Commentary: Chenoweth should bow out of Tabernacle Choir concert

(Courtesy photo) Tony and Emmy Award-winning Broadway star Kristin Chenowith will perform with the Tabernacle at Temple Square in December.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced last month that Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth will be the featured performer and narrator at this year’s annual Christmas concert series by its Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Her starring participation in three shows on behalf of the LDS Church is just as surprising as it is disheartening.

Chenoweth has long been a strong ally of the LGBTQ community. She has always advocated for LGBTQ equality, often talking about her best friend growing up who was gay and committed suicide in college because he was different. She knows firsthand the tragic cost of bullying.

She even received two of the most prestigious LGBTQ ally awards: the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2011, and just a year ago, the Icon Award from the revered suicide prevention organization the Trevor Project. Yet, when it comes to activism, actions matter so much more than words.

After her participation with the Tabernacle Choir was announced, The Salt Lake Tribune touted Chenoweth’s support for LGBTQ rights and her recent Icon Award.

Although Chenoweth’s paid performance with the Tabernacle Choir was unexpected, the invitation by the church was not. The church often uses smokescreens to appear accepting of LGBTQ people, while at the same time increasing its cruelty toward LGBTQ Mormons by its words and policies that cause immeasurable harm, especially to vulnerable LGBTQ youth.

The cruelest example came three years ago on Nov. 5, 2015, when the church deemed being in a same-sex marriage grounds for apostasy. It immediately excommunicated thousands of newly married same-sex couples from the church along with all their children under age 18. This cruel policy of ostracizing LGBTQ Mormons, stigmatizing their children and their families was leaked through internet forums. It was first denied by the church, and then later defended as a “revelation,” the word from God, by leaders of the church in a blatant move toward “damage control” through an online video. Apostle D. Todd Christofferson, who has an openly gay brother, was the messenger. He said, “We regard same-sex marriage as a significant serious kind of sin that requires church discipline. Discipline is mandatory.”

What immediately followed was an enormous increase in LGBTQ Mormon teen suicides.

LDS Church leaders like to preach about loving LGBTQ individuals and having “fairness for all,” but these same church leaders continue to shame them at every turn. The church organized and its members funded dozens of campaigns against same-sex marriage in 27 states, including the $40 million Prop 8 campaign in California. Prop 8 stripped marriage rights from millions of Californians, before the United States Supreme Court ruled the freedom to marry the law of the land on June 26, 2015.

During the past year, LDS Church leaders strongly opposed gay marriage from Mexico to Australia. It activates its members in those countries to oppose it and vote against it. Church lawyers continue to send amicus briefs to the Supreme Court on every anti-LGBTQ case.

Chenoweth needs to know that those who bear the heaviest burden of these LDS Church policies and actions are LGBTQ youth. Suicide is the leading cause of death among 11- to 17-year-olds in Utah, and these rates soar during periods of high anti-LGBTQ activity by the church.

Those who claim allyship to the LGBTQ community like Chenoweth, should not in any way support or endorse the LDS Church, but rather speak out clearly against it and its cruel policies.

Her mere presence with the Tabernacle Choir gives her a giant stamp of approval to the church’s homophobic policies of bigotry, hate and shaming. Surely, the LGBTQ community can expect better from its allies.

We tried going through backchannels to let her know that this was a big mistake. I delivered a letter to her manager, Michael Rottenberg with 3 Arts Entertainment in New York, two weeks ago. We never heard back.

The stakes have never been higher, especially for at-risk youth in Utah and around the globe. The time for action is now, and the time to show true allyship has come. We can help set a standard for what an ally can be and should do by asking Chenoweth to bow out of the homophobic church’s Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert and instead come out in support of all LGBTQ youth.

Michael Mangum | Special to the Tribune LGBT activist Fred Karger speaks during a a news conference at the Hilton hotel in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.

Fred Karger is an LGBTQ activist, president of Rights Equal Rights and director of MormonTips.com