Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Mormon Alliance - From the One

The Mormon Alliance website is no longer active, but it is still available on archive.org. The Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance have been an interesting read for me, particularly the volume about gay mormons. I read this a long time ago, and have referenced it before, but due to the website going down, I feel it important to repost the entry by Tony Collette in its entirety. If I'm violating any copyright laws, please let me know. Otherwise, I think this is pertinant, particularly in light of Elder Boyd K Packer's most recent conference talk, and gives us a lot of insight, perhaps, into his mindset.  The original is located here: http://web.archive.org/web/20060106104253/mormonalliance.org/casereports/volume3/part2/v3p2c09.htm


Tony Collette

TONY COLLETTE, a former physical therapist and database marketer, creates motivational tools for individuals and corporations. He welcomes discussions of the ideas in this article at P.O. Box 60288, Oklahoma City, OK 73146. Tony prepared this article for publication in 1995-96. In September of 1997, he resigned from the Church. Punctuation, capitalization, and grammar in documents quoted in this essay have been standardized.

So, what’s it like being a gay Mormon? Well, that depends.

The gay Mormon experience is quite different for each of us who are members of the Church and happen to discover that we’re attracted to folks of the same sex. Some of us choose celibacy, some stay single, some marry, some live in same-sex relationships lasting years or decades. What’s it like being gay and Mormon? Well, here’s one life story, sort of a documentary history in a way—a spiritual journey and life history told through stories, letters, and speeches.

When I was a little kid, my family lived in Paterson, New Jersey, about twenty miles outside of New York City. It was loud, dirty, noisy, and crowded, complete with slums, drug dealers, and violent crime. I hated it. So I was thrilled, at age thirteen, when we moved to Edmond, Oklahoma, a suburban town where I could go barefoot and where cows mooed just three houses down. There wasn’t even one minority student in the entire school system. This was definitely a new world.

One day a woman from the local Baptist Church stopped by and asked if I’d like to catch the Sunday School bus which ran right in front of our new suburban home. Well, why not? Dad came from a Methodist background but was solidly agnostic in those days. Mom, an Italian, was a nonpracticing Catholic. Neither one objected. For the next few months, I attended First Baptist Church in downtown Edmond. My spiritual journey had begun.

I’ll always he grateful for this friendly introduction to Christianity, but I soon started attending other churches as well, anxious to learn more. The singing at the Church of Christ was fantastic, but it soon came down to a contest between the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church for my allegiance. I took the authority issue with deadly seriousness. The Catholics claimed that Heavenly Father gave Jesus authority, who passed it along to the apostles, who passed it down to the popes, who sort of kept it in cold storage right up to the present. The Mormons asserted that Heavenly Father gave Jesus authority, who passed it along to the apostles, who were killed, ending their authority. But since God loved us today as much as he loved the folks back then, he felt the need to restore the church, and so his authority was brought back to the earth in our own day. I continued to study the standard works and asked endless questions of the missionaries. For the first time in my relatively short life, religion began to make complete sense. Although still nursing some fears and doubts, I resolved to pray for greater understanding. That’s when a peaceful, calm feeling settled over me, reassuring me that if I would simply proceed with baptism, everything would work out just fine.

Quickly thereafter I was baptized by the missionary who had been involved in teaching me from the beginning. Our tiny branch met in an old funeral home. The podium was situated where the bodies used to lie in state, and we teenagers held Sunday School class in the old embalming room, suitably grossed out by the floor which sloped to a grated drain.

About this time, I started noticing that I was different from most of the guys I was hanging out with at school and at church. They talked about girls a lot, were obsessed with thoughts of female anatomy, and completely preoccupied with making out as often as possible. Being sexual with a girl seemed to be the number one priority. For them. I was too busy noticing other guys.

I never chose to be attracted to men. It just happened. In fact, I chose not to be attracted to them, but it didn’t make any difference. Pretty soon the message sunk in. I was different than my friends. I liked men. I knew this wasn’t in the script for a Mormon boy. I told my branch president. Although concerned for my welfare, he didn’t seem particularly disturbed. We set up a weekly schedule to get together and talk. He simply counseled me not to be sexual with anyone because that would make the situation worse. He told me I was going through a phase, that I’d grow out of it. I was greatly relieved. Hey, he was the branch president. I believed him a hundred percent. I followed his advice. Since I figured the gay facet of my personality would eventually go away and because I couldn’t imagine anyone being hurt by the situation, there didn’t seem to be a great need to do anything.

I became more and more involved in the Church as years passed, serving in a variety of different positions and callings. Eventually I accepted a mission call to Finland. Two years later, after an honorable release, reality reared its disturbing and ugly head on the long plane ride home. After years of carefully not thinking about being gay, I was confronted with the simple truth that the "phase" the branch president had spoken of so reassuringly six years earlier showed no signs of being over. I was more attracted to men than ever.

Although I had shifted the "gay thing" to a back burner six years earlier, it hadn’t cooled, as I thought it would. Instead, it simmered. Like my very Italian mother’s tomato sauce—an all-day affair that bubbles on the stove, the flavors intensifying, the texture and consistency changing with each passing hour—the gay issue had become strong and compelling. I climbed off the airplane in the United States knowing that, in the matrix of my Mormon orientation to the world, gayness was a core issue in my life.

Ignoring my sexual orientation hadn’t made it go away, although it gave me in retrospect a safe and relatively peaceful adolescence, despite periodic disappointments, and allowed my commitment to the Church to become strong and mature. Now I tried to figure out what being a gay Mormon meant. I ventured out a little bit, visiting gay clubs with my best friend, who was and is probably the straightest man on the planet. Did he earn the Friend of the Year award, or what? He hated going, but he loved me, so he went. Eventually I went without him, met some gay friends, had my first sexual experience, and moved to Dallas, the biggest city in our region. (I discuss the events in my life in greater detail in my statement to the 1989 high council below.) At this time, I had a physical therapy practice, providing treatment to accident patients, folks with terminal diseases, and athletes.

It’s important to know that, up to this point, the Church was everything to me. I was passionately religious, and none of that zeal was pretense. It had survived and even thrived in a mission as challenging and demanding as Finland. I had experienced intense, intimate association with the Spirit. God had come down and wrapped his arms around me many times. Mormonism wasn’t just a philosophy or religious theory to me. God himself had laid his hand upon me in testimony of its truthfulness.

So the incredible pain and difficulty I experienced when trying to reconcile my spirituality—a very real, concrete thing—and my sexuality—also a very real, very present, insistent force—made life miserable, almost unbearable on occasion. I simply had to figure things out. I experimented by staying away from the Church for a while, putting some distance between myself and it, just to see if that would help. Yet, anxious to know other gay Mormons, I also hooked up with Affirmation, a social and support group.

As I got to know more gay Mormons, I kept hearing horror stories about how they or their friends had been terribly mistreated or unnecessarily offended by rough handling from bishops, stake presidents, or General Authorities. Such negative experiences seemed really stupid and completely avoidable. There was absolutely nothing in my personal experience that came even remotely close to what these friends were talking about. I’d always been treated fairly and with a tremendous amount of respect. But there was no way around the fact that a lot of other people were having a very different experience. For them, being a gay Mormon was proving to be far more difficult than it was for me.

Eventually I decided that for my own sanity and the good of others, there had to be a way to do things differently. There simply had to be a way to integrate sexuality and spirituality. I couldn’t imagine ripping the Mormon part of me away, but I couldn’t pretend to be straight when I was definitely gay. What would happen if I went to church, participated in the meetings and discussions in class, and let a few people know that I not only sympathized with gay people but actually was a gay convert, a gay returned missionary? This may not sound very brave or original, but to me in the mid-1980s, it was revolutionary. And a little on the kamikaze side.

