Thursday, February 26, 2009

They will Not be Pushed Aside

A story on that I've been following has been eerily similar to the story about Michael Wiltbank's photography project here at BYU. 365gay originally reported that a High School Principal in Newport Beach, CA stopped students from performing an abridged version of "Rent" because the musical depicted several gay characters and themes. Today 365gay reports that the musical is back on. There are several parallels to the removal and reinstatement of Michael's photos, including the claim that the removal was just a "miscommunication" and was the choice of the department, not the administrator. What interests me, though, is the role of the media in the reinstatement of both the BYU show and the High School play.

In the Newport Beach story, 365gay reports, "When Martin went public accusing [Principal] Asrani of censorship the story was featured prominently in both the mainstream and gay media as well as in blogs." In the BYU story, the Deseret News reported that after Wiltbank announced that his portraits had been removed "bloggers around the country began to criticize BYU and its owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some attacked the school and church. The Deseret News requested a statement from the university Tuesday morning. The display went back up Tuesday afternoon."

Notice the role that bloggers played in both instances. Do we realize how much power a community of bloggers has? Since blogging is so new to society, its influence is relatively recent, but it is clearly far reaching. Does BYU feel threatened by this power? Some gay blogs, like Young Stranger, are blocked by BYU's internet filter. My Bishop asked me unofficially to take my blog down months ago (and I did for a time). On the other hand, a few years ago (yes it's already been that long), a few bloggers were influential in having BYU clarify it's honor code statement regarding homosexuality.

I think the power of blogging is clear, but when and where and how can we use it? Are we limited to promoting stories for bigger blogs and news sites to take and spread? Is there something else we can do? Do we just let the big wigs like Dan Savage stumble across our stories, as was the case with Michael Wiltbank? Or should we promote our own stories?

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm kind of excited about the possibilities.

Monday, February 23, 2009

On the Corner of First and Amistad

I mentioned I was reading a book about Gay Spirituality. It is called Out on Holy Ground by Donald L. Boisvert. I've loved it so far, although the book hasn't really taught spirituality so much as it has talked about spirituality. I guess spirituality is something you have to find and describe yourself. I've really been trying to dig deep into myself and find out what I believe in and what evokes spiritual feelings in me. I actually made a list of all of the experiences I've had in my life so that I can see what is common to all of them. Here's a sample of the list:
Scout Camp experiences, including an experience at Carthage Jail
Reading the Book of Mormon and seeking revelation
Creating art and displaying art
Viewing art
Going to the Temple
Watching the Joseph Smith film
Being a missionary
Seeking Revelation about Homosexuality
Watching Milk
Candlelight Vigils
realize that vague references to general experiences don't mean much to you, but I glean a lot of information by putting these things together on a list. The feelings I felt in each of these experiences or cluster of experiences are basically the same. They are deeply spiritual. So what do they have in common? To me they have three things in common which have become, for me, the source of spiritual experience.

1. Asking for and Receiving Inspiration
I have always valued the quest for spiritual knowledge and feelings. My High School AP Art Show revolved around the process of revelation. It's important to me to ask for direction, and it is exhilarating to receive direction.

2. Fraternity
From scout camp to the mission, I have noticed that spiritual experiences frequently occur when I feel part of a group of men. I seem to be more receptive to inspiration and more prone to ask for it when I experience fraternity. It's why I strive so hard to be a part of the moho community (not just the bloggers).

3. Experiencing Beauty
Nothing gets my soul more excited and uplifted than beauty. I've based my education and future career around it. For me, beauty is closely tied to place. Beauty requires space to occupy. The temple is a place of beauty, so is nature.

In fact, right now I am sitting and writing this in gallery 303, where I have been returning frequently to seek inspiration and peace. If you haven't seen the MFA show that is here yet, you need to before it comes down (I don't know when it comes down, but it might be as early as Friday). It's in gallery 303 of the Harris Fine Arts Building on BYU campus. The artist set up these paper forms that glow with light. When I saw the work, I instantly felt deep spiritual feelings. I was moved almost to tears. I keep coming back for more. Something here is resonating.

I don't know what form my spiritual life will take, but I do know that I need to continue to seek out spiritual experiences. For me that isn't confined to Sacrament Meeting, or even to Mormonism in general. I will be using these three qualities, however, to help me in my longing for the divine. What are your portals to spiritual feelings?

