A 12-year old young woman forced us, as an LDS membership this past week, to look at our privilege as heterosexual members straight in the face. I’ve seen many comments about the intent of the young woman or her family, whether or not it was appropriate to share this type of a testimony, etc… But these arguments miss the point entirely.
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First of all, straight members never need to defend their orientation in any type of setting at church. The assumption just exists that everyone is heterosexual. Secondly, if we take out the “gay” parts of her shared words… you can quickly see that we hear these types of messages in testimony meetings all the time, and find them completely appropriate. These issues are what define the word “privilege.” Some of us get to do things and say things that others don’t because of certain factors (such as orientation, race, culture, religious background, ethnicity, gender, disability, etc.). The Oxford dictionary defines privilege as: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Let’s give an example where I have edited the original testimony to what a straight young woman might have said instead:
I want to share my testimony with you. I believe I am a child of Heavenly Parents. I don’t know if they talk to us but I feel in my heart that they made me and that they love me.
I believe I was made the way I am, all parts of me, by my Heavenly Parents.
They did not mess up when they gave me brown eyes or when I was born bald. They did not mess up when they gave me freckles or when they made me have feelings for boys.
God loves me just this way because I believe he loves all his creations.
I believe he made me the way I am intentionally. No part of me is a mistake.
I believe God wants us to treat each other with kindness even if people are different.
Especially if they are different.
Christ showed us this.
I believe that we should just love. I believe I’m good.
I try my best to be nice to others and stick up for those that are hurting.
I know I’m not a horrible sinner for being who I am. I believe that God would tell me if I was wrong in my beliefs.
I hope someday to go on dates, go to school dances, to hold hands with a boy and go off to college.
I hope to find a partner and have a great job. I hope to get married and have a family.
I know these dreams and wishes are good and right.
I know I can have all of these things as a married woman and be happy.
I believe that God is there, he knows I am perfect, just the way I am, and would never ask me to live my life alone, without a partner I love and am attracted to.
He would want me to be happy. I want to be happy.
I want to love myself and not feel shame for being me.
I ask that you all pay close attention to what you say. You never know who is listening.
I have dreams of going to the temple and getting married and I was so happy when I found out that this could be a possibility for me. I find my joy in these dreams I’ve had since I was little.
I know my earthly and my Heavenly Parents love and accept me just the way I am.
I’d like to invite LDS members everywhere, especially the leaders who played a role in developing the policies that were announced in 2015 affecting our LGBT+ siblings and their families… to consider this privilege. To consider what it might be like for a young person in our church who receives the messages found in our Primary manual of loving Heavenly Parents who are our creators… and yet as they hit pre-adolescene and forward are made to understand that the same desires for family, companionship and correct developmental milestones are not meant for them. And how that puts them in the impossible conundrum of having to choose between their beloved faith and relationship to the gospel of Jesus Christ as our church currently understands it… and their own personal health and wellbeing from an emotional, spiritual and physical perspective. This is unnecessarily tragic. Why does a straight 12-year old get to have a profoundly different experience on their journey back to loving Heavenly Parents than a gay 12-year old? I know there can be many answers to this question. But mine is the following: unrighteous “traditions of their fathers.” And until we are willing to pluck these traditions from our midst, the pure message of Christ held within the Gospel will forever be tainted.
Godspeed young LGBT+ members of our church. Godspeed.
Side Note: Nothing shared in the original testimony goes against doctrine and much of what she shares can be found supported by the church’s website (except for when she says she believes she can be happy married as a lesbian – our current teaching of the Plan of Happiness does not allow for this). But her comments about “not choosing” to be gay and that her Heavenly Parents made her the way she is… and that “being gay is not contagious”… this would all be congruent with current LDS beliefs. Her message really beautifully focuses most on teachings of divine worth, charity, personal revelation and kindness. I’ve heard countless non-doctrine supported testimonies over the pulpit by grown adults who never had the microphone shut off on them. Which, again, speaks to the discomfort we currently feel as an LDS culture on this particular topic.
If you’re interested in hearing the original testimony that was shared over the pulpit you can hit the following link of an interview I did:
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org and runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.