But unlike many who have delivered petitions to the church over the years, the group, the Foundation for Reconciliation, and its friends brought the thousands of signatures to the church’s doorstep in an unusual way: via handcart, from the This Is The Place Monument, which commemorates the LDS pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
The group of roughly 14 people, including several children, made the five mile trek from the monument on Sunnyside Ave. to City Creek Park, a public area kitty corner to the church’s offices, for a brief rally before crossing the street.
Here, Peter Danzig, the foundation’s communications director, called for LDS leaders and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to seek forgiveness and healing — even though they disagree over such issues as legalizing gay marriage.
“Our hope is for reconciliation,” he said to the crowd of nearly 50 supporters gathered in the park. “We’re working to open up a conversations that have for a long time been taboo.”
“This is about love,” continued Danzig, who along with his wife Mary was excommunicated from the church last year after vocally protesting its involvement in California’s Yes on 8 campaign.
Danzig then handed the microphone to Jim Struve, president of the LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy Guild of Utah, a 90-member organization of psychotherapists and students which supports all sexual orientations and gender identities and rejects so-called reparative therapy that seeks to change them.
Struve read a statement from the group, criticizing remarks made by LDS Elder Bruce C. Hafen during ex-gay group Evergreen International’s annual convention last September. Here, Hafen told conference goers that their gender traits were inborn and urged them to struggle against same-sex attraction. He also encouraged them not to seek mental health services outside of church-approved sources.
“First, Christ helps us draw on his strength to become more at one with God, even while overcoming the attraction. He helps us bear the burden of the affliction,” he said. “As a second healing and compensating blessing, the atonement enables the grace that assures this grand promise: No eternal blessing — including marriage and family life — will be withheld from those who suffer same-gender attraction, if they do ‘all they can do’ to remain faithful.”
Although the guild believes that Hafen’s “intentions are good” and that he “wanted to help those in inner turmoil,” Struve said that such pronouncements contributed to feelings of isolation and despair among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mormons —feelings that can take away the “last safety net” of community and religion that often prevents depressed individuals from attempting suicide.
“We are alarmed at the potential devastating impact your statement may have,” he said, noting that some Mormons’ suicide letters expressed “hope that their sexual orientation would change after death” and that Hafen’s statements may give such sentiments “official justification.”
“They have attempted to change … and blame themselves for failing to change their sexual orientation,” he said. “They are sincere in their desires to change.”
Next, actress Emily Pearson, daughter of LDS playwright and author Carol Lynn Pearson, read one of her mother’s poems. Both women have been active in urging the church to be more accepting of its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members.
Jacob Whipple, activist and organizer of last year’s 3,000-strong anti-Proposition 8 demonstration around Temple Square, spoke next.
“I believe we are all here today because the church doesn’t get it,” he said. “And I believe they never will, as LGBT people can or the people who love us, because they haven’t gone through it.” He noted that the church’s stance on homosexuality and gender identity had resulted in split marriages, youth kicked out of homes for being gay or transgender, and untold pain.
“Unfortunately for those people, the church has become a place of conflicting ideals, a place of broken homes and contentions,” he said.
Nonetheless, he expressed hope that the church could learn to see what gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are attempting to accomplish in the way of civil rights” so they can stand with us.”
Whipple and others then removed a trunk from the handcart and displayed the items housed inside, which all represented the time, talent and work gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mormons had put into the church. Along with a print out of the petition, they included: a casserole dish representing 6.9 million hours of church service; a teddy bear in a missionary shirt signifying 45,888 missions served and 633,000 baptisms; a receipt for $2.3 billion in tithing; and a book titled Abandoned on the Planes, featuring the stories of gay and transgender Mormons who committed suicide.
To close the rally, Rev. Erin Gilmore of the Holladay United Church of Christ and Rev. Elizabeth O’Day read a statement signed by several local religious leaders in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and asking the church to reconsider its role in supporting legislation that infringed upon the rights of gay and transgender-accepting religions.
Carrying white carnations, symbols of known gay and transgender LDS suicide victims, the group then pulled the handcart across the street to the sidewalk in front of church headquarters. There they were met by Mark Burton of the church’s public affairs office who accepted the trunk and listened as leaders of the foundation explained each item.
Burton declined to comment on the presentation and referred inquiries to the church’s public relations department. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune after the event, church spokesperson Kim Farah told the paper: “It is confusing that this group felt the need to tell the church about love and compassion. Church leaders are keenly aware of the various challenges members face around the world — both collectively and individually — and countless hours are spent every week helping them.”
“Our greatest hope is to open up channels for dialogue and opportunities for reconciliation with leaders of the LDS Church and others working on this issue in our community,” said Danzig in a release after the event. “Although general authorities of the LDS Church declined to accept the materials in person the Foundation was told they should schedule a meeting directly with the leaders they wanted to speak to. The Foundation will submit a formal request for a meeting later this week.”
To learn more about the Foundation for Reconciliation, visit LDSapology.org.