Queer Safety in the LDS Church

Introduction

Blaire Ostler recently made a post in which she said:

I have something to say that’s going to be difficult for some people to hear, so please try to keep an open mind.

If you are a straight exMormon, please don’t tell queer Mormons to leave the Church, BYU, or Utah. It’s not the allyship you think it is and you’re actually doing a lot of damage. Please consider that you might be using queer Mormons as your way of validating your faith crisis instead of providing support for marginalized bodies.

It’s not that straight exMormon allyship isn’t helpful, important, or appreciated. It is. It’s not that your faith journey doesn’t deserve validation. It does. It’s that when your allyship becomes more about throwing stones at the Church instead of cultivating a safe landing spot for queer Mormons, well, that’s when you are the most dangerous. Sometimes it feels like you’re throwing stones so aggressively that you don’t care who you hit.

Please keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to give a queer Mormon advice on how to handle their trauma.

In the comments Blaire goes on to say that we have no right to make people feel unsafe in the places they have determined they feel safe in. She wants people to make the determination for themselves if a place is safe for them or not.

On its face, I agree with this. People should be free to spend their time and energy wherever they please. We shouldn’t go around proselytizing about how people are unhappy or whatever; I don’t want to superimpose a “one true way” mentality onto anyone. I started leaving that behind when I left the LDS church, and have continued to do so as an ExMormon.

Over the years I have also seen a lot of straight ExMos use us queer people as a political tool. We’re a method that is used to prove the church isn’t true or treats minorities poorly, then those same ExMos turn around and make rather hurtful jokes at our expense. I understand Blaire’s desire not to have straight allies chime in because of this cultural trend that I have seen over the years.

However, I am queer and have been extremely active in the Mormon/ExMormon world for many years, so I feel like I am able and permitted to speak a bit more on this topic.

Background

Before I begin, I feel like a plug to Kyle Ashworth’s “On The Record” project is in order. This project creates a chronological timeline of all the major interactions the LDS church has had with the queer community. It is able to portray just how harrowing it has often been. He pulls up quotes, articles, and videos which illustrate how the LDS church believes that we are anti-family degenerates, unhappy and moralless perversions, distort what love is, and are to be avoided like the plague. This institution has worked to “fix” us over the years by castrating us, shaming us, taking our legal rights away, and even physically torturing us with electroshocks. None of this is hyperbole; these are all documented in black and white in Ashworth’s work.

Additionally, all this is being talked about in the first place because last week Jeffery R. Holland advocated for gun violence against us from the pulpit and we saw people act on his queerphobic rhetoric.

Abuse?

In the comments of Blaire’s post someone compared the LDS church to a domestic abuser and queer Mormons to domestic abuse victims. Having had my brushes with emotional abuse, I think this is a rather apt comparison, and would like to explore it a bit more.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, “The Hotline”, provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic violence so they can live their lives free of abuse. They have many wonderful articles about how to identify abuse and how/when to get out of it when its time.

There is one article in particular that struck me: “Escalation” by Aris, a Hotline Advocate. Escalation is when abuse gradually or suddenly gets worse. Escalations often happen when the abuser feels they are losing power over their victims and is meant to regain that control. The article encourages us to take escalations seriously and to recognize trends. The conclusion section of this article is “It’s important to think of any escalation prevention method as a temporary way to stay safer for a limited period of time. Why?”, and I feel like all 3 paragraphs are so important that I would like to quote all 3 in their entirety:

“An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

What this means is that if a certain behavior begins to ramp up, it is very likely to continue to escalate in the same direction. If there is a trend in new behaviors or a new set of threats, it is not likely to stop without significant intervention, or very clear signs that your partner is taking steps to change their behavior. Think of it like a ramp that leads up and begins to limit the ways in which someone can jump off to safety. The ramp is headed in a certain clear direction, so even if jumping to the ground doesn’t look safe now, it is important to consider that it could be safer now than later. Many survivors report taking a “wait and see” approach to the abuse, saying that if the abuse gets worse, it will lessen their feelings towards their abuser and cause them to want to leave. However, this can be a dangerous trap. The longer a survivor stays, the more power and control the abuser may gain, the more dangerous the situation can become, and the harder it may be to leave.

Lethal escalation

Some abusive partners will stop at absolutely nothing to gain power and control over their partners, and one of the most irrevocable things they can do is end your life. If you’re experiencing escalation and your partner has threatened to kill you, it is important to take this threat seriously and develop a safety plan that can help you and your family survive.

