompanied me to the high council meeting. He
spoke boldly and forcefully on my behalf, at one point telling the high
councilors that the only issue they should be concerned with was whether or not
I could answer the questions in a temple recommend interview appropriately and
that everything else was completely irrelevant. "We donít understand this
stuff, so letís not pretend we do," he said.
After a short adjournment, President Gibbons announced the decision of the
presidency to reinstate me into full fellowship. After making a quick round,
shaking everyoneís hand, I left that room with Bishop Folger, thinking,
"This whole thing has been way too weird." I was really happy,
excited, and very relieved that this long and difficult confrontation with the
institutional Church had ended.
At the time I wrote in my journal, "Now that the tension with the Church
is over, I intend to get on with the more important aspects of the gospel. Like
learning to love your neighbor, understanding what God wants and how to do it,
and loving someone else more than you love yourself. And I look forward to
having some funósimple, clean Mormon funówith the wild and crazy members of
And we did have fun. Life in Dallas in the singles ward was really enjoyable.
There was a great group of young people there, probably more cosmopolitan and
accepting than in many other places. I really enjoyed being involved, in full
fellowship, functioning as a home teacher and doing all the things an active
Latter-day Saint does.
At one point during this period, Bishop Folger called me into his office to
ask a favor. The missionaries had tracted out, taught, and baptized a young gay
man into our ward. The bishop very much wanted him to feel comfortable and
"at home" with the rest of the singles, but wasnít sure how to
proceed. Speaking of the bishopric and elders quorum presidency, he said,
"You know more about this gay stuff than we do. Would you mind talking with
him and making sure that his needs are met? We really want his experience in the
ward to be a good one. And if thereís something we can do to make him more
comfortable, please let me know."
I was more than happy to help out, eager to help this guy make a transition
into membership in the Church. And his experience in the ward was a
pleasant one, lasting a number of months until he joined the military. Of
course, why wouldnít Ióor anyone, for that matterórespond favorably to
such a respectful and dignity-enhancing encounter with their local leadership? I
was enjoying activity in the ward, my experience and contribution were valued.
Things were going according to plan perfectly.
And then I fell in love.
Brian and I met at an Affirmation conference in Arizona in September of 1990.
I was there to do a one-hour presentation on dealing with local LDS leadership.
He was there helping his mother, Wanda, recover from the trauma of another sonís
suicide a little earlier. He was sweet, attentive, and cute as a bug. I was
hooked. Fortunately, the feelings were mutual. We corresponded, telephoned
incessantly, visited each other, and within a few months decided to live
together as partners. Who was it that said, "Life is what happens to you
when youíre expecting something else"?
Brian lived in Idaho Falls, and I moved there to be with him. Although he had
stopped attending church on a regular basis a few years before, we decided to
visit some of the local wards in hopes of finding a place where we felt at home.
After six or seven weeks, his old frustrations returned, and he decided not to
attend any more. I continued attending a singles ward for a few more months, at
one point even giving a major talk in sacrament meeting when a high councilor
couldnít attend. But when the bishop decided to interview me about my
disfellowshipment and reinstatement in the hallway with various other folks
walking by, I decided it was best not to return.
Although I really tried to make the adjustment to small-town living, it was
just too difficult. In the winter of 1992, we moved to Salt Lake City, where I
continued with the video production business I had started in Idaho Falls. Brian
eventually set up a branch office of his financial services business in Salt
Lake. Our offices were located in a historic residence just two blocks away from
the Church Administration Building. We attended church occasionally but never
felt comfortable getting too close to anyone there, simply because we knew it
might cause a great deal of trouble and discomfort if someone in a leadership
position felt duty-bound to initiate some kind of action against us. This
situation obviously caused a great deal of tension for us and other gay couples
who wanted to try to maintain some kind of contact with the church they were
raised in, while at the same time knowing that, if they got too close, theyíd
be punished and possibly even have their membership officially revoked.
