Dressed in a yellow shirt and a yellow tie, Affirmation President Joshua Behn helps carry the left end of the Mormons Building Bridges banner.
by Joshua Howard Behn
There are times when one feels inexplicably called to an action, and that the taking of such action will lead one down unforeseen avenues. Since taking office, I have felt compelled to focus my goals and programs toward Utah and the Wasatch front. When we first began meeting last November, little did I know that a mere 8 months later I would find myself residing in the heart of Deseret.
It is here, from the “Crossroads of the West” that I am pleased to announce that for the first time in 30 or so years, the seat of the Presidency of Affirmation has returned to Utah. It is my hope that by being here in Salt Lake City, I will be better able to discern the priority needs of the LGBTQI Mormon community here in the “Heartland of Mormonism” and allocate our resources accordingly.
With a national presence locally, Affirmation can additionally forge partnerships with local community leaders and activists, can understand the often complex social and political dynamics that exist, and be in a better situation to acknowledge positive steps made by church leadership and, when necessary, hold them accountable for statements and actions lacking in charity and understanding.
A week ago I had the pleasure of marching in the contingent calling themselves Mormons Building Bridges, a motley group of nearly 300 allies who dressed in their Sunday best to march in the front of Salt Lake City’s pride parade. While not ready to take a stance for marriage equality, this group put forward the statement of their own presence, an example to their fellow ward members that individual members of conscience can no longer remain silent as so many did during the days of Prop 8.
This is a momentous occasion, potentially the Mormon Stonewall, a strong sign that opinion on LGBTQI issues among the membership is changing. The Salt Lake City pride march is only the first of several different Mormon organizations which will be participating in Pride marches all across the United States. Some are only at a point in their own ‘coming out’ (such as Mormons Building Bridges) to voice a basic message of love. Others, such as Mormons for Marriage Equality are more ready to stand in solidarity for civil rights. Our allies and many of our families and friends are beginning their own coming out process, and we must be patient with them, fostering the growth that they are undergoing, as large or as small as it may sometimes seem. Affirmation stands in solidarity behind all these efforts, including Mormons Building Bridges, acknowledging that through small and simple things, great things may come to pass.
It is an exciting time to be here on the ground and in the forefront of changes occurring in both the leadership and the membership. In a very real way the hearts of the parents are returning to the children as long ago prophesied.
Yes, there are pessimists who say the church will never change, that these are simple paltry gestures. But the Mitch Maynes and Carolyn Pearsons are not new, and in previous decades there were wards that showed a surprisingly high level of tolerance (notably the San Francisco/Oakland ward experiments of the 1980s and 1990s). When these inspired leaders were released, it is true that the outreach to their LGBTI sheep often reversed, cruelly dashing hope and faith so fervently believed.
However, this time, instead of being seen in mere pockets, LGBTQI dialogues are occurring on a general level across the entire United States. It can be seen in many ways: In the words spoken, in actions taken and in bold efforts of allies to stand with their LGBTQI brothers and sisters. There has been a myriad of change that has occurred over the last 75 years. No longer do you hear apostles making such statements as that they “would rather have a dead son than a gay son.” No longer would the First Presidency ever publish such words as found in Miracle of Forgiveness. And there is some apparent wavering in the position of distinction between attraction and behavior. There is a rudimentary form of a Gay-Straight Alliance being allowed to operate at BYU. And in the West Jordan Country stake, a monthly fireside is being sponsored by the stake president in an attempt to bring together and open a dialogue between the members of the various LGBTQI Mormon groups (Evergreen, Northstar, Affirmation, and Reconciliation), families and friends, and local leadership.
For those who were in the church during the tumultuous times preceding and immediately following the 1978 revelation allowing our Black Brothers and Sisters into full participation within the church, one would have to be blind to not notice the similarities on how change progressed. For us, change has begun at an exponential rate. There will be times where we will have taken a step back following two steps forward (such as the insulting so-called “asterisk policy” regarding membership records of those who have undergone church discipline) and in such times we must push on, bettering our people and keeping hope alive that when the portion of the membership still anti-LGBTQI is ready for further enlightenment and teaching, like Pharaoh, the Lord too will soften their hearts.
Be strong. Seek out the down-trodden of your fellow brothers and sisters. And may we purify ourselves to be ready to act as an instrument in the Lord’s hand to facilitate change and restore hope.
Joshua Howard Behn
Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons