In ‘dark day’ for transgender Latter-day Saints, Oaks defines gender as ‘biological sex at birth’

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks during the afternoon session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks dramatically and unequivocally altered the conversation with transgender Latter-day Saints on Wednesday.

God created humans as male and female, who are defined by “biological sex at birth,” Oaks, first counselor to the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told an assembly of high-level church officers. “ … Binary creation is essential to the plan of salvation.”

He went on to say the “long-standing doctrinal statements” in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, offered 24 years “ago will not change … [but] may be clarified as directed by inspiration.”

The former Utah Supreme Court justice then added his own language to the proclamation’s statements.

“The intended meaning of ‘gender’ in the family proclamation and as used in church statements and publications since that time is,” Oaks said, “biological sex at birth.’”

That was not how Laurie Lee Hall, a transgender architect in Louisville, Ky., understood the church’s stance.

“He has now warped the family proclamation,” Hall said, “to be of no use to me at all.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Laurie Lee Hall.

Hall — a former temple designer who was excommunicated for refusing to give up her female identity — long had agreed with and defended the proclamation’s statement that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

Hall believes that gender is eternal but that she was born in the wrong body.

That is a view shared by many transgender Latter-day Saints who continue in their faith and practice with the church.

Oaks’ definition of gender as being the “biological sex at birth,” she said, directly contradicts Hall’s own “personal revelation.”

It is “a dark day for transgender Latter-day Saints,” said Hall, senior vice president of Affirmation, a support group for LGBTQ members and ex-members, along with their families and friends. “It will send shock waves through our transgender community. They are going to be traumatized and damaged by this statement.”

Four years ago, Oaks told The Salt Lake Tribune that the Utah-based faith had not had much experience dealing with “the unique problems” of transgender members. “We have some unfinished business in teaching on that.”

In his speech this week, Oaks did acknowledge that church authorities “do not know why same-sex attraction and confusion about sexual identity occur. They are among the challenges that persons can experience in mortality, which is only a tiny fraction of our eternal existence.”

Drawing on a speech last month by church President Russell M. Nelson at Brigham Young University, Oaks reaffirmed the church’s position that God decrees marriage can only be between a man and a woman and that “eternal life, the greatest gift of God to his children, is only possible through the creative powers inherent in the combination of male and female joined in an eternal marriage.”

Oaks did, however, urge Latter-day Saint leaders to “reach out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same sex or whose sexual orientation or gender identity is inconsistent with their sex at birth.”

He told them to express God’s love for all his children — “including those dealing with confusion about their sexual identity or other LGBT feelings” — and to “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.”