When I was growing up in Oklahoma, General Authorities had seemed pretty
irrelevant in my life in the Church. Salt Lake City seemed very far away. When I
was a kid, even seeing your stake president could be quite a novelty. Still, I
had generally positive feelings for the General Authorities after listening to
them speak in general conference sessions and reading their articles in Church
magazines. Now that I was a young man, it seemed very strange to be so close to
all those revered men who had just been names before.
Life in Salt Lake was fabulous. There is no shortage of cultural and
interesting things to do in the city, and we quickly acquired a circle of close
friends. We also met a lot of gay Mormons in Salt Lake. But these folks were
different than any gay Mormons I had known before. The amount of bitterness and
anger these folks felt for the Church was astonishing. The situation distressed
me a lot. I felt I needed to do something but felt completely frustrated trying
to decide what. I settled on the idea of writing a letter to the General
Authorities, sharing some good experiences that had happened to me in the
Church, but letting them know that I was meeting lots of people who had been
having really terrible experiences.
Now I understood that General Authorities are targets for all kinds of
bizarre phone calls and correspondence. I realized that much of this contact
would be unpleasant and accusatory. So I wanted to make it very clear that
chewing them out by letter wasnít the point. I just wanted to get together and
try to make life better for everyone in the Church.
I wrote the following letter with these concerns in mind. I also shared with
them some of the negative feelings I was hearing about them, as contrasted with
my own generally positive feelings. I then offered to meet with them and talk
about the gay Mormon experience if they felt it would be somehow worthwhile. I
stressed that I sustained them in their callings and wanted to do whatever I
could to help. I sent the following letter to all 102 General Authorities, each
one individualized, of course, with his name.
10 April 1993
Dear Elder ________
May 3rd marks my eighteenth year in the Church. As a gay Mormon, I have
witnessed and experienced first hand during those eighteen years what itís
like to be homosexual in a Church which is sometimes less than accepting of
its gay members.
My experiences have run the range from incredible, Spirit-filled, loving
encounters with members, bishops, and stake presidents to a laughable run-in
with a departing mission president. May I share with you some of the more
permanent and meaningful memories?
I particularly remember a young medical student who was my home teacher, in
tears because of his frustrationóhe didnít understand, he wanted to; he
couldnít help, but his greatest wish was that he somehow could. And a loving
stake president who, frustrated and distressed, cried with me during hours of
conversation and counseling.
Iíll also never forget an interview with a bishop who calmly and quietly
helped me understand the various options available to me as a gay Mormon. His
insight, humor, compassion, and serenity had a calming, hope-producing, and
nurturing effect on my soul.
While probably 85 percent of my personal experiences with the Church have
been favorable, many of my gay friends and acquaintances have not fared as
well. They have seemingly endless "horror stories" to tell
concerning encounters with members and officials, including General
Authorities. Many of them have come to the conclusion that you General
Authorities are hate-full, irresponsible autocrats who choose to remain in
ignorance on the issue of homosexuality and abuse your power when formulating
policies concerning the gay members of the Church.
I do not believe this. I perceive you and your fellow Brethren to be
caring, compassionate, sacrificing servants of God, doing the best you can
with the gifts and talents with which Heavenly Father has blessed you. If you
are not completely informed as to what it means to be a gay Mormon, isnít
that the fault of us gay Mormons? Have we made ourselves available to you so
that you might receive information first-hand from the individuals who know
the most about the gay Mormon experience?
Without giving serious thought to what a sustaining vote really means, Iíve
raised my hand to sustain you in your current calling. There must be many
facets to the act of sustaining Church leadership, and without doubt one of
them means providing you with whatever information I have which might allow
you to more completely fulfill your calling. So in a spirit of friendship, I
offer that which I have to giveóthe life experience of a gay Mormon. At your
convenience I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the issues facing gay
Latter-day Saints and the Church.
The purpose for meeting is not to debate, or to presumptively call you to
repentance, or to be called to repentance myself for being gay. The point is
to meet together and share what we have for the good of the kingdom and the
furthering of the will of the Lord here on earth. My only wish is that somehow
life in the Church can be more rewarding and spiritually fulfilling for those
members of the Church who realize they are homosexual. Surely the Lord will
bless us all for seeking out and making life better for The One.
