It’s November 2015, and I’m a freshman at Brigham Young University. I watch my roommate Rachel stand up from her seat in our Latter-day Saints church congregation and walk down the aisle and out the door. And I’m not the only one who turns my head. Half of the congregation glances at her as she leaves the church service and the other half tries to pretend they didn’t notice.
Moments before she walked out, the speaker had been complaining about the uproar over the new church policy that prevented children of LGBTQ parents from getting baptized and declared those in queer relationships “apostate,” a disciplinary measure that resulted in automatic excommunication and put them in the same league as murderers and sex offenders. I want to walk with her, but I’m still in the closet. Even though Rachel’s a straight woman with no skin in the game, she has more strength than me to stand up for what she believes in.
I’m not writing this to convince anyone that this policy was wrong or un-Christlike, because I don’t have to anymore. This week, the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints announced it rescinded this policy due to “continuing revelation” from God. Children from LGBTQ homes can now be baptized. While the church still doesn’t see same-sex marriages as valid, they will no longer be viewed as apostate. And Latter-day Saints apostle Dallin H. Oaks, known among the queer community for his anti-LGBTQ talks, declared an interest in “better understanding and less contentious communications” between straight and LGBTQ members of the church.
“My excitement started deflating when I read texts and Twitter posts from my queer friends. ... So many people were devastated by the 2015 policy, and trying to take it back now doesn’t erase the pain that they’ve felt.”
When I received the news, I was thrilled. I’m not what most people think of when they hear the word “Mormon.” I’m addicted to caffeine, I swear sometimes when I get angry, and I transitioned from female to male a little over two years ago. But when I read the Bible and the Book of Mormon, I see goodness in them. Even though I don’t always agree with church policies, I believe that our doctrine’s core mirrors Christ’s greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But my excitement started deflating when I read texts and Twitter posts from my queer friends. When the church policy was first announced in 2015, one friend fell into a deep depression and may have been saved from suicide by their kids. Another left the church because they couldn’t believe that God could pass a policy that excluded children from drawing near him. So many people were devastated by this policy, and trying to take it back now doesn’t erase the pain that they’ve felt.
If I were to summarize the past 3 1/2 years for the queer Mormon community, I would describe them as filled with both sorrow and joy. In 2017, a 12-year-old girl named Savannah came out to her congregation, but was ushered off stage after ward leaders cut off her microphone. Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds founded the Loveloud music festival to raise awareness for LGBTQ suicides in Utah, which have doubled since 2011. And for the past two years, the Encircle resource center in Northern Utah has been a safe space for queer youth and has helped open the dialogue between the LGBTQ and Latter-day Saints communities.
The queer community in Utah is doing its part to spread compassion. What we want is for the church to meet us halfway. Reversing the November 2015 policy is a good first step, but it’s just that: a beginning. It creates an opening for queer families to worship at church, but it doesn’t erase the pain these families have felt or the discrimination they’ve experienced. Words and policies aren’t much if they’re not coupled with actions. What’s more, the church still views same-sex marriage as a serious transgression, proving just how far we still have to go to achieve true acceptance from the church.
Although I’m a queer Mormon, I don’t have much skin in this particular game. Not really. I wasn’t a parent when this policy was put into effect. My church leadership never declared me “apostate” for loving someone so much that I married them and started a family together. When I came out to my parents one month after the November 2015 policy, they never stopped loving me or staying by my side. As far as LGBTQ Mormons go, I’ve had an easy life.
Still, queer or straight, religious or not, I think it’s time all of us stood up for one another. We need to listen to those who are hurting and try to understand where they’re coming from. We need to make our churches as compassionate as the religious figures we built them to worship. One of the most remarkable things about human beings is our capacity for love. It’s time for us to not only say how much we love each other, but to act like it, too.
“We need to listen to those who are hurting and try to understand where they’re coming from. We need to make our churches as compassionate as the religious figures we built them to worship.”
Maybe that’s why today, I’ve been thinking about what my roommate Rachel did. Even though the policy never affected her, she felt that the kindest thing she could do was walk out for those who were hurting but couldn’t tell anyone. Years later, I’m still grateful for her example.
Rachel was brave and kind in ways that I didn’t understand as a college freshman. After I came out, she was the person who suggested the name “Andy” as a masculinized version of my birth name. She went with me to one of my therapy sessions so she could better understand how I felt and help. Right now, while so many of my LGBTQ friends are hurting, I hope that I can open my heart like she did, listen, and help however I can.
Andy Winder is a contemporary YA writer currently revising a queer romance about a trans girl who enters a televised baking competition. He has written for Bustle and FTM Magazine, and he currently works as a writer for an early literacy nonprofit. You can learn more about his work at andywinder.com or on Twitter at @andyjwinder.