I began attending a singles ward in Dallas in the spring of 1986. Things went pretty well for a while. At one point, at least half our singles ward of about 150 members knew that I was gay. Except for an occasional half-joking grumble from a woman frustrated with the dating situation, no one seemed to be particularly bothered. Everyone was kind. Most were friendly. Some were even affectionate. When one woman asked the elders’ quorum president for "the scoop," as she put it, on me, he calmly and without the least bit of negative sentiment explained as best he could. When my home teachers seemed ready, we spoke about the gay issue for a couple of hours. They were mellow and caring. They didn’t seem to be especially bent out of shape over it. They in turn spoke with Bishop Madaris who called me into his office. We had a pleasant time together discussing the issues during a frank and pointed hour. Bishop Madaris knew me well. I was very active and involved in the ward; and it’s always been my experience that the more a leader knows me personally, the more understanding he is and the more temperate his response about my gayness.

At the time, I was sure Bishop Madaris understood clearly that I had been sexually active, if only infrequently, in the past. I wasn’t involved with anyone at the time of our discussion, but it was never my intent to gloss over the past or to leave a false impression of my intentions. Yet he may have received a mixed message and heard only part of it, for I’m absolutely not the type of person to engage in casual sex. I don’t say this as a boast about any kind of inner virtue. It’s just that being intimate is such a tremendously emotional experience that I found it impossible to separate the emotional from the physical. It simply hurt my feelings way too much to be intimate with someone without the sweetness that accompanies sex when two people truly care for each other deeply. To experience sexual "intimacy" over and over with people you don’t know, and then say good-bye, maybe never to see them again—well, that’s simply not what I wanted in my life. But I didn’t see myself making a commitment to a life of celibacy either.

So it came as quite a surprise when Bishop Madaris recommended me as a stake missionary. He said shortly thereafter that he thought I’d be a good missionary and that the gay thing wasn’t a big concern to him. President Gibbons, in his interview, told me that God had called me to the position of stake missionary. "How do you feel about this call from the Lord?" he asked.

"Well, I think it’s great," I told him. "I’m really looking forward to it." Then I added, "I want you to know that I’m gay but it won’t interfere with this calling at all."

He was distressed. Visibly upset. We talked a little longer, and he suggested getting back in touch in a day or two. When he did, he said, "Under the circumstances, the calling cannot be extended." He requested that we meet. In that second meeting, he said he was really offended by my breaking the commandments.

I told him I was really offended by his using the phrase "God has called you." "Look," I said, "If God called me to be a stake missionary, he already knows I’m gay. If he already knew, there’s no need to rescind the call. If you’re simply asking me to accept an assignment in the stake, that’s perfectly fine, but you should say what you mean."

This rather pointed exchange was the beginning of a relationship that started in confrontation and distrust but which developed into reconciliation and respect.

President Gibbons and I met every three to four weeks for several months. He wanted me to repent, renounce my "beliefs," sacrifice my hope of finding a reconciliation between my gayness and my Mormonness, and "go along" with what the Brethren have to say on the issue of homosexuality. I told him I couldn’t repent of being who I am, that my beliefs were a personal revelation from God, and that I respected the central LDS leadership but didn’t feel they understood. Two people could not possibly have held more divergent points of view. But we kept meeting. I’m convinced that his inner sense of responsibility to his calling and his deep concern for me as a person were the primary motivations for his persistence. For months he resisted the idea of beginning any formal action against me. He hoped that by using gentle persuasion, my situation would change and I’d "come around" to seeing things his way. But the likelihood of changing a gay man into a straight one is just about the same as changing an apple into an orange. It was a physical impossibility. President Gibbons’s patience eventually wore thin.

On 15 January 1989, we found ourselves in a high council court. Ours was a new stake center, and the high council room looked like a minimalistically decorated, austere corporate board room. The high councilors were mostly men in their fifties and sixties. I hoped that the few younger men would be a little more sympathetic than the older members. Knowing that they’d be a captive audience and thinking that this would probably be a one-time opportunity, I prepared a written statement. After President Gibbons briefed the high council, I read my statement. It took about twenty minutes.

Richardson Stake High Council, 15 January 1989

I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with you all today. During the past few weeks, I have met with Bishop Madaris and President Gibbons numerous times. I have felt of their great concern and care for me; and as we begin, I’d like to express my gratitude for their love and support. This process has not been comfortable or easy, but I believe it is the right thing. For this reason I have willingly agreed to be here with you all today to discuss some of the most personal and private aspects of my life.

I am not here to teach you or to instruct—that isn’t my place. But we are here to discuss the issue of homosexuality; and because you may or may not be very familiar with what it’s like to be sexually attracted to members of the same sex, the responsibility is on me to openly and honestly share what I know with you. I will speak directly and forthrightly, but please do not mistake this boldness for pride—it is not.

I believe this gathering is meant to help me and to help you and to help people in my position whom you will meet in the future. Because this is so important, none of us nor the Lord nor his church would be well-served by shyness or hesitancy. But this openness is not pride. This meeting isn’t, however, simply an opportunity to share information. This is a high council court and the stakes are high. My continued membership and activity in the Church are on the line. And because I have a very strong testimony of the gospel and the Church, this has great significance. The decisions which are reached here today will have great impact on my life and the lives of people like me. For this reason I would ask, with great respect for the position you all hold, to please lay aside your preconceived notions and prejudices about what a homosexual person is. It is only natural that you would have them, but I am very afraid that these deep-seated ideas might get in the way. I have prayed to the Lord that this might not be the case. I would not ask you to accept or agree. But I do ask you to be willing to understand.

I became a Christian at thirteen and accepted the restored gospel and was baptized into the Church at fourteen. At fifteen, I realized that I should discuss my sexual attraction for men with my branch president. We met numerous times, and he offered very helpful counsel. The difficulties became more obvious as time passed; but because of the strong testimony of the gospel which was within me, I continued being very active in the Church. I was advised that this "phase" would eventually pass but that any sexual contact would make the situation worse. Accordingly I was celibate from this time until I was twenty-three years old. I was told that, if I obeyed the commandments, God would take care of the rest.

While a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood, I assumed that, if I was a good priesthood holder, Heavenly Father would change me. So I threw myself into activity and service and must admit that my life became much fuller and rewarding. With youthful optimism and great anticipation, I awaited the day when I would become a priest. The ordination came and went—but my attraction to men stayed. This was a crushing disappointment. With the naivete and blind faith of a sixteen-year-old, I put complete faith in the power of the Lord to bring about a transformation in my sexual orientation. But it hadn’t happened. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me.

The hurt feelings subsided as I eagerly looked forward to the conferring of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Such a monumental happening—receiving the priesthood of God—surely as I obeyed the commandments and served in the Church as called, the Lord would intervene. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be the great turning point in my life upon which the entire future of my life depended.

I vividly remember the day I was sustained in stake conference for ordination as an elder. When the stake president called my name I proudly stood. I was excited, happy, and humbled. My home teacher conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained me an elder. It was thrilling. To have the priesthood of God, to stand and administer in the footsteps of Jesus—what greater thrill could there be?

As the next few days passed, I slowly realized that my sexuality had not been affected. Is it possible to describe the fear, anguish, anxiety, hurt, depression, anger, resentment, self-hate, and sense of abandonment that I felt? Desperate thoughts went through my mind. For what good reason was this happening to me? What horrible, unthinkable atrocity had I committed in the preexistence to deserve this? Why did God hate me so much? Why bring me to an understanding of the concept of an eternal mate and then cruelly deprive me? Why had this happened?

Time passed. It seemed to me that going on a mission was the right thing to do. Surely doing the Lord’s work for two years would prove to the Lord my intentions. Surely this would be an acceptable offering. The thought of entering the temple and receiving my endowments became the next focal point. The temple was a sacred, special place where God communed with his servants. Miracles had occurred in temples since the early days of the Restoration. It seemed clear to me that, in the temple, my prayers would be answered. I believed that through participation and acceptance of the sacred ordinances of the temple, the Lord would change me.

