Queer-rights activists met with officials from the Mormon Church on April 23 to discuss the Church’s policies that can be harmful to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Members of the Soulforce 2012 Equality Ride reached out to Church leaders to ask them to cut ties with Evergreen International, a group that promotes so-called reparative therapy; to stop funding and promoting groups that are fighting marriage equality; to encourage LDS Business College to bring its policies on gays current with Mormon teachings and to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the faith’s policies for church employees.
The Church declined to allow the group to meet with any key members of leadership, including representatives from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, to whom the letter was addressed. Through weeks of negotiations however, the church agreed to provide members of their public relations and public policy teams for the meeting.
“I’m so disheartened that the leaders of my church refuse to meet with me,” said Robert Moore, a Mormon “Equality Rider” who organized the Salt Lake City stop. “I am a member of this church, and because I am gay my leaders apparently find me so revolting they refuse to be in the same room as me. It just makes me realize how important it is to have this dialogue.”
The Soulforce Equality Ride hopes to engage in dialogue with the Church about ways it can be more inclusive of LGBTQ people and their allies. The advocates met with Mormon legislative lobbyist Bill Evans, public-affairs representative John Taylor, former reporter Ruth Todd and attorney Alexander Dushku, who wrote briefs defending the Mormon Church’s involvement in Proposition 8.
“There is such a culture of silence around LGBTQ identities within the Church. It is so oppressive,” said Jason Conner, co-director of this year’s Equality Ride and former member of the LDS Church. “These issues are so important to me because I was forced into church-sponsored ex-gay therapy while on my mission, and it was a harmful experience. Young LGBTQ people are taking their lives at an alarming rate, and LDS young people are doing so at an even higher rate. I firmly believe this is happening because of the oppressive nature of the policies and messages coming from Church leaders. It is important for this conversation to happen, and it is even more important for members of the church to know it is happening, to end the silence.”
The meeting concluded with the agreement to have future dialogue around these issues, coordinated through local leaders of Equality Utah. Soulforce will be proposing dates and times for future meetings and training workshops within the next few weeks.
“I come away from our meeting today being cautiously optimistic about the future of LGBTQ people and the LDS church,” stated Conner. “While I am still disappointed that key leaders of the church were not willing to be at the same table as us, I am encouraged by the ability to have dialogue. We came to many mutual agreements, including that no one should ever question the value of their own life, and that no family should kick out a member, regardless of their LGBTQ identities.”
For more information about the Equality Ride, go to soulforce.org.