In all honesty, I didnít expect there to be much of any response from this
letter. More than anything, it was a good-faith attempt to do something, anything,
which might help the situation. Those in-home meetings Bishop Roberts held
in San Francisco were still on my mind; and although I didnít suggest
duplicating his efforts in this letter, I had hoped that we might explore some
possibilities and options together. But realistically, I fully expected that
most, if not all, of these letters would be filed away or simply trashed.
As it turned out, this letter made a number of the General Authorities
uncomfortable. Four weeks later, on 10 May 1993, I received the following letter
from Harold C. Brown, Commissioner of LDS Social Services:
A number of the General Authorities received your letter and have asked me to
respond to your letter and address the questions you have raised. We appreciate
the concerns that you expressed for members of the Church who struggle with
homosexual difficulties. As you might be aware, a booklet has been prepared that
local leaders may use to assist those who seek help for such problems. A copy of
the booklet is enclosed. It may answer some of the questions you have about the
Churchís position. This document is designed to assist local leaders in
helping those who wish to conform their lives to the Lordís teachings.
We will be happy to meet with you to address the concerns or questions you
have. I suggest you call Brother Dean Byrd, one of my colleagues, who can
discuss the issues you have. Brother Byrd can be reached at (801) 240-3634.
Thanks again for sharing your concerns. We are willing to assist you in any
way we can.
Harold C. Brown, Commissioner
Latter-day Saint Social Services
This letter was a surprise but also a disappointment. I was very familiar
with the programs and activities of LDS Social Services in the gay area, and
especially familiar with Dean Byrd, the Churchís "point man" on the
gay issue. Meeting with him didnít seem as if it would accomplish a whole lot,
so I quickly decided not to pursue it. But a good friend who had worked in LDS
Social Services for years persuaded me to reconsider, suggesting that Harold
Brown and Dean Byrd really needed to be exposed to gay Mormons who werenít
overly distressed with their sexuality. So I made an appointment with Dean Byrd,
the man who advises the General Authorities about homosexuality in the Church.
Just a few days later, I received the first of just two answers from the 102
General Authorities I had written. It was from J. Ballard Washburn, then serving
in the area presidency for Africa. He wrote:
12 May 1993
Dear Brother Collette:
It was nice to receive your letter. I am grateful for your attitude of
kindness and understanding. You said you would be happy to meet with me and
discuss the issues facing gay Latter-day Saints in the Church. My present
assignment is in Africa; therefore, it makes it rather impractical for us to get
The Lordís work is going very well here in Africa. During the past
two-and-a half years I have been able to travel to twenty-seven different
countries in Africa. The Church is now in twenty-four of those countries and is
growing in each of those countries. It is a great privilege and blessing to be
involved in the Lordís work and to devote full time in trying to help people
understand the message of the Savior so that their lives can be full and
rewarding and happy.
I am grateful that most of your experiences with Church leaders have been
favorable. I am especially grateful that you could have a spirit of love and
concern for other people. Thank you again for your letter. Perhaps, sometime in
the future, we will have an opportunity to meet.
J. Ballard Washburn
Africa Area Presidency
What a nice letter! Iíve never met this man, but itís obvious that heís
a caring, sensitive person, quick to look for the good in others.
The day came for the appointment with Dean Byrd. The hour-long conversation
was animated and interesting. I asked a lot of questions, and Dean responded
with the Churchís position and his own history in dealing with gay people and
homosexuality. One of the issues we discussed was whether the Church officially
sanctioned and supported the activities of an "ex-gay" Mormon group
called Evergreen. At the time, my opinion of Evergreen was that its leadership
seemed composed of genuinely caring and loving people who were simply misleading
gay Mormons and their families about homosexuality. They provided activities
such as basketball, baseball, and oil-changing lessons for gay men, assuming
that participating in such "manly" activities would make it easier for
a gay fellow to become straight. For a number of months, Evergreen purchased and
distributed, in considerable quantity, an "ex-gay" book produced by an
anti-Mormon publisher. The book, written by conservative Christians, was
naturally filled with fundamentalist dogma which Mormonism had turned its back
on during the days of Joseph Smith. But since the book held out the hope to gay
men of becoming straight through participating in activities similar to those
sponsored by Evergreen, the organizationís leaders overlooked its extreme
On a more positive note, the group also provided local support groups and a
national, yearly conference. The only benefits readily apparent to me were that
Evergreen, in some cases, paired gay men with a loving, supportive straight
"mentor" and that it also provided a safe environment for closeted gay
Mormons to express openly and freely what they were experiencing in their lives.
