Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Take The Climb (For Tyler Clementi)

Song by Peter and Mary Danzig
Video by Connell O'Donovan

In September I had just started to teach a violin lesson when my student's mother picked up her New York Times and gasped. She told me she had to show me something after the lesson. After I finished teaching, she showed me an article about a young violinist, Tyler Clementi who committed suicide after his roommate live streamed Tyler's relationship with another guy over the internet. As I read the article and looked at the picture of a young man holding his violin with such beautiful technique I was filled with sadness.

The week before I had heard Hilary Hahn perform the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. During her incredible performance I had thought about the speculation that Tchaikovsky committed suicide because his "friends" told him that it would be better for him to kill himself than to be gay. I had thought about the magnificent gift that Tchaikovsky gift has been to the world and what a loss his untimely death was for all of us. As I gazed at the picture of Tyler, I grieved the loss of a young man who had already brought so much joy and would have given a lifetime of beauty to so many.

As Peter and I talked later that evening we wished there was something we could do. We decided to write a song and hope that maybe it does some good for someone. Some talented musician friends helped us make a live recording at Holladay United Church of Christ. Attached is the song. They lyrics are below. We hope you enjoy the song. If you do, please feel free to send it on with our hope that one day we will learn to treat all people with love and respect.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Many Deaths Will It Take...

Guest Blogger: Laura Compton
July 21, 2010

...til [they know] too many people have died?

I spent the evening remembering young gay Mormon men and women like Todd Ransom who have committed suicide. Three this month in Utah. And the list was already too, too long. Adding on to the toll was the accidental death of two matriarchs of the gay Mormon community, Ina Mae Murri and Stella Butler. While we cannot stop accidents, I hope and pray we can stop the suicides and the attempts.

For all the people who were upset about blacks not having access to priesthood and temples and even prayers during Sacrament Meetings, they didn’t kill themselves over it. For all the people who were upset about the Church’s support for the ERA or the banning of women praying in Sacrament Meeting or of mothers with children at home working in temples, they didn’t kill themselves over it. What is it about young gay Mormons? We must find a solution because too many lights are going out.

I’ve hesitated putting some of the following [quotes] on this site because they are hard to read. But we cannot solve problems until we know what those problems are. We cannot answer the why? questions until we have some insight into history.

We are all products of our culture. What we grow up learning, hearing, reading and watching influences the way we see the world and the way we communicate about it. Our experiences frame our questions and our answers.

So what have today’s LDS leaders heard, read, and listened to regarding homosexuality? And what are they currently saying?

Certainly, we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long road ahead.

Finding information about what LDS leaders have said about homosexuality is not always easy, because they were more likely to use euphemisms (Crime Against Nature; Deviate Behavior; Perversion; Same-Gender Attraction; HLM (for homosexual lesbian marriage.) Not surprisingly, other sex-related terminology is dressed up in non-precise language as well - Self Abuse; Virtue; Morality - for instance.

In 1970, the Church published a pamphlet for local leaders called, “Hope for Transgressors.” It advised that “homosexuality can be cured…. [and]… forgiven” It encouraged leaders with particularly difficult cases to contact [Quorum of the Twelve] President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder Mark E. Petersen if they needed specific assistance. As men worked through the curative and repentance processes, leaders are counseled:

"When you feel he is ready, he should be encouraged to date and to gradually move his life toward the normal….If they will close the door to intimate associations with their own sex and open it wide to that of the other sex, of course in total propriety, and then be patient and determined, gradually they can move their romantic interests where they belong. Marriage and normal life can follow."

In 1971, a pamphlet specifically written for homosexual men, "New Horizons for Homosexuals" was published over Spencer W. Kimball’s signature. It begins, "I am your friend, your real friend, for I am trying hard to help you save yourself from pitfalls which, I am sure, you do not fully realize are gaping wide to swallow you, the victim." It clearly follows the advice for leaders given in the "Hope for Transgressors" pamphlet, providing appeals to confidante relationships, scriptural references, a purpose in life, reason, assurance of loneliness, and the path of repentance.

In 1969, while Kimball was in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Miracle of Forgiveness. This book has been a go-to reference for all sorts of transgressions and sins, quoted in lesson manuals and distributed by bishops guiding people along the path of repentance. Most, if not all, English-speaking adult members of the Church have heard of this book and many have read it cover to cover. We’ve discussed in other places some of the quotes found in his tome.

In October 1976, Elder Boyd K. Packer addressed the Priesthood session of conference, focusing his talks to the 12-18-year-old young men in the audience. This talk was later published as a pamphlet called, "For Young Men Only." A theme of both this talk and of many official church documents was that, "There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it."

There are two parts to this argument: First, that there is something you can do about your orientation (change it, cure it, overcome it, fight it, ignore it); and Second, that God doesn’t make mistakes and create people destined to live with abominations. It could imply that there are other causes for homosexuality, for instance: Something non-genetic/non-biological/non-hereditary, Parental failure, disease/contagion, Satanic influence, biology, environment, pornography, masturbation, selfishness, abuse, speaking about it, and others.

