By Todd Richardson
“Happy Birthday, dear Todd, Happy Birthday to you!”
Surrounded by friends and family in a room lit only by candles, I make my wish.
This moment is so vivid to me. And year after year, through my adolescence and early twenties, there was a set wish. “I wish to not have such inappropriate feelings toward guys.” Fast Sunday was also easy; the “go to” plea: “Help me, Father, to have my attraction to men go away.”
I grew up in the standard Mormon home, with loving parents and five awesome siblings. Family was most important and church was a staple of life. It was a staple I loved! Granted, I’d push back on attending Mutual activities every now and again, but church was deeply meaningful. Seminary changed my life. It was there that I gained a strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But during my formative years something else was a part of life: my attraction to men. As for many teenaged boys, like me and my friends, homosexuality wasn’t real. It was an abhorrent thing that deviants were, no one actually knew a “homosexual.” It was an insult that friends would hurl at one another. The idea that I actually was gay was something I refused to entertain. No, I just had this weird thing about me that would definitely go away when I found the right girl. Then in seminary, I learned something I clung to immediately. I learned that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, my attraction would go away if I truly wanted it to. So the fasting and prayers began. And, for added measure, I figured I should throw in my birthday wishes too.
Following a successful mission, which I still consider to be the best two years of life, I decided to get down to the business of finding an eternal companion. Having faithfully served, I had an even greater belief that God would take away my attraction to men when I found “the right girl.” Instead I was met with the added sadness that not only was nothing changing, but now I was negatively impacting the women I was attempting to date. Nothing made sense. Added prayers, faith, and effort left me more confused and sad. This cycle lasted for years.
Then, one day, I was randomly looking on YouTube when I found a gentleman who identified as both gay and Mormon. I was shocked. Who knew they existed!? In one of his videos he bore his testimony of God’s acceptance for his LGBTQ children. I will never forget the feeling I had in that moment. It was a feeling of love, joy, and peace, followed almost immediately with confusion and fear. My mind would not accept what my heart felt.
Over the course of the next few days I prayed more than I ever had in my life. On the final day I decided to continue praying and seeking, well into the night. After hours of searching, I felt lower than I have ever felt, and cried harder than I ever have. Never have I felt so worthless. Never have I felt so desperate to disappear.
And, in that moment, curled up on the floor, I received an answer to my prayers. God hadn’t made a mistake, nor was He interested in me ever again questioning my divine worth. He created me this way. And He expected me to be happy.
Let me be clear, I don’t believe that God has given me permission to do whatever I want! Far from it, actually. But I have learned that part of my personal plan of happiness involves having a family and a husband. I have also felt it tremendously important to stay close to my Heavenly Father and to His church. I can no more deny my faith in the Restoration than I can my sexuality. I have found a delicate, yet beautiful balance between the two.
I move forward with faith. I am active in my local congregation, while also actively attempting to find “the one.” (Who knew I’d somehow be worse at dating men than I was at dating women?) And I actively volunteer for Affirmation, an organization that truly affirms me and allows me to affirm others, without qualification.
My experience has taught me that we each have our own difficult journeys. They are filled with tragedy and triumph. I recognize that my journey is often different, not only from my straight brothers and sisters, but also from many of my LGBTQ family. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is the reality that young people waste their birthday wishes. What’s not okay is the reality that many of my brothers and sisters fast and pray, begging the Lord to change something that will not change. We, as LGBTQ children of God, represent part of beautifully diverse cornucopia of His creation. I bear testimony of that, along with God’s love for each of His children.