I entered the temple with many great expectations. The experience was lovely and uplifting. It provided one of the greatest spiritual moments of my life. It was wonderful. But as I walked Out of the gates of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, it became painfully obvious to me that I was still attracted to men. I was surprised and disappointed, but I immediately began to think that what the Lord was requiring of me was two years of full-time service as a missionary. Surely as I served the Lord as an ambassador of the gospel, he would change me.

I was assigned to Finland. In some ways it was a typical mission, but in others it was unusual. I taught conversational English in international business colleges, functioned as a fill-in branch president, and was specifically reassigned to work with a suicidal member to keep her alive. Because of an illness which one of my companions suffered, I was alone for eleven days in a two-missionary town. Knowing in advance that my companion would be hospitalized for quite some time, the mission president trusted me enough to be alone for eleven days. I took this as a great compliment and did nothing during that time to damage his trust. During my mission, I was not involved in any sexual conduct even though one companion was gay and I had other opportunities available to me.

I was not an ordinary missionary, but I was effective in many ways. I was on the Lord’s errand, doing the Lord’s work. Sometimes I felt really awkward or stupid, but that was okay because the scriptures say it’s okay to be a fool for Christ.

The close quarters of mission life provided for some difficult, tense times. The only way to convey an understanding for the situation is for you to imagine a red-blooded twenty-year-old elder with a twenty-year-old sister missionary as a companion. Can you imagine what it would be like for them to dress, undress, and sleep in the same room? That’s what it was like for me. Tense moments aside, the experience of being on a mission was wonderful. I developed a greater appreciation for the love Heavenly Father has for all his children. The idea of the one-ness and the shared experiences of all of us here on earth made me appreciate the people more. I developed an intense love for the people in Finland and found amusement, more than irritation, in the differences that growing up in our separate cultures had provided. In working with the suicidal sister, Heavenly Father required me to develop an almost endless patience for her. I would submit myself to listening and counseling with her when it seemed no one else would because this was the way the Lord had provided for me to love someone else more than I loved myself. Really, that’s what the entire missionary experience was about.

As the last few days of my mission approached, I again realized that my sexual attraction for men had not changed. A familiar sadness settled over me. In a quiet moment, without anger or bitterness, I reflected on the many events that had led me to Finland. Where along the way had I failed the Lord? At what point in my life had I so disappointed him that he felt it appropriate to consign me to be single, alone, without a wife for the rest of my life? After much introspection, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t done anything so wrong—at least, not wrong enough to deserve this.

After returning home, I began dating a lovely girl from Holland who was great fun to be with. Although she was very desirable, I was never sexually attracted to her. But I believed that, after we were sealed in the temple, the situation would resolve itself. There was simply no other alternative. I asked her to marry me; but it was called off shortly thereafter.1

At this point I was twenty-three years old. I had been sexually attracted to men since before I understood what sexual attraction was. I had never felt any attraction for women. I was a member of a Church that worships the concept of marriage—and I was unmarryable.

I was crushed after my ordination as a priest.

I was disappointed after my ordination as an elder.

I was confused after the endowment ceremony had not changed me.

I was saddened as my mission drew to a close.

I was completely disheartened as I realized that marriage, even a temple marriage, would not change who I was.

How my spirit ached. Sadness overwhelmed me. During this period, tears were no strangers to me.

It was then that I truly accepted the fact that I was a homosexual. Although I had chosen to be attracted to women innumerable times during the previous eight years, it never happened. I never chose to be sexually attracted to men. That’s probably the most important thing I’ll say here today. Like most gay people, in or out of the Church, I never chose to be attracted to men. Why would I? What sane, rational person—given a chance—would so choose to complicate his life? Would you make such a decision? Well, I wouldn’t either, and I didn’t.

Decision or no, the situation remained. I was twenty-three years old and I was gay. "Gay"—that was such a foreign word. Although I had heard the word since childhood, it was only then that I began to think that "that word" was a part of my identity.

It was like suddenly discovering that your ancestry was Russian instead of English.

In an attempt to understand what being gay meant, I went with friends, some of them straight, some gay, to nightclubs and discos that had a predominantly gay following. They seemed pretty much like all the other discos I had been to. The idea of dancing and being with friends was appealing but the "fast track" life-style of drinking, drug use, and casual sex didn’t appeal to me at all. Within a year I had my first overt sexual experience. Because of a job change, I moved to Dallas.

During this time I became increasingly involved in social activity and a seeking for information that would help me understand what being gay meant. Part of what the subculture offered was worthwhile and part of it was not. I rejected the idea of sex as a hobby or sport and from this time onward tried to avoid any sexual involvement that was not preceded by real affection and caring for the person involved.

While still trying to put all the pieces together, I left the Church for six months to try to determine just how important it was to me. At one point my bishop and I met and he referred me to Stake President Brough. At his home, President Brough and I had a very involved and open discussion during which I related to him my experiences and feelings about what had happened to me. His reaction was to tell me that a Church court would be held and some type of action would be taken. He took my home and work numbers and I fully expected him to contact me with information about a court immediately. The phone call never came. For reasons which were never explained to me, President Brough didn’t pursue any action.

Another job transfer to Garland placed me in the Richardson Stake and the Eleventh Ward. During the time away from the Church, I came to realize that the Church was more than just a habit, it was a vitally important part of my life. I resolved to get back into Church activity, but on a limited basis. In the Eleventh Ward I accepted callings which did not require a worthiness interview. I spoke in meetings and occasionally sang in sacrament meeting. I was not a home teacher nor did I perform any ordinances or teach classes because it didn’t seem appropriate to represent the Church in such an official way. While this compromise arrangement might have offended some people, it seemed very agreeable and workable to me.

About three months ago, Bishop Madaris recommended me to the stake presidency to be a stake missionary. During the interview with President Gibbons, I expressed a willingness to serve the Lord as called but was very open and honest with him about my personal situation. He felt, under the circumstances, that the calling would not be appropriate and that is how the process of this church court began.

There has been some confusion about whether Bishop Madaris and I ever discussed the particulars about my sexual activity. Just so you will know, I have never tried to hide or conceal any facet of my struggle with homosexuality from the Church leaders who have had jurisdiction over me. Indeed, just before moving into this stake, I completely discussed all of these matters with the appropriate Church authority.

While being open and up front with Church leaders, I have generally tried to be as low profile as possible with most Church members. It has never seemed all that important to make such personal things a matter of public knowledge. I have, however, shared some of this with close personal friends in the ward. But it has never been my intention to make a big deal out of my sexual orientation.

I have lived every day of my life trying to come to an understanding of my sexual orientation. In my youth that journey of understanding took the form of blind faith and naive optimism. In early adulthood, these qualities were replaced with a simple determination to do what I felt was right by attending the temple and serving a mission. Eventually, I came to the realization that sexual attraction for men was simply a part of who I am and not something which I chose. My hunger for understanding revolved more around seeking information about secular and medical discoveries and about the meaning and intent of the scriptures which mention homosexuality. These methods were and continue to be very useful, but they pale in comparison to the method which I have employed the most—and that is seeking the Lord’s will in meditation and prayer. Through the past fourteen years I have unceasingly prayed for guidance and insight. Discovering the Lord’s will in all of these matters has been an almost all-consuming passion. It has not ceased to be so.

During the course of this search, the Lord has made plain to me certain things which I will share with you. I do not believe that these ideas are meant for anyone else. But there is no doubt that they are meant for me and that they have been revealed to me as answers to prayer from the Lord. The first is that Heavenly Father loves me as intensely and with as much passion as he loves any of the rest of his children. He knows me and cares for me beyond description. He is aware and apprised of the situation and has great compassion for me.

