If you read my posting on Saturday about gay ex-Mormon Johnny Townsend's letter to the Salt Lake Tribune re: his experience discussing his plans to marry his ex-Mormon partner at Mormon blog sites, you may be interested in an essay by Townsend at Religion Dispatches right now. As with his letter to the Salt Lake paper, Townsend reports that while some Mormons love and affirm their gay brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles, others still find it impossible to offer love and affirmation.
And "there will always be a part of me that wants acceptance from my family, too—my biological family and my Mormon family as a whole." Here's an excerpt from his report about what it means to live in tenuous relationship today to his Mormon tradition, as someone openly gay and intending to marry his partner now that Washington has legalized same-sex marriage:
While life is not as oppressive today as it was years before for gays, we do carry some baggage. I remember hearing in priesthood meeting from one of the other elders, “I hope they don’t find a cure for AIDS till all the gays are dead.” My partner’s mother, upon learning that Gary was gay, immediately called his bishop and demanded Gary’s excommunication.
Both our families are active Mormons. My uncle served a mission to Finland, my cousins to Venezuela and Minnesota. My father is a high priest, my aunt a former Relief Society president. Gary’s is an old Salt Lake family with generations in the Church. One of his brothers is a branch president of a Spanish branch in Salt Lake, and the other is a former bishop and current temple worker. Gary’s nephews and nieces have served missions in Ireland, Italy, Argentina, Ethiopia, and Thailand. You can’t just leave Mormonism behind when you have that kind of connection.
I’m a writer and find that most of my stories still deal with Mormons. (My book, The Abominable Gayman, about a gay Mormon missionary in Italy, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2011, and my latest, Marginal Mormons, just received a starred review from Kirkus.) I also marched with the Mormons for Marriage Equality contingent this year in Seattle’s Gay Pride parade, amazed to see compassionate Mormons with signs proclaiming “Sorry we’re late!”
I belong to Affirmation, an organization for LGBTQ Mormons. I still have my triple combination on a bookshelf above my desk, my hymnbook, my Italian missionary discussions. I still pray, and I still fast, for many things, including acceptance, equality, and understanding.
As I said in my Thanksgiving letter to Catholics of the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, family means family for LGBT sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. Family means family for those of us who are gay every bit as it means family for our straight family members.
And so I fully understand Johnny Townsend's thirst for acceptance from both his biological and his Mormon family. I understand that thirst from my own vantage point as a Catholic, and that of my spouse Steve. There's something inbuilt in us that hungers and thirsts for the vital experience of family, and there's a particular and decisive cruelty at work in the expulsion of family members from biological and church family by people who belong to churches that tout family as one of their pre-eminent values.