By Sam Noble
In the Taiwanese city Douliu, I experienced the only real regret of my mission.
My companion and I were visiting an inactive church member, baptized many years before. Around the third or fourth time we sat down in his shop to meet with him, he came out to us.
I will never forget sitting there, listening as he told us of his first physical experience with another man. I didn’t know how to react. Aside from my fears about my own sexuality, I honestly had no clue how to help him. Should I call him to repent of his sinful life? Returning to church activity would certainly make his life happier, right?
My companion and I sat there in silence, realizing we had no answers. We shortly left, deciding that there was point in our returning. The church had no place for gay people.
A decade later, I’m back in Taiwan, and last weekend a little group of LGBTQ Mormon supporters gathered at Taipei’s LGBT Pride parade, marching in solidarity to represent change happening here in Taiwan.
We marched as “MoErMenTongMengHui” (摩爾門同盟會) – “Mormon Gay Ally Group.” Admittedly, I worried about participation – most I invited to come weren’t able to attend. In the end, one young man, Dico, and I were the two actual gay LDS, along with three of our classmates who marched to support us. I am so proud of and grateful for them all.
The experience was edifying. It changed minds and hearts. Within the first few minutes, one college student ran up to us. He was raised in the church and not out to anyone in his family or congregation. He was so excited to see us and learn about what we’re doing.
Along the parade route, I had a conversation with one man from Utah who grew up LDS and is marrying his Taiwanese partner in Utah soon. He’s since helped put me in touch with another gay Mormon here in Taipei.
I saw literally hundreds taking photos of our signs as we passed, including many who asked for pictures with us. We heard many we passed discussing about the Mormons there in support of LGBT Pride.
Still, the situation in the church here can often be discouraging.
“Most Mormons in Taiwan aren’t very nice to gays, some even want them to try and become straight, despite all of the evidence against that,” said Dico.
Yet, despite the long road ahead, he understands the importance of what we did.
“Marching in the parade, I felt, was an important first step towards the church here being able to value gay people.”
I know of many Taiwanese Latter-day Saints who love and support their LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Just as the New York Times recently called Taiwan a “beacon” for gays in Asia, I am hopeful the church here will become the same thing for Latter-day Saints in other Asian areas.
The night of the parade, I was forwarded a message from a non-LDS classmate: “A friend I was watching the parade with used to be Mormon but hasn’t been in a long time. When he saw your church members in the parade, he all-of-the-sudden had a very excited, warm feeling. He said he wants to go back to church and wanted to thank you guys for giving him that desire.”
I don’t know if the man from Douliu was watching that day. I hope he was. I hope I get the chance to tell him I’m sorry for not knowing how to love him ten years ago. But now I have a much better idea.