by Erik Kokkonen
Submitted to Affirmation following The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s reversal of their November 2015 policy changes that prohibited children of LGBTQ parents from being blessed and baptized and characterized members of the church entering into same-sex marriages as apostates. These changes became known within the LGBTQ Mormon community as the “exclusion policy,” “policy of exclusion,” or “PoX.” The day after the reversal of this policy was announced, Nathan Kitchen, President of Affirmation, invited anyone willing to and share their authentic feelings and all their stories of grief, anger, relief, sadness, happiness, confusion, whatever they may be that surround the rescinding this policy. “As President of Affirmation, I want to be sure Affirmation does not hide you or your stories as we move forward,” wrote Kitchen in his invitation. If you have reactions or a story to share about the reversal of the exclusion policy, please send to [email protected]. You can also read other stories and reactions to the reversal of the exclusion policy.
In the months leading up to the November 2015 exclusion policy, I had slowly accepted that I am gay. Years of internal conflict and of trying to change my sexuality forced me to develop and rely on my personal relationship with God. Developing this relationship required a price in terms of time, tears, countless prayers and near sleepless nights. I have had some brief but clear and powerful experiences from God that He loves me for who I am, including the gay part of me that does not need to change.
The November 2015 policy cast a dark shadow on the light I had started to see. Although I am unmarried and have no kids, I still felt the sting of the policy. How could God personally tell me one thing so clearly, then indirectly tell me through a policy that I’m different than everyone else, unwanted, and worthy of special punishment if I choose to marry another man? In the months that followed, I relied on the personal witnesses I had received from God about His love for me to carry me through some pretty dark moments.
Less than a week before the reversal, I told my parents I felt strongly that something significant in my life was about to happen. I didn’t know what it was or when it would happen. But I knew it was coming. This past Thursday, while eating lunch at Chipotle with an ally friend, I also told him that I felt something significant was about to affect my life, but didn’t know what it was or when it would happen. At that very moment, I received a text from my brother, excitedly informing me that the exclusion policy had been reversed. With a dose of doubt, my friend and I verified the accuracy of the text. With tears in our eyes and goosebumps on our arms, we both felt a huge weight had been lifted. It is a day that I’ll never forget.
In the hours that passed, I sobbed more than I thought was humanly possible. All sorts of emotions filled my heart and soul. Validation that my personal relationship with God is real. Regret that I didn’t rely on this personal relationship even more than I had. Sadness and anguish over the damage that has been inflicted, for the severed relationships and lost lives–whether directly or indirectly. Confusion as to why the policy was implemented in the first place and, eventually, grace towards those who implemented the policy (I’m still working on this one). I truly believe that the brethren have the best of intentions, but like all of us are fallible and capable of making mistakes. The scriptures have numerous examples of prophets/leaders making mistakes. Yet I also don’t want to dismiss or minimize the real pain that the policy has caused for others. Words can’t bring back the lives lost.
Mostly, though, I felt and still feel hope for a brighter future. I applaud any step that promotes more inclusion. Locally, since coming out to my ward a few months ago, I have felt much greater love and acceptance. My friendships have deepened. Hearts and minds are changing. Some ward members rejoiced with me via text when they heard the policy had been reversed. One member and friend requested to meet up with me that evening, telling me, “I wanted to see you on this important day,” while giving me a hug. This is why I choose to stay in the Church. I believe most people are good people trying to do the right thing.
Interestingly, the policy reversal has motivated me to speak up. To tell my story. To do better. To better rely on my Savior. My fear is that of complacency in the church. My job isn’t to know what the end result looks like, but I can speak up along with the other chorus of voices to share my experiences. 2 Nephi 31:20 is my motto: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”