Judy Finch Speaks at the Annual Conference of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends
"As I improve the way I relate in the GLBT community, I am led out of the wilderness of prejudice toward the promised land of acceptance, unity, and love, AND equality."
14 September 2013
Note: Judith Finch’s story is featured on the LDS Church’s new official MormonsAndGays.org website (see “Judy’s Story”). An Affirmation board member with a gay son and two gay grandchildren, Judy talked about how it is no mistake for our children to be gay and how Latter-day Saints can practice what they have been taught about love, respect, and inclusion of all, including LGBT people, in their families and the Church. These were her Conference remarks:
Wow! What a beautiful sight.
On our way back from lunch today, my husband, who is wearing a name tag that says “Mr. Judy Finch” and I were talking about what a beautiful experience this weekend is being and I said I never felt more accepted and loved in a group and an environment. So I’m going to sort of toss my prepared remarks, at least some of them, and just share some impressions.
First of all, in the women’s room before I came in this room this tonight, there were a group of women talking (and that is where you hear the REAL truth), and every one of us agreed that that was the finest testimony meeting any of us have ever attended. Thank you so much, each one of you who chose to share your thoughts with us tonight; it’s been a hard act to follow; I am not going to try.
More than you know, I am grateful to be here. It feels like the biggest honor of my life. I can’t think of what I have done to deserve it; nothing, actually. I very much enjoyed the beautiful thoughts we heard from our poet, Carol Lynn Pearson and in reviewing that each of us here this evening is a hero on the journey and Affirmation as an organization is on a hero’s journey. I believe being here together is God’s will for us.
Each of us is in a different place here. I met a woman a couple of days ago, whose son has just come out, so she is very new in this process. Opposite of that, I have been dealing with homosexuality one way and another for fifty years. I think many of you have seen, actually, I would love to know, how many of you have seen my video on Mormons and Gays? Thanks!
The video I am in got its start nearly 3 1/2 years ago, when my Dear Stake President, Dean Criddle, asked if I would be interviewed for a possible church video website on Mormons and gays, and shortly after that, Mark Marriott showed up at my house. My then 17-year-old grandson, Simon, was living with us at the time, and he was interviewed, as well. We spent nearly the whole day together in our home and in the surrounding regional park, Mark asking questions and filming. A month later, Mark phoned to say the video was finished and it turned out great. “I can’t let you see it, because i tis the property of the Church, and I have no idea what they will do with it. “
Two and a half years later, last September, I received an email from a friend stating she “enjoyed the video.” By then I am thinking, “What video?” I sort of figured it out and my husband and I watched it that evening, and I was totally blown away. Mark Marriott--what a genius. He just knew all the right questions; his editing is pure magic. He made us made us sound much more intelligent and look much more beautiful than we are.
So, how does Judy, a non-Mormon born in Oakland in 1939 end up being in a “Mormons and Gays” video? How can that happen? On that website? Well, hmmm. Growing up in a non-traditional family, I was sort of naturally drawn to all kinds of people. The more unique someone was, the more attached I felt. I don’t know if it was a result of that or what, but in high school, some of my closest friends and favorite teachers were gay.
When I was 26 years old my children’s dad and I investigated the church. I was a very resistant investigator, however, I believed that it was true, and so I did join the Church. I remember that on the night of by baptism in the Oakland Stake center, I was still wearing my wet baptism clothes, and I knelt in prayer in the small dressing room, and I had an absolute witness that what I was doing was correct. And this was a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So, with my husband and our two children, we organized our family according to the teachings of our church, we had another child and were fully active for the next eight years and our future seemed clear. Each of our children was precious to us. We gradually let ourselves become aware that our oldest son was different from other boys. His dad had been a boy, and so we were expecting him to be like that. But he wasn’t. He was very different. Jeff, exquisitely sensitive, creative and talented, pursued artistic activities and just not interested in any of the usual male ones. We uneasy and worried and felt guilty that we were doing something wrong as parents. That just shows you what things were like that long ago; Jeff is 54 now. It was such a painful thing for us, that I honestly do not recall having one conversation we had about it. We ultimately divorced. Shortly after that, along with my three children, I became inactive in the Church. I always had retained my testimony and believed that I would reactivate, but I did not know how or when. I had no idea it would take me ten years, but I did reactivate.
