In 2012, there was unprecedented Mormon participation in LGBT Pride celebrations in the United States and Latin America. Mormons Building Bridges brought together over 300 active Latter-day Saints to march in Salt Lake City Pride in a show of love and support for the LGBT community. Hundreds of other Mormons in over a dozen other cities followed suit.
Naturally, there was controversy, for the very reasons that many Mormons felt impelled to march at Pride in the first place.
Involvement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Prop 8 campaign in California in 2008 widened already painful divisions between the LDS Church and the gay community. Those wounds were still fresh as of last year; they are still fresh now, as we await, perhaps within the next 24 hours, a Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8 and on DOMA.
Caught in the middle of the rift between LGBT Americans and straight, active Mormons are LGBT Mormons. Many LGBT Mormons love and are loyal to their faith and their Church. The majority are alienated from the Church, having experienced extreme rejection at the hands of their fellow Latter-day Saints. Within that alienated majority -- whether they quietly dropped out or were excommunicated -- there are mixed feelings about the Church. Many are angry and in pain; many have left and moved on; some quietly continue to practice a faith shaped by their Mormon upbringing far from the precincts of organized religion; some yearn for reunion or reconciliation with their Church and/or their families.
The majority of those who marched at Pride were active Mormons who wanted to make a concrete demonstration of empathy and support of the most basic sort. Their views in relation to homosexuality ranged across a spectrum from, on one end, a simple yearning for greater understanding and empathy to, on the other end, full support for civil equality. Some even envisioned a Church in which gay couples and their families could participate fully and without hindrance. All of them gladly marched side-by-side with LGBT Mormons across the spectrum of Church activity and beliefs.
For many in the LGBT community, any gesture of reconciliation short of complete and total support for full civil and religious equality would be considered too little too late.
But for many, myself included, any gesture of support was warmly welcomed and encouraged and gratefully received.
For Mormons to march in Pride in 2012 it took an act of great courage. You risked, on the one hand, misunderstanding and rejection on the part of fellow Latter-day Saints. You worried about the possibility of Church discipline. You also risked facing skepticism and rejection from those within the LGBT community (both Mormon and non-Mormon) who saw your actions as self-serving or insufficient.
What did we learn from Pride in 2012, and what does Mormon participation in Pride look like in 2013?
First, we learned that people's worst fears about Pride never materialized. No active Mormons who participated in Pride reported experiencing alienation or ostracism (or Church discipline!) for having participated. To the contrary, many of their fellow Saints expressed curiosity about or interest in Pride, and a desire to make the Church a more welcoming place for LGBT people and to expand areas of common ground between the Church and the LGBT community.
For example, in the aftermath of Pride, I met with both my bishop and my stake president to discuss my reasons for marching and for helping to organize a contingent of Mormons to march. I talked about my yearning as a gay man to be able to march as a Mormon, to be able to integrate every aspect of who I am into one great whole. I shared stories of healing and reconciliation that took place at Pride. As a result of my talks with them, they expressed support for future contingents.
Since Pride last year, the LDS Church launched its "Mormonsandgays.org" web site. Affirmation, the oldest and largest gay Mormon organization in the world, reorganized its leadership and took concrete steps toward building bridges with the Church. Local and regional conferences of Mormons have been organized -- some with official Church sponsorship and participation -- geared toward expanding the dialog between "Mormons and gays."
The overall positive experience has been bringing active Mormons to Pride in growing numbers. Earlier this month, Mormons Building Bridges' second ever contingent in Salt Lake City Pride brought out 400 marchers, 100 more than last year, even as significant numbers of Mormons who had marched under their banner last year marched under different banners this year (such as with the ACLU, for those who wanted to express more unequivocal support for civil rights and civil equality).
Second, we learned that participating in Pride was difficult, powerful, healing, and necessary.
Yes, for many participation in Pride definitely went out of the "comfort zone." It was stressful and scary in some ways, even as there were positive experiences. (Not to mention that the parade route was long, and the weather was hot!)
So many participants reported life-changing experiences. My contingent at Twin Cities Pride was often greeted by smiles and waves and shouts of surprise and excitement. "The Mormons are here? Look, here come the Mormons!" Parade watchers ran forward to exchange hugs with marchers. Participants in numerous cities described on-lookers with tears of joy in their eyes.
Last year I described a particularly powerful encounter in which a man approached one of our marchers, and told of being excommunicated from the Church three days after his lover died. That reminded us all why our participation in Pride was necessary, why we should have organized contingents to march a long time ago. It was that story in particular that had moved my bishop to encourage me to keep on organizing Mormons at Pride.
Miles to go!
To me it feels completely different now than it did a year ago.
A year ago, the idea of Mormons at Pride was shocking. Now it feels strangely normal, maybe part of a much better, "new normal." Will it still take people out of their comfort zones? Are there still risks? Yes and yes.
We have a lot of work left to do, many miles yet to march. There are so many unanswered questions for those of us who are LGBT and Mormon. We still struggle to know what our place is in the Church. There is still much pain, much alienation. There is still bullying, there is still suicide. LGBT people are still afraid to walk into a Mormon chapel, not knowing how they will be received.
Christ still has a work of healing for us to do.
If you are interested in joining me and other "Mormon Allies" marchers at Twin Cities Pride this year, email me, or check out our event on Facebook.