The second is that I have done nothing to deserve the situation in which I find myself—that is, nothing I did grieved the Lord enough to cause me to be sexually attracted to men. My sexual orientation is not a punishment and it is not any less a divine part of my identity than your sexual orientation is a divine part of your identity.

The third is that Heavenly Father does not expect me to be celibate for the rest of my life. It was not his intention to create me as I am and abandon me to loneliness in this life or the next. It is his will that I learn to responsibly and appropriately use the sexual orientation that is within me to further the same goals which Heavenly Father has placed for all of his children. And those include the creation of a loving home, the ability to love someone else more than yourself, and the charity not to use sexuality as a tool of force or a means of coercion, but as a method of expressing love, affection, and all of what is good in a person.

I believe my sexuality is just as beautiful, divine, and lovely as that which can be found in any one of you here today. In my youth I hated it; but through prayer and meditation I have come to accept my sexual orientation as a challenge and an opportunity—and in some ways a special blessing. For this understanding I thank a loving and caring Heavenly Father who has not abandoned me, but whose hand and influence are present in my life.

Now you will consider whether it is appropriate for me to remain a member of the Church in full standing. When I came to this stake and the Eleventh Ward, the most appropriate thing seemed to be the arrangement which I discussed earlier—specifically that I accepted callings which did not require a worthiness interview, spoke and occasionally sang in meetings, was not a home teacher, and did not teach any classes or represent the Church in any way. I do not perform any priesthood functions. The limits of this arrangement have served my needs and the needs of the members of the ward well. I hope it is possible to continue this in some official form.

As you consider the issues involved, I ask that you remember these things. First, I did not choose to be gay. Second, I have always been open and honest with the bishops and stake presidents whose responsibility it has been to counsel me. Third before coming to this stake, I met with and fully discussed the situation with President Brough who took no action. Fourth, the main reason we are meeting today is because, during an interview with President Gibbons, I was honest and willing to share my feelings with him.

The final thing I’d like you to keep in mind is that, although the object of this court is to consider the appropriateness of my conduct specifically, there are thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people in the Church just like me—men and women who, through no action or choice of their own, find themselves in the very difficult position of being sexually attracted to members of the same sex.

As you consider me and my actions, keep them in your minds and in your hearts. Just as surely as we are here in this room, they are there. Many years ago as a youth, the difficulty of the situation became obvious to me. I believe in a religion whose ultimate expression is temple marriage—and I am not marryable. As difficult as this is, I did not give up on the Church. Rather I struggled along through good times and bad, determined to discover the Lord’s will and do it. The Lord has not finished with me. As long as I am willing to struggle, He is willing to support me. As I did not give up on the Church fourteen years ago, please do not give up on me now.

Then the high councilors asked some questions. Quite surprisingly, it was the younger men who got the most distressed and engaged in badgering and even rudeness. President Gibbons had to call them down on at least two occasions. Their pointed questions evoked equally pointed answers. When it was over, it seemed they had every reason in the world to excommunicate me. Even though I wanted to keep my membership and even though I had tried to be as persuasive as possible, they now had all the ammunition they needed. I braced for the worst.

The worst never came. The council, really President Gibbons, decided to disfellowship me for one year. We met every month to discuss what it means to be a gay Mormon. He agreed to read everything I brought him if I’d agree to read everything he gave me. These monthly sessions were really taxing at first, but quickly became enjoyable and rejuvenating. We still disagreed on some important ideas, but he was willing to listen, and that made all the difference.

Once he suggested that God’s special calling for me as a homosexual man was to be celibate for the rest of my life. I asked him, "What sort of reaction to that idea would you get if you brought any other member of my ward into your office and told him: Despite the fact that we’ve taught you from Primary on that the ultimate expression of your religion is to couple with another person, forget all that. God’s got something different in mind for you. It’s not just a question of circumstance that you remain single, but a matter of personal choice. God wants you to choose to be single, not just accept the fact that you happened to remain single."

He mentally chewed on that for a while and admitted he’d never thought of it that way before.

I concluded: "You want me to sacrifice my hope, in advance. That’s completely different than accepting a situation that has already occurred." This was the big impasse.

After a year, Church policy required the stake president to reconvene the council to either reinstate or excommunicate. Those were the only two options. We were both pretty nervous about it. I told him it would be a total, complete mistake to excommunicate me or anyone else in a similar position. Who would it help? Would the Church be better oft? Would I or any other gay individual? How would excommunicating a gay member prepare the world for the return of Christ? Exactly what good would it do?

President Gibbons shifted in his chair under my impassioned plea. He shifted again. His face got red, and tears came to his eyes. He didn’t talk for a while; but when he did speak, his voice was broken and full of emotion. I don’t remember what he said, but I’ll always remember the way he said it. This man loved me. He felt for me. It left a deep impression.

Within a few weeks, he became aware of a policy change that removed the former restrictions and allowed him far more latitude in cases of disfellowshipment. What a relief! We kept on meeting. I ran across an interview with Stan Roberts, the former bishop of the San Francisco Singles Ward, about some really progressive approaches to the gay issue. His belief was that all of God’s children should be included and encouraged; in that spirit, he held a weekly gathering of gay members in his own home. Just to add a little lightness to the otherwise serious nature of the gatherings, they named themselves "the Farside Group." Despite the silliness, the group’s purpose was quite serious: to provide a safe, nurturing situation so that all who attended could share their experiences and try to create a greater understanding among the gay and straight members of the ward. The underlying motive was to find a way to make life better for everyone involved.2

I started thinking about how these ideas migh be duplicated in the Dallas area. I became really excited by the possibilities as President Gibbons and I continued to meet. At one point the hope issue came up again, only this time President Gibbons said something about no one really being able to completely guarantee their future actions. I didn’t read into this any sense of a loophole or way around anything. But it felt comforting and reassuring, and it stayed with me.

After some extended soul-searching, prayer, and a lot of thought, I reaffirmed my basic belief in the divinity of the Church. At the same time, I came to peaceful terms with the fact that the Church is composed of ordinary humans, loving people who are imperfect and therefore make mistakes—sometimes small, sometimes big. Obviously these loving, caring people had simply made a massive mistake in their assumptions about homosexuality. Could I forgive them for making such a big mistake?

Eventually the answer was yes. The next realization was that the promises of God apply to me just as much as anyone else—and they re absolute. He’ll come through on every promise and every agreement we’ve made. With those two thoughts in place and with a desire to try to replicate in Dallas some of the progressive things that had been happening in the San Francisco Singles Ward, I met with President Gibbons and asked him if we could start discussing reinstatement.

One of their big concerns was what I might say in public about the gay issue. We discussed a variety of possibilities which would restrict—to one degree or another—what and how I could discuss gay issues in private or in public with church members. Through President Gibbons, I offered his counselors my assurances that I wasn’t interested in embarrassing anyone, but that I felt it only appropriate to be given the same freedom and latitude in speech that any other member of our ward enjoyed. This seemed far more compatible with gospel principles, and we all tentatively agreed that this was the right choice. President Gibbons discussed this option with his counselors, then brought it up with me again. Obviously the counselors and, to some extent, President Gibbons, were really nervous about what I might say in public, or possibly from the stand. Understanding the tension they felt, I tried to reassure them again, but their doubts were persistent. They were truly worried.

He called the high council together, and we had a very pleasant meeting. President Gibbons briefed them again and then asked me to bear my testimony and answer some questions. The council had gotten a lot younger in a year and a half. This worried me. Although the questions were blunt and the answers blunter, the texture of the meeting stayed friendly and nonthreatening. Since Bishop Madaris had been released a few months before, the current bishop of my singles ward, Bishop Folger, accompanied me to the high council meeting. He spoke boldly and forcefully on my behalf, at one point telling the high councilors that the only issue they should be concerned with was whether or not I could answer the questions in a temple recommend interview appropriately and that everything else was completely irrelevant. "We don’t understand this stuff, so let’s not pretend we do," he said.

