by Evan Clayson, Houston Affirmation Chapter Coordinator
One of the coolest things about the Affirmation chapter in Houston is the ratio of allies we have who actively support the group compared to LGBT members. In fact, about half of the people who walked with us in the pride parade were straight parents, spouses, and friends. And I feel like I cannot express enough gratitude towards these individuals for sticking their necks out for our community, especially within the Mormon Church.
It was straight allies who invited the president of the Houston Texas South Stake, President Barrow, and his wife to have dinner with our chapter. The stake consists of eight wards including one young single adult ward and wards in the Sugar Land and Sienna Plantation suburban areas. I jumped at the opportunity when the offer was initially made because so often I feel like this subject is either not discussed enough or misrepresented within Mormon circles. Despite the fact that we would probably not change the opinion of President Barrow or his wife on LGBT rights, having dinner with the stake president would allow him to listen to the perspectives of many individuals who have some sort of tie to the LGBT Mormon community. Our chapter went in with the intent to simply inform the president and answer any questions he might have when it comes to how the stake presidency can better serve LGBT members.
The dinner was held at the residence of a supportive, active Mormon family and we had sixteen people attend in addition to the stake president and his wife. Out of the people in attendance some of us were gay, some were parents of LGBT kids, and some were simply friends in support of LGBT people. Some of us were active in church and some of us were not active at all. We had former spouses who dealt with the stress that a mixed-orientation marriage brings, and we had a transgender individual who was able to share her experiences as well. We started the discussion with some introductions, followed by an opening prayer, and then some food and small talk over a large dinner table. After everyone had finished eating, I began to thank the president for attending the dinner with his wife (as I did multiple times before and after). I introduced him to Affirmation, what our purpose was, and outlined the sort of discussion we intended to have for the evening. What followed was an experience I will always remember. Each person there was able to share his or her story and how the issue of homosexuality or gender identity effected each of us. We shared the good experiences, the not so good experiences, and even some rather traumatic experiences we’ve had with the Church and its members.
As we talked, one of the more notable moments was when one of our members gave the stake president a copy of the Family Acceptance Project’s “Supportive Families, Healthy Children” document for LDS families, which President Barrow acknowledged and said he would read. This document is important for parents of LGBT youth and church leaders alike because it provides rather alarming statistics concerning the problems rejected youth deal with when it comes to drug use, HIV infection, and suicide rates. It also goes into detail on how parents can help their LGBT children accept themselves better, how they can advocate and support their LGBT children, as well as the importance for leaders to not tolerate rejection and negative remarks within LDS congregations.
Although he never addressed his opinions in regard to the LDS Church’s involvement with LGBT rights, the stake president acknowledged the scarring many LGBT Mormons dealt with as a result of their devotion to their faith. By the end of our dinner he stated that he hopes for a day where members could sit together in LDS congregations, whether gay or straight, without any qualms. He also challenged each of us to come back or continue going to church in order to push a change in the attitude of members.
During Stake Conference for the Houston Texas South Stake this month, it was noted that President Barrow spoke about families. However, instead of focusing on how the family was being assaulted, he went about the importance of family in an interesting way, albeit brief. I asked multiple sources who were there since I did not attend conference, and they all confirmed he spoke of how we are all a part of the same community: male, female, married, divorce, and different sexual orientation. He stressed that all are a part of God’s family.
Although this may seem like a small step to some people, this is a BIG step at a local level. So often when things like sexual orientation are discussed in a Mormon setting like conference or Sunday school or institute, it is done so in a negative, shameful way. Being gay or lesbian is often associated with being a threat to “the family” or being bad for society or “giving in to temptation.” So much is focused on the perceived sin. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear something positive being said concerning gays and lesbians, with no conditions attached (i.e. love the sinner, hate the sin), especially here in Texas. I am confident this simple statement was much needed to at least one individual in that congregation and I believe our chapter’s influence was the reason the President was sure to include those of different orientation in his talk.
In the end, I believe our message of acceptance came across well and that President Barrow displayed a genuine concern for the issue. The Houston Affirmation chapter hopes that these sort of open conversations will be more welcome all over the area and we hope that our discussion with President Barrow will lead to more understanding and acceptance of LGBT individuals within the Houston Texas South Stake.
Affirmation Houston Chapter Coordinator