I am grateful to be speaking this morning at the 6th annual ALL Conference. I feel like I have come full circle. I participated in the first ALL conference in 2013. Not in person, but by Google search. At that time I was in desperate need of a safe and supportive community; so this “not out,” very Mormon, 45 year old divorced father of five; dared Google one night to find him one.
And Google did. ALL Arizona. I devoured the website content in minutes.
As I read Bryan Hendrickson’s opening remarks at the 2013 conference, I got teary eyed. He spoke the desires of my heart when he said:
“I wish I had known, for all those years that I felt so lonely and isolated, that someday there would be [a place] like this, where people would be coming together. That’s really what this conference is about today...We need to make sure that people know that there is love.”
I concur with Bryan. There IS love here. ALL Arizona is a remarkable organization recognized and admired nationally for the supportive community it maintains for Arizona’s LDS LGBTQ; their families and friends.
As LGBTQ it is highly important for us to find supportive communities. Supportive communities contribute to our health and happiness. The latest long term research from Brigham Young University shows that having a supportive community significantly beats out diet and exercise as the best predictor for a long and healthy life.
Supportive communities provide immediate safe harbor to strengthen us and heal us during the difficult times in life. When we feel as if we cannot go on any longer, supportive communities nurture us, lift the hands that hang down and strengthen our feeble knees. (Doc. and Cov. 81:5) Your supportive communities can be a group of friends, an organized support community, your civic community, a religious community, or even you alone on a mountain top… anywhere where you feel love. There is no rule that you can only have one supportive community. If you feel love in multiple places, that’s OK.
You can never have too much love. Science and experience confirm that supportive communities are literally life saving communities.
On Thursday, November 5th, 2015 I saw a story come across my Facebook feed. Seeing that it was a handbook change I read it with interest. Until the day I die I will remember the enveloping darkness as my curiosity turned to a crushing disbelief.
The handbook change as it was first written was a new policy that denied saving ordinances and priesthood ordination for all children of legally married same sex couples. Any baptism, priesthood ordinance or mission plans could only occur once the child turned 18, moved out of the house, and disavowed their parent’s marriage.
I remember gathering my children with me on the couch and explaining what was happening. My youngest was 11. He was vulnerable for the next seven years if I were to marry again. We all talked about the policy. We read the policy together. My 11 year old looked at me and said, “Dad, why do they want to do this to us?”
I realized then that my children needed a voice. They needed to be heard. The policy awoke the strength and courage to stand and protect my children from harm. It’s a very lonely and vulnerable position to express dissent in a church that you consider to be the only true and living church upon the face of the earth. (Doc. and Cov. 1:30)
My supportive communities of ALL Arizona, Affirmation, my two best BYU friends Heidi and Emily, and my Phoenix friends listened and loved as I spoke my vulnerabilities and processed the policy. They were there for me as I prepared for my interviews with the Associated Press, The Phoenix New Times, and a Channel 12 sit down interview that was beamed into every Phoenix household on the 10 o’clock news.
My supportive communities cheered with me when a week later the First Presidency issued a change to the policy that exempted children in my particular situation. As quickly as my children were affected, suddenly they were not.
My supportive communities continued on and comforted me after I received a death threat for speaking out about the policy. They were there for me through a visit with my Stake President…who apparently watches Channel 12 news. They supported me in the aftermath in my professional life as I returned to face my patients… who also all apparently watch Channel 12 news.
As I faced unknown personal and professional risk, my supportive communities stood by me as I stood by my children. Most importantly, my children saw me stand for them. I felt the direct benefits of having supportive communities in my life. I did not have to go through this alone. I felt love.
Luckily, we are not going to face an exclusion policy event every day. In actuality, it is the everyday little benefits of having supportive communities that add up to happiness and health.
As a Mormon, I call the supportive communities in my life my Waters of Mormon.
Let me explain.
When we summarize the story of Alma at the Waters of Mormon we think of the community of Saints who were desirous to bear one another’s burdens, willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. They desired to be called the people of God.
This was a radically supportive community considering the political atmosphere that surrounded them during the time of Alma.
This band of souls who gathered at the Waters of Mormon lived in an enclave nation surrounded by a people who desired to harm and enslave them. They lived in continual tension with their neighbors. On top of this, their King, King Noah, had pillaged the poor to fund the government’s laziness, idolatry, and whoredoms. Additionally, King Noah’s example “did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord.” (Mosiah 11:2)
Those who gathered at the Waters of Mormon were refugees.