Mormons urged to stop shunning gay family members

Sexuality Affirmation official recalls how his aunt kicked him out.

The Salt Lake Tribune/September 18, 2009

Robert Moore knew his long pause on the phone already had given him away. At age 19, he acknowledged to his aunt, "yes," he was gay, something he had known since the fifth grade.

She responded: "You can't come home."

Moore, who lived with his LDS grandmother and aunt in a small Oregon town, bought a bus ticket to Portland and spent the next five months homeless. He never knew his parents and had grown up thinking of his aunt, 13 years his senior, as a sister. But now she insisted his gay "lifestyle" would be a negative influence on her two kids.

"I was so scared and I didn't know what to do," Moore said Friday in Salt Lake City. "We can no longer keep kicking our youth to the curb like trash. We are all children of God."

Moore, now 29, is young-adults director for Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons. On Friday, the group, in town for its 30th annual conference, called on LDS leaders to reach out to Mormon families -- and their clergy -- and provide clearer direction on how to respond when a daughter, husband, wife or brother comes out as gay.

But Affirmation is not waiting for the church to lead the effort. It has launched a new campaign ,"Keep Them and Love Them," centered on an informational Web site that is a work in progress.

Affirmation supports Mormons -- active and former members of the faith -- in being openly gay, calling their sexual orientation a "special gift from God."

Executive Director David Melson acknowledged this has created areas in which his group "disagrees" with the LDS Church, but said both can agree on the importance of families.

"I believe strongly that families can be together forever," said Melson, an active member of the faith. "We want to find areas we can work on together."

In recent years, church officials have stated they don't know what causes same-sex attraction, saying no one -- not parents or those who experience such feelings -- should be blamed.

"Above all, keep your lines of communication open," Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, urged in a 2007 Ensign article. "Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love, generously expressed, can transform family ties."

Holland wrote that gay children "are welcome" to stay at home. But parents have "every right to exclude from [their] dwelling any behavior that offends the spirit of the Lord."

Another support group, Evergreen International, which aims to help Mormons "overcome homosexual behavior," also has a conference in Salt Lake City this weekend. LDS general authority Bruce C. Hafen is scheduled to address that group this morning.

Affirmation has been seeking a formal meeting with a high-ranking LDS official -- the church has suggested the family services commissioner -- for more than a year. On Friday, Melson said the group has had "informal" discussions with some lower-level members of LDS Family Services.

"They're guardedly open," Melson said, "and accepting to what we're proposing."

An LDS Church spokesman declined to comment Friday on the prospects of a meeting or Affirmation's campaign.

George Cole, Affirmation's assistant executive director, said young gay men and lesbians who don't have support from their families are at higher risk for depression and suicide.

In Salt Lake City, 42 percent of homeless youths (ages 15 to 22) who visit the Volunteers of America Homeless Youth Resource Center are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a survey conducted last winter.

His first night after being kicked out, Moore slept on the streets, beneath a shop's awning. The next night he tried a park bench but was awakened by police officers. He discovered a couple of youth homeless shelters and spent the next five months bunking there. He found a job and got an apartment.

Moore briefly reconciled with his grandmother before she died in 2003. His aunt -- who asked him if he was gay after she read one of his personal letters from a friend -- still hangs up the phone when he calls.

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