Updated: Jul 28, 2021
By Barbara Gillespie
I was raised in the LDS Church. I was taught to believe marriage and love were acceptable in the eyes of God ONLY between a man and woman, and if you were a “homosexual,” you would be barred from Heaven’s gates. I blindly followed these beliefs, though it never sat right with me that God would turn away one of His children for loving someone. It just didn’t make sense to me.
I was married and divorced twice by age 27. We all make mistakes. I learned and moved on. After my second divorce, I went to school to become a medical assistant and was back and forth between being active in the LDS church and attending a non-denominational Christian church. Sometimes my kids and I didn’t do church at all, as Sundays were the only day of the week we had together. Staying home and playing and getting ready for the week, or snuggling up on the couch for a movie day together, going to the park, or taking them swimming were things that were far more important to me than dressing up and pretending I had it all together and trying to force four young children sit still and be quiet for three hours.
I was done with being married at that point in my mind. I didn’t need anyone but my kiddos and me. But in 2012, after five years of being an anti-romance, independent single mom, I met the love of my life, and we became a big, chaotic, blended family of 10 that July. When Jake and I combined our lives in the summer of 2012, I left my career in the medical field to go home and raise our four boys and four girls. Coming from a family of two kids, I was terrified, but I was happy and excited to raise such a big family. The kids were ages six to 16, and there was never a dull moment! We had no idea how to balance the lives of these kids. We faced a lot of challenges in the first few years of our marriage, both emotional and spiritual. At first, we attended church as a family at the local LDS congregation. We made friends and had a good support system there for raising a large family. Sundays were always rough. The kids wanted to stay home and rest or play and hated getting dressed up to go to church. After a few years, church faded from our lives gradually, and Sundays were much more peaceful.
When our oldest girls became “dating age,” they both allowed themselves to be pursued by/set up with boys from school that their friends suggested they should date. (This should have been the first clue, right?) There were school dances and dress shopping and pictures, but nothing seemed to quite fit along the way and I always had the feeling our girls were just “going through the motions” of dating. Aubrie was dating a boy that she seemed to like, but she would always come home sad. One night, while she was crying after a date, I went to her room and talked to her. She told me she liked someone else and didn’t feel like she was being fair to her boyfriend. I asked her who. She hesitated briefly, then said the name of the girl we all knew as her best friend. I said, “Well, have you told her how you feel?”
My daughter half sat up and looked at me through red swollen eyes with tears streaming down her face and said, “…You’re not mad?” My heart sank. My own daughter thought I would be mad at her if she liked girls instead of boys? Where had I gone wrong? Had I not made her feel she was loved and accepted for who she was? My next thought was, “Church… She thinks she’s going to hell, or that I think she is.” I fought back the tears and nausea that thought created. People that were going to “Hell” included murderers and terrorists and child molesters…not my sweet, selfless, smart daughter that would never hurt anyone and just figured out she was falling in love with a girl instead of a boy.
I told her of course I wasn’t mad. I told her if she liked someone else, she needed to be honest with the person she was dating and probably talk to the person she had feelings for to see if they reciprocated those feelings. She threw herself into my arms and sobbed and laughed while I hugged her. She was so relieved. After a couple minutes, she wiped her eyes and was just smiling. I patted her leg and said, “You should call her.” I kissed her on the head and went upstairs to my room. I sat on my bed and thought, “Ok. Something needs to change.” I couldn’t bear the thought that our children might think we didn’t accept them for who they are and who they loved.
I was in youth leadership in our congregation at the time. I felt I needed to educate myself further on becoming an ally/advocate for LGBT+ individuals and take the opportunity to educate the girls I worked with in the program on the fact that the statement “love is love” is true. I attended an Affirmation (LDS LGBTQ organization) conference a couple months later and shared some statistics about how many members of the church identify as LGBT+ with the girls in our group chat on Facebook Messenger. None of what I shared was opinion or hearsay or even negative–it was facts, statistics, and quotes from a bishop that spoke at the conference about how we can love and accept everyone around us, and that “those people” were OUR people, not people to be condemned or excluded or shunned.
The day I shared the information was a Sunday. I was not in church because the conference ran all weekend. Our bishop walked into the young women’s class and told the girls he strongly encouraged them to leave the group chat, unfriend me on Facebook, and not listen to the things I had told them. This was all unbeknownst to me. The following week, the midweek activity time was changed without anyone telling me. I showed up to a dark, empty church building at the usual time. Texts were unanswered despite being seen. I went home and cried.
Two weeks later, the bishop finally reached out. In that time, two of the girls had visited me at home and informed me of what happened the Sunday he came to the classroom at church. I went to his office as requested and he proceeded to tell me it was “time for a change.” He then removed me from my leadership position. During the appointment where I was released, the bishop stated he could not understand how I could “condone such behavior” in my home (referring to my daughter Aubrie being gay and my support of her). I told him that I would much rather choose to support my daughter loving who and how she loves than to lay flowers on her grave and tell her I love her because she took her own life. He did not have a response.
After that, my passion for loving and supporting not only my daughter but any other LGBT+ youth became turned into more of a mission. I kept my eyes and heart open for any signs that the kids that came into my life in any way were feeling unloved or unaccepted. I was determined to let them know they had love from me if from nowhere else, and I still am.
Here’s the message I want to get across from all of this: Love is Love is LOVE. The opposite of love is hate, and it doesn’t make sense to me why someone loving someone else spurs such hate in others. When we stepped into being supportive and accepting with Aubrie, it taught our other children a new level of love and understanding. All of her siblings supported her and the transformation was more than remarkable. Her grades went up, her demeanor was calmer and more loving, she was more patient with herself and her younger siblings. Her style and wardrobe changes made her feel more authentically herself, and it was beautiful to witness.
If we had responded with hate and rejection, and told her she was wrong for feeling the way she did, I’m afraid not only would things have gotten worse, but we may have lost her altogether. That thought still chills me to my core.
Respond with love, not hate. This is the only way things will get better. I love all of you Mama Dragons!! Keep up the good work and BREATHE FIRE FOR THE DRAGON BABIES!! We can make a difference.