Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Being an 'Us'

Some other bloggers have referred to an article in the Daily Universe that quotes me describing some of the things that happened in BYU's campaign for prop 8. The author quotes me as a "gay student."

Honestly, I wasn't expecting her to refer to me as a gay student so bluntly, especially when it wasn't as relevant to the quote as some of the other things I said to her in the interview. In fact, the night the paper was printed I got a somewhat frantic message on my voicemail saying that she was having second thoughts about the article because she realized she hadn't expressly asked me if she could refer to me as gay in the article. She told me to call her back as soon as possible at any hour that night and she'd try to fix it if it was a problem. I didn't get the message till the papers had already hit the stands, but I'm not upset about it.

The day the article ran in the school paper, I thought no one would read it. Who reads page 9 of the school paper? Apparently everyone who knows me, including my whole work crew, freshman ward, and fellow art students. It has actually been really nice. There is no more angst regarding who knows and who doesn't and whether or not I need to tell so and so. It's all out in the open now. (It partly motivated me to restart this blog)

While I enjoyed what Kemsley said in the article, there were a few things I had told her that I felt were important but weren't included in the article. One of them was an attitude I have felt at BYU both from my gay friends and those that backed prop 8. The campaign seemed to create an "us vs. them" attitude.

I don't know if any of you at BYU have noticed the language we use when we talk about prop 8 and the protests and anything related now--it's very much us vs. them. I think three things contributed to this attitude.
1. Mormons were perceived as acting as a single large group rather than as individuals in their fight for the proposition. Because the command to donate time and money came from the top, and Latter-day Saints are largely an obedient people, they acted as one. It was intimidating for me to feel like all of the Church was against me. This feeling was compounded by Elder Ballard's request that young adults go "viral" in spreading the message of prop 8 on facebook. BYU students did just that. They banded together in large facebook groups, again, coming across as an intimidating mass of people all fighting the same thing--me.

2. Gays at BYU remained largely faceless and unknown-- essentially being in the closet allowed other BYU students to think and say things they wouldn't have if they'd known that they knew us. I made my opposition to 8 clear, but people who didn't know I was gay tried to persuade me to support 8 by saying negative things about gay people!

3. Both Gays and Mormons felt persecuted by each other. Nothing brings a group of people together like persecution. Mormons have always felt persecuted by the world, and protest at Church temples brought out those feelings. Ironically, though, I personally witnessed and felt persecution as a homosexual by the Church and its members. It drove my group of gay friends to each other. We stopped trusting straight people because we didn't know who would hurt us and who wouldn't. We became an Us, and they became a Them.

I think that this attitude is going to hurt both us and them for a very long time. I think that it will make BYU administrators less compassionate towards gays, and we will see a rise in hate speech amongst the students. I think it will also cause more gay people to leave the Church and to be antagonistic towards it. On both sides it will fester bitterness that hurts everyone.


Alan said...

I would like to hope you're wrong on all this but don't think you are. Since I'm not at BYU I can't predict reactions there, but out here in “the real world” I think your Points One and Three are spot on, especially Point Three. A persecution complex has always been part of the Mormon psyche and a feature of the gay community as well, both for solid historical reasons. Each group has thought of itself as doing nothing but fighting for its own right to exist peacefully and for the same tolerance and acceptance that it sees given to others. Each blames the other for stirring up the current controversy. While the Mormons' perspective on that may have some validity as regards the broader issue of gay marriage overall, specifically as to Prop 8 I think it's undeniable that the LDS Church threw the first punch. How else to explain the fact that a proposition once down 17 points in the polls ended up with a 21 point about face and a win after the Mormons mobilized their organizational machine and poured millions of dollars into the campaign?

The initial outburst of immature demonstrations of anger from the No on Prop 8 side seems to have faded, but long-term I think you are right. By stepping so forcefully into the Prop 8 issue, the Church has squandered a huge amount of whatever good will it may have had in the minds of those who weren't already solidly against gay marriage. It has transformed much tolerance toward itself into active hostility. And I doubt it's made many solid friends amongst the conservative Christian groups either; they may see us as convenient and temporary political partners but they certainly haven't called off the professional anti-Mormon lecturers or campaigns or reconsidered their long-standing claims that we are Satanic heretics. It appears to me that the Church has lost ground on both sides, and all over an issue that is ultimately going to prevail anyway.

Orthodox Mormons with their persecution complex would of course see that merely as confirmation that we're speeding along the greased slide toward being The Lone and Lonely Voice of True Morality In A Totally Depraved World. But as long as the Church remains so incapable of explaining to its gay members how they fit into the plan of salvation, or truly welcoming them in full fellowship without the suspicious treatment that used to be reserved for plague sufferers, then I think continuing outside pressure on the Church to progress and adapt on this issue will be a very healthy thing. It was outside circumstances and pressure that ultimately forced the Church to adapt re polygamy and racial issues, and no Mormon alive today would argue that those changes were bad.

draco said...

"To being an 'us' for once- instead of a 'them'!!!"

I think you are completely right- and I wish everyone could be as open as you are at BYU. Then we might have a voice that people would hear.

Bravone said...

I hope that healing will begin, especially within our own gay community. Thanks for your post.