Gay Mormons (currently and formerly affiliated with the LDS Church) are talking up a storm on social media about Boyd K. Packer’s recent speech to LDS youth. Allies have also joined in the discussion. Believe it or not, allies reside on both sides of the affiliation fence. Despite differences of affiliation with the LDS Church, conversations reveal gay Mormons and their allies are torn. Some voiced concern over the conflict of supporting Boyd K. Packer as a prophet, seer, and revelator but not agreeing with his position (or more appropriately his tone and attitude) on gay issues. Others voiced full support of his views and vowed to stand by him. For example, (Gay) Mormon Guy blogged about Packer’s controversial speech from October of 2010; the post went viral (in Mormon communities and by Mormon standards). I saw it a bunch in my newsfeed on Facebook. Mormons were saying things like this:
See. Not all people who suffer from same-gender attraction are offended by Elder Packer’s talk. Because his words touched the life of this guy, that means Packer is a prophet, and because he’s a prophet that means everything he says is right.
I’m not being critical of Packer’s position as a leader of the LDS Church, and I don’t want it to come across as calling his position as a prophet, seer, and revelator into question either. The truth of those facts is not relevant for this discussion. I simply want to point out the conflict, talk about why it’s an important conflict, and discuss the consequences. First, it is important to understand the larger picture behind the controversy that is Boyd K. Packer.
I actually didn’t find recent talk to seminary students all that controversial. At least not the transcript. As someone in social media pointed out, his facial expression are the controversy. If you want to go to all the trouble, pull up the talk here, skip all the boring stuff and jump to about 42:00 where he starts talking in euphemisms about the gay stuff. Pat attention to his facial expression at 43:19. If you don’t want to go to all the trouble, here’s a screen shot of his face at that point.
Aside from looking pretty old and not so well, I didn’t find the facial expression too problematic. But it doesn’t matter what that facial expression communicates to me. What does the facial expression communicate to young, closeted gay Mormon kids? It’s hard to know, but my own experience with Packer helps me understand what effect his look of disgust might have on them.
In a pamphlet To Young Men Only, Packer shares an experience he had as a mission president in which a young missionary “floored” his companion and replied, “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.” The details of the experience aren’t totally clear, but it is obvious that one missionary is gay (the one who was “floored”) and the other is not (the one who “floored” the other). When that portion of the pamphlet was read to me in a priesthood meeting as a kid (shortly after my bishop at the time learned that I am gay), I remember how I felt and what I thought:
“Is someone going to ‘floor’ me when they find out I’m gay? Am I safe at church? Will my bishop pat them on the back like Elder Packer patted this missionary on the back?”
I became a little anxious about going to church. I had a difficult time interpreting that talk, as a kid, as anything but a license (from a man who speaks with God) to hurt and harm. It scared me to think God, as dictated by one of his servants, wanted my peers to beat the gay out of me. And then what all the guys in my church group who seem gay but probably aren’t gay? Will God help them know the difference between those who are gay and those who seem gay? Or will they just beat up whoever they want and then say, “Eh, it’s okay. This is what God wants (because that’s what his servants want).”
Some pointed out the Church spoke out against bullying gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and therefore it’s not right to say the Church condones bullying. I understand this point, and I might argue for the same point except for one detail: it says nothing about how kids will react. Just because the Church comes out and says they don’t support or condone bullying does not mean that every gay, lesbian, or bi youth in the church will automatically feel safe nor does it mean they are immune to depression and suicide.
The more I think on this topic, the more I realize LDS Church culture is rife with microaggressions against gays and lesbians. What are microaggressions? Per MicroAggressions.com, microaggressions are about the response “it’s not a big deal”. Maybe you’ve had that response as you’ve read over this. “It’s not a big deal, Ryan. No one is dying here.” Well, this is also about how your power and privilege prevent you from understanding the big deal. It’s about how you remind people in the most subtle ways that they are different and not respectable.
Consider the microaggressions from an interview Packer referenced in his speech. The interview was done by Larry King on President Gordon B. Hinckley. Here’s a small clip.
- We aren’t anti-gay; we’re pro-marriage
- We know they (gays and lesbians) have a problem
- So-called gays and lesbians
- They have to discipline themselves
- It wouldn’t be right for a General Authority to solve the problem that way
If you still don’t see how this is aggressive, consider replacing “gay” with “black” or “women” or “feminist” or some other group.
- We aren’t anti-black; we’re pro-white
- We know women have a problem
- So-called feminists
- Feminists have to discipline themselves
- It wouldn’t be right for a General Authority to solve the problem with an atheist that way
What are the consequences? Gay Mormons (and many of their allies) will continue to either leave the Church or be kicked out of the Church. Some would argue this is what should happen and this is what makes the world a better place: drive out everything “evil”. Drive out everyone you don’t agree with so you can be surrounded by those who think, act, and believe like you. If that doesn’t work, blame it on the devil; surely he has a hold of their souls. In other words, don’t communicate to them how awesome they are, don’t accept them, don’t tolerate them, and let them continue to be depressed. Who knows. You might get what you wished for: one fewer gay/lesbian member of your congregation and belief. You just might succeed at driving them away.
Next time Boyd K. Packer makes a controversial remark or judgmental look about so-called gays and lesbians, or someone like Gordon B. Hinckley is interviewed by Larry King, or a pamphlet similar to To Young Men Only is published, or a young man or woman weeps in church pews because he or she has no one to turn to, consider the consequences of microaggressions.