As my daughter’s children grew, we noticed with some dismay that her older son, Paul was following in Jeff’s footsteps. Like his uncle, he had no interest in boy things but he was extremely artistic and that was the direction he was going. It was pretty hard for Jennifer and me to go through this again. Paul was just such a treasure, with his sweet, loving nature. I remember one time he was at our house and I said, “Oh, Paul, you are such a sweetheart. How did you get so sweet?” He replied: “It’s love. I have lots of love; it’s from Heavenly Father.” Jennifer realized, as I did, that there was nothing different in her parenting between her three children, and so she really believed, as I had, that her son had come into our lives exactly as he he had been created by his Heavenly Father.
I want to tell another Paul story. When he was about three we were in a department store and among a hundred pairs of shoes on display, he found some pink ballet slippers. Really, in a twinkling, he had his own shoes off and those pink ballet slippers on and was prancing and whirling and twirling in ecstasy in the aisles. Well, I remember the anguish for all three of us when Jennifer removed the shoes off his feet and replaced them with his own. That simple gesture meant everything: It meant: “You can’t DO what you would LOVE to do. You can’t BE who ARE.”
We struggled to accept. Jennifer did some consultations with a therapist in Utah who specialized in working with young boys. She followed his suggestions without success. Later I learned that what was referred to as “reparative therapy” is now illegal in California and probably many other states. In high school, Paul “came out” and became really pro-active. Just before that, Jennifer’s Bishop at that time went down the ward list and excommunicated all the gays. So she realized what a message that was communicating to her son. So, with her children, left the church. I respected her position then and do now.
I think I want to talk about a little bit about Jeff: High school in the 70‘s for Jeff and our whole family experience was dichotomized. On the one hand, Jeff was really admired for his amazing artistic pursuits, including clothing design; and also, his impersonation of Elton John at the piano earned him celebrity status. So, there was all of this like glory stuff going on for him on the one side. At on the other side, he began to suffer unkindness, bullying and abuse from some of the kids. He begged me not to say anything to anyone (and I didn’t), but he was hit so hard in a school hallway that it cracked a molar. But things have gotten much better in our culture and we are celebrating that today.
About four years ago from the podium, I heard my Stake President say “gender preference is innate.” I thought I had heard incorrectly, because I was SURE I would NEVER hear that from the stand. Later, I did check with someone else who had been there, and she heard that same thing I did. It was hard for me to take in, and at the same time marvelously reassuring, healing, and true. It felt as if his miraculous message was for me personally. Here was a leader of my church telling me my grandson and my son had not chosen to be gay, which I already believed, and I interpreted that it is not WRONG or a SIN to be gay and it is also not wrong to be a parent or grandparent of a gay. I believed then, and do now, people are BORN gay.
Part of my hero’s journey is a private psychotherapy practice with predominately LDS clients. These same issues surface in the therapy room. When I am with one of these beautiful young people who is in agony because of being gay and who talks to me about all the things they have tried not to be gay, and they can’t change, I assure them that it’s not their fault and they have not done anything to cause it, they are not at fault, and it’s not their parents fault. I tell them I do not begin to understand it (and I understand it better now), but I always assure them and I feel convinced that they are the way their Heavenly Father created them, unique and perfect in their own way. I avoid giving advice, but I urge them to make their choices as honorably and honestly as they can.