Since 1990, church leaders have acknowledged that they don’t know what causes homosexuality, specifically relieving concerned parents from the burden of worrying that their actions somehow caused their children to be attracted toward members of the same sex.

In March, 1978 Elder Packer addressed an older group of people, BYU students. Again, his talk was published as a pamphlet provided to anyone dealing with homosexuality in the church, entitled, "To the One." Advise from that talk included:

"You must learn this: Overcoming moral temptation is a very private battle, and internal battle. There are many around you who want to help and who can help - parents, branch president, bishop, for a few a marriage partner. And after that, if necessary, there are counselors and professionals to help you. But do not start with them. Others can lend moral support and help establish an environment for your protection. But this is an individual battle."

In November, 1980, President Kimball addressed the youth of the church about morality. His words as prophet reiterated what he taught a decade earlier in book on repentance:

"Sometimes masturbation is the introduction to the more serious sins of exhibitionism and the gross sin of homosexuality. We would avoid mentioning these unholy terms and these reprehensible practices were it not for the fact that we have a responsibility to the youth of Zion that they be not deceived by those who would call bad good, and black white."

In light of this history of rhetoric, it is a breath of fresh air to read current publications and statements about homosexuality:

"You are a precious son or daughter of God. He not only knows your name; He knows you. His love for you is individual. You lived in His presence before you were born on this earth. You cannot remember your premortal relationship with Him, but He does. Although His children may sometimes do things that disappoint Him, He will always love them."


"Some people with same-gender attraction have felt rejected because members of the Church did not always show love. No member of the Church should ever be intolerant. As you show love and kindness to others, you give them an opportunity to change their attitudes and follow Christ more fully."

We’ve certainly come a long way, but there is still much farther to go. And as we approach Pioneer Day, the day when we remember Mormon ancestors who walked across a continent in order to establish a religion, we remember all those who walk alongside us as well as those who have fallen by the wayside. In the words of Carol Lynn Pearson, author of No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones:

"When we see a need, we respond. When we are conscious, we act. That new pioneer journey I spoke of in the first part of this book is a journey of consciousness. Now that you have read the stories of anguish and of healing, have met our gay loved ones and the parents, sisters, brothers, and friends who have circled the wagons around them, you have journeyed in consciousness and have, I believe, arrived at a new place. Now you know….

"Today there is a despondent gay man somewhere who has checked to see if his father’s gun is still where it used to be. Tonight there is a lesbian who again cries herself to sleep over her awful alternatives, ‘You may choose between being gay or being a member of this family.’ Today there are parents whose tears are for the pain of their loved gay child, for the lack of support they receive from their church, for the condemning rhetoric they continue to hear, and for the fear that the members of their congregation might find out the family secret. Today there takes place a marriage ceremony for a young, gay man, anxious to please God and his church, and an eager starry-eyed young bride who believes her groom’s romantic restraint has come from his righteousness. Today a child cries before going to school, terrified that a classmate may learn that his father is gay and start calling him names.

"These people are still on the plains. I am asking you to load up the wagons. You can do it without fully understanding, even without fully ‘approving.’ You have the supplies, parcels of love, compassion, encouragement, respect, good information, and humility in knowing that there is much we have yet to learn. You have the words of Jesus: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me.’ And you have the words that still echo across the century and a half: Go and bring in those people now on the plains."

What have you done today to silence the rhetoric? To shout the love? To save a life?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Going Home

Guest Blogger: Rob Donaldson

Lots of men hate housework. They hate to clean, and mop, and iron, and scrub, and do laundry. These are not considered particularly manly things. As a divorced dad, sometimes I have no choice. I have to do these things or else the house would start to look like my college dorm. And I lost my tolerance for that a while back.

But sometimes I actually like doing all that stuff. These are things one does at home. Doing them reminds me that I am home. After the grueling business travel schedule of the last year and a half, this is a very refreshing thing. I like being home. I like having a kitchen to clean and floors to mop. This is my place. I belong here. I feel comfortable, secure. It's a bit of the hot chocolate in front of the fireplace thing, even though it's July.

This past week a young man named Todd Ransom took his own life in Salt Lake City. Todd was gay and lived in the heart of homophobic Mormondom. Many, including myself, instantly assumed that his death had something to do with the way the Mormon Church treats its gay members, and gay people in general: a handful of not-too-effusive claims from senior leadership that the church loves and welcomes gay people (an admittedly welcome turnabout from 30 years ago when gay members who came out were instantly tossed out) have still mostly not reached the rank and file, where ostracism, avoidance, misunderstanding, fear, bigotry, hate and sometimes eviction from one's own family still regularly occur, and all in the name of upholding Church teachings. Not to mention the Church's decades-long efforts to shut down marriage equality and its' members' financing of incredible myth-mongering two years ago to put Proposition 8 over the top. Gay Mormons also know that the Church's doctrine forces on them the worst sort of Sophie's Choice between (1) hewing to the demands for lifelong celibacy and aching loneliness as the price of salvation in a church that obsesses about family happiness, and reminds them daily of what it doesn't want them to have, and (2) seeking the love and companionship and intimacy everyone wants during this life, at the possible risk of losing a place in heaven. This mix of social and spiritual consequences has too often proven lethal for gay Mormon men, and Todd Ransom appeared to be just the latest in a tragically lengthening line.