A person can never have too many friends or mentors, especially of the
supportive, caring kind. And being offered the chance to express your greatest
fears and concerns is always a healthy experience. The main issue was what
happened after this mentoring and self-disclosure.
As one Salt Lake City psychologist expressed it, "We get very
disheartened trying to pick up the pieces after Evergreen has left a gay person
and his family more depressed and despondent than ever." She felt that
Evergreen promised naive, simple solutions to a complex, multi-faceted
situation. When these simple answers didnít work and the gay man left the
basketball/baseball/oil-changing program in frustration and guilt, it became her
job to comfort and counsel the family involved. By the time she and I spoke, she
was completely exasperated by the frequency with which her new patients were
former Evergreen participants.
So itís understandable that the Churchís financial involvement with
Evergreen would come up in my conversation with Dean Byrd. But, as I had
expected, our meeting was not particularly useful. When the hour was up, Dean
said heíd report back to the General Authorities about our meeting. But
nothing was likely to change, and I felt as if the time had been wasted.
A few days passed, and this letter came in the mail:
May 26, 1993
Dear Brother Collette:
I was pleased to meet with you recently. I appreciated the information that
you provided and the concerns that you shared. As I indicated to you, the
Churchís position on homosexuality is clearly stated in the booklet, Understanding
and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems. The resources listed at
the end of the publication provide additional helps for those who need further
clarification. Latter-day Saint Social Services with many agencies throughout
the United States and other countries is available to provide assistance to
those who desire to make changes in their lives and to conform to the Lordís
teachings. A letter which was sent to priesthood leaders with the booklet
indicat[es] that individuals who need assistance may either contact their
bishop or call Latter-day Saint Social Services directly.
Perhaps I should reiterate to you . . . that Latter-day Saint Social
Services does not endorse Evergreen International or other organizations.
Rather we encourage the use of community organizations who are supportive of
the Churchís teachings. My attendance and/or participation in
professional/other meetings is a matter of personal choice and neither
represents the Church or Latter-day Saint Social Services.
Again I enjoyed our meeting and hope that sufficient clarifications were
provided for you.
A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D.
Then on 1 June 1993, I received a letter from Elder Packer. Although the
letter made it clear that Elder Packer was interested in "helping" me,
not in discussing homosexuality with me or learning about the experiences of gay
Mormons, it was warm and cordial.
Dear Brother Collette:
Iím sorry for the long delay in responding to your letter. I appreciate
the spirit in which you write.
We follow the policy of responding to requests from members for
appointments or interviews only through the bishop of their ward or the
president of their stake. I think you can see why this must be so because of
the size of the membership of the Church and the responsibilities that rest
upon those of us who have worldwide obligations. Would you talk to the bishop
of your ward and ask him to call me?
I would like to help you. I know I can help you best through your bishop.
After counseling with him, we will determine whether or not an interview would
Again, I appreciate the spirit of your letter and wish you well. Iíll be
waiting for a call from your bishop.
Boyd K. Packer
This request seemed like a reasonable response. Even though I hadnít
attended the local ward which held my membership, I promptly made arrangements
to meet for the first time with its bishop, Boyd Christensen. It was a marvelous
encounter. We spoke for an hour and a half. He was educated and articulate but
also willing to admit that he didnít know a lot about the gay issue and wanted
to know more. He took notes. He never asked a personal question. He strongly
urged me to be a part of the ward. This meeting reaffirmed my faith in the basic
goodness of people in leadership positions in the Church and made me feel really
good. Maybe things were looking up after all. The bishop said heíd report to
Elder Packer personally about our meeting and that I should expect some kind of
response. But nothing happened.