The point of no return

If you’re worried about escalation in your relationship, it might help to think critically about your own limits. What is the point of no return for you? What behaviors are you unwilling to put up with? How far up on that ramp are you willing to go? Knowing what is absolutely unacceptable to you and where you draw the line can be an important step in safety planning. It is always up to you whether you choose to stay in or leave an abusive relationship, but knowing your limits may prevent you from gradually accepting more and more dangerous behaviors as a normal part of life. You deserve to be safe and happy in your relationship.

Let’s relate what these paragraphs speak on to the current situation in the LDS church.

From Ashworth’s work we are able to see how the LDS history has a long trend of being quite queerphobic and has not made any substantial effort to change its behavior. We should trust that the LDS church will likely continue on the path that it has been on for a long time until it does start to show substantial, meaningful changes in its behavior.

In this sermon he talks about things like the BYU Y being lit up as a rainbow, BYU valedictorian Matt Easton coming out as gay, and noted that queer advocacy isn’t welcomed at BYU. It seems clear that Holland feels like he’s losing control and power regarding this topic.

Holland then goes on to advocate for gun violence against queer people in order to “defend the faith”. That is a clear cut lethal escalation.

In light of this lethal escalation, the recommendation would be to see this as a temporary period while safer places and options are actively sought after.

Is Reformation Possible?

Continuing along the lines of abuse, is it possible for an abuser to stop abusing ? Sure; its definitely possible. However, this begins by the abuser taking accountability for their harmful actions and begins steps to prevent the behavior in the future (Battering Intervention, counseling, etc.) can they really begin to make amends.

Hell, even Community of Christ did some pretty serious queerphobic stuff in the past. They discriminated, recommended “conversion” “therapy”, and did a slew of other queerphobic stuff. However, when advocates started speaking out it started wider discussion, and eventually CoC’s First Presidency took some training from Harmony, the CoC queer advocacy group. Then CoC produced D&C 163:7C and 164:5-6 and continues to do things like support queer clergy, create queer lessons, and give queer inclusive worship services. CoC has recognized the harm that it caused, has taken accountability for their actions, and is actively working to make amends.

In the LDS world, however, I have seen many reformers over the years, such as Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, Jeremy Runnells, Sam Young, Natasha Helfer, and Peter Bleakley, try to make the LDS church a more honest, safe, and equitable space for everyone. The one thing all of these reformers have in common? They were forced out of the LDS church.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. The LDS church, with its actions, has provided a trend that indicates that reformation is not possible. We should trust what it is saying to us about itself.

Conclusion

I appreciate what Blaire does. I think her advocacy has done a lot of good to raise awareness surrounding queer Mormon issues and giving queer people a voice and a platform. She’s so passionate about the queer experience and the Mormon world that she literally wrote the book on queer Mormon theology. She fills everyone that she talks to with hope. However, I feel that not only is this a false sense of hope, but it is now dangerous.

After Joe Biden won the election right-ring media normalized and encouraged the idea of a violent conflict in response to Donald Trump losing the election. Trevor Noah from The Daily Show put together a great supercut of examples here. This went on for months, and the result of that rhetoric was the insurrection on January 6th. There were many people who, after the fact, tried to claim that those talking heads were only speaking metaphorically and we’re meant to be taken literally.

Last week Jeffery R. Holland metaphorically called for gun violence against queers multiple times. How sure are you that people will exclusively take that as metaphorical, and not literal? Are you confident enough to risk the lives of family or friends? At what point is the violent queerphobic rhetoric no longer at an acceptable amount?

I feel like many people have gotten upset at the people who do recognize these trends and seek to help queer people recognize it and find safer places. It has been claimed that these people are the ones making the spaces unsafe for queer Mormons. These are not the people making queers feel unsafe; the LDS church is making queers feel unsafe. This is a classic “don’t shoot the messenger” situation.

I fear for the lives of my queer family and friends who still have a strong connection to the LDS church. For a time it was only a suicide risk, but after Holland’s sermon I fear that we are moving in a direction that will embolden hate crimes against queer folks. I fear that my family and friends – my people – may become targets if they stay in those LDS spaces. I don’t want to see my family and friends die, and I believe that necessitates helping them see that the LDS church is not a safe place for them, and I don’t fault non-queer folks for doing the same.

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