Something to Believe

I saw Milk in Chicago the day it was released there. The film blew me away. I was so moved by it that I've seen it twice since. I was surprised, though, by what the movie gave me. The story of Harvey Milk gave me a history, a movement to belong to, and a myth to believe in.

The feelings I felt watching Milk were identical to the feelings I had on my mission in the LA Visitor's Center watching the Joseph Smith film that plays there. Identical. It shocked me. I felt like there was a connection between the assassination of Joseph Smith and the assassination of Harvey Milk. There was a connection in the persecution leading up to it. There was a connection in the mourning of these men. There was a connection in the way their ideas lived on past them. And it made me realize how important it is to be a part of something and to have history and myth. I found out after I saw the movie that the screenplay was written by now Oscar award winning Dustin Lance Black, a former Mormon. I wonder to what extend his Mormonism and the way the Joseph Smith story is presented affected this film.

It's amazing how important Church lore and history is to Mormonism. Every religion is completely dependent on its mythology. I don't use that term to mean fiction, I use it to refer to the supernatural history that is repeated from generation to generation to define a people. Mormon mythology is rich and beautiful. It shapes the Mormon people. It gives them a purpose-a mission. It gives them something in common with each other.

As I have been growing more and more distant from Mormonism, I have felt the absence of that mythology. I didn't miss the camaraderie and shared experience Mormons feel with each other because I had the moho community. My gay friends and I all shared common feelings of marginalization that compensated for the loss of a ward family. But until I saw Milk, I had nothing to replace LDS history. Learning about Harvey Milk and the people involved in this movement has given me that history. In a way it justifies us as a group.

I have been reading a book on gay spirituality and have learned that Harvey Milk certainly wasn't the founder of the gay movement, nor was he the only influential gay hero. People from Walt Whitman to Ellen Degeneres have shaped and defined us as a people. But watching Harvey Milk's story is what made me feel like I was a people. We are a people. Gays have a community, and we can be a part of it. Just as LDS converts adopt the pioneers, we can adopt Milk's history as newcomers to the great and diverse gay community. How exciting is that?!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hate and Ugliness is All I See

Yesterday I was accosted on the street simply because I am gay. I was walking home with one of my gay friends after class. We weren't doing anything "gay." We were just walking. I guess something in my inflection or expressions as I talked, or maybe the way that I walked prompted two teenage kids to shout, "Hey, I think they're Homos. Their Faggots! Look at them they totally want to hold hands."

They taunted us with insults all the way to my apartment complex down the street.

For some reason this really bothered me. I mean more so than other things do. I can handle the prop 8 sign in the window across from my room. I can handle facebook friends joining prop 8 groups and even saying stupid things about gay marriage. I can handle anonymous emails blasting me for a newspaper article. But this- this felt hostile. This made me feel vulnerable. How did they know? What betrayed me?

I know that teenagers are prone to stupidity and are likely to say things that shouldn't be taken seriously, but this wasn't the product of ignorance. They were trained to hate. Their parents, their society, their legislators teach them to disapprove of gays and be vocal about it. When I see what Senator Buttars says, how can I be surprised at what these two kids say (not that these kids would even know who Buttars is).

The whole experience has just made me know that I have to get out of Utah. It's beyond saving. I am not safe here, and I am safe elsewhere. For God's sake, even North Dakota will allow it's gay citizens the right to keep their jobs and homes.

Sung by Pioneers Who Pushed Westward Against an Unforgiving Wilderness

I am treading very carefully with this post because I know I will be touching very sensitive issues. I am not trying to offend active Latter-day Saints, nor am I trying to attack the Church. If you come away feeling angry towards Mormonism, then I hope it is because of your own feelings regarding the historical document I produce, and not my rhetoric. My point here is to explain to active Mormons that is possible to believe in and practice their faith without condemning homosexuality and gay rights.

Proposition 8 is certainly not the first time that the Church has been involved in politics, nor is it the first time that a prophet has stepped into a fight for equality deemed to be of epoch proportions. President Brigham Young, revered as prophet by Latter-day Saints, was the chief executive of Utah Territory. As governor and prophet, he said a lot of things on both politics and religion.

The following is from a speech by Governor Young in Joint Session of the Legislature, Feb. 5th 1852. I find it highly relevant in a day when we celebrate the first black president of the United States and in a day when the Utah legislature repeatedly rejects bills that would give gays only basic rights.

