LGBT Pride Month Highlights Deepening Divide Between Mormon Leadership and Members

Since November of last year, when the church announced a policy that mandates church discipline (the process that leads to excommunication) for LGBT individuals in same-sex marriages and bars their children from baptism, church leadership has engaged in a consistent drumbeat of bigoted messages aimed at the LGBT community.
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June is LGBT Pride Month--and for a growing number of Mormons, it's a time for celebration. Social media is awash with rainbow-colored profile pictures of devout Latter-day Saints and their families, and active Mormons are planning marching contingents in several LGBT Pride parades throughout the country.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself, however, greeted LGBT Pride month with a strikingly different announcement. Just last week, church leaders released a letter urging Mormons in Mexico to reject a public policy initiative that would legalize marriage equality across the country--a move disappointingly similar to the misguided Mormon involvement in California's Proposition 8 in 2008.

Since November of last year, when the church announced a policy that mandates church discipline (the process that leads to excommunication) for LGBT individuals in same-sex marriages and bars their children from baptism, church leadership has engaged in a consistent drumbeat of bigoted messages aimed at the LGBT community. Those words and actions have been so severe they've raised serious questions about their impact on suicide rates of LGBT youth inside the faith, including Harry Fisher, whose death was closely linked to his experience as a gay Mormon man.

But while the church itself seems largely indifferent to reports of youth suicide and appears determined to repeat mistakes of the past, church membership continues on a path of inclusion that is far more Christlike. Even prior to the November policy, Mormon acceptance of homosexuality had grown 50 percent over eight years, according to a Pew research study. However, the policy and continued anti-LGBT vitriol seem to have ignited an even faster cultural change.

According to prominent Mormon blogger Judy Dushku, this accelerating cultural change can be directly attributed to the November policy.

"[While] thousands of people left the church, thousands more stayed in and continue to regularly attend church, yet openly either joke about The Policy or, more respectfully but still firmly, reject it. And there is still a Mormon church and people still call themselves Mormons... But the authority of the Brethren [the senior Mormon Church leadership] has lost its tight grip. The church is bigger than both "The Policy" and bigger than the Brethren."

Of course, we still have our fair share of "follow-the-prophet" Mormons--those who do as their told without question. But more and more Mormons are feeling it's their duty to follow Christ--and they hear their Savior calling them in a very different direction than the Brethren.

Social media posts provided some insight into what's going on inside the heads and hearts of Mormons today when it comes to how they think about LGBT individuals. One Mormon writes:

"More than ever gay people need to know they have Mormon love and support and the hierarchy certainly isn't going to give it. So we have to do it at the grass roots level and one day the hierarchy will turn around to see who is following them and nobody will be there. The shaming and the suicides need to stop."

Still another:

"I feel like LGBT Pride this year is more important than ever. The church's new 'revelation' is not remotely Christ-like. There is no love in exclusion. I want my brothers and sisters to know I stand with them and that I love them. I want the brethren to see that we as church members follow the admonition of the Savior to love one another. The message needs to be seen and heard loudly and clearly. There is not one story in the scriptures that shows Christ excluding. He drew people in. He loved. He served. That is the only path for me. "

And it's not just about words posted on social media. Mormons are taking concrete steps to show their willingness to increase inclusion of the LGBT community --despite leadership's apparent urging to do otherwise:

LGBT Pride Parades: Just like we've done since 2012, Mormons will march in LGBT Pride parades all across the country, including Salt Lake City, San Francisco, New York, and Phoenix among others.. The Sunday marches replace traditional worship services and for many are viewed as a chance to go beyond simply talking about what Christ would do, and roll up our sleeves and actually do it. The best part might be the signs. You'll see Mormons holding banners that say things like, "This Mormon Mom Supports Your Right to Marry," "I Believe Jesus Would Bake the Damn Cake," and "Sorry We're Late!"

Rainbow Mormon Initiative: This is a group of Mormon LGBT allies launching an initiative to show their support and love by wearing rainbow ribbons to church (or wearing them on Sundays if they do not attend) and posting photos of themselves online. The Rainbow Mormon Initiative also encourages those who wish to participate to knit or crochet scarves, hats, or blankets to donate to Ogden Youth Futures, a shelter for homeless LGBT+ teens in northern Utah.

Local events and firesides: In the Mormon world, a fireside is a supplementary spiritually focused meeting held after normal church services. Across the country, we're seeing a surge of firesides that are directly targeted at LGBT Mormons, their families, and allies. These range from casual potlucks to full-day conferences, and in almost all cases, include Bishops and Stake Presidents (leaders of local Mormon congregations). All Arizona is among the largest, and this past April held a conference with more than 400 attendees from across the nation. In the San Francisco Bay Area we've launched The Hearth, which hosts monthly firesides featuring speakers on LGBT Mormon topics and fellowship after the events.

I can't help but look at all this and think of that famous quote by Benjamin Hooks, former director of the NAACP: "If you think you are leading and turn around to see no one following, then you are just taking a walk."

I predict that just like our misguided involvement in Prop 8, this time in our history will do more to create understanding and inclusion of LGBT individuals than any grass roots initiative that could ever be organized.

In fact, it already has.

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