After a short adjournment, President Gibbons announced the decision of the presidency to reinstate me into full fellowship. After making a quick round, shaking everyone’s hand, I left that room with Bishop Folger, thinking, "This whole thing has been way too weird." I was really happy, excited, and very relieved that this long and difficult confrontation with the institutional Church had ended.

At the time I wrote in my journal, "Now that the tension with the Church is over, I intend to get on with the more important aspects of the gospel. Like learning to love your neighbor, understanding what God wants and how to do it, and loving someone else more than you love yourself. And I look forward to having some fun—simple, clean Mormon fun—with the wild and crazy members of my ward."

And we did have fun. Life in Dallas in the singles ward was really enjoyable. There was a great group of young people there, probably more cosmopolitan and accepting than in many other places. I really enjoyed being involved, in full fellowship, functioning as a home teacher and doing all the things an active Latter-day Saint does.

At one point during this period, Bishop Folger called me into his office to ask a favor. The missionaries had tracted out, taught, and baptized a young gay man into our ward. The bishop very much wanted him to feel comfortable and "at home" with the rest of the singles, but wasn’t sure how to proceed. Speaking of the bishopric and elders quorum presidency, he said, "You know more about this gay stuff than we do. Would you mind talking with him and making sure that his needs are met? We really want his experience in the ward to be a good one. And if there’s something we can do to make him more comfortable, please let me know."

I was more than happy to help out, eager to help this guy make a transition into membership in the Church. And his experience in the ward was a pleasant one, lasting a number of months until he joined the military. Of course, why wouldn’t I—or anyone, for that matter—respond favorably to such a respectful and dignity-enhancing encounter with their local leadership? I was enjoying activity in the ward, my experience and contribution were valued. Things were going according to plan perfectly.

And then I fell in love.

Brian and I met at an Affirmation conference in Arizona in September of 1990. I was there to do a one-hour presentation on dealing with local LDS leadership. He was there helping his mother, Wanda, recover from the trauma of another son’s suicide a little earlier. He was sweet, attentive, and cute as a bug. I was hooked. Fortunately, the feelings were mutual. We corresponded, telephoned incessantly, visited each other, and within a few months decided to live together as partners. Who was it that said, "Life is what happens to you when you’re expecting something else"?

Brian lived in Idaho Falls, and I moved there to be with him. Although he had stopped attending church on a regular basis a few years before, we decided to visit some of the local wards in hopes of finding a place where we felt at home. After six or seven weeks, his old frustrations returned, and he decided not to attend any more. I continued attending a singles ward for a few more months, at one point even giving a major talk in sacrament meeting when a high councilor couldn’t attend. But when the bishop decided to interview me about my disfellowshipment and reinstatement in the hallway with various other folks walking by, I decided it was best not to return.

Although I really tried to make the adjustment to small-town living, it was just too difficult. In the winter of 1992, we moved to Salt Lake City, where I continued with the video production business I had started in Idaho Falls. Brian eventually set up a branch office of his financial services business in Salt Lake. Our offices were located in a historic residence just two blocks away from the Church Administration Building. We attended church occasionally but never felt comfortable getting too close to anyone there, simply because we knew it might cause a great deal of trouble and discomfort if someone in a leadership position felt duty-bound to initiate some kind of action against us. This situation obviously caused a great deal of tension for us and other gay couples who wanted to try to maintain some kind of contact with the church they were raised in, while at the same time knowing that, if they got too close, they’d be punished and possibly even have their membership officially revoked.

When I was growing up in Oklahoma, General Authorities had seemed pretty irrelevant in my life in the Church. Salt Lake City seemed very far away. When I was a kid, even seeing your stake president could be quite a novelty. Still, I had generally positive feelings for the General Authorities after listening to them speak in general conference sessions and reading their articles in Church magazines. Now that I was a young man, it seemed very strange to be so close to all those revered men who had just been names before.

Life in Salt Lake was fabulous. There is no shortage of cultural and interesting things to do in the city, and we quickly acquired a circle of close friends. We also met a lot of gay Mormons in Salt Lake. But these folks were different than any gay Mormons I had known before. The amount of bitterness and anger these folks felt for the Church was astonishing. The situation distressed me a lot. I felt I needed to do something but felt completely frustrated trying to decide what. I settled on the idea of writing a letter to the General Authorities, sharing some good experiences that had happened to me in the Church, but letting them know that I was meeting lots of people who had been having really terrible experiences.

Now I understood that General Authorities are targets for all kinds of bizarre phone calls and correspondence. I realized that much of this contact would be unpleasant and accusatory. So I wanted to make it very clear that chewing them out by letter wasn’t the point. I just wanted to get together and try to make life better for everyone in the Church.

I wrote the following letter with these concerns in mind. I also shared with them some of the negative feelings I was hearing about them, as contrasted with my own generally positive feelings. I then offered to meet with them and talk about the gay Mormon experience if they felt it would be somehow worthwhile. I stressed that I sustained them in their callings and wanted to do whatever I could to help. I sent the following letter to all 102 General Authorities, each one individualized, of course, with his name.

10 April 1993

Dear Elder ________

May 3rd marks my eighteenth year in the Church. As a gay Mormon, I have witnessed and experienced first hand during those eighteen years what it’s like to be homosexual in a Church which is sometimes less than accepting of its gay members.

My experiences have run the range from incredible, Spirit-filled, loving encounters with members, bishops, and stake presidents to a laughable run-in with a departing mission president. May I share with you some of the more permanent and meaningful memories?

I particularly remember a young medical student who was my home teacher, in tears because of his frustration—he didn’t understand, he wanted to; he couldn’t help, but his greatest wish was that he somehow could. And a loving stake president who, frustrated and distressed, cried with me during hours of conversation and counseling.

I’ll also never forget an interview with a bishop who calmly and quietly helped me understand the various options available to me as a gay Mormon. His insight, humor, compassion, and serenity had a calming, hope-producing, and nurturing effect on my soul.

While probably 85 percent of my personal experiences with the Church have been favorable, many of my gay friends and acquaintances have not fared as well. They have seemingly endless "horror stories" to tell concerning encounters with members and officials, including General Authorities. Many of them have come to the conclusion that you General Authorities are hate-full, irresponsible autocrats who choose to remain in ignorance on the issue of homosexuality and abuse your power when formulating policies concerning the gay members of the Church.

I do not believe this. I perceive you and your fellow Brethren to be caring, compassionate, sacrificing servants of God, doing the best you can with the gifts and talents with which Heavenly Father has blessed you. If you are not completely informed as to what it means to be a gay Mormon, isn’t that the fault of us gay Mormons? Have we made ourselves available to you so that you might receive information first-hand from the individuals who know the most about the gay Mormon experience?

Without giving serious thought to what a sustaining vote really means, I’ve raised my hand to sustain you in your current calling. There must be many facets to the act of sustaining Church leadership, and without doubt one of them means providing you with whatever information I have which might allow you to more completely fulfill your calling. So in a spirit of friendship, I offer that which I have to give—the life experience of a gay Mormon. At your convenience I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the issues facing gay Latter-day Saints and the Church.

The purpose for meeting is not to debate, or to presumptively call you to repentance, or to be called to repentance myself for being gay. The point is to meet together and share what we have for the good of the kingdom and the furthering of the will of the Lord here on earth. My only wish is that somehow life in the Church can be more rewarding and spiritually fulfilling for those members of the Church who realize they are homosexual. Surely the Lord will bless us all for seeking out and making life better for The One.

Tony Collette

In all honesty, I didn’t expect there to be much of any response from this letter. More than anything, it was a good-faith attempt to do something, anything, which might help the situation. Those in-home meetings Bishop Roberts held in San Francisco were still on my mind; and although I didn’t suggest duplicating his efforts in this letter, I had hoped that we might explore some possibilities and options together. But realistically, I fully expected that most, if not all, of these letters would be filed away or simply trashed.

