Discipline, Excommunication, and Name Removal
Richardson Stake High Council
Letter Read at Excommunication Proceedings
By Tony Collette
January 15, 1989
I am grateful for the opportunity to meet with you all today. During the past few weeks I have met with Bishop M and President G numerous times. I have felt of their great concern and care for me and, as we begin, I'd like to express my gratitude for their love and support. This process has not been comfortable or easy, but I believe it is the right thing. For this reason I have willingly agreed to be here with you all today to discuss some of the most personal and private aspects of my life. I am not here to teach you or to instruct—that isn't my place. But we are here to discuss the issue of homosexuality, and because you may or may not be very familiar with what it's like to be sexually attracted to members of the same sex, the responsibility is on me to openly and honestly share what I know with you. I will speak directly and forthrightly, but please do not mistake this boldness for pride—it is not. I believe this gathering is meant to help me and to help you and to help people in my position who you will meet in the future. Because this is so important, none of us nor the Lord nor His Church would be well-served by shyness or hesitancy. But this openness is not pride.
This meeting isn't, however, simply an opportunity to share information. This is a High Council Court and the stakes are high. My continued membership and activity in the Church are on the line. And because I have a very strong testimony of the Gospel and the Church, this has great significance. The decisions which are reached here today will have great impact on my life and the lives of people like me. For this reason I would ask, with great respect for the position you all hold, I would ask you to please lay aside your preconceived notions and prejudices about what a homosexual person is. It is only natural that you would have them, but I am very afraid that these deep-seated ideas might get in the way. I have prayed to the Lord that this might not be the case. I would not ask you to accept or agree. But I do ask you to be willing to understand.
I became a Christian at 13 and accepted the Restored Gospel and was baptized into the Church at 14. At 15 I realized that I should discuss my sexual attraction for men with my Branch President. We met numerous times and he offered very helpful counsel. The difficulties became more obvious as time passed but because of the strong testimony of the Gospel which was within me, I continued being very active in the Church. I was advised that this "phase" would eventually pass but that any sexual contact would make the situation worse. Accordingly I was celibate from this time until I was 23 years old. I was told that if I obeyed the commandments, God would take care of the rest.
While a Teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood I assumed that if I was a good priesthood holder, Heavenly Father would change me. So I threw myself into activity and service and must admit that my life became much fuller and rewarding. With youthful optimism and great anticipation I awaited the day when I would become a Priest. The ordination came and went—but my attraction to men stayed. This was a crushing disappointment. With the naiveté and blind faith of a 16-year-old I put complete faith in the power of the Lord to bring about a transformation in my sexual orientation. But it hadn't happened. I couldn't understand why this was happening to me.
The hurt feelings subsided as I eagerly looked forward to the conferring of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Such a monumental happening—receiving the Priesthood of God. Surely as I obeyed the commandments and served in the Church as called the Lord would intervene. There was no doubt in my mind that this would be the great turning point in my life upon which the entire future of my life depended.
I vividly remember the day I was sustained in Stake Conference for ordination as an Elder. When the Stake President called my name I proudly stood—I was excited, happy and humbled. My Home Teacher conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained me an Elder. It was thrilling. To have the Priesthood of God. To stand and administer in the footsteps of Jesus—what greater thrill could there be?
As the next few days passed I slowly realized that my sexuality had not been affected. Is it possible to describe the fear, anguish, anxiety, hurt, depression, anger, resentment, self-hate and sense of abandonment that I felt? Desperate thoughts went through my mind. For what good reason was this happening to me? What horrible, unthinkable atrocity had I committed in the pre-existence to deserve this? Why did God hate me so much? Why bring me to an understanding of the concept of an eternal mate and then cruelly deprive me? Why has this happened?
Time passed. It seemed to me that going on a mission was the right thing to do. Surely doing the Lord's work for two years would prove to the Lord my intentions. Surely this would be an acceptable offering. The thought of entering the Temple and receiving my endowments became the next focal point. The Temple was a sacred, special place where God had communed with his servants. Miracles occurred in Temples since the early days of the Restoration. It seemed clear to me that in the Temple my prayers would be answered.
