Sorry this post is a bit long but there was a lot to cover...Enjoy!
When I got back from Switzerland it didn’t take me long to come out to my friends and family. As I mentioned before I was the only one in my life that seemed to have a problem with it, in fact my friends reaction was “of course!”, and I remember my mom’s reaction when I had my dad tell her that one of her sons were gay (I have 2 brothers) “oh…it’s Eric isn’t it?”. So the process was rather quick and painless my parent’s only concern was for my safety.
After I came out to everyone I went to discover more about the GLBTQ community through the Purdue Queer student Union and Pride Lafayette. When I first went to the office I met three individuals that welcomed me and we had a good discussion, they were actually members of a gay fraternity. They invited me to go to the Big Gay Callout which introduced me to a whole bunch of queer friendly organizations.
At this callout I had met the 2 persons that were crucial in my decision to join the Mormon church in the months that would follow and they have helped developed me to the authenticity advocate I am today, and their names are Kay Johnson and Chris Kase. We had only talked briefly at the callout and I have seen them at the queer student union meetings, but it wasn’t till next semester that I would get to know them through the organization that they would create that semester “Get Real About Discrimination”. 2008 will prove to be the most developmental years of my life that will pretty much set the foundations of who I will become in the following year. This was certainly a golden year for me.
2008 started for me with the second Big Gay Callout. Kay got up and presented the Get Real About Discrimination support group (GRAD). At that moment it was just an idea she had. Nothing was made for it officially and she didn’t know how it would run. She was requesting support to help develop it and I signed on. (I couldn’t make it to the first planning meeting I remember because I had a conference in Florida where I would get to know one student in HTM that will turn out to be a great friend especially in the coming summer). I believe it was two weeks before the conference that I came out of my Spanish class on one of the coldest days in January and I saw to figures bundled up and looking around and since I have a bad habit of making eye contact and I felt that they earned someone to talk to in this freezing weather. We talked for longer than I would’ve liked since I forgot my hat and was shaking all over I eventually had to stop them and set up a meeting time where we could speak in doors.
Around that time I was planning on ways I could come out to my catholic church, the priest we had in my family’s church was very conservative and had hopes for me to go into the priesthood so it wouldn’t be an easy conversation. So when I met the missionaries I thought it might be good practice to get to know them, come out to them, and navigate through their reactions.
After the conference I went to the Following GRAD meetings. Kay did a lot of work on it and even created a good script that the chair person would use to run the meeting. At the second planning meeting there was this girl named Danielle who made the GRAD flyer that in the background had all these things a person could feel discriminated against with the center reading “Need A Voice?” That was the last time we saw her. The meeting following that Kay, Chris, and I decided we would try it out and we ran a test and would share about how we felt discriminated against. I didn’t know what to share no one had directly discriminated against me in fact I felt that I had nothing but support. When Chris shared her experience of going through a cashier line and the clerk asked her what she was going to do for valentine’s day with her husband (Chris is about 50 so the clerk probably assumed she was married) chris really didn’t know what to say. Something clicked when she shared her experience.
I expanded my view on discrimination from the more direct obvious discrimination in the news to the more subtle that is integrated in society, I believe the first time I shared was about how I discriminated against myself. There wasn’t a GRAD meeting after where we didn’t hold a sharing and every meeting to this day I always had something to share. That whole semester it would just be the three of us who attended but we were alright with that.
During this time I began my investigation of the church. I got to know the mormon church and I learned the importance of personal testimonies and modern revelations and a whole slew of other aspects of the gospel I have not heard before. The more I learned, got involved in, and prayed about the more I felt drawn to it. The missionaries were excellent; they weren’t the play it by the book type they actually acted based on their testimony and were really great to speak with. I shared my experiences at GRAD and was finding has I spoke honestly of what I felt I became more and more aware that I was strongly relating to the church.
As a catholic, although I was committed I felt that the majority of the congregation didn’t really participate in the community, I felt to a lot of people it was just a ceremony you sit through every Sunday . I never really gotten to know the majority of people just those that got involved and every Sunday was just seeming like the same old go through the rituals, and I was changing into a person that needed more and I was beginning to believe that God leading me to a new direction.
