With General Conference among us, I know we are bound to hear much about the ideal Mormon family status: a heteronormative couple married with children. We already had this be the case in the General Women’s Session. Unfortunately, this type of focus continues to discount and minimize the presence of many other types of family systems among us (singles, one-parent homes, blended families, grandparents raising children, foster families, etc.). But most of all, it erases our gay, lesbian and queer members from the familial equation. This is particularly distressing for LGBTQ+ youth — who need to see role models of those who they identify with as thriving members in their church community. Instead, they see those they identify with touted as sinners, disciplined and/or driven to deny an integral part of their own identity. It has been such a tiresome focus for so many years now. Such a burden for the psyches of our LGBTQ+ youth. Every single conference touching on this reminder that they do not belong as they are, that they face an irreconcilable future if they want to stay in the church, and that there is something so inherently wrong with them that this topic must be brought up more than almost any other “shortcoming/sin” out there.
I will be listening to General Conference hoping to hear many messages that will edify me and challenge me to look inward — see areas where I can improve and continue to work on my shortcomings and goals. At the same time, I will be rejecting any messages that continue the harmful rhetoric we have seen directed towards our LBGTQ+ brothers and sisters. I will raise my hand to sustain the leaders of our church with the understanding that sustaining means supporting, loving and offering our opinions and experiences along the way — and accepting what they say when speaking as prophets, seers and revelators. It by no means agreeing with everything they say or do – since this idea is not doctrinally sound nor required. And I will also raise my hand in opposition — symbolizing my deep disagreement towards the LGBTQ+ policy rolled out in such a distressing way last November.
Mitch Mayne is a friend and a person I hold in high esteem. He can speak with lived experience what most of us just discuss among other heterosexuals. And he has been a powerful advocate in increasing understanding, compassion and awareness within the Mormon community. This is his guest post. And this is his church too.
Today’s guest post is written by Mitch Mayne. Opinions shared on guest posts may not completely reflect the positions of the blog’s author.
Mitch Mayne is a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues, and promotes bridge-building between the Mormon and the LGBT communities. A special emphasis of Mitch’s work is improving the health, mental health, and well being of Mormon LGBT youth and young people in the context of their faith.
As a young gay Mormon kid, I grew up waiting for my parents to be able to show me the love I needed. Even as an adult, I expected love from my extended family, my community and fellows inside the church. Because I didn’t know any better, I lived for their love and waited for them to change so they could love me in return. Most of them could not. As long as I clung to the notion that I needed their love and approval to be happy, I remained both prisoner and victim.
It wasn’t until I developed my own spiritual practice and deep relationship with my Savior that it occurred to me how much of my life I had spent waiting for other people (and institutions) to change so I could be happy. I had spent so much time, energy and focus trying to prove my worthiness to be loved, I’d lost sense of my worth myself. When I finally accepted I couldn’t change other people–and it wasn’t my responsibility to do it anyway–I was set free.
I felt some resentment along with this awakening, but focusing on myself and my Savior had gotten me this far so I continued to turn my attention there. As I did so, my peace grew, my ability to forgive magnified, and I stopped living my life for the approval and love of other people or institutions. Eventually I reached a place where I understood that the only opinion of me more valid than my own is that of my Savior.
I continue to discover the person my Heavenly Parents meant for me to be–kind, funny, a good friend and brother, loving, and sometimes impatient and clumsy. Some of the people from my past have changed, and that has been a gift. But I have changed, too, and that has been an even bigger gift.
Today I know I still want the love of my fellow humans–and I can seek that love from healthy sources.
But if I have to change, convince, or distort who I am for an individual (or institution) to give me unconditional love, I know they don’t have it to offer me in the first place.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, 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 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.