Shoulders to the Wheel: The Most Optimistic Gay Mormon Moments of 2013

FILE - In this June 2, 2013 file photo, members of the Mormons Building Bridges march during the Utah Gay Pride Parade in Sal
FILE - In this June 2, 2013 file photo, members of the Mormons Building Bridges march during the Utah Gay Pride Parade in Salt Lake City. The Mormon church?s stance on homosexuality has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California?s Proposition 8. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The Church has need of helping hands,
And hearts that know and feel;
The work to do is here for you,
Put your shoulder to the wheel.

This is one of the verses of a traditional Mormon hymn called, "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel." As Mormons, it reminds us of our own pioneering history, with our ancestors putting their shoulders to the wheel of handcarts and pushing them along the plains to find a safe haven, free from persecution. But it's also more than that. It reminds us that even today, there are journeys being undertaken that require not only willing shoulders, but willing hearts. And both of these things are embedded into the fabric of who we are as Mormons: willing to work and possessing a heart-felt desire to improve and progress.

When it comes to the LGBT community, it doesn't take much more than a quick web search to realize Mormons across the world are starting to do the work of moving towards greater inclusion for our LGBT brothers and sisters.

As an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint who just completed my calling as a priesthood leader in my local congregation as my authentic self -- an openly gay man -- I'm keenly interested in the work taking place for LGBT inclusion and equality. Don't get me wrong, I'm among the first to realize that we have a challenging road ahead of us, and have no problem pointing out areas where we're still weak.

But I also know this is going to be a long journey. With so many Mormons now participating in the everyday struggles towards openness and equality, it's important to recognize what we do right, as well. So I'm taking a look back at 2013 and highlighting some of the strides Mormons have made on the journey to LGBT inclusion -- as my faith continues to move forward with Christ-like love to full inclusion of its LGBT members.

Family Acceptance Project Releases the Documentary, "Families Are Forever"

The Family Acceptance Project works to decrease serious health risks for LGBT youth, including depression, suicide and homelessness in the context of their families. They've brought their powerful evidence-based research to bear one more time for the Mormon community with the release of the film, "Families Are Forever."

This short documentary, another in a series of resources available to LDS families, tells the story of one devout Mormon family's journey from supporting Prop 8 to supporting and loving their young gay son unconditionally. The film premiered in San Francisco during Pride Week at the Frameline Film Festival to a standing ovation from the audience. Since then, "Families Are Forever" has been accepted into and received awards from many film festivals, and will screen in the U.S. and internationally during 2014. The film will be available for wider release later this year.

The Mormon Church Officially Endorses Inclusive Scouting.

As a gay Mormon, and someone for whom scouting was just as much a right of passage in my youth as my church activities, this gives me hope for the generations to follow. While the BSA announcement isn't perfect, the decision -- and the Mormon Church's endorsement of it -- opens the door to help keep our gay youth safer and happier.

Research done by The Family Acceptance Project tells us rejection is the leading risk factor for LGBT youth when it comes to health issues, including depression and suicide. With this incremental change, we have a chance to build a healthier generation of Mormons who are better equipped to follow God's second great commandment to love one another for who we genuinely are.

Utah Becomes the 18th State to Legalize Marriage Equality

Late in 2013, District Judge Robert J. Shelby found that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violated the U.S. constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law. While there is a temporary hold on any new marriages in the short-term, over 1000 gay couples have married across the state, including many LGBT Mormon couples, like my friends Michael Ferguson and Seth Anderson.

Michael and Seth were the first couple to be granted a marriage license under the new ruling. Said Michael in an interview, "I have felt God working in this. We are told that love is going to come like a thief in the night, and it did. Any anger or bitterness I've accumulated from living as a gay man in Utah, when we got married yesterday, it disappeared. A weight has been lifted from my heart."

Progressive Mormon Thought Leaders Launch "No More Strangers" Blog

The blog "No More Strangers" was named after a 2013 talk given in a Latter-day Saint General Conference by the same name, reminding Mormons that in this Church, there are no strangers and no outcasts; there are only brothers and sisters. It is significant because for the first time, it brings together intergenerational pioneers on the topic of LGBT Mormons, and along with it some diverse perspectives. Authors include Carol Lynn Pearson, a long-time, vocal advocate for inclusion; Bob Rees, a former Mormon bishop who began working with LGBT Mormons back in the 1970s; and Bill Bradshaw who founded LDS Family Fellowship for LGBT Mormons and their parents. You'll also find newer voices such as Tom and Wendy Montgomery, the parents featured in Family Acceptance Project's film "Families Are Forever," and Randall Thacker, president of Affirmation for LGBT Mormons . While the mission is to explore LGBT Mormondom from several unique perspectives, one overarching goal ties them all together: Let there be no more strangers among us.

BYU LGBT Students Launch Video Project to Reach Out to Other LGBT Youth

This video features LGBT Brigham Young University students talking openly about the struggle they face as gay Mormons. What's profound here is the honesty with which these students talk about issues that we as Mormons don't normally approach: depression and suicidal thoughts.

Produced solely by Brigham Young University student members of USGA (Understanding Same Gender Attraction) at BYU, it follows the highly acclaimed "It Gets Better" video produced by this same group in April 2012. This video was developed partly in response to an informal survey of about 100 LGBT BYU students, which indicated 74 percent of LGBT students on campus had contemplated suicide at some point in their lives and that 24 percent attempted suicide. These videos reflect personal expressions of faith, echoing the call for compassion, respectful discourse, and outreach by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Straight Allies and LGBT Mormons March in Pride Parades Around the Country For the Second Year in a Row

Once again in 2013, LDS allies and LGBT Mormons lined the streets in several cities to send a powerful message: We love and support our LGBT fellows just as they are, and we want to make our LDS church communities more welcoming.

The message is not only designed for the LGBT community, but for LDS leaders as well, asking them to support the marches as a show of good will and a request to help fulfill the goal of welcoming LGBT members into congregations -- wherever they are in their personal lives.

In 2013, gay Mormons and their allies marched in over a dozen parades around the country, including here in San Francisco. My heart personally soared when, after leading the San Francisco contingent on the same day Mormons marched in New York City and Seattle, our profile ended up as the top AP story for coverage of Pride that day.

So there you have it: My top picks for the most optimistic gay Mormon moments of 2013. The list isn't perfect. But the good news is there are now tens of thousands of Mormons out there who are willing to labor as allies for equality and inclusion -- the same way we've done in the past with our pioneering history.

For me personally, the Pride march stands out as especially symbolic. It hearkens to our pioneer roots, and our history of Mormons pulling together to find a location where we were free to be ourselves.

So it is with our Pride marches. We put one foot in front of the other as a symbol of the other steps we're taking to help ensure inclusion for our LGBT brothers and sister. In the Pride march each year in San Francisco, we reach the completion of our journey down Market Street in a little over an hour. But from a larger metaphoric sense, Mormons are still marching on to find that place in time where everyone is free to be who they are.

When will we reach the end of that journey? I don't know. But what I do know is as a Mormon, I and many like me are certain this is the journey our Savior wants us to undertake right now. And like the handcart stories of our ancestors, this one will also be filled with wonderful accounts of the kindness of friends we meet along the way -- all while we're putting our shoulder to the wheel.

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