Sunday, January 25, 2009

Daily Universe Editorial

As the title indicates, this editorial will hopefully be published in the Daily Universe, BYU's campus newspaper. I haven't submitted it yet, but I wanted to post it here and get any feedback/comments/suggestions etc. from anyone who cares to read it.


Same-gender attraction at BYU
by Austin Smith (austin.smith@byu.net)

My freshman year home-teaching companion, a mission buddy, my cousin--these are a few of the wonderful people in my life who, through no choice of their own, are attracted to members of the same gender. I fear that here at BYU, talking about homosexuality has for too long been taboo. Same-gender attraction (SGA) is not something we can just ignore, wishing it would go away, because it won't. It deserves and demands a mature, respectful, faithful, and open discussion. We cannot allow our silence, ignorance, or intolerance to push amazing people out of the Church. As the recent Church publication for Mormons who struggle with homosexual attractions, "God Loveth His Children," says, "Some people with same-gender attraction have felt rejected because members of the Church did not always show love. No member of the Church should ever be intolerant." Tolerance does not require one to embrace homosexual behavior, but my prayer is that we, as a campus community, can be more understanding, loving and, yes, accepting of our friends and loved ones who find themselves in this position.

One misconception about those who struggle with SGA is that they simply don't have enough faith. In my experience, nothing could be farther from the truth. These are people who spend countless hours in earnest prayer, serve selflessly in the temple, magnify their callings as full-time missionary, visiting teacher, or Elder's Quorum President, and meet consistently with both priesthood leaders and professional counselors. These are people who show me what it is like to go forward with faith despite walking in darkness. Some eventually feel comfortable entering into heterosexual marriages, others feel no change in their orientation, but all demonstrate great faith and trust in God.

The men and women in our lives who struggle with SGA have a difficult cross to bear which we cannot afford to exacerbate with our scorn or disdain. However, no one wants or needs pity. Our friends and loved ones who experience SGA need to be befriended, loved, and accepted. They need, just as we all do, support in trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be able to say, as President Hinckley did, that “Our hearts reach out to those who struggle with feelings of affinity for the same gender. We remember you before the Lord, we sympathize with you, we regard you as our brothers and sisters.” Put a face on the issue: if a friend of yours were to tell you about his quiet battles with homosexuality, would you turn him away, or embrace him?

To those of you reading this who struggle with same-gender attraction, let me express my unconditional love and support for you. Know that you are not alone; there are many active Latter-day Saints who experience SGA or who have unanswered questions about this issue. One of my friends at BYU who struggles with SGA told me that for a long time, he thought he was literally the only guy in the whole university who had these kinds of feelings. That is a very depressing and unhealthy way to live, and it simply is not true. It's an easy thing to let depression and despair overwhelm you, especially if you have been unsuccessful in trying to change your orientation, but I plead with you to hang on. Remember the words of Nephi, who acknowledged that he did not know the meaning of all things, but nevertheless testified "I know that [God] loveth his children." You do not need to bear this burden alone, there are many resources where you can find help and support. Seek out close friends and family members with whom you can confide and discuss your trials, missteps, successes, and goals. Speak with your bishop, chances are he has counseled with others in your situation. BYU offers free counseling where you can confidentially work through your feelings with an empathetic professional. The website NorthStarLDS.org is a resource and community for Mormons who experience SGA, with the aim of helping them cope with their struggles and stay active in the church. Above all, search out the best in life and enjoy the abundant blessings of the church and the fellowship of the saints.

As a BYU community, it is my fervent hope that our attitudes on the issue of same-gender attraction can be open and tolerant. That does not mean we need to compromise our beliefs or condone sexual activity outside of marriage, but we should always strive to love our brothers and sisters as God loves each and every one of us: unconditionally, no matter our struggles.


Update: You can read the final, published version (which only uses the term "struggle" once, when paraphrasing the words of a friend with SSA) here on the Daily Universe website.

11 comments:

  1. Excellent comments! I hope that maybe people will really start to think about the fact that there are members of the church who have SGA and who are still wonderful worthy individuals who deserve all the respect and support we can give them. I really hope this gets published and rid BYU students/church members of some of the ignorance regarding SGA.

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  2. yeah this definitely needs to be published soon, especially with all of the idiocy/insensitivity/stereotyping regarding "gay fashion" that been going down in the readers forum lately.

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  3. at FHE the other night, one of the guys told a story about someone who "friended" him on facebook but he denied the friend request when he found out he was gay. My two reactions were: #1: wow; typical ignorance at BYU, and #2: cool story hansel.

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  4. Rebecca: thanks, I've definitely got my fingers crossed. I just emailed it to the editor, and I'm hopeful that she'll get it published, especially with her passionate response to the brouhaha that Ryan alluded to, which leads to...

    Ryan: Seriously, what the heck was that? Also, I find it very humorous that the original nonsense was written by two guys together. Perhaps there's some denial going on there. Also, you walked right by me in the Talmage the other day, and I will never forgive you for it.

    Adeline: Oh my word. Sometimes, after days of just talking to my roommates and friends who either are "liberal" or know I'm "liberal," I start to think that homophobia really isn't all that bad at BYU. But then I overhear something like this in class or FHE or wherever. Oh boy.

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  5. biggins this is beautiful.
    i hope it gets published, as so many suffer from this trial--so much so that it's published in our world-wide church magazine.

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  6. I really hope it got published! Good thoughts!

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  7. Austin:

    I join others in applauding your efforts to reach out and be so supportive.

    May I share with you a perspective that may not have occurred to you, but which has been the subject of some recent discussion by myself and other blogger friends of mine.