Shortly thereafter a friend showed me a photocopy of a typescript address to
the All-Church Coordinating Council that Elder Packer had given on 18 May 1993,
two weeks before he sent his personal letter to me. This was a major
speech, presented at Church headquarters to a variety of management and
ecclesiastical personnel, including many members of the Seventy and their
assistants. Although the meeting was not public, the Associated Press acquired a
copy of Elder Packerís speech, and the report went nationwide. I was stunned
as I read one part in particular:
There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and
political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three
because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. ...
The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist
movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge
from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with
all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members
who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something
wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them. To
illustrate, I will quote briefly from letters on each of those subjects. They
are chosen from among many letters which have arrived in the last few weeks.
These have arrived in just the last few days.
The Gay/Lesbian Challenge
The first is from a young man, possibly a gay rights activist:
"May 3rd marks my eighteenth year in the Church. As a gay Mormon, I
have witnessed and experienced first hand during those eighteen years what itís
like to be a homosexual in a Church which is sometimes less than accepting of
its gay members.
"My experiences have run the range from incredible, Spirit-filled and
loving encounters with members, bishops, and stake presidents to a laughable
run-in with a departing mission president. May I share with you some of the
more permanent and meaningful memories?" After a page or two of those, he
"So in a spirit of friendship I offer that which I have to giveóthe
life experience of a gay Mormon. At your convenience I would be happy to meet
with you to discuss the issues facing gay Latter-day Saints and the Church.
"The purpose for meeting is not to debate, or to presumptively call
you to repentance, or to be called to repentance myself for being gay. The
point is to meet together and share what we have for the good of the kingdom
and the furthering of the will of the Lord here on earth."
Elder Packer gave similar quotations from someone he considered to be a
feminist and from a man who considered himself to be an understanding mediator
between the church and its intellectuals. Then Brother Packer warned Church
When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are
justified, even duty bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our
calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocatesósympathize
with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the
commandments to comfort them.
Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of
revelation are reversed. ...
If we are not very careful, we will think we are giving comfort to those few
who are justified and actually we will be giving license to the many who are
The process of correlation is designed to keep us from making mistakes in
manuals, in publications, in films, in videos, in those specialized programs
which are justified.
Those fifteen words from Alma state: "God gave unto them commandments,
after having made known to them the plan of redemption."
There are many things that cannot be understood nor taught nor explained,
unless it is in terms of the plan of redemption. The three areas that I
mentioned are among them. Unless they understand the basic planóthe premortal
existence, the purposes of life, the fall, the atonement, the resurrectionóunless
they understand that, the unmarried, the abused, the handicapped, the abandoned,
the addicted, the disappointed, those with gender disorientation, or the
intellectuals will find no enduring comfort. They canít think life is fair
unless they know the plan of redemption.
That young man with gender disorientation needs to know that gender was not
assigned at mortal birth, that we were sons and daughters of God in the
In his conclusion, Elder Packer again stated: "We face invasions of the
intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before."3
Reading large sections of my personal correspondence in a major speech given
to a crowd of strangers, without my permission, was quite a shock. Reading it in
the newspapersí AP story was also very disturbing. And the phrase, "a gay
rights activist" isnít exactly a term of endearment along the Wasatch
Front. Wasnít my office was just two blocks away from Brother Packerís? Not
only was my phone number listed in the telephone directory, it was right on the
letter. Even for a busy person like Brother Packer, just how difficult would it
have been for him or one of his staff to contact me? I had simply offered to
share my lifeís experiences. It felt totally bizarre to have someone stand up
and demonize me as an enemy of the Church. I was angry and bitterly
I immediately met with my stake president, B. Lloyd Poelman, whom I had not
met before. He welcomed me warmly, listened, sympathized, and was very
supportive. One of his first questions was whether I planned to sue Elder Packer
for using the correspondence publicly without permission. He was then a named
partner in the Churchís law firm, Kirton, McConkie, & Poelman, so the
question was not as strange as it might seem. I quickly explained that suing
wasnít what I had in mind, that I was simply upset and was with him that night
for some helpful counsel.