"Again to the subject before us; as to The men bearing rule; not one of the children of old Cain, have one partical of right to bear Rule in Government affairs from first to last, they have no buisness there. this privilege was taken from them by there own transgressions, and I cannot help it; and should you or I bear rule we ought to do it with dignity and honour before God. . .

. . . Therefore I will not consent for one moment to have an african dictate me or any Bren. with regard to Church or State Government. I may vary in my veiwes from others, and they may think I am foolish in the things I have spoken, and think that they know more than I do, but I know I know more than they do. If the Affricans cannot bear rule in the Church of God, what buisness have they to bear rule in the State and Government affairs of this Territory or any others? . . .

. . . [T]he Africans are Citizens, . . . It is our duty to take care of them, and administer to them in all the acts of humanity, and kindness, they shall have the right of Citizenship, but shall not have the right to dictate in Church and State matters. The abolishonists of the east, have cirest them them, and. their whol argument are callculated to darken Counsel, as it was here yesterday. As for our bills passing here, we may lay the foundation for what? for men to come here from Africa or else where; by hundreds of thousands. When these men come here from the Islands, are they going to hold offices in Government No. It is for men who understand the knowlege of Government affairs to hold such offices, and on the other make provisions for them to plow, and to reap, and enjoy all that human beings can enjoy, and we protect them in it. Do we know how to amilerate the condition of these people? we do. Supose that five thousands of them come from the pacific Islands, and ten or fifteen thousands from Japan, or from China, not one soul of them would know how to vote for a Government officer, they therefore ought not in the first thing have anything to do in Government afairs.

What the Gentiles are doing we are consenting to do. What we are trying to do to day is to make the Negro equal with us in all our privilege. My voice shall be against all the day long. I shall not consent for one moment I will will call them a counsel. I say I will not consent for one moment for you to lay a plan to bring a curse upon this people. I shall not be while I am here."
(Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah. Emphasis mine.)

What would President/Governor Young have thought about President Obama? That's a subject for a whole other conversation. My point now is this: Mormon's reconcile the above statement. They don't loose any sleep over it. I don't care how they do it, it really doesn't matter. They may say that in this speech he was speaking as the Governor and not as the Prophet, and therefore these words are not binding on the Church or its members. They may say that these are just his opinions and do not constitute revelation or the Word of God. They may say that Brigham Young was just a product of his time and that these sentiments were shared by most if not all Americans in 1850.

However you reconcile it is your business; my point is simply that you have to reconcile it to be Mormon. You just have to. And if you can somehow disapprove with the message of this speech and reconcile it with your belief that Brigham Young was a prophet, can you not do the same with Thomas Monson's fight against gay rights?

Church leaders and LDS politicians are saying the same thing now that Brigham did then. They are saying that gays should be treated with dignity and respect, but that they shouldn't be equal. They shouldn't participate in Church. They shouldn't have their unions sanctioned by the State. They brought this curse on themselves through their own decisions. Gay rights advocates in the east have their whole argument calculated by Dark Counsel--It's Satan's subtle plan to overthrow the family. Let's not pass bills that would attract them and make them come to Utah. We certainly cannot through our silence let secular America make gays are equals. We must and will stand up and fight in the ballot box and in the legislature and in the media.

It's the same thing going on! And if you are active in the LDS faith, I implore you to please disagree with this hateful anti-gay rhetoric. Don't stand for it. Don't put up with it. You can still keep your faith. You have already had to reconcile this once before, you can do it again.

We can put this whole thing in a vault in Salt Lake City and pretend that the Church never preached it! And I'm fine with that. Let's do it. Let's hide everything the Church has said about homosexuals and have the anti-Mormons dig it up for their pamphlets and let Church members scoff and say, "I don't care what you say, I have my faith and I know that's not true." I beg you all to please, usher in that day when the Church will be embarrassed prop 8 ever happened. That day is going to come when the active membership of the Church reconciles what is happening now but doesn't approve. It's going to happen when people who believe in equality don't leave the Church, but instead keep their faith. So, if that's you, thanks. Unfortunately I doubt I will be one of the ones making that day happen.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Think I Would Understand