I was finding I would go out of my way to spend time with the missionaries like signing up to feed them which we would go out to eat because I still lived with my family to save money on costs but the missionaries weren’t welcomed. It wasn’t long before both my family and the QSU knew I was investigating a new church and it was the Mormon church. Everyone’s first question was “is this a GlBTQ friendly church?” my answer was “no, not at all, in fact it its views on it is equal to catholic but the culture makes it even more difficult.” At this point everyone liked it cause I had told them I plan to come out as gay and see the reaction which I was, but a lot has changed has I learned more of the church and it changed from coming out to practice for when I came out to my catholic church to come out to see whether I could still be a member. I was receiving strong feelings that I could grow a lot in this church but I can only do so by staying true to that revelation I received back in Switzerland.
I was aware of the suicides of gay members and of shock therapies in the past and I took all of this into consideration as I prayed about the church. There were gay friendly religious organizations on campus that I knew of like the Episcopal church and the Wesley foundation both of which I still interacted with when I became mormon. I had received the feeling that it would be a good time to come out to the missionaries. And so I did and I went on about my experience that got me to that point. They were very caring and was amazed at my honesty and said they don’t quite know what to do about it so they referred me to the bishop.
He listened to my story and actually complimented me on my righteousness. He told me that there would be no problem about being honest and open he could not vouch for the members of course and said some might find it strange, but that was all I needed to hear, it may not be ideal but I can have my voice in the church and members would know me for me. I relayed all my experiences each GRAD meeing (sharers can share about anything it doesn’t even have to do with discrimination even though mine often does).
I remember at one point Kay was sharing about how she felt discriminated against and this diversity education session where they were talking about Trans individuals struggles and to Kay said they made her feel that being trans was her struggle that she was trans and kay said “No I don’t struggle with being trans at all, it is society that is struggling with it.”
From what Kay said, I had realized that I don’t struggle with being Gay and I don’t feel I would struggle with being mormon. It is the mormon church that struggles with me being queer and the queer community struggles that I may become mormon, I though realized I see no struggle within myself about being a gay mormon and quite frankly I think I would find it to be quite awesome. I won’t have other people put me in a box so that they may feel comfortable around me at the cost of me losing opportunities to find essential parts of myself and grow authentically I leave their problems to themselves to hash out I have already overcame them. I have no problem being gay the church may, I have no problem being mormon my family, friends, and queer community may but those will be there problems. I am so thankful to GRAD for offering me a space to bring all of me together and speak openly and in turn allowed me to meet two individuals that could understand my choice.
My interactions with church members and the missionaries really got interesting after that. I remember I was pretty hard on them for being late they said that was mormon time and I remember after I came out to them I told them it probably wouldn’t be that I’m gay that I won’t join, if anything it would be that you people are always late and I’m a person that shows up early. There was a bunch of moments worthy of being a scene in the cinemas. I remember hosting a table for Day of Silence a GLBTQ awareness day were all allies wouldn’t speak to reflect how the GLBTQ community is often silenced more information at http://www.dayofsilence.org/. The missionaries came by one was visiting they saw me and went see what I was doing I couldn’t speak but I handed them a pamphlet. In addition to this there was a free bible table right next to us and we exchanged our day of silence pamphlet and they gave me a free bible again couldn’t speak to them and they were actually quite pleasant about it. I waved bye to the missionaries and to this day wondered about the conversation they had after they left. A girl by the name of Claire was getting involved with the Queer Student Union and she was a very strong activist that promoted communication of the QSU to other diversity groups such as the black, latino, and native american cultural centers. The student’s awareness of the QSU widely spread because of her.
I believe it wasn’t long after meeting the Bishop that, like in Switzerland, I received my answer to join the church and I knew then there was no stopping it. So I found myself inviting people to my baptism this included peole of the queer community. Funny thing happened at my baptism though I was to be the first person this one missionary baptized and I remembered we had to do it three times because the first he said the words wrong the second the cloth came up. Everyone that wasn’t a member thought it was because I was gay. The bishop said to me that this was the most non-members thay had seen attend a baptism (probably the first an out Trans person came to). I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was giving my baptismal speech to a gathering of queers and mormons it has ever remained a highlight of my life.
So that how I became a gay Mormon my story will continue with the life I lead as a gey mormon and it has been an amzing one thus far and I look forward to sharing it!
I will be at the Big Gay Callout promoting GRAD in two days, its an exciting feeling to know that just three years ago I was listening to Kay’s idea about it and now I’m running it at Purdue and she at IU. It is also sad since this will be my Last Big Gay Callout at Purdue.