    It's the use of the word "struggle" and other words which imply a burden, an affliction, a tragic cross to bear. I realize that you have spoken in complete and supportive good faith and so I don't feel hurt or offended by your use of such words. And I hope you will not be offended by what I say here, because that's not my intent at all. I simply wish to give you some additional insight.

    Words like this come across to many gay Mormons, myself included, as condescending and patronizing. While being gay and LDS is of course difficult, it's not because of the characteristic of homosexuality itself. It's because of what the Church and Mormon culture make of it. THAT is the struggle.

    I and many of my gay Mormon friends value this part of our lives. Shorn of the opprobrium which the Church and Mormon culture impose on us for something we haven't chosen and can't change, it can actually bring much happiness. This is probably difficult to comprehend for an active LDS person who is not gay and whose only perspective on it is filtered through what the Church and Mormon culture say about it. But I assure you it is true. I would not change this part of myself even if I could.

    I hope that doesn't come across as unweening pride. It's not. It is simply a confident acceptance that this is how God chose to make me, and since He "don't make no junk", I cannot and will not accept the idea that He somehow deliberately "burdened" me with an "affliction" against which I have a responsibility to "struggle" throughout my life.

    The true affliction and struggle was the years of toeing the Church line and trying to pretend that this was not part of who I was, of imagining that with sufficient effort I could one day just "pray away the gay," and of believing that I was somehow less acceptable to God because I was gay.

    Finally I realized that none of that was true and that such a "struggle" would forever be unavailing. Since accepting that, and being open & honest about who and what I am, there has been peace in my life and heart as never before. My prayers are as heartfelt and more joyous, and I believe the influence of the Spirit in my life is as strong as ever. As one of my blogger friends said, I don't "struggle" with being gay, it comes quite naturally to me. Life has been so much happier since I stopped that fruitless "struggle."

    Perhaps you can see now why those of us who have found so much happiness in accepting who we are would dislike the insinuations carried by words like "struggle" and "affliction" and "burden." Many of us feel afflicted only by what others choose to unjustly or unthinkingly project onto us, not by what we ourselves feel.

    Many Mormons resent anti-Mormon Christians telling us what we "really" believe, when we know they are completely off the mark and driven by a hostile agenda. In exactly the same way, many gay Mormons resent other Mormons telling us that we are "afflicted" or "burdened" with a "struggle" when we truly feel none of those things, and in fact often feel the opposite. If anything afflicts us, it is the treatment which many homophobic Church members continue to dish out in defiance of counsel from their leaders, and the unnecessary pity which other Church members no doubt feel for us in their innocent and uninformed good faith. When it is not necessary, deserved or wanted, pity can be infuriating.

    I do not feel broken and don't want to be treated or thought of as if I am. All I want is the same respect and decent treatment, shorn of suspicion and innuendo, which any other child of God deserves for how God made them.

    Thanks again for putting yourself out there on behalf of charity, understanding and tolerance. It really means a lot to me and I'm sure to many others.

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  8. I'm with Alan on this one. Frankly I found the editorial extremely condescending and patronizing. I worry it would encourage BYU students to treat me like a fragile child instead of an equal. As I tell people who ask me if I struggle with "those" feelings, I don't struggle with same sex attractions, they come quite naturally.

    I do really admire your support and your efforts to reach out to other Latter-day Saints to promote dialog about something that is important to me. Your call for compassion will go a long way. But I think a slightly different approach could go further.

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  9. Alan and Daniel, thanks for your thoughts, I definitely understand where you're coming from. I replied a bit more on Alan's blog, but in a nutshell: I see how you feel it is condescending, and I will remove/rephrase at least some of the times I use "struggle" for the final version (it hasn't been published yet). At the same time, however, my audience is more towards the intolerant straights at BYU first, and second, to those people who really are struggling with homosexuality, who haven't come out to anyone (maybe not even to themselves) and who are very confused about what is going on with their sexuality. I am very glad that you guys are comfortable with who you are, and I don't want to be patronizing toward anyone who is gay, but I also have to meet the vast majority of the BYU student body where they are. And as I'm sure you're aware, that means combating the most basic misunderstandings about homosexuality and emphasizing the unconditional love we should show everyone.

    Hope that speaks a bit to your concerns. If you'd like to discuss it more, feel free to email me at biggins2 at gmail dot com, I'd love to talk to you both more about my editorial and anything else. Also, Daniel, I saw on your blog that you go to (or have been to) the Matis firesides. If you're there next week, say hi!

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  10. Awesome post! I wish more people thought like you. Lately, I've been feeling some depression over all the anger being shown, on both sides of the fence. It makes me feel tired, and, to some extent, like there's no point in continuing the fight, because nobody's listening, anyway.

    I'm glad I found your blog.

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  11. C.J. Thanks so much. I was actually just reading Eugene England's address at the 1998 Affirmation conference, and your feelings reminded me of his words towards the end:

    "God's demand that we learn to be like him, unconditionally loving of all–even of those we see as dramatically different from us and therefore fear, is certainly a challenge to heterosexuals in our Mormon culture. How does it challenge you as a gay or lesbian Mormon? Can you love General Authorities, bishops, even bigots in your local congregation, unconditionally? Can you serve them with mercy and justice, visit them in their prisons of misunderstanding and fear as you hope they will in yours of isolation and yearning? Can you treat them as Christ would?

    "Finally, can you be a Zion person as defined in the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the few in the world that is not at war with others, one who makes peace?"

    You're absolutely right that everyone, on both sides of this and every debate, needs to be more Christlike. I'm going to try to renew my commitment to that ideal, so I'm glad you found my blog too!

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