by Peter Moosman
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@example.com. You can also read other stories and reactions to the reversal of the exclusion policy.
What an interesting time to be alive…!
As I have been taking in peoples’ thoughts and feelings, considering my own, and simply sitting in the aftermath of this policy change, I have been on quite the roller coaster. To add to the intensity, I somehow became a face of the policy rescission (thanks Buzzfeed News and Apple News) for a lot of folks. I’m going to do my best to focus on the positive, though I completely respect and honor everyone’s feelings and experiences – positive and negative, high and low.
To recap: In 2015, I came out of the closet to mixed reviews. I was met with so much love, and plenty of misunderstanding. To magnify the misunderstanding, November 5 brought the queer Mormon/Latter-day Saint community quite the quake – folks in same-sex relationships were apostates and their kids were unable to be baptized (a drastic simplification of the policy, but you get the idea). The misunderstandings, vitriol, division, and conflict became more painful than ever – especially as a wide-eyed, hopeful person just busting out of the closet.
I had to do something.
The following General Conference had me greeting conference goers with hugs as I held a “HUG A GAY MORMON” sign. All I wanted was for straight members of the Church to see that, despite what the policy implied, there were queer members that wanted to worship along side them in safety. That we weren’t trying to destroy the family. That we weren’t deviants that were tearing down their beliefs. We were seeking Truth, interactions with the Divine, and just want to be understood and loved like anyone else. That there were queer Mormons and we just want a hug!
I also wanted queer members to have a glimmer of hope that they weren’t alone. I knew what life was like in the closet, and it was dark, lonely, and defeating. If I could put myself out there for those who were experiencing the misery I felt and help them feel a little (or a lot) less alone, my mission would be accomplished. Representation and visibility matters, and I wanted to be there for those that needed someone. It wasn’t much, but a hug can go a long way. Or just a smile and a wave. Whatever I could give people.
I can still remember the young woman who approached me within the very first hour of starting. She whispered to me that she was pansexual and didn’t know what to do as a member of the Church. We talked for a brief moment about having hope, building confidence, and the power of authenticity. She seemed to have a new glow about her when she walked back to her group. It was such a beautiful experience.
Since then, I have probably given THOUSANDS of hugs. I have heard so many incredible stories, testimonies, struggles, questions, etc. Some in a whisper during a hug and some during a lengthy conversation on the street corner or in private messages online. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to do this work – this ministry, if you will. I want to thank every person who has been vulnerable with me, has shared a moment with me, has taught me, and has exchanged hope with me through this hugging project.
Three and a half years later, the degrading, painful, weaponized policy finally rescinds. There are many reasons to celebrate such a change, yet many of us are still hurting. Still, the institution has taken a step forward.
Buzzfeed used a photo of me and my “HUG A GAY MORMON” sign in its article, and Apple News shared the article in their Top Stories under a story of Trump. Needless to say, somehow my face has been attached to the news of the policy change and my feelings are a mixed bag. LOTS of people saw this story and my face is what greeted them. Lots of negative emotion is attached to this story and my face is connected to that emotion. Lots of positive emotion is attached to the story and I’m connected to that as well. I honor all of the emotion and feeling and experiences that went into this.
Ultimately, I hope that my little ministry and the end of this policy are intimately connected. I hope that I was able to help change hearts and minds enough to have a positive impact on this institution and the experiences its members have as it relates to queer inclusivity and accessibility. I hope that it helped queer visibility enough to affect the hearts of the 15. More importantly, though, I hope that the lives of queer members (and post-members) have been positively affected by this work.
Of course, hope alone won’t heal the world… We need to act! So, I better see y’all this weekend for a hug. I will be on the SE corner of the conference center giving hugs an hour before and an hour after each session (weather and mental health permitting) with my new sign: “HUG A LATTER GAY SAINT.”
Consider the power of a hug this weekend. Find someone who can benefit and pour your love into every inch of the hugs you give. Let those you cross paths with know that they are important, needed, heard, and seen. It’s the least we can do during these messy days.