When I first told my family I was gay, I expected to feel elated. I expected the weight of a thousand secrets to be lifted from my shoulders. I needed to feel that liberation.
When I first told my family I was gay, I felt terrified and alone. Coming out of the closet was one of the most horrific experiences I have every gone through. Worse than being robbed and held at gunpoint while the assailants told me exactly how they wanted to kill me and where they would shoot me first. Worse than having my big toenail ripped out without anesthesia in a dirty South American hospital. You see, when I came out to my family I had to relive all of the shame and guilt I felt for more than 20 years. I was alone and vulnerable.
But perhaps the most devastating part of the whole process was that I had to do it over and over again. I had to decide who I would tell. I told my parents, but I also had to call my older brothers and let them know individually. Next, I had to tell my grandma, and then my aunts. Then I told my high school friends. But I never told my coworkers.
I kept that part of my life a secret, because at the time, I worked for the Mormon church. I was working for the Deseret News. I was fraternizing with the enemy. I had to sit through the meetings where the management began each discussion with a prayer. I walked the halls lined with photos of the Mormon general authorities every day. I signed the statement that said I would espouse and reflect the values of the Mormon church in all my work duties.
However, I did my best to work from behind the scenes. In editorial meetings I emphasized the importance of giving the Pride Parade good play in the paper and online. I monitored the comment boards and removed the most egregious attacks against gay people. I tried to give the Affirmation stories a better spot on the website than the Evergreen stories. But there was only so much I could do while working for the Mormons.
I left the Deseret News because I knew I would never feel comfortable working for a company that would very likely fire me, lay me off and pass me over for a promotion or a raise just because I am gay.
The anti-discrimination laws that passed in 11 Utah municipalities would not have changed that uncomfortable pressure to conform and fear to expose my sexuality to my coworkers. Even with the ordinance, the discrimination still existed. I would never have felt comfortable bringing a boyfriend to a Christmas dinner. I would never have felt comfortable talking about my personal life at work. The prayers at the beginning of the meetings and the editorials making strong anti-gay statements made sure of that.
But that’s not all that these laws are about. The ordinance opened up conversations, even at the Deseret News about treating everyone fairly. I even heard an ultra-conservative editor, who supported Rand Paul and Sarah Palin, admit that gay people probably shouldn’t get fired if they are doing their job. If the editors at the Mormon-owned paper get it, why can’t the Utah legislature? Even if the Republicans continue to stall a statewide bill year after year, I am still encouraged by the discussion. Sen. Ben McAdams summed it up in a hearing in the Senate by saying, “The symbolism of this bill goes beyond the protections it offers in housing and employment. … Since the passage of the Salt Lake City ordinances in November of 2009, healing conversations have taken place in city council chambers throughout Utah. Healing conversations have taken place around the dinner table, at family reunions and among neighbors and friends.”
Hopefully some of these essential conversations will eventually reach our elected leaders and the proposed ordinances will be passed. Here’s to next year and more healing conversations.