I didn't know Todd. I'm reading now that his life was not all tragedy and tears, that he had a loving and supportive family, and that his suicide may not have resulted directly from how Mormonism treats its gay members, at least not entirely. A few have spoken out on line and objected to blaming the Mormon Church for Todd's death. If he did have a supportive family, that is some comfort. But it's very small. Fact is that another young gay Mormon man has taken his own life. I don't know the reasons. I have assumed some of them, and I believe those assumptions are at least partly correct. And even if they were not as true of Todd as they've been of others, it can't be denied that the doctrine and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches with regard to God's gay children, and their collective insistence that those gay children deny their very nature and contort their spirits and live a lie in order to be good enough for God, have produced tremendous misery and tragedy in countless lives instead of the peace and comfort that Jesus promised His followers.

The innumerable Todds who've chosen to leave this life did so because they never found a home. A place where they could live peacefully without fear or doubt. A place where they could celebrate just being themselves, completely and unreservedly, where they could savor the mundane delights of sweeping their own floor or doing their own laundry, knowing it was all theirs, that nobody and nothing threatened them. A place where they could live without fear of judgment or threats of damnation, just doing the dinner dishes with the one they loved.

I don't know all the reasons Todd Ransom left us. But I know the reasons far too many like him have left, and despite all our best efforts, will probably continue to leave. Some we can't anticipate, and some we can't cure. But every person and every entity that had a part in Todd's and all the others' lives should stop to think about what they could have done better, what they might do for the next Todd who's on the brink. Sometimes the answer will be "nothing, all that could be done was done." But that's an individual judgment of fact or conscience. For organizations like the LDS and other Christian churches, much can be done, and many of these organizations have much to repent for. There should be much more insistence by senior church leadership that mistreatment and homophobia and prejudice and bigotry has no place in a Christian's life. Those senior leaders themselves should be humble enough to consider whether they are preaching their own received prejudices as doctrine, and whether just maybe God has something else in mind for His gay children. And their flocks should join them to stop conflating religious doctrine with civil law, to realize that gay marriage does not threaten "traditional" marriage and that mounting evidence from other countries confirms that.

Maybe if all that happened with more regularity and sincerity and less lip service, we wouldn't have the Todd Ransoms and Matthew Shepards of the world. Maybe we'd have less drug and alcohol abuse and STDs as part of the mythical "gay lifestyle" because young Todds and Matthews growing up wouldn't need such substitutes but could hope for happy stable marriages and homes just like straight people do, instead of lives of legal and social instability forced on them by those who prevent them from marrying and then criticize them for the behavioral consequences of not being allowed to marry. Beat them till they bleed, then beat them for bleeding.

I can't do everything, says the old saying, but I can do something. I'm not everyone, but I am one. I can reach out to "lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees," in the words of Isaiah. If more alleged Christian churches and people dropped the prejudice and fear and insularity and suspicion and tried just a little harder to catch future Todd Ransoms before they fall, we might be spared some further weeping. Jesus said whatever we do for or to each other, we are doing for or to Him. The time after Todd's death is a time for anger, and sadness, and wondering, and mourning. And after that, it's a time to ask what can we do better so that fewer precious children follow Todd. Each church and its leaders, each person, must look within themselves to answer, and will ultimately answer to God if they don't. They must keep asking and searching and trying to improve until we have a world where the only place every Todd Ransom goes is home without fear or worry to the one or ones he loves.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Break A Leg

Good luck to our director, Will Swenson, on his opening night of Priscilla Queen of the Desert which opens in Toronto tonight - heading to Broadway in February. Should be quite a ride!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Suicide: We Give a Damn



FACING EAST, an independent feature film currently in pre-production, based on the acclaimed stage play by Carol Lynn Pearson, is the story of Alex and Ruth McCormick, an upstanding Mormon couple who have done everything right. Theirs is an ideal life. Except for one flaw which has brought them now to a point of crisis. Their gay son Andrew, who had not been “healed” from his homosexuality despite every effort, and who had for a year been with a man that he loved, has just taken his own life in a flower bed beside the Salt Lake Mormon temple.

At the cemetery, Alex is unable to leave so that the open grave can be filled. He is not finished. He is desperate to understand what went wrong. His wife Ruth is relieved that at last her tortured boy is in God’s healing hands. Alex insists on holding another funeral at the grave site, one that speaks the truth, and he demands that Ruth stay and hear things that need to be said.

Unexpectedly Andrew’s partner Marcus arrives at the cemetery, thinking he would be alone. Ruth and Alex come to know their son in a way they never had before through the love and the anger of Marcus, and they come to realize the part they played in Andrew’s despair and his terrible, final act.