I grieved recently with a young mother of four who sees in her in three-year old boy non-traditional gender behaviors. She believes and knows that her son is a perfect creation of her Heavenly Father, and she just cannot rectify that he would be denied marriage temporally or eternally. She cannot bear the pain, and for herself, she sees serious questions as a member of our Church. In my role, I provide reassurance, hope and encouragement.
Mark Marriott asked me a question in the video about me having hope. I replied: ”Oh COURSE I have HOPE! We are given absolutely everything that we need: intelligence, sensitivity, creativity, experiences, and the counsel of Prophets.” The Ninth Article of Faith says: “We believe all that God has revealed, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Of course I hope for continued change, and I think we are seeing it, in improvement for gays. In the meantime, we must continue to pray and advocate for them.
Prayer is called the “heart’s sincere desire.” I ponder the countless heartfelt prayers offered over the years to change gays straight. We’ve heard about a lot about this in the testimony meeting, and saw that earlier in Daniel Parkinson’s beautiful video. From my thoughts and images of all these fervent prayers, which I envision stacked from earth to heaven and beyond, I have some questions:
I think it’s clear from our own experiences and from the testimonies on Daniel Parkinson's video earlier, that prayers to have gays changed to straight are answered “NO.” Brothers and sisters, even in the unfathomable wake of despair resulting from thousands of our beautiful young men taking their own lives, sometimes on the stairs of our church buildings, God says "NO." So this must mean that we need to reconsider and redirect our petitions. Instead of entreating our Heavenly Father to make our gays straight, we need to ask for knowledge of God’s will for us with respects to our gays and for power to carry it out. We need to be shown ways to keep our Dear GLBT youth ALIVE. We can never rectify or change that Utah has had the greatest, highest number in America of suicides in young men. I know this is as heartbreaking for our Heavenly Father as it is for them, and for their families, and friends. Let's pray for respectful, loving ways about how to advocate for changes in our church.
- Why have these prayers remained unanswered, if God loves us?
- What if such prayers cause our Heavenly Father a dilemma?
- What if we have been praying for the wrong thing? We’re taught we are created in God’s image and likeness. Would any of us who is a parent want someone entreating us to change one of our precious children?
- Could it be, and I do believe this, that Heavenly Father loves our gays exactly the way they are? Exactly the way He created them?
- What if He looks on gays in the same way He looks on his heterosexual children, with pure delight, pride, approval, love, acceptance, and wants for them the very same kinds of experiences he wants for the rest of us?
- What if he wants his GLBTs to live their lives fully within his gospel plan without restrictions due to gender preference?
- What if the law of chastity can be extended to beyond a male and female?
I don’t want to detract from how much improvement we have been enjoying lately, partly due to the members of Affirmation and the people in this room. I believe it is not fate or coincidence that we see improvements with our church and homosexuality. I think this is directly part of God’s plan, his own doing, some through those of us in this room, on the hero’s journey. Alma 26: 2-3 states: “And now, I ask, what great blessings hath he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell? Behold, I answer for you, for our brethren were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light!... And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.” Sounds like Alma could have been describing our hero journey toward the light being shed on our GLBT Mormon issues.
We’re taught that things happen “in the Lord’s own time.” Personally, I have been dealing with these issues for fifty years. Forty years strikes a chord: we envision Moses and his people wandering in the desert for those forty years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land. I believe with likelihood that during that time, those people made improvements and showed personal growth. I believe that in my fifty years struggling in the wilderness with homosexuality, I show progress with the gay issue. As I improve the way I relate in the GLBT community, I am led out of the wilderness of prejudice toward the promised land of acceptance, unity, and love, AND equality.
It’s been a year now since the Mormons and Gays website. Can’t each of us identify positive changes we have observed in that year? It would be impossible for me to even highlight some the amazing things accomplished by the people in this room. But I’d like to tell you about a few changes for the good that I observe in my own life.
