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Gay Scoutmaster Welcomed in Former Ward

Jim Best (third from left) with former Scouts at the Mt. Airy Ward
Jim Best (third from left) with former Scouts at the Mt. Airy Ward

Affirmation Member Attends “Sit-with-Me” Sunday in Mt. Airy, North Carolina

by Jim Best

Former bishop Bob Bradley and Eagle Scout Taylor Bradley welcomed their out gay former Scoutmaster and former first counselor to the Mt. Airy ward this Sunday. Other Scouts from troop 551 joined in, too. It has been 8 years since I left. It was great to come back as an honest man, knowing I was probably the first person to come out in a Sunday School and elders quorum meeting in the Mt. Airy Ward in North Carolina. I had served in Mt. Airy as ward mission leader, chorister, elders quorum teacher, first counselor, and Scoutmaster for almost 30 years.

I explained that I was participating in Mormons Building Bridges’ “Sit with Me” Sunday and asked if they would mind my posting pictures with their out gay Scoutmaster. I had come out to a former bishop after the Salt Lake City Affirmation Conference several years ago. We shook hands again and again, hugged and hugged again. Yes–I was welcome, and would I like to attend the next Eagle Scout ceremony? My former Scouts now dwarf me and have taken their rightful posts in church leadership.

After sacrament meeting, I had opportunity to speak briefly in Sunday School and elders quorum in my true identity as a gay man. I don’t know if these brothers and sisters realize that I had to live a lie in order to serve them, which I did with all my heart. They cannot know how deep the wounds, how bitter the grief I have buried nor how long it will take to dismantle the walls of self-defense I have built in order to survive. I have been forced to move on and find sanctuary within.

How wonderful it would be to think that that quarter century of my life might not have ended in the defeat of an outcast, but might serve as an example to welcome other LGBT youth to an opportunity for acceptance and self-realization within the Mormon fold. The simple truth is that I loved them first, knowingly. I believe that they cannot be made perfect until they can accept and cherish all of God’s children as I know God does.

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