Saturday night, Göran, my parents and I gathered with a group of about twenty to thirty (mostly straight, but some gay) BYU students. This was one of a series of events organized by students themselves to discuss issues related to same-sex attraction – looking at spiritual, ecclesiastical, and political issues. The event I had been invited to participate in was to focus on gay men and lesbians and their families – families of origin as well as families of choice, including mixed orientation marriages and same-sex partnerships. The students' primary goal in organizing the series was to seek understanding. One of the organizers told me that he simply wanted to understand things better for himself, and he hoped he could do it in a way that would be helpful to others who wanted to “listen in.” The tone they wanted to set for the events was one of openness and non-confrontational dialog.
The event began with a showing of the video produced by LDS Resources, “Marriage: Hopes and Realities” (an interview with Russ Gorringe, telling the story of his marriage and his divorce). Then a BYU student talked about her relationship with her gay father, who remains married to her mother and who is still seeking to overcome his homosexuality. Then I told my own story, focusing on my relationship with my parents and my relationship with my partner. My parents also talked about their own journey with this issue, what it was like for them when I came out, and how they felt about my relationship with Göran. Göran even spoke too, and talked about his own spiritual journey.
I've done a lot of public speaking, but rarely have I spoken at an event with the emotional intensity that was in that room. The event had been held at a student apartment, because the organizers were unable to get permission to hold it on campus. So students had filled every available chair, couch, and beanbag chair. Blankets and pillows had been laid out on the floor, and every available square foot of floor space was taken up, and then people were still standing around the edges of the room, in the kitchen, in the entry way. After each presentation, there was earnest discussion, and penetrating, thoughtful questions. The event lasted with this same intensity for almost three hours.
There were pieces of my parents' story I had never heard before! I had never heard my dad speak so movingly and openly about how angry he was at first when he learned that I was gay, and about his journey of acceptance. My mom talked about the spiritual experiences she had had, that had helped her to find peace, and that had led her to accept Göran as a full member of the family. Mom clutched Göran's hand tightly as she spoke. One of the students later commented to me how moving it was to see that.
Afterward, there were hugs, and more earnest, one-on-one conversations. We finally left close to 10:30 p.m.
I left with an incredible feeling of warmth and optimism. Many pieces of the stories shared had been heartbreaking, full of struggle. But I didn't come away feeling hopeless. To the contrary, the evening had been full of determination to communicate and connect, and a hunger for greater honesty, integrity, understanding and spirituality. It was those students' questions and evident compassionate that left me most hopeful of all. It felt momentous. Nothing like this series had ever been done at BYU before. It is impossible to tell where all of this is leading, but I am convinced that it is someplace much, much better than where we are.