Last night I received an email from someone I don't know attacking me for the Salt Lake Tribune article published a few weeks ago. My initial response was defensive. I was going to write her back telling her that people like her are the reason people like me kill themselves. I was going to tell her that she was uneducated, uninformed, and extreme in her views. I was going to blast her for her hateful rhetoric and for her hypocrisy in attacking me. I was going to address each point she made and refute each one. Fortunately I waited till I calmed down the next morning to respond. Here's what she wrote:
Dan and Michael,

While doing research on Same Sex Marriage and Same Gender attraction, I found an article about your art project in the Tribune. I feel great disappointment that you would take part in any activity that would bring shame on BYU, an institution which you joined knowing its moral stance on same-sex attraction, and which you exploited to promote ideals contrary to truth, while using tithing funds to subsidize your education.

I just wanted to voice my strongly felt opinion that if you "don't feel comfortable at BYU", you don't need to be here. No one forced you to come to this church university, using church sanctioned funds, to use BYU as a venue to spread propoganda about gay rights.

It makes me so angry when people complain about BYU when hundreds and thousands of people are turned away every year, while ungrateful students like yourself stay here, absorb funding, and use your time and resources to fight against principles and doctrines which you knew and agreed to as part of your religion when you entered this institution.

How dare you try to fight this battle on this sacred ground. You can struggle with your gay tendancies all your life, but you will never find moral validation for that which is wrong. Shame on you for putting BYU in a negative light for not celebrating and highlighting your sexual struggles. Homosexuality is a fight of God against Satan.

As I engage my life and resources to fight with other faithful Mormons against such propoganda, I hope you find another venue to validate your misled ideas.
In the end, I realized that a defensive response would get me nowhere. It would only confirm my evilness to her. It would have perpetuated her belief that gays are contentious, argumentative, and Godless. She wouldn't have recognized the logic had I refuted each of her mistaken claims. The only thing I could do was to frankly forgive her (not in a patronizing way), and then in what I hope was a friendly manner share with her a little bit about homosexuality as I have experienced it. Here's what I wrote:
Dear ******,

Thank you for writing me and sharing your personal and strong feelings with me. Obviously I also have personal and strong feelings rooted in my experiences growing up both gay and Mormon. I value the opportunities I have to talk about this emotional topic.

I'm so happy that you are doing research on a topic that is so misunderstood in the LDS culture. If everyone researched the things that affect their brothers and sisters in such personal ways, I wonder how much better off we would be as people. I wonder how we would treat each other. Knowledge is power! I hope you won't be offended if I give you some pointers on how to best understand homosexuality as I hope you continue to seek to understand it.

If someone was to research Mormonism, you wouldn't direct them to anti-Mormon literature. Likewise, you wouldn't have them base their research solely on the observations of friendly Non-Mormons. You would probably invite them to talk to actual Mormons and read material produced by the Church. My advice is the same. I invite you to learn about same sex attraction from those who experience same sex attractions. I would be more than happy to talk with you about it, if you'd like.

I would also recommend talking to Fred and Marilyn Matis. They are a sweet, friendly couple and are very active in the Church. Their son, Stuart, was gay and shot himself on the steps of his stake center. After their son's suicide, Fred and Marilyn have opened their home to other gay Mormons to extend the love and support they wish their son had felt. They have associated themselves with literally hundreds of homosexuals through monthly family home evenings held for gay Latter-day Saints and the friends and family of gay Latter-day Saints. You are more than welcome to attend and see gay Mormons pray, sing, and talk. The information is here: They are always warm, spiritual experiences. There is so much love there. If you go on April 6, you will get to hear Sister Olson speak. She is amazing. She was my New Testament teacher here at BYU.

One last word of advice. Please don't believe everything you read on the internet or even in books and newspapers. The tribune article that upset you did not reveal very much to you about who I am, what I do, or even what I believe. It is more of a reflection of the author than of me. He interviewed me, but the interview was long and he chose what to include in this article and what to leave out. Let me assure you that I in no way was attacking the Church or any of its members, nor did I intend to paint BYU in an exclusively negative light. Despite how I was quoted in the Tribune, I enjoy my time here. My friends are here, and I am supported by great faculty in the art department who love me and are helping me succeed in life. In the interview, I simply wanted to share my experiences and thereby reveal changes that could be made in policy that would save a lot of people from a lot of pain. I don't believe that BYU maliciously hurt me, but the attitudes of so many BYU students have hurt me. Only by sharing true information (in this case my experiences) can we all grow closer to the Savior and treat each other with more charity.

