by DAVID E. HARDY
I am the father of a gay son who is now in his freshman year in college. I am also a Mormon. Over the past couple of years my wife and I along with several of our children have spoken out on the damaging propagation of homophobic myth that forms the foundation for the LDS Church leadership's policies and practices toward our gay children.
After taking this forbidden issue on in this community through public appearances, published articles, press conferences and radio interviews, we were, to be honest, a little overwhelmed and burned out, and decided to "sit down and shut up" for a while. However, the circumstances surrounding the recent suspension of two gay students by BYU pulled me back up out of my chair.
All we have ever asked is that the LDS church leadership be consistent in their public pronouncements and distributed written materials about our gay children. Each time we have raised a clear inconsistency and asked for a direct answer, we have been met with the official church media response: "President Hinckley has said before that we love these people and welcome them" or words to that effect. Taking the church leadership at its word, it is interesting in light of the recent dismissal of two gay students by BYU -- one a senior on a full academic scholarship -- to determine exactly who the "these people" are that the Church publicly loves and welcomes.
Apparently it is not young gay men and women who adhere to the same standards of chastity required to be met by heterosexual young men and women in the church. Although President Hinckley has often publicly stated that all the church requires is that young gay men and women live the same moral standards required of other church members, it was reported that these young LDS students were dismissed from BYU for being seen holding hands and kissing, and were instructed that they would not be readmitted unless they could get a church-approved professional counselor to attest that they were refraining from, among other things, dating, holding hands, and association with homosexual men. For those of you who wonder what that last item might prohibit, it would apparently encompass being my son's friend. This is clearly not the same "standard of chastity" required of other church members. We can deduce that these students are apparently not the kind of "these people" the church says it loves and welcomes.
So who are the "these people?" It would appear that they are those gay members who are either willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of their integrity by hiding their true identity, living a double life showing their families and church leaders only what they want to see, or those gay members who have at last been "cured."
Is the church leadership really being forthright when it continues to give the public media response that the church loves and welcomes our gay children?
On Oct. 6, 2000, the day before the commencement of the LDS Church's Semi-Annual General Conference, my wife and I, along with two other sets of Mormon parents of gay children, held a public news conference at my office in Salt Lake asking the church leadership to stop printing and distributing several pamphlets originally written over a quarter of a century ago that demonize those who, like my son, will struggle all of their lives with the reality and the challenges of being gay.
At the bottom of it all is the fundamental issue of change, or rather changeability. Two days after our news conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and author of two of the four pamphlets in question, spoke out at General Conference reconfirming the church's official position that one's sexual orientation is changeable. Period. From the doctrine of changeability necessarily flows the doctrine of choice. Because Elder Packer says my son can change his sexual orientation, if he fails to do so, it can only be because he ultimately chose not to. Once the doctrine of choice is established, Pandora's box is opened, and from it arise the real demons that afflict and torment families like ours: hate, judgment, condemnation, self-loathing, despair, suicide. It is the enthroning of the twin doctrines of changeability and choice to define same sex orientation within our community that condemns our gay children to lives as latter-day lepers, with nowhere ultimately to turn except deception, flight from their families and faith, or self-destruction.
In the face of overwhelming human experience, suffering, and mounting scientific and medical evidence that one's sexual orientation is neither chosen nor changeable, why does the church leadership cling to these twin doctrines? Why would they knowingly provide the impetus for and lend sanction to ineffectual and harmful "corrective" or "reparative" therapies condemned by the mainstream medical community?
The other great demon that arises within our community from the twin doctrines of changeability and choice is fear. Members of communities like ours fear our gay children because they fear for their own children. Distributed today to LDS ward and stake leaders is a pamphlet, first printed nearly 30 years ago, in which a venerated church leader wrote concerning our gay children for all the church to see and judge: "You do the bidding of your master . . . You are in abject bondage, a servant compelled to do the will of your master, the Devil, Satan." (Letter To A Friend, (c) 1971 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
What is feared? If homosexuality is a matter of choice, then it must be able to be taught, suggested, enticed and learned. Our children are at risk of being recruited into becoming gay. Gay men and women are on the prowl for our youth. "Some who become tangled up in this disorder become predators. They proselyte the young or the inexperienced" (To The One, (c) 1978 Intellectual Reserve Inc. -- another currently distributed pamphlet, and authored by President Packer). The East High School Gay Straight Alliance literally saved my son's life at a point when he desperately needed a safe place to find and talk to friends -- other kids, not adults -- who shared the same challenge he did. While professing Christian love for our gay children, the LDS Church leadership, and thus the vast majority of our community, officially demonizes them. Is it really so different from 11th century Hamburg?
We understand that this is not an easy issue, but what we ask for is an honest discussion of the realities, not an institutional perpetuation of the myths that are so damaging to gay children and their families within this community.
It is easy for one group to demonize another group that is different. Our history books bear silent witness to this above all other facts. It is what wars, crusades, pogroms and prejudice are made of. It is much harder, though, for one person to demonize another individual he or she knows. It is on the level of the individual that dogma and reality come face to face. Every one of you knows people who are gay (and more that are gay but you don't know it) -- sons, daughters, siblings, parents, grandchildren, relatives, friends, doctors, teachers, business associates. Are these people you know demons? Are they pedophiles on the prowl for your children? Or are they good people who simply were created different from you in a way that is hard for some to relate to -- who, just like you, want to be accorded the right to live their lives and find happiness and emotional connectedness with someone they love, in a manner that does not harm or threaten anyone or anyone's family. Think about what you have actually experienced and know, rather than what your particular group's preconception is.
If there is anything I have learned through all this, it is that I certainly do not have all the answers. It is a complex and difficult issue, especially in our community. I have a wonderful son whom I have loved all of his life. He has a multitude of qualities, attributes and talents. One of those attributes is that he is gay and will be gay all of his life. This is the reality that has shaped our decisions as a family. Has our journey been hard? Immensely. To move beyond hard-held, ecclesiastically instilled preconceptions is wrenching. Has it been a sacrifice? Hardly. In our home there is a greater solidarity and love between all of us, parents and children. I have come to understand that I know far fewer of the answers than I thought I knew, and am hopefully wiser for it. I have learned that when dogma and reality come face to face, one must invariably yield to the other.
David E. Hardy practices law in Salt Lake City.