Any Latter-day Saint who has gone into a priesthood leader (bishop or stake president) to disclose same-sex attraction or confess to homosexual behavior has probably encountered a man who doesn’t have much of a clue as to how to offer support. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions, but I read or hear it all the time in support groups. I also hear in those support groups a frustration that there isn’t some kind of training that bishops receive regarding an issue that is so important to us.I have had similar frustrations and pushed for a very long time to get something to happen. It was indeed an exercise in futility. It might be easy for anyone in my situation to conclude that I won’t receive the support I need in the Church or that its local leaders are to blame for my lack of support from them.
As I’ve worked through my feelings on the matter, I have seen a different vision of how to train leaders. In my time, I’ve told my story in two firesides in wards, been part of presentation team to several stakes, spoken twice at what used to be called a Regional Welfare Council, interviewed with three local news reporters, and was interviewed for the PBS documentary, The Mormons, though my interview didn’t make the final cut. I’ve been blogging or otherwise writing on the internet about same-sex attraction since about 1996 under my real name.
These activities have all been in the hope that somehow for others after me who deal with same-sex attraction, leaders and fellow church members might be more informed or accepting. I have never felt like any of this had been in vain. I have been approached by priesthood leaders for information. One stake president in another state told me he had learned so much from the things I have written on the internet.
Despite all of this, I still read in support forums and from close personal friends that they are afraid their leaders don’t or won’t understand. I still hear calls for more training and understanding. Sadly, I still hear of tragic stories of poorly treated individuals who seek solace and direction from priesthood leaders who don’t know about same-sex attraction or don’t want to know.
I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture. I have also read of many wonderful experiences with humble priesthood leaders who really want to know and make an effort to listen. As time goes by, I hear more and more of these stories of positive experiences with local priesthood leaders. At the same time, I hear calls for more training, more understanding, and more visibility.
Part of my experience in visiting stakes and doing presentations with the advisors to a group I belonged to was that those advisors, who did not experience same-sex attraction were considered by our audience to be the more credible teachers. I, as one who does experience same-sex attraction, was not taken seriously.
Those advisors were wonderful. They opened their home to us for meetings. They were great listeners and great mentors. They had been close to the issue for a long time, having had a dear friend who dealt with it. They were well-respected and successful in the business world and in society. I’ve always been grateful to them for their sacrifices for me.
However, no matter how well-intentioned they might have been, they can never effectively deliver a message of what it is like to deal with same-sex attraction personally. I don’t think they intended to establish themselves as experts to the stake leaders we talked to. It was just an unfortunate fact that leaders assumed that someone like me was not as deserving of their acknowledgement as a so-called “non-struggler” was.
I think that is the biggest pitfall to gaining the respect and attention of priesthood leaders. As long as we rely on surrogates to express themselves for us, we will not come into our own as advocates for ourselves. That is the first plank of a strategy that I think is more helpful in delivering a message of hope and training leaders in how to support us.
It is a difficult challenge. I think it a two-edged sword. On the one edge you have the prejudice of people who think that someone who only supports us is a more reliable witness than one of us. On the other edge you have a multitude of those who desire to support us who want to have their say as well.
Spotlighted therapists, church leaders who have had some experience with it, group advisors, and marchers in parades will all speak up for us once in awhile. Though not unappreciated, it seems to me that it only adds to a misrepresentation of us that we can’t speak for ourselves. That is why I think this blog is so important. We truly can speak for ourselves and can do so more accurately than anyone who doesn’t share our struggle.
The next and most important plank in a strategy that I believe in is that we should stop thinking that we need to educate stake presidents and bishops. To me, a man who bears the mantle of stake president or bishop already has access, if he chooses to use it, to the ultimate source of direction for how to support us. I think that mantle is best invoked when same-sex attracted brothers and sisters come to him for the spiritual difficulties they face.
I would always hope that there are resources for the humble among those leaders to turn to for that part of the process of revelation that is to “study it out in your mind.” I would always hope that currently sitting bishops and stake presidents would avail themselves of those resources. Yet, I think the real training of bishops and stake presidents would happen before they are called.
After all I have done to be “out there” talking about same-sex attraction, the best personal support I’ve ever received has been from my family and friends through my personal sharing of my struggles and difficulties. As a high priest group instructor, my teaching style has always been for me to expect members of the group to respond to questions I ask from a personal viewpoint instead of pontificating doctrine that all of us curmudgeons already know so well. (See my blog post, The Supremacy of the Personal.)
I live in an area where priesthood leaders seem to be overly wary of outside influences. Many years ago, Evergreen International did a mini-conference in our area. Priesthood leaders came, but most of them were outside of our area, traveling a long way to get information that the local leaders seemed to boycott. For whatever reason that they did not come, I ended up feeling unsupported.
Even though I was not an organizer of that event, my disappointment led me to a conclusion about what it would take for my local priesthood leaders to take an interest in a subject that so deeply affects me. My choice would either be to act on my same-sex attraction feelings and thus create a fairly strong reason to pay attention or to be patient and wait for someone else to bring things to their attention. The former, for me, was no choice at all. I made my covenant with God a long time ago about my own behavior.
The latter approach was no good either. Just because someone acts on their same-sex feelings and draws the attention to it of their leaders does not mean that there will be a surge in interest on the part of leaders.
|Drew has known about my same-sex attraction since the very first time we met. In the last decade, I have never felt for an instant that he thought less of me because of it. I don’t know if he will ever be a priesthood leader and since we don’t even live in the same stake, not my own priesthood leader. That is not up to me. I do know that he is ready in any calling to understand how to support someone who experiences same-sex attraction.|
So, I am left with what I think is the best strategy I can think of. It hasn’t exactly worked for me yet, but I keep trying. Remembering my devotion to the idea that personal is better than philosophical, I have made it a part of my life that I share my experiences with same-sex attraction with close friends who might someday find themselves in a position of leadership. They will enter their callings already trained by me in a very personal way.
When I say that it hasn’t worked yet, I mean that none of my close personal friends have become my bishop or stake president. So far, I tend to befriend people who aren’t exactly upwardly mobile in the hierarchy of the local Church organization. I don’t know if any of the men I’ve personally shared my feelings with are going to be bishops or stake presidents any time soon. I attract men who are dealing with their own difficulties. It’s part of my personality to be a good listener.
One thing I know for certain is that no friend of mine who becomes a local priesthood leader will ever get “trained” by me in same-sex attraction if I never share with him what I deal with. In my experience, disclosing to friends has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I know for many that are in the throes of that which we tend to refer to as “struggling with same-sex attraction”, that it’s not always an opportune time to let friends in on it.
There are risks. I’ve lost a couple of people I thought of as friends. People can say all sorts of things about you. You can draw a lot of negative attention. For me, the rewards have been greater. I’ve found truer friends than the ones I had before. I’ve been less lonely. I’ve even been admired.
My strategy, in a nutshell, is to stop worrying about training current local leaders. I’m focusing on training future leaders.
Training friends is where it’s at!
It’s a good strategy for me, since I’m not really in a place in my life where I desperately need a priesthood leader’s attention. It is one of my deepest hopes that all priesthood leaders, present and future, will have thought about this issue enough to be of the greatest support to a man or woman dealing with same-sex attraction.