Paul lives in a stable love relationship now with Drew, who also grew up LDS. All of our families are happy for them. Paul and Drew’s decision to share a life together seems to me consistent with their purpose in this life. I believe this quotation from President Boyd K. Packer: “Romantic love is not only a part of life, but ultimately a dominating influence of it. It is deeply and significantly religious. There is no abundant life without it.” I feel fairly certain he wrote that describing a traditional male-female relationship, but as President Packer identifies it, a ”dominating influence,” I believe it applies to the whole human race. It makes absolutely no sense to me that it applies only to a male with a female. In our family, it includes Paul and Drew.
In my ward, we have several gay members, one of whom serves in the bishopric. And this past 4th of July, a new couple joined our celebration, two gay men, with their little son!
My son Jeff has recently accompanied my husband Richard on occasion to our ward. Besides attending sacrament meeting, he has gone to High Priests and left beaming from how he was received there and partly for things he learned there. And, even more fun: Our Relief Society has a number of specialized monthly activities. Jeff is now a paid-up and active member of the Oakland First Ward Relief Society Quilt Group! It is a highlight of his month; they all love each other and they love their astonishing creations.
My stake has a gay man serving on our High Council, and he asked me to mention his name: Ted Fairchild. He regrets could not be with us tonight.
From Southern California, I received a Christmas card from a former Mormon client family. And the photo showed a picture with the parents with their twelve children, six his, five hers, and one theirs. Enough time has passed that some of these kids are married or have partners. Every one of them was standing in the picture, taken in front of a Mormon temple. Their letter described their activities and experiences and accomplishments and said there had been two sealings and one marriage of a daughter to her gay partner. They were all standing in the same picture, smiling.
Everyone knows that cross our country each year parades call attention to Gay Pride. For the last two years several from our ward and stake carried signs or marched with the Mormons for Marriage Equality. It is hard to describe the love that comes to us marching up Market Street from those hundreds of thousands of people, waving and throwing us kisses! You should try it next year!
Just last week we loved Yahoo’s story (I don’t know if you saw it) of Michelle McClain reading (on her son Zach’s Facebook page) that he “came out” bisexual. She wrote back and called him the “bravest person” she knows and professed her love and acceptance forever. She added the only complaint she had was that he had a lot of empty soda bottles and tea cups on his bedroom floor! Compare how much more healthy and happy that coming out experience was for this mom and her son than for me with Jeff. I look forward to a time when such things will not need mentioning; they will all be natural instead of being highlighted, it will all be just part of what is going on.
Things head in a positive direction with respects to gays in America; we have same sex marriage legalized in 13 states now!
Let's celebrate the enormous effort of our collective heroic journey for changes for Mormons and Gays. Looking out, I see courageous women and men familiar with emotional pain, betrayal, who know abuse, abandonment, self-loathing. I see humans who have confronted their deepest beliefs and longings, who examined the meaning of life, who faced the most meaningful and significant crises of their existence.
This room holds Mormons, individuals, parents and friends, who fit outside the established notions of being Mormon. Despite the devastation of exclusion from an accepted “norm” each person struggles to stay part of our cherished religion. I see people who strive for essential change in firmly established traditions within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This room is free of “going with the flow,” and “don’t make waves.” We join each other in our “Hero’s Journey.” Let’s trust the pace and timing of our venture. Looking out, I see tremendous power and striving for good, passion for forging new ways to practice the pure love of Christ.
Being at this Affirmation conference this weekend has been one of the highlights of my life. I have experienced what it feels like real commitment under sometimes very difficult circumstances to what are in some instances very difficult circumstances to the teachings of our church. It’s an honor to know you and it’s an honor to be with you and I appreciate so much the kindness you have shown to me and to my husband.
Although I was a resistant convert, once I did, I really held true. The testimony I have Joseph Smith restored the gospel and the restored church. I have believed in my Heavenly Father, that he lives. I believe in Jesus Christ, that he lives and atoned for our sins. I believe that God will reveal many great and important things on our hero’s journey. I leave you my testimony and my gratitude, my joy and optimism in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.