Growing up in a very conservative religious environment, it turned our world upside down when our 13-year-old son came out to us. The learning curve was steep since we were coming from a place of almost total ignorance about all things LGBT-related.
Seven years ago, prior to our son coming out, our Bishop came to our home and asked if we would be involved in the Yes on 8 campaign. From childhood, I was taught that if the church asked you to do something, you do it. Since Mormons believe that our leaders speak for God, we thought we were being obedient to God. We agreed to participate.
(My son and I in 2006.)
Fast forward four years to January 2012. Our oldest son was 13, and he had just told us he was gay. With tears and trembling, he came out to us and with my arms literally wrapped around him. He stayed in my arms for about two hours. I put my hands on his cheeks, made him look right at me and told him how much I loved him, how this changed nothing for me and how he is perfect in my eyes. My husband and I promised that we would help him, support him, and be by his side through all of this. There has never been a single moment in the past three years when my son has had to wonder if we loved him or accepted him.
My involvement in actively working to take away the rights of others in 2008 still leaves me filled with shame. I will forever regret my part in Prop 8, and I know I still have much to atone for. Because of our actions, my son (and many others) believed that his parents and his church hated gay people.
Throughout his young life, we had unknowingly set him up for failure by teaching him that the truest form of joy and fulfillment he could have in this life was to be married in the temple to a woman and have a family. But for years -- while we were instilling what we believed to be the right lesson -- he knew this wasn't meant to be for him. To his teenage ears, the messages my son heard sounded like: "Because you are gay, you are not worthy before God. There is something about you that is deviant, wrong and doesn't fit here. You will never have the happiness that the rest of your family has. And you will not be able to be with your family in Heaven. "
My son internalized these soul-destroying messages. It brought him dangerously close to suicide. It has only been through distancing himself from the harmful side of the Mormon Church that has eased his internal suffering and the desperation that was pushing him towards such extreme measures.
And it wasn't only my son that had to learn hard lessons -- I, too, have had to face the truth. I have come to understand that for all intents and purposes, there is no place for my gay son in the Church I have believed in and loved all my life. Although the tone of some of the statements from our ecclesiastical leaders has softened, the policy is still the same. Any homosexual relationship can result in excommunication from the faith.
So, our son has stepped away from the Church, with our blessing. He is emotionally and spiritually safer with distance. I am still an active and practicing Mormon, despite the myriad of unanswered questions I have. Many ask why I stay.
I stay so other gay people, especially youth, know they have a friend sitting there with them. In the past three years, I have met hundreds of LGBT Mormons. I have wept with them as I hear their stories that are becoming all too familiar: Their pain of being seen by their families as less than; often viewed as the other, as sinful, or told that they are an abomination. Many have been cast aside and thrown out of their homes and congregations. These sweet gay children are often the most vulnerable among us, and instead of binding them up, we wound them more deeply -- often in irreparable ways.
These wounds drive many to the brink of suicide, like my son. We need to be better at loving and supporting them. Simple tolerance is not enough -- we need to celebrate who our children are, including their beauty and diversity.
I stay so other parents might have a positive example of how to love, accept and support their gay child, instead of succumbing to the morass of misinformation on LGBT people inside the faith, and end up shunning and rejecting them. I stay because even with all of this, this is still my church, too. I stay because I see God in my work as an LGBT ally, and as I advocate that all voices be heard. I stay because in my heart I believe that, despite its flaws, the church is a vehicle leading me toward Jesus Christ.
Where I do not find love, I have the opportunity to create love. I feel like the most Christ-like, unselfish thing I can do is stay and look for ways to create love for those who might not otherwise feel it at church, even if that means I am sometimes uncomfortable and discouraged.
(Sign I made for marching with my son in a Pride parade.)
We make many of our church leaders and other members uncomfortable for the stance we have taken in advocating for our gay brothers and sisters. Often, we are shunned ourselves as we work to make a space for LGBT people in our congregations, should they want to be there. But despite hurtful words and actions of those who dislike what we do, I know we are on the right side. I feel called to this work and feel God's love deeply when I am with His LGBT children. They are some of His brightest lights and it is an honor for me to associate with them.
Above all, I have learned one simple truth: STAYING SILENT SERVES NO ONE. Staying silent doesn't serve my son, my family, the LGBT community, my conscience, or my Savior. It only perpetuates the problem, and does nothing to lessen the pain and injustices experienced by so many that I love.
I am a better person for having a gay son. What some have mistakenly thought was such a burden has become one of my biggest blessings. Blinders that I didn't even know I was wearing have been taken off. I judge people less. I love people more. I see past stereotypes, and instead look into the hearts of those around me.
My religion didn't teach me how to love. My son did.
I am a Mama Dragon. For my son, and for every other gay, lesbian or transgender child out there who needs me. I will fight for you, love you and breathe fire for you. Because that is what the God I believe in has asked me to do.
To view "Families Are Forever", the documentary of the Montgomery family (produced by The Family Acceptance Project), click here.