As it turned out, this letter made a number of the General Authorities uncomfortable. Four weeks later, on 10 May 1993, I received the following letter from Harold C. Brown, Commissioner of LDS Social Services:

A number of the General Authorities received your letter and have asked me to respond to your letter and address the questions you have raised. We appreciate the concerns that you expressed for members of the Church who struggle with homosexual difficulties. As you might be aware, a booklet has been prepared that local leaders may use to assist those who seek help for such problems. A copy of the booklet is enclosed. It may answer some of the questions you have about the Church’s position. This document is designed to assist local leaders in helping those who wish to conform their lives to the Lord’s teachings.

We will be happy to meet with you to address the concerns or questions you have. I suggest you call Brother Dean Byrd, one of my colleagues, who can discuss the issues you have. Brother Byrd can be reached at (801) 240-3634.

Thanks again for sharing your concerns. We are willing to assist you in any way we can.

Harold C. Brown, Commissioner
Latter-day Saint Social Services

This letter was a surprise but also a disappointment. I was very familiar with the programs and activities of LDS Social Services in the gay area, and especially familiar with Dean Byrd, the Church’s "point man" on the gay issue. Meeting with him didn’t seem as if it would accomplish a whole lot, so I quickly decided not to pursue it. But a good friend who had worked in LDS Social Services for years persuaded me to reconsider, suggesting that Harold Brown and Dean Byrd really needed to be exposed to gay Mormons who weren’t overly distressed with their sexuality. So I made an appointment with Dean Byrd, the man who advises the General Authorities about homosexuality in the Church.

Just a few days later, I received the first of just two answers from the 102 General Authorities I had written. It was from J. Ballard Washburn, then serving in the area presidency for Africa. He wrote:

12 May 1993

Dear Brother Collette:

It was nice to receive your letter. I am grateful for your attitude of kindness and understanding. You said you would be happy to meet with me and discuss the issues facing gay Latter-day Saints in the Church. My present assignment is in Africa; therefore, it makes it rather impractical for us to get together.

The Lord’s work is going very well here in Africa. During the past two-and-a half years I have been able to travel to twenty-seven different countries in Africa. The Church is now in twenty-four of those countries and is growing in each of those countries. It is a great privilege and blessing to be involved in the Lord’s work and to devote full time in trying to help people understand the message of the Savior so that their lives can be full and rewarding and happy.

I am grateful that most of your experiences with Church leaders have been favorable. I am especially grateful that you could have a spirit of love and concern for other people. Thank you again for your letter. Perhaps, sometime in the future, we will have an opportunity to meet.

With love,
J. Ballard Washburn
Africa Area Presidency

What a nice letter! I’ve never met this man, but it’s obvious that he’s a caring, sensitive person, quick to look for the good in others.

The day came for the appointment with Dean Byrd. The hour-long conversation was animated and interesting. I asked a lot of questions, and Dean responded with the Church’s position and his own history in dealing with gay people and homosexuality. One of the issues we discussed was whether the Church officially sanctioned and supported the activities of an "ex-gay" Mormon group called Evergreen. At the time, my opinion of Evergreen was that its leadership seemed composed of genuinely caring and loving people who were simply misleading gay Mormons and their families about homosexuality. They provided activities such as basketball, baseball, and oil-changing lessons for gay men, assuming that participating in such "manly" activities would make it easier for a gay fellow to become straight. For a number of months, Evergreen purchased and distributed, in considerable quantity, an "ex-gay" book produced by an anti-Mormon publisher. The book, written by conservative Christians, was naturally filled with fundamentalist dogma which Mormonism had turned its back on during the days of Joseph Smith. But since the book held out the hope to gay men of becoming straight through participating in activities similar to those sponsored by Evergreen, the organization’s leaders overlooked its extreme doctrinal incompatibility.

On a more positive note, the group also provided local support groups and a national, yearly conference. The only benefits readily apparent to me were that Evergreen, in some cases, paired gay men with a loving, supportive straight "mentor" and that it also provided a safe environment for closeted gay Mormons to express openly and freely what they were experiencing in their lives. A person can never have too many friends or mentors, especially of the supportive, caring kind. And being offered the chance to express your greatest fears and concerns is always a healthy experience. The main issue was what happened after this mentoring and self-disclosure.

As one Salt Lake City psychologist expressed it, "We get very disheartened trying to pick up the pieces after Evergreen has left a gay person and his family more depressed and despondent than ever." She felt that Evergreen promised naive, simple solutions to a complex, multi-faceted situation. When these simple answers didn’t work and the gay man left the basketball/baseball/oil-changing program in frustration and guilt, it became her job to comfort and counsel the family involved. By the time she and I spoke, she was completely exasperated by the frequency with which her new patients were former Evergreen participants.

So it’s understandable that the Church’s financial involvement with Evergreen would come up in my conversation with Dean Byrd. But, as I had expected, our meeting was not particularly useful. When the hour was up, Dean said he’d report back to the General Authorities about our meeting. But nothing was likely to change, and I felt as if the time had been wasted.

A few days passed, and this letter came in the mail:

May 26, 1993

Dear Brother Collette:

I was pleased to meet with you recently. I appreciated the information that you provided and the concerns that you shared. As I indicated to you, the Church’s position on homosexuality is clearly stated in the booklet, Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems. The resources listed at the end of the publication provide additional helps for those who need further clarification. Latter-day Saint Social Services with many agencies throughout the United States and other countries is available to provide assistance to those who desire to make changes in their lives and to conform to the Lord’s teachings. A letter which was sent to priesthood leaders with the booklet indicat[es] that individuals who need assistance may either contact their bishop or call Latter-day Saint Social Services directly.

Perhaps I should reiterate to you . . . that Latter-day Saint Social Services does not endorse Evergreen International or other organizations. Rather we encourage the use of community organizations who are supportive of the Church’s teachings. My attendance and/or participation in professional/other meetings is a matter of personal choice and neither represents the Church or Latter-day Saint Social Services.

Again I enjoyed our meeting and hope that sufficient clarifications were provided for you.

A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D.

Then on 1 June 1993, I received a letter from Elder Packer. Although the letter made it clear that Elder Packer was interested in "helping" me, not in discussing homosexuality with me or learning about the experiences of gay Mormons, it was warm and cordial.

Dear Brother Collette:

I’m sorry for the long delay in responding to your letter. I appreciate the spirit in which you write.

We follow the policy of responding to requests from members for appointments or interviews only through the bishop of their ward or the president of their stake. I think you can see why this must be so because of the size of the membership of the Church and the responsibilities that rest upon those of us who have worldwide obligations. Would you talk to the bishop of your ward and ask him to call me?

I would like to help you. I know I can help you best through your bishop. After counseling with him, we will determine whether or not an interview would be possible.

Again, I appreciate the spirit of your letter and wish you well. I’ll be waiting for a call from your bishop.

Sincerely yours,
Boyd K. Packer

This request seemed like a reasonable response. Even though I hadn’t attended the local ward which held my membership, I promptly made arrangements to meet for the first time with its bishop, Boyd Christensen. It was a marvelous encounter. We spoke for an hour and a half. He was educated and articulate but also willing to admit that he didn’t know a lot about the gay issue and wanted to know more. He took notes. He never asked a personal question. He strongly urged me to be a part of the ward. This meeting reaffirmed my faith in the basic goodness of people in leadership positions in the Church and made me feel really good. Maybe things were looking up after all. The bishop said he’d report to Elder Packer personally about our meeting and that I should expect some kind of response. But nothing happened.