He explained his perspective on the General Authorities gained through years
of working with them daily: "In my extensive experience with the General
Authorities, Iíve come to believe that they are one of the finest groups of
people anywhere in the world. And that the combined effect of all of them
together tends to compensate for the extremism of any one of them
individually." He also said, "Iím not suggesting that you write a
letter, but if you do, I promise to deliver it personally." So I wrote a
letter. The first attempt was angry and a bit mean-spirited. The second attempt
was much calmer and, I hoped, more explanatory:
15 July 1993
Dear Elder Packer:
With deep sadness and profound disappointment I recently read your comments
delivered to the All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting on May 18th. I was
shocked, surprised, and angered that personal correspondence between myself and
the General Authorities was made public and scornfully described as one of
"the dangers" currently facing the Church.
I sat down and wrote you an angry letter, letting you know how off-base I
thought your conclusions and judgments were. But meetings with my bishop, Boyd
Christensen, and stake president, Lloyd Poelman, softened my heart and convinced
me that responding angrily was not the right thing to do.
So Iím going to try very carefully and calmly to explain my thoughts and
feelings. The intention here is not to criticize but to share information in a
productive way. Also, to let you get to know me personally and to better
understand my motivations and the motives of the people Iím close to.
First of all, the reason I wrote was because, being new to the Salt Lake
area, I saw and heard disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and even hatred
toward the Church brought about by various issues concerning homosexuality, on a
scale I had never experienced before. This scared me and concerned me. There was
no way for me to know if the General Authorities were aware of the situation or
not, so I decided to write them. I wrote all 102 at the same time because
computers make that easy to do and because I was sure that very few would have
the time to respond. And not knowing any of you personally, it was impossible to
single any one of you out.
This letter wasnít part of any organized "campaign" or group
effort. It was just me, trying to do what I could to make things better. Very
few people saw this letter before it was sent and even fewer have seen it since.4
I now realize that sending the letter to all 102 of you was a mistake, because
various people, including Dean Byrd of Latter-day Saint Social Services, were
alarmed and have since made negative comments. I apologize for not making myself
and my motives clearer.
Now, may I share with you some of the thoughts that came to mind when reading
your address to the Coordinating Council. Although my Letter was an honest,
good-faith effort to share with you what Iíve experienced as a gay Latter-day
Saint, it was disheartening to see that during your address you characterized me
as "caught up and led away." Although my motivations for writing were
to make life better and more enjoyable for all members of the Church, I was
shocked to read that I am part of a "major invasion." The only
conclusion I could come to was that you consider me to be an enemy to the
Church, because only enemies invade.
At another point in your address, you say, "That young man with gender
disorientation needs to know that gender was not assigned at mortal birth, that
we were sons and daughters of God in the premortal state." Being unsure
what the term "gender disorientation" means, I called a psychologist
and asked. She told me the term refers not to homosexuality but to individuals
who feel that they are either a man trapped in a woman s body or a woman trapped
in a manís body. I do not suffer from gender disorientation. Iíve never been
unhappy about my gender, never wanted to be a woman, never felt like I was
anything but 100 percent male. Iím just gay, Brother Packer.
I was especially surprised by the difference between your private response to
me and your public response to the Coordinating Council. In your letter dated 1
June 1993, you say, "I appreciate the spirit in which you write. ... I
appreciate the spirit of your letter and wish you well." Itís very hard
to understand why you would privately say you appreciate the spirit in which I
write when you publicly say that my writing is part of "invasions of the
intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before."
May I share with you the experience of a Latter-day Saint family which,
although not my own, I am very familiar with. The father was a bishop, the
mother the Relief Society president. They were at the time very successful
business people in the community and universally respected and well-liked. One
of their sons sat them down and explained that he was gay. The resulting shock
and upheaval in the family was horrific. Although the couple always valued their
family as their greatest accomplishment, they took this young manís photo down
from the wall. They had always maintained an extremely active social life, but
now they literally closed the shutters, drew the blinds, and left the house only
when absolutely necessary.
