By Diane Oviatt – Peace starts with how we treat our most vulnerable.
I have always had a heart for the underdog. As a pediatric nurse I’ve been drawn to the quirky, unusual kids who think and act a little differently than most kids. Often these are the children who are ridiculed or excluded by others. I could never have foreseen how this passion would be put to use in such a personal way.
My middle child grew up well liked and had plenty of friends. He did well in school and extracurricular activities. In other words, he always fit in. When he came out to us as gay in 2007, I slowly realized how hard he had worked at hiding the secret of his sexuality in order to pass as just another teen.
He headed to Brigham Young University for his freshman year as had been planned before he had come out that summer. While there, he was surrounded by generalized homophobia and bigotry which served to push him deeper into the closet, and his world began to collapse. Meanwhile here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Mormons were in the thick of Proposition 8 activity. My sense of justice and love for the marginalized was smoldering into a flame.
In 2009 during the fallout and division our Mormon Stake experienced post Prop 8, the Stake President held special sessions in sacrament meetings in an attempt to unite congregants with differing experiences and opinions. He asked me to speak in our ward and it was the first time I bore my soul (with our son’s blessing) about the pain he and we experienced in fully realizing that our church was fighting against LGBTQ rights.
I spoke of my son’s utter despair, of my absolute surety that he was perfect as God had created him, and of the fact that I would always choose him over my faith when forced to choose. So many cried as they hugged me afterward and shared their own stories of heartache regarding LGBTQ loved ones. Stories have power.
The fire had been lit and I continued to speak up, in private and public ways, in our burgeoning group of Mama Dragons, and in the press when asked to. I was not alone as so many of us found our voices in our pain. Some Mama Dragon friends approached a general authority from our church several years ago at a Salt Lake City restaurant to let him know that his words in General Conference (bi-annual meeting for LDS members where top church leaders speak) had been painful and divisive. He had to look these fierce women in the eye and witness their suffering. Others bore their testimonies in their congregations about the need to embrace the LGBTQ community and counter bigotry.
After the LDS church policy affecting our loved ones and their offspring was leaked in 2015, my disappointment and despair pushed me into high gear. This policy stated that same sex couples were in “apostasy” and would be up for excommunication. Not only that but their children could no longer receive a baby blessing or be baptized at age 8. They would instead need to wait until they were an adult to be baptized or serve a mission – and only if they received special permission from top church leaders and if they disavowed their gay parents’ marriage. I taught lessons at church about it, gave talks from the pulpit and had many pointed conversations in the hallway. I continued to speak at church firesides and conferences and to anyone who would listen. I had my own disappointing personal encounter with a general authority whom I asked to please tell parents not to reject their gay and transgender children.
I’m sure there were some who were privately lambasting me for sowing the seeds of discord, though I was thanked by so many over and over for speaking out. Personal experience has shown me time and time again that by speaking up on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced and ridiculed, the seeds that are sown are seeds of love and inclusion. They continue to bear fruit. I have had the privilege of hearing from so many over the years who say they had the courage to speak up and stand for love and inclusion because they thought if I could do it – so could they.
Our voices have the power to help others. They have the power to make change. It is scary and difficult at times to advocate for what we know is right and true. We cannot say we love those most in need of our love if we are not willing to risk our own status to call out bigotry and fear where we find it. I found it within my religion, and eventually my disappointment in the leaders at the highest levels led me out.
That is my personal journey. I know and admire other voices for inclusion who choose differently. Every time I receive a message telling me I made a difference, every time someone suffering asks me for advice or help, it confirms to me that it is so worth it to actively resist policies that harm people. Lives are depending on our voices. We must use them.