The Smarts are in the news again after Ed Smart’s heartfelt coming-out letter. There are no sides to take here. Both Ed and Lois Smart are victims of homophobia. It is a deep homophobia etched into the very genetics of society and our institutions.
Instead of focusing on the Smarts, it is better to focus on the prejudices and misconceptions about sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. Eliminating homophobia and transphobia is in everyone’s interest.
We can begin by considering the elephant in the room: Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a safe place for LGBTQ+ individuals and their families?
For decades, safety was addressed from a straight-centric perspective. The church was automatically assumed safe, “if you obey our views on what we think about LGBTQ+ people.”
The problem with this model is that straight people change their views about LGBTQ+ individuals when they get to know them. These changing perspectives paraded in church books, talks, websites and policies have become a moving target and tiresome to chase.
Thankfully, this has given way to a more trauma-aware, LGBTQ+ centric model: “What do LGBTQ+ people think about the church?”
In this model, the church is both safe and unsafe for LGBTQ+ individuals. Where you find your LGBTQ+ siblings on the church spectrum has nothing to do with their obedience or effort. You find LGBTQ+ people where they have determined they feel safest to exist in empowering and healthy ways.
If one were to ask what could make the church safer and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people, the honest answer would be to affirm marriage equality and self-determination of gender identity.
Therefore, before we can address the matter of LGBTQ+ safety in the church, we must first acknowledge a rainbow stained-glass ceiling in the church. You will bump up against this ceiling when you marry someone of your same sex or transition.
Ultimately this barrier is a revelation issue. So while the Brethren take up the question of the rainbow stained-glass ceiling, we all can continue to work together to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in our sphere of influence.
What can be done right now to make the church safer and more welcoming for LGBTQ+ individuals? Here are four ideas that can be implemented immediately with no revelatory change.
1. Uniform treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. It is no secret that transgender individuals are treated differently across the church on issues ranging from attending second hour classes to holding a calling. Geographical disparity exists in the management of same-sex couples who legally marry. Leaders vary widely on youth LGB issues such as handholding and dating. LGBTQ+ individuals are highly aware of these troubling inconsistencies. Learn from stakes in the church where affirming outreach is currently happening and train leaders across the church in these models.
2. Increase transgender care and education. Learn basic trans terminology, use someone’s correct name and pronouns, and change someone’s name on church records after they have legally changed their name.
3. Stop the excommunications for LGBTQ+ members who are legally married or transition. Getting rid of LGBTQ+ people through church discipline echoes the harmful attitude of BYU President Ernest Wilkinson who, in 1965, told students that homosexuals needed to withdraw from school because, “we do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.” LGBTQ+ individuals do not contaminate. They bless wards and stakes.
4. Take time to talk and listen to LGBTQ+ individuals without judgement. Build a relationship, and maybe you will be trusted to hear some of the most powerful human stories. You will learn of humanity in ways that sacredly expand your view of God and what it means to love one another. Then when they tell you their answer to the question, “What do I think about the Church?” you will better understand what you can do to support the LGBTQ+ individual in this very mortal experience to find and have joy.
If you are really interested in making the church safer for LGBTQ+ individuals and their families, root your words and actions in the premise that your efforts in eliminating homophobia and transphobia will have a profound impact for good for everyone.
Nathan R. Kitchen is a dentist living in Gilbert, Ariz., who serves as president of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons Families and Friends.