The mother spent the first few days crying. The father went to work
contacting local and national specialists, intent on finding the right therapist
who would simply fix his son. When he was informed that there was little hope of
changing his son into a heterosexual, this father began studying the literature
on his own. Eventually he resolved that his only recourse was to accept his son
the way he was.
The motherís approach was somewhat different. Although she too read and
studied, she relied more upon fasting, prayer, and meditation. Time and again
she approached the Lord seeking comfort, inspiration, and guidance. She received
all three. Today, their sonís photograph is back up on the wall next to his
brothers and sister. He is accepted, loved, and welcomed in their immediate and
This coupleís experience is a very common one. Their reconciliation with
their sonís homosexuality came about not because of social or political
unrest, and not because they were being led away by evil forces in society.
Their understanding was a gift from their Heavenly Father, a ministration of the
Spirit, an answer to fervent, heartfelt prayer.
During your address to the Coordinating Council, you express considerable
concern about the rising reluctance of members of the Church to acceptówithout
questionóstatements from the authorities of the Church about their children
and friends which they believe are not correct. The reason for this growing
hesitation to accept without question comes from their search for truth, their
many discoveries along the way, and the spiritual confirmation and comfort they
find in practicing Christianity in its purest formóby loving and accepting
all, even their homosexual children.
In your address you mention that many of these people would like the Church
to "provide a special program to support them in their problems." This
is true. However, it seems from your comments that you believe such a step would
be a tremendous mistake. So it should not seem strange, if the Church cannot
support these parents with a special ministry, that the parents minister to each
other on their own. This is happening in various places in the Church, and these
small pockets of caring, loving individuals will continue to expand their
service to one another as opportunity and the Lord permit.
Finally, may I say that if you knew me personally, you might not agree with
some of my ideas or suggestions; but you would know that I am not caught up nor
led away. I am not part of some major invasion, nor am I a danger or an enemy to
the Church. I do not suffer from gender disorientation; rather I am simply a gay
Mormon, trying to make sense out of life, trying to apply the principles of the
plan of redemption which have been taught to me in countless Sunday School and
priesthood meeting lessons, and which I have taught as a missionary for the
Church. I strongly feel the Lordís love for me and I see his hand in the
world. I wish to be a part of what he is doing here, and I witness to his
If there is ever anything I can do for you or those with whom you labor, I
extend an open invitation to contact me anytime. Thank you for reading this. I
hope it somehow helps.
There was no response from Brother Packer. He seemed to have made up his mind
on the issue of homosexuality and had decided that the simple truths so evident
in the lives of gay Mormons were not information he needed. At the time, I felt
"sadder but wiser" about the entire experience. How truly unfortunate
that one memberís good-faith and very sincere effort to share experiences
encountered only bureaucratic runarounds. Although I appreciated how positive my
experiences with Bishop Christensen and President Poelman were, my feelings
about Elder Packer and the Church as an institution were changed forever.
It confused me that Elder Packer was willing to praise the "spirit"
of my letter to me but tell another group something quite different. It hurt and
angered me that Elder Packer was willing to call me an "enemy" without
even knowing me. How can anyone judge my spiritual condition or intentions
without even meeting me? It seems pretty silly to think that someone would pass
judgement on another without knowing even the most basic things about them.
Would I rather watch basketball or hockey? At Baskin-Robbins, is it pistachio,
chocolate chip mint, or rocky road? Would I rather listen to Bon Govi,
Beethoven, or Garth Brooks? Does Brother Packer know? Of course not. If he doesnít
know even these simple things about me, how can he possibly judge something as
complex as the quality of my relationship with God?
