Two years ago, a distant relative I had not met before contacted me on Facebook because of my name.
My last name, uncommon in the United States, is uniquely concentrated in Utah because of immigration to the territory during the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After some conversation, we established our relational link through my great-grandparents, who owned a grocery store in the Uintah Basin during the 1960s. I didn’t hear from her again until January of this year.
On Jan. 19, I became engaged to the most remarkable man I have ever met. We exchanged rings on the very mountain overlooking Phoenix that we had summited a year earlier on our first date. Like any engaged couple, we were overwhelmed with emotion and unfettered joy as we anticipated the joining of two families and the prospect of building a life together.
Later that day, I shared this event to our friends and family on Facebook with the modest announcement: “This afternoon Matt and I hiked a mountain and asked for each other's hand in marriage.”
One of the first comments was from this long lost relative who posted, “That is so sick.” At first I thought this was her way of saying, “Congratulations!” However, my heart sank upon clarification that her “sick” meant mentally ill.
It was such an out-of-place comment hurled through the Internet at a member of her distant family on such a happy occasion.
Last week, I saw the same thing happen to Matt Easton on social media, only on a much larger scale. Matt courageously came out in his Brigham Young University valedictorian speech, in such a savvy and powerful way. It was electrifying when he declared, "I am proud to be a gay son of God.”
Successful heterosexual men and women often cite their own sexuality in speeches, acknowledging the support of their spouse or children. Matt’s speech was a pivotal moment in BYU history, where a gay man could also stand and declare that part of who he is, a gay son of God, contributes to the accomplishments in life he is proud to own.
As news outlets reported this event, the social media comments began. While many were positive, a great many were shockingly mean and exclusionary. I won’t highlight the nasty remarks, but they came in waves from the Facebook sites of the Deseret News, LDS Living, the Daily Herald, and other publications along the Wasatch Front.
These commenters are our friends and neighbors. And, regrettably, on social media, these friends and neighbors pointed their fingers and mocked a young gay valedictorian, just because he delivered a BYU-approved speech at his commencement. It was a surreal moment as the comment sections became a “great and spacious building,” as spoken of in Lehi’s vision in the Book of Mormon, full of detractors scoffing at LGBTQ members of the church pressing onward towards the tree of life.
The fruit of the tree of life is the love of God. When the prophet Lehi tasted this fruit, the thing he wanted most was to share it with his family. LGBTQ individuals do not reside in a vacuum. They are part of a family and a part of a home.
Inclusive homes know just as much as Lehi did that the love of God is desirable above all other fruit. These families are no longer persuaded to leave their LGBTQ children and siblings behind. And as they press forward together, the sad commentary is that they are met with self-righteous and snide remarks flung from a foundationless gallery of cowardly spectators.
This is unfortunate.
We are now living in a home-centered, church-supported era. And as these wonderful, supportive LGBTQ inclusive homes point the way to health and eternal safety, they are worthy of all our support.
To Matt Easton, I applaud your courage and your journey. I support you and I support your home, a home which you so vulnerably shared a small part of in your speech to a world of strangers. I am filled with much hope and optimism by you and by all my LGBTQ siblings who are unashamedly themselves. You do not need the approval of those calling to you from the great and spacious building.
Nathan R. Kitchen is a dentist living in Gilbert, Ariz., who serves as president of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons Families and Friends.