Shortly thereafter a friend showed me a photocopy of a typescript address to the All-Church Coordinating Council that Elder Packer had given on 18 May 1993, two weeks before he sent his personal letter to me. This was a major speech, presented at Church headquarters to a variety of management and ecclesiastical personnel, including many members of the Seventy and their assistants. Although the meeting was not public, the Associated Press acquired a copy of Elder Packer’s speech, and the report went nationwide. I was stunned as I read one part in particular:

There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. ...

The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals. Our local leaders must deal with all three of them with ever-increasing frequency. In each case, the members who are hurting have the conviction that the Church somehow is doing something wrong to members or that the Church is not doing enough for them. To illustrate, I will quote briefly from letters on each of those subjects. They are chosen from among many letters which have arrived in the last few weeks. These have arrived in just the last few days.

The Gay/Lesbian Challenge

The first is from a young man, possibly a gay rights activist:

"May 3rd marks my eighteenth year in the Church. As a gay Mormon, I have witnessed and experienced first hand during those eighteen years what it’s like to be a homosexual in a Church which is sometimes less than accepting of its gay members.

"My experiences have run the range from incredible, Spirit-filled and loving encounters with members, bishops, and stake presidents to a laughable run-in with a departing mission president. May I share with you some of the more permanent and meaningful memories?" After a page or two of those, he said:

"So in a spirit of friendship I offer that which I have to give—the life experience of a gay Mormon. At your convenience I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the issues facing gay Latter-day Saints and the Church.

"The purpose for meeting is not to debate, or to presumptively call you to repentance, or to be called to repentance myself for being gay. The point is to meet together and share what we have for the good of the kingdom and the furthering of the will of the Lord here on earth."

Elder Packer gave similar quotations from someone he considered to be a feminist and from a man who considered himself to be an understanding mediator between the church and its intellectuals. Then Brother Packer warned Church leaders:

When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are justified, even duty bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocates—sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them.

Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. ...

If we are not very careful, we will think we are giving comfort to those few who are justified and actually we will be giving license to the many who are not.

The process of correlation is designed to keep us from making mistakes in manuals, in publications, in films, in videos, in those specialized programs which are justified.

Those fifteen words from Alma state: "God gave unto them commandments, after having made known to them the plan of redemption."

There are many things that cannot be understood nor taught nor explained, unless it is in terms of the plan of redemption. The three areas that I mentioned are among them. Unless they understand the basic plan—the premortal existence, the purposes of life, the fall, the atonement, the resurrection—unless they understand that, the unmarried, the abused, the handicapped, the abandoned, the addicted, the disappointed, those with gender disorientation, or the intellectuals will find no enduring comfort. They can’t think life is fair unless they know the plan of redemption.

That young man with gender disorientation needs to know that gender was not assigned at mortal birth, that we were sons and daughters of God in the premortal state.

In his conclusion, Elder Packer again stated: "We face invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before."3

Reading large sections of my personal correspondence in a major speech given to a crowd of strangers, without my permission, was quite a shock. Reading it in the newspapers’ AP story was also very disturbing. And the phrase, "a gay rights activist" isn’t exactly a term of endearment along the Wasatch Front. Wasn’t my office was just two blocks away from Brother Packer’s? Not only was my phone number listed in the telephone directory, it was right on the letter. Even for a busy person like Brother Packer, just how difficult would it have been for him or one of his staff to contact me? I had simply offered to share my life’s experiences. It felt totally bizarre to have someone stand up and demonize me as an enemy of the Church. I was angry and bitterly disappointed.

I immediately met with my stake president, B. Lloyd Poelman, whom I had not met before. He welcomed me warmly, listened, sympathized, and was very supportive. One of his first questions was whether I planned to sue Elder Packer for using the correspondence publicly without permission. He was then a named partner in the Church’s law firm, Kirton, McConkie, & Poelman, so the question was not as strange as it might seem. I quickly explained that suing wasn’t what I had in mind, that I was simply upset and was with him that night for some helpful counsel.

He explained his perspective on the General Authorities gained through years of working with them daily: "In my extensive experience with the General Authorities, I’ve come to believe that they are one of the finest groups of people anywhere in the world. And that the combined effect of all of them together tends to compensate for the extremism of any one of them individually." He also said, "I’m not suggesting that you write a letter, but if you do, I promise to deliver it personally." So I wrote a letter. The first attempt was angry and a bit mean-spirited. The second attempt was much calmer and, I hoped, more explanatory:

15 July 1993

Dear Elder Packer:

With deep sadness and profound disappointment I recently read your comments delivered to the All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting on May 18th. I was shocked, surprised, and angered that personal correspondence between myself and the General Authorities was made public and scornfully described as one of "the dangers" currently facing the Church.

I sat down and wrote you an angry letter, letting you know how off-base I thought your conclusions and judgments were. But meetings with my bishop, Boyd Christensen, and stake president, Lloyd Poelman, softened my heart and convinced me that responding angrily was not the right thing to do.

So I’m going to try very carefully and calmly to explain my thoughts and feelings. The intention here is not to criticize but to share information in a productive way. Also, to let you get to know me personally and to better understand my motivations and the motives of the people I’m close to.

First of all, the reason I wrote was because, being new to the Salt Lake area, I saw and heard disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and even hatred toward the Church brought about by various issues concerning homosexuality, on a scale I had never experienced before. This scared me and concerned me. There was no way for me to know if the General Authorities were aware of the situation or not, so I decided to write them. I wrote all 102 at the same time because computers make that easy to do and because I was sure that very few would have the time to respond. And not knowing any of you personally, it was impossible to single any one of you out.

This letter wasn’t part of any organized "campaign" or group effort. It was just me, trying to do what I could to make things better. Very few people saw this letter before it was sent and even fewer have seen it since.4 I now realize that sending the letter to all 102 of you was a mistake, because various people, including Dean Byrd of Latter-day Saint Social Services, were alarmed and have since made negative comments. I apologize for not making myself and my motives clearer.

Now, may I share with you some of the thoughts that came to mind when reading your address to the Coordinating Council. Although my Letter was an honest, good-faith effort to share with you what I’ve experienced as a gay Latter-day Saint, it was disheartening to see that during your address you characterized me as "caught up and led away." Although my motivations for writing were to make life better and more enjoyable for all members of the Church, I was shocked to read that I am part of a "major invasion." The only conclusion I could come to was that you consider me to be an enemy to the Church, because only enemies invade.

At another point in your address, you say, "That young man with gender disorientation needs to know that gender was not assigned at mortal birth, that we were sons and daughters of God in the premortal state." Being unsure what the term "gender disorientation" means, I called a psychologist and asked. She told me the term refers not to homosexuality but to individuals who feel that they are either a man trapped in a woman s body or a woman trapped in a man’s body. I do not suffer from gender disorientation. I’ve never been unhappy about my gender, never wanted to be a woman, never felt like I was anything but 100 percent male. I’m just gay, Brother Packer.

I was especially surprised by the difference between your private response to me and your public response to the Coordinating Council. In your letter dated 1 June 1993, you say, "I appreciate the spirit in which you write. ... I appreciate the spirit of your letter and wish you well." It’s very hard to understand why you would privately say you appreciate the spirit in which I write when you publicly say that my writing is part of "invasions of the intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before."

May I share with you the experience of a Latter-day Saint family which, although not my own, I am very familiar with. The father was a bishop, the mother the Relief Society president. They were at the time very successful business people in the community and universally respected and well-liked. One of their sons sat them down and explained that he was gay. The resulting shock and upheaval in the family was horrific. Although the couple always valued their family as their greatest accomplishment, they took this young man’s photo down from the wall. They had always maintained an extremely active social life, but now they literally closed the shutters, drew the blinds, and left the house only when absolutely necessary.

The mother spent the first few days crying. The father went to work contacting local and national specialists, intent on finding the right therapist who would simply fix his son. When he was informed that there was little hope of changing his son into a heterosexual, this father began studying the literature on his own. Eventually he resolved that his only recourse was to accept his son the way he was.