It also frustrated me that Elder Packer was willing to make sweeping
statements about a very sensitive issue without taking the time to use the
correct terminology or to reply to the actual question. That is, the point of my
letter was "How do we make life better in the Church for gay people and
their families?" And his response was "People who are confused about
their gender need to know that gender was determined in the preexistence. Even
if that statement was true, how did it help anyone?
Looking back now on this experience with some yearsí hindsight, I feel even
better about the course I pursued and more resigned than ever about the futility
of fighting the bureaucracy that the Church has become. Shortly after this last
encounter with the authorities of the Church, my partner and I separated, and I
moved my business back to Oklahoma to be close to my family. I have since
continued my spiritual journey by attending a Religious Science5
here in Oklahoma City. I donít harbor any strongly negative feelings toward
the Church nowóin fact, there is often a sense of sweet, nostalgic fondness
for the people, places, and events in my Mormon past. But I feel very deeply
that it is way past time to pursue spirituality in a different, more loving and
And itís also time to forgive. Itís time to let go of those silly notions
and expectations of General Authority perfection that were taught to me as a kid
in that "funeral home" chapel so long ago. People are people, and all
of us fall short of the goal of perfection. Itís just a question of degree.
Sometimes General Authorities do wonderful things, and sometimes they do stupid
things. Members are the same. It comes with the territory of being human.
So what do we make of General Authorities who do stupid things, who exercise
extremely poor judgement, or teach their own ideas and prejudices as if they
were a part of the gospel? How do we reconcile their occasional glaring mistakes
with the deeply held belief that they speak for God?
In 1943, Apostle Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated after it was discovered
that he had been involved in an extramarital relationship of many yearsóyears
during which he rubbed shoulders daily with the other eleven apostles. Iím not
mentioning this to judge him but rather to point out the rather obvious fact
that even members of the Twelve can sinósin in ways that arenít just being
careless, rude, or doctrinally wrong. Elder Packer was simply wrong in his
judgement of me and, in my opinion, wrong in his views on homosexuality; but
this doesnít mean thatóon other issues, with other people, in other settingsóheís
not an answer to their prayers and an instrument in the Lordís hand to meet
So I deal with this situation by returning to basic gospel principles: each
one of us has a personal responsibility to listen to what any Church leader says
with an open and receptive heart and mind, but we have an equal responsibility
to weigh carefully with the help of the Spirit any doctrinal assertions they
make. We should look to them for a good example to followóthey certainly
provide one most of the time. But obviously, everything they do should not be
automatically emulated by every member of the Church. Each one of us is
responsible for our own actions, not the actions or sins of anyone else. Each
one of us is personally responsible for working out our relationship with
Heavenly Father. And if someone offends usówhether ordinary member or General
Authorityóitís our job to find a way to forgive him or her, because if we
donít, the greater sin rests upon us.
1I did not give the high council any details, but
the bishop called me in and said that she was in the United States on a
temporary work permit. He was sure, from her past behavior with other members of
the ward before I returned home, that her motives were not honest, and he
advised me to "drop her like a hot potato." I broke off the
engagement. To this day, I donít know whether I would have gone ahead with the
marriage if the bishop hadnít intervened; but I do know that the marriage
wouldnít have workedóif not for the reasons he thought, then because of my
gaynessóand Iím grateful for his counsel.
2"Pastoring the Farside: Making a Place for Believing Homosexuals:
A Conversation with Stan Roberts, former bishop of the San Francisco Single
Adult Ward," Sunstone, February 1990, 13-19.
3Elder Boyd K. Packer, "All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting, 18
May 1993," 4-5, 6, 7, 8; photocopy of typescript in my possession.
4Although certainly true at the time this was originally written, itís
obviously no longer the case. Iíve made all of this correspondence public now,
years later, because it seems important to put all of these happenings in
5Religious Science is a spiritual philosophy which seeks to encourage
people to live in abundance and harmony with the natural laws of God. Dr. Ernest
Holmes founded a nonprofit school in 1927, naming it The Institute of Religious
Science and School of Philosophy. Although Dr. Holmes never intended the
Instituteís teachings and programs to become a separate denomination, that is
exactly what has developed, with Religion Science congregations now established
all over the country.