I also want to make it clear that included in the tithes that supplement a BYU education are my tithes, the tithes of my parents and grandparents, the tithes of hundred of my friends who want me to be here, and even the tithes of the people I baptized on my mission. If you are upset about how your own personal tithes are being used, I know how you feel. I felt hurt that my tithes were used on proposition 8 propaganda. Though I know how you feel, let's be honest, we both have given our money to the Church for them to spend as they see fit, and they saw fit to accept me at BYU. Please make the same assumptions about me that you would make about any student at BYU, and that is that I have the same yearly interviews for endorsement that they have. This means that BYU still wants me to be one of its students even given what was published in the Salt Lake Tribune. (Obviously me being gay isn't a secret). This also means that I make tremendous sacrifices to be here.

You seem sincerely interested in discussing truth (as opposed to propaganda), so let's talk truth. Let's talk about what I have experienced and therefore what I know to be true.

I came to BYU because I believed BYU could make me straight. I have never been attracted to women in my life. I have always been attracted to guys. I always knew I was different from my peers, and I knew how I was different as early as 11. I didn't want to be gay, though. I hated it! I was ashamed of it, as if I was a monster. I would literally beat myself up mentally over it. I read on the internet that BYU had therapy that would make it go away, and I wanted that. Church leaders, including Bishops and a Stake President also promised that my attractions for men could be replaced with attractions for women. This promise that the Church made me was recounted on my mission by Elder Oaks in a 2006 general conference. He admitted that same sex attractions would likely never go away in this life. This was after I had already been at BYU for a year.

That year had been destructive for me. After a year of therapy I was very depressed. One night I almost jumped off a bridge. I am so grateful that I didn't kill myself. I believe the hand of God stopped me.

On my mission, I learned that I was a good person and I learned how to love myself. This made coming home from my mission after 2 years very hard. It was a rough transition, but through a lot of serious prayer and meditation, the Lord revealed his consistent love for me and I realized that I shouldn't demand that He change my sexual orientation. I realized that it was ok that I was attracted to the same gender- it didn't make me a monster. It simply was. A month later a gay BYU student and acquaintance of mine curled up next to his tail pipe with the garage door closed and took his own life. This was when I knew something had to change. Something has to change so that gay youth don't kill themselves. I don't know what that change is, but I do know what I can do to promote that change. I can share my story. I can tell people that God loves them and that I love them. I can share true information, because only true information can help informed people know what they should do.

If I am fighting for anything, (I don't personally consider that article a fight), I am fighting for those people who are abused and feel worthless. I am fighting for them and for me for equal treatment. I believe that the we all should be treated equally. I'm not opposed to the principle of Chasity, I just want it applied equally. I'm not opposed to BYU, I just want it to promote love and information for all of it's students rather than fear, backbiting, contention, and ignorance. It is my hope that we can all peacefully engage in meaningful dialog instead of persecuting each other. In that sense, I really don't think you and I are that different from each other.

Thanks again for writing me, and I hope that you have a great day!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

We Just Know That The Fight Ain't Fair

After the article in the Daily Universe outed me as a "gay student" at BYU, I received a friend request on facebook from someone I didn't recognize and with whom I shared no mutual friends. One look at his profile and I knew he was "family." I wrote back asking why he had added me in an attempt to stimulate dialog, but he responded that he was embarrassed and just saw the article and I thought I sounded like a neat person. That was the end of that conversation- I guess he wasn't ready for open dialog yet.

Last night I was at a party at one of my good gay friend's houses, and there was the said person. We talked briefly, and he said that reading about me in the newspaper was the first time that he had heard of a BYU student accepting the title "gay." He didn't know you could go to BYU and consider yourself gay. Long story short, several weeks later he is coming out to his best friend/girl friend (they are still dating) and meeting other local gays.

If just that one person was able to come that much closer to accepting himself because of something I did, I will feel like it was all worth it. I didn't get Utah to give gays any rights or even concessions of decency. I didn't get BYU to change it's policies. I didn't get the student body at BYU to act more compassionate towards homosexuals. But if I did get one person to treat himself more decently and honestly, then maybe that's enough. Maybe that's all I am supposed to do. Romulus and Remus did it for me, and now I am trying desperately to do it for anyone else who will hear me.