By Joel McDonald
Last month, the 3 Mormons YouTube channel posted a video episode titled “What it’s Like to be Gay and Mormon.” For the episode, the show co-hosts brought on Peter Moosman. Peter is a gay Mormon living in Salt Lake City, Utah. That the show would ensure that there was someone who could speak with personal experience on the subject is commendable. It’s these type of discussions, where LGBT+ Mormon voices are amplified, that help to create better understanding and, hopefully, positive change individually, culturally, and institutionally. This is exactly what we’re trying to do in Affirmation.
To begin the conversation, one of the hosts introduces the subject by saying, “One of the things we’ve wanted to talk about for a long time here is allyship with the LGBT community. From personal experience, I’ll say that within the Utah LDS community, and even within the south in very Christian areas, in highly religious areas, people don’t treat gay people the way they should. It’s just not right.”
Introducing himself, Peter shared that, “Growing up as a closeted gay person in the Church, it was very rough. Trying to find my place as I was coming out was also pretty rough. I think a lot of the challenge was based on miscommunication and misunderstanding. There is a population within the Church of LGBT individuals, and I think we don’t always know how to interact with those people. That’s what happened to me. As I was coming out, I had a lot of positive experiences. People were very friendly, open, and honest about asking questions and those types of things. I also had a lot of uncomfortable and hurtful experiences. Those experiences led me to want to speak up and help members answer those questions so they weren’t confused, have those opportunities to engage with LGBT members in a safe place, let people know that we exist in the Church, and that you don’t have to be afraid of us.”
One of the ways Peter engaged with members of the LDS Church was to take a sign to General Conference with big letters encouraging those attending the conference to “Hug a Gay Mormon.” This is probably what Peter is most known for. “It was an incredible experience,” Peter said of his first time taking his sign to the conference. “I got thousands of hugs.” Peter then took the concept of reaching others by setting up a living room in Downtown Salt Lake City and hosting “Family Home Evening with a Gay Mormon,” where people could discuss what being LGBT and Mormon is like in a safe place.
— Peter Moosman (@petermoosman) August 19, 2017
Responding to a question on what it was like coming out as a gay Mormon, Peter shared, “It was a roller coaster for sure. It is definitely challenging. I think growing up there’s, definitely in Mormon culture, often this pressure or understanding that homosexuality in any form is sin and not appropriate. I grew up often feeling broken; that I didn’t have enough faith to overcome these attractions. I fell into this really dark depression…I arrived at this point where I was very broken. I had lost my faith because all of my prayers to overcome this were not being answered…One fateful day…I felt the love of God just totally engulf me and God just let me know that, ‘I love you. I love you the way you are and you don’t have to fix anything because you’re not broken. I created you this way for a reason and you don’t have to be ashamed.’ I started my coming out process, and my relationship with my Heavenly Father just skyrocketed.”
Later in the discussion, a host asked, “Some people find this interesting or confusing that gay people or people who are even in homosexual relationships are attracted to the Church…I think we need to have an outcry to show why it’s important to invite people to church and let them be a part of our community. What’s the best way of doing that?” Peter answered, “I think one of the most important things is being open to hearing their stories. As people are coming out, be receptive to that. I had a lot of good experiences coming out, and I had a lot of bad experiences. The bad experiences often revolved around, ‘What you’re doing is a choice’, and ‘You can overcome this if you have more faith’, which is very hurtful. I spent my whole life trying to overcome this and my faith was broken because of this. It wasn’t until after that, and accepting this, that my faith was restored.”
The discussion continues with Peter sharing how cis-gendered straight members can be more welcoming and inclusive of the LGBT community at church by speaking directly about LGBT issues, and acknowledging that LGBT members, like others in various situations, don’t have the same experience or opportunities as that the majority of members have, especially when it comes to temple marriage. Peter also admitted he doesn’t have all the answers.
One of the final points Peter makes is an important one for those trying to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation/gender identity. “A lot of my struggle growing up was feeling this need to choose; you can be gay or you can be a member of the Church. I wasn’t happy with that. I couldn’t get rid of my attractions, but I had a testimony of the gospel…I think the current culture and climate inside and outside the Church, and in the LGBT community, which I discuss often with people…is this understanding that you have to choose…One of my goals is to change that conversation from the ‘or’ to the ‘and,'” Peter stressed, “There is a space where you can have a testimony and you can own your identity…we can honor those both. We don’t have to choose one or the other.”