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At the beginning of this year, I got a phone call from my youngest sister. She called and said, “I started dating someone — and she’s a girl.”
I grew up Mormon and I was taught that being gay was a sin. When I was a teenager in 1995, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon Hinckley, made a proclamation that same-sex marriage would “bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
After I graduated high school, served a two-year mission for my church in Brazil, and finished my bachelor’s degree, I wound up at Purdue University. I was there to study family therapy. It was 2008, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was speaking out and encouraging members to donate to support California’s Proposition 8 — a ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage.
In classes at Purdue, we talked about Proposition 8. As a faithful member of the church at the time, I strongly defended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s position. I said things that were bigoted and ill-informed.
The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had said that as I stood for things that were “right,” I would be shunned and reviled. But this wasn’t the case. The professors and students were kind and patient. They welcomed me, even with my bigoted ideas.
The students’ and professors’ patience and acceptance are part of the reason that it has been nearly a decade since I’ve sat in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pews. In that time, I’ve changed my understanding of LGBTQ relationships, and strived to become an ally.
But unfortunately, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s leadership has not. Though many practicing Mormons have created space for their LGBTQ family and friends, the words of the leaders are often divisive. This month a Mormon leader, Tad Callister, wrote that same-sex marriage “constitutes a frontal attack on the family unit and its survival.” He suggested that same-sex marriage is a “time bomb wrapped with glitter and a glamorous bow” and that “ultimately, the day of reckoning will come and the explosion will occur.”
Callister’s attempt at clever word play doesn’t make his claim true. My sister’s relationship with her girlfriend is in no way an attack on mine — or anyone else’s. In fact, when we include all combinations of love into our lives, our relationships get better — not worse.
Welcoming diverse relationships into our families and communities allows us to see that our relationships don’t have to follow a singular path. That freedom allows us to bring our whole selves to our relationships, making our connections more authentic and more durable.
In my practice as a therapist and as the director of a LGBTQ Counseling Clinic, I’ve seen the hurt, pain and sadness that words like Callister’s can bring. These words, especially when said by those with power, have real consequences for the health and safety of LGBTQ folks. This language is found in many places, not only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but wherever it’s found, the damage is the same.
As a therapist, I’ve tried to show the same patience and acceptance to those who believe like Callister as was shown to me in 2008. In many cases, these people have grown, taken responsibility for the hurt they inflicted, and created stronger connections with those they love. But others cling to these ideas and refuse to see the damage they cause.
In the end, those who refuse to change miss out on the incredible love that queer relationships can bring into their lives. I should know — my life’s only gotten better since my sister’s phone call.
Jacob Priest is a licensed marriage and family therapist and University of Iowa professor. He co-hosts the Attached Podcast. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org