The mother’s approach was somewhat different. Although she too read and studied, she relied more upon fasting, prayer, and meditation. Time and again she approached the Lord seeking comfort, inspiration, and guidance. She received all three. Today, their son’s photograph is back up on the wall next to his brothers and sister. He is accepted, loved, and welcomed in their immediate and extended family.

This couple’s experience is a very common one. Their reconciliation with their son’s homosexuality came about not because of social or political unrest, and not because they were being led away by evil forces in society. Their understanding was a gift from their Heavenly Father, a ministration of the Spirit, an answer to fervent, heartfelt prayer.

During your address to the Coordinating Council, you express considerable concern about the rising reluctance of members of the Church to accept—without question—statements from the authorities of the Church about their children and friends which they believe are not correct. The reason for this growing hesitation to accept without question comes from their search for truth, their many discoveries along the way, and the spiritual confirmation and comfort they find in practicing Christianity in its purest form—by loving and accepting all, even their homosexual children.

In your address you mention that many of these people would like the Church to "provide a special program to support them in their problems." This is true. However, it seems from your comments that you believe such a step would be a tremendous mistake. So it should not seem strange, if the Church cannot support these parents with a special ministry, that the parents minister to each other on their own. This is happening in various places in the Church, and these small pockets of caring, loving individuals will continue to expand their service to one another as opportunity and the Lord permit.

Finally, may I say that if you knew me personally, you might not agree with some of my ideas or suggestions; but you would know that I am not caught up nor led away. I am not part of some major invasion, nor am I a danger or an enemy to the Church. I do not suffer from gender disorientation; rather I am simply a gay Mormon, trying to make sense out of life, trying to apply the principles of the plan of redemption which have been taught to me in countless Sunday School and priesthood meeting lessons, and which I have taught as a missionary for the Church. I strongly feel the Lord’s love for me and I see his hand in the world. I wish to be a part of what he is doing here, and I witness to his goodness.

If there is ever anything I can do for you or those with whom you labor, I extend an open invitation to contact me anytime. Thank you for reading this. I hope it somehow helps.

Tony Collette

There was no response from Brother Packer. He seemed to have made up his mind on the issue of homosexuality and had decided that the simple truths so evident in the lives of gay Mormons were not information he needed. At the time, I felt "sadder but wiser" about the entire experience. How truly unfortunate that one member’s good-faith and very sincere effort to share experiences encountered only bureaucratic runarounds. Although I appreciated how positive my experiences with Bishop Christensen and President Poelman were, my feelings about Elder Packer and the Church as an institution were changed forever.

It confused me that Elder Packer was willing to praise the "spirit" of my letter to me but tell another group something quite different. It hurt and angered me that Elder Packer was willing to call me an "enemy" without even knowing me. How can anyone judge my spiritual condition or intentions without even meeting me? It seems pretty silly to think that someone would pass judgement on another without knowing even the most basic things about them. Would I rather watch basketball or hockey? At Baskin-Robbins, is it pistachio, chocolate chip mint, or rocky road? Would I rather listen to Bon Govi, Beethoven, or Garth Brooks? Does Brother Packer know? Of course not. If he doesn’t know even these simple things about me, how can he possibly judge something as complex as the quality of my relationship with God?

It also frustrated me that Elder Packer was willing to make sweeping statements about a very sensitive issue without taking the time to use the correct terminology or to reply to the actual question. That is, the point of my letter was "How do we make life better in the Church for gay people and their families?" And his response was "People who are confused about their gender need to know that gender was determined in the preexistence. Even if that statement was true, how did it help anyone?

Looking back now on this experience with some years’ hindsight, I feel even better about the course I pursued and more resigned than ever about the futility of fighting the bureaucracy that the Church has become. Shortly after this last encounter with the authorities of the Church, my partner and I separated, and I moved my business back to Oklahoma to be close to my family. I have since continued my spiritual journey by attending a Religious Science5 congregation here in Oklahoma City. I don’t harbor any strongly negative feelings toward the Church now—in fact, there is often a sense of sweet, nostalgic fondness for the people, places, and events in my Mormon past. But I feel very deeply that it is way past time to pursue spirituality in a different, more loving and accepting atmosphere.

And it’s also time to forgive. It’s time to let go of those silly notions and expectations of General Authority perfection that were taught to me as a kid in that "funeral home" chapel so long ago. People are people, and all of us fall short of the goal of perfection. It’s just a question of degree. Sometimes General Authorities do wonderful things, and sometimes they do stupid things. Members are the same. It comes with the territory of being human.

So what do we make of General Authorities who do stupid things, who exercise extremely poor judgement, or teach their own ideas and prejudices as if they were a part of the gospel? How do we reconcile their occasional glaring mistakes with the deeply held belief that they speak for God?

In 1943, Apostle Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated after it was discovered that he had been involved in an extramarital relationship of many years—years during which he rubbed shoulders daily with the other eleven apostles. I’m not mentioning this to judge him but rather to point out the rather obvious fact that even members of the Twelve can sin—sin in ways that aren’t just being careless, rude, or doctrinally wrong. Elder Packer was simply wrong in his judgement of me and, in my opinion, wrong in his views on homosexuality; but this doesn’t mean that—on other issues, with other people, in other settings—he’s not an answer to their prayers and an instrument in the Lord’s hand to meet their needs.

So I deal with this situation by returning to basic gospel principles: each one of us has a personal responsibility to listen to what any Church leader says with an open and receptive heart and mind, but we have an equal responsibility to weigh carefully with the help of the Spirit any doctrinal assertions they make. We should look to them for a good example to follow—they certainly provide one most of the time. But obviously, everything they do should not be automatically emulated by every member of the Church. Each one of us is responsible for our own actions, not the actions or sins of anyone else. Each one of us is personally responsible for working out our relationship with Heavenly Father. And if someone offends us—whether ordinary member or General Authority—it’s our job to find a way to forgive him or her, because if we don’t, the greater sin rests upon us.


1I did not give the high council any details, but the bishop called me in and said that she was in the United States on a temporary work permit. He was sure, from her past behavior with other members of the ward before I returned home, that her motives were not honest, and he advised me to "drop her like a hot potato." I broke off the engagement. To this day, I don’t know whether I would have gone ahead with the marriage if the bishop hadn’t intervened; but I do know that the marriage wouldn’t have worked—if not for the reasons he thought, then because of my gayness—and I’m grateful for his counsel.

2"Pastoring the Farside: Making a Place for Believing Homosexuals: A Conversation with Stan Roberts, former bishop of the San Francisco Single Adult Ward," Sunstone, February 1990, 13-19.

3Elder Boyd K. Packer, "All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting, 18 May 1993," 4-5, 6, 7, 8; photocopy of typescript in my possession.

4Although certainly true at the time this was originally written, it’s obviously no longer the case. I’ve made all of this correspondence public now, years later, because it seems important to put all of these happenings in context.

5Religious Science is a spiritual philosophy which seeks to encourage people to live in abundance and harmony with the natural laws of God. Dr. Ernest Holmes founded a nonprofit school in 1927, naming it The Institute of Religious Science and School of Philosophy. Although Dr. Holmes never intended the Institute’s teachings and programs to become a separate denomination, that is exactly what has developed, with Religion Science congregations now established all over the country.


JonJon said...

Wow. That is a fascinating read. Thanks for posting it.

Dan said...

Thank you so much for posting this extensive account. I appreciate your perspective and the effort you've put into helping GLBTQ members of the LDS church have a better place to worship.

vinestreet said...

Reading this for the first time. Thank you for taking the time to post such an extensive account.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your journey with us! I find that a lot of us have some unique challenges that seem to go against the norm... but in reality it is another level of understanding.