Guest post by Lori Burkman of Rational Faiths.
I hate to say it, but I was homophobic for much of my life. I would have scoffed at someone had they called me that or said I was a bigot though–I was still a great person! I still “loved” the sinners, or at least I thought I did. But even “loving them” was very hard to comprehend since 1) I didn’t know any LGBTQ+ people that I was aware of and 2) I was taught by my church that homosexuality was a choice, that people were purposefully committing a perverted act, and that anyone who committed such acts were an untrustworthy, harmful element of society. I was told that these people were tools of Satan, trying to attack the one truly sacred thing on this earth: the family. Luckily, through repentance and prayer, these people could become heterosexual and pure again and be redeemed.
During my mission, I read The Miracle of Forgiveness which was written by a prophet of God. This book further solidified my aforementioned understanding of homosexuality. I had also been told repeatedly in seminary and my church lessons that when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done. I cannot tell you how relieving it was to KNOW that I was right. That I understood same sex attraction. With this knowledge, I taught homosexual people on my mission about God’s true plan for them. Our teachings damaged at least one existing homosexual relationship, and at the time, I was happy and felt it a blessing that I had helped guide them to a better path.
Years later, in 2008–I was at BYU. I had my first child, she was just a newborn at the time. I had been living in Provo for 6 years at that point and anyone who has lived there can attest to the fact that it is a planet unto itself. Very little of the real world penetrated my Provo bubble and as such, I was rather unaware of the political actions taking place in the rest of the country. I was so busy with finishing my degree, enjoying my new marriage, and had just had my first newborn– I was so focused on her that I didn’t read about a confusing thing I heard mentioned on the radio: Proposition 8. It was something about gay people wanting to be lawfully married? It honestly was just confusing to understand the wording of the laws and what was at stake. I hate to say it, but I was so immersed in my brand new baby that I purposefully didn’t pay attention. Sometimes it’s easier to just not pay attention than to figure out what’s really going on and educate yourself as objectively as possible. I do remember seeing on the news that gay people were vandalizing the temples. The spin of the Provo news implied that these attacks on the temples were totally unprovoked. I thought at the time “Hmmmm. Sounds like something gay people would do”.
I was 25 years old. I considered myself a progressive, nonjudgmental mormon. I stuck out at BYU due to my irreverent nature and natural inclination to scoff at honor codes and rigidity (though I unwillingly followed the rules anyway). I thought I saw such a bigger picture than the many rules of the church, but I still saw prophets and apostles as infallible representatives of God who always spoke His will. I trusted them implicitly. Plus, I always got to know I was right. I knew that as long as I sided with the prophet, I was right in any instance; on any issue.
With so many conversations about same sex marriage rights in the following years and with the babymoon phase ending, I couldn’t help but become more informed. I was shocked and sad to find out that the church went to such great lengths to swing a political vote. After all, I was fully under the assumption that the church was politically neutral; that it NEVER stepped into the political arena or told people how to vote. What I saw that day on the news about the attacks on the temple in 2008… they seemed more and more justified the more I learned. Also, most gay or lesbian “outted” people in the media seemed to be such normal, non-monstrous people. People just like me. It was becoming rather clear that at the very least, I was not fully informed.
Finally in 2012, I saw a Mormon Story about Benji Schwimmer. It was the first Mormon Story I had ever watched. I knew him from having watched his season of So You Think You Can Dance. As such, he was a “trusted” source to me. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but for whatever reason I felt that Benji was someone I could believe. I listened to his entire Mormon Story, nearly six hours in length. I cried with him when he talked about the asterisk and then again when he received his answers while taking the sacrament.
My views on homosexuality changed forever that day. They changed because I realized that I had fallen victim to the pride of being right. It is such a comfort; knowing that you’re right… that your views can’t be challenged. It is such an easier way to live life than to have to learn on your own and make mistakes in the process. But I realized that my entire life, I had looked at LGBT people as people who I already knew about. If I were to meet a gay person, I would have told them God’s plan for them and about who they really are; about how they can change if they just try or the happiness they’d find if they simply abandoned their sin. I was so busy “knowing” who they were that I never once took the time to ask.
“Who are you? How do you feel? What do you feel when you pray? What do *you* feel is God’s plan for you? What does He want for you? Have you ever tried to change? Do you want to? What was the process involved in your path to embracing homosexuality? Have we hurt you in any way? What do you need from me? How can I help you?”
The second I started asking these questions and seeking out people’s real stories is when I was changed forever. I felt true remorse for my past beliefs. My heart over poured with empathy. I sought out story after story of people’s real, lived experiences. I read and re-read their words or would watch their videos. I learned something new from each and every one.
For me, this change of heart came far later in life than I would like to admit. I was 30 years old. I hate even writing out that this is the reality of where I came from in my views and understanding. But for the last two years, I have tried to make up for lost time. I have done all I can in my sphere to raise awareness and encourage acceptance in the ways accessible to me.
The LDS church has made advancements in their teachings on the nature of what they call “same sex attraction” from what I was taught growing up, but the underlying message has stayed the same and it continues to hurt innocent people. The voices from the pulpits are creating a strawman reality about “those who struggle with same sex attraction”. As long as that strawman speaks louder than honest, lived experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals– more and more people will continue to close their hearts and minds to the reality of the world around them; they will remain blind to the hurt that is being caused.