I believed that through participation and acceptance of the sacred ordinances of the Temple the Lord would change me. I entered the Temple with many great expectations. The experience was lovely, uplifting and provided one of the greatest spiritual moments of my life. It was wonderful. But as I walked out of the gates of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, it became painfully obvious to me that I was still attracted to men. I was surprised and disappointed, but I immediately began to think that what the Lord was requiring of me was two years of full-time service as a missionary.
Surely as I served the Lord as an ambassador of the Gospel He would change me. I was assigned to Finland. In some ways it was a typical mission, but in others it was unusual. I taught Conversational English in International Business Colleges, functioned as a fill-in Branch President and was specifically re-assigned to work with a suicidal member in order to keep her alive. Because of an illness which one of my companions suffered, I was alone for eleven days in a two-missionary town. Knowing in advance that my companion would be hospitalized for quite some time, the mission president trusted me enough to be alone for eleven days. I took this as a great compliment and did nothing during that time to damage his trust. During my mission I was not involved in any sexual conduct even though one companion was gay and I had other opportunities available to me.
I was not an ordinary missionary, but I was effective in many ways. I was on the Lord's errand, doing the Lord's work. Sometimes I felt really awkward or stupid, but that was OK because the Scriptures say it's OK to be a fool for Christ.
The close quarters of mission life provided for some difficult, tense times. The only way to convey an understanding for the situation is for you to imagine a red-blooded 20-year-old Elder with a 21-year-old sister missionary as a companion. Can you imagine what it would be like for them to dress, undress and sleep in the same room? That's what it was like for me. Tense moments aside, the experience of being on a mission was wonderful. I developed a greater appreciation for the love Heavenly Father has for all his children. The idea of the oneness and the shared experiences of all of us here on earth made me appreciate the people more. I developed an intense love for the people in Finland and found amusement, more than irritation, in the differences that growing up in our separate cultures had provided. In working with the suicidal sister, Heavenly Father required me to develop an almost endless patience for her. I would submit myself to listening and counseling with her when it seemed no one else would because this was the way the Lord had provided to love someone else more than I loved myself. Really, that's what the entire missionary experience was about.
As the last few days of my mission approached I again realized that my sexual attraction for men had not changed. A familiar sadness settled over me. In a quiet moment, without anger or bitterness, I reflected on the many events that had led me to Finland. Where along the way had I failed the Lord? At what point in my life had I so disappointed Him that He felt it appropriate to consign me to be single, alone, without a wife for the rest of my life? After much introspection I came to the conclusion that I hadn't done anything so wrong—at least not wrong enough to deserve this.
After returning home I began dating a lovely girl who was great fun to be with. Although she was very desirable, I was never sexually attracted to her. But I believed that after we were sealed in the Temple the situation would resolve itself. There was simply no other alternative. We were engaged but it was called off shortly thereafter.
At this point I was 23 years old. I had been sexually attracted to men since before I understood what sexual attraction was. I had never felt any attraction for women. I was a member of a Church that worships the concept of marriage—and I was unmarriable.
I was crushed after my ordination as a Priest.
I was disappointed after my ordination as an Elder.
I was confused after the Endowment Ceremony had not changed me.
I was saddened as my mission drew to a close.
I was completely disheartened as I realized that a marriage, even a Temple Marriage, would not change who I was. How my spirit ached. Sadness overwhelmed me. During this period tears were no strangers to me.
It was then that I accepted the fact that I was a homosexual. Although I had chosen to be attracted to women innumerable times during the previous eight years -- it never happened. I never chose to be sexually attracted to men. That's probably the most important thing I'll say here today. Like most gay people, in or out of the Church, I never chose to be attracted to men. Why would I? What sane, rational person -- given a chance -- would so choose to complicate their life? Would you make such a decision? Well, I wouldn't either and I didn't.
Decision or no, the situation remained. I was 23 years old and I was gay. "Gay" -- that was such a foreign word. Although I had heard the word since childhood, it was only then that I began to think that "that word" was a part of my identity.
It was like suddenly discovering that your ancestry was Russian instead of English. