As president of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families and Friends, Randall Thacker has met many members of the LGBT community who have faced pain, frustration and confusion when reconciling their sexuality with their Mormon faith.
There was the gay man and aspiring opera singer who had to endure hurtful comments from his mother, on how "gross it would be to be gay." Another young gay man lived "a double life for over a decade when he was serving in priesthood callings."
"What did I tell him?" Thacker remembered. "Be patient and gentle with yourself. Allow yourself time to process things."
Thacker gave one of three keynote speeches at the annual Circling the Wagons conference Saturday at Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. The two-day conference featured talks and panel discussions for LGBT Mormons, family members and friends.
He and the others shared stories about the struggles endured by many active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when measuring those religious beliefs and upbringing against their same-sex attraction.
"I receive messages from Latter-day Saints around the world who are looking for a path out of a world that is closing in on them, who are trying to process out of confusion and into hope and who have great dreams of living productive and fulfilling lives that are consistent with their faith and heritage," said Thacker, a gay Mormon who himself has taken a long road to self-acceptance.
"They want to make incredible contributions in the church and want to be welcome, included, heard, and most of all understood," he said. "They are hungry for a space where they won’t be continually told there is only one right way."
Lee Beckstead, a former Mormon and gay psychologist who specializes in helping resolve sexual and religious conflicts, said an important step in working through these issues is to first not make enemies of the other side and seek mutual understanding.
"If we are ever to resolve these conflicts, we need to approach each other with more skills, more openness, more compassion and respect and more curiosity," said Beckstead. "I have learned that we have misunderstood them as much as they misunderstand us.
"This is a community issue, and we’re all in this together," he added. "What my side does affects others and vice versa. We need to do what we can to honor each other and live the best way we each can."
David Matheson is a Mormon mental health counselor who said he has experienced attraction to other men, but learned to control it and lead a straight life. He has since married a woman and has children.
"This is my truth," Matheson said, in stressing that each person is different. "It doesn’t have to be your truth, and I’m not here to impose that truth on you. But I will state it firmly as my truth and my experience."
"I’m here because I think I’m a good case study in challenging stereotypes and prejudices," he said during a sometimes tearful talk. "In reality, we don’t just have simple opposites but an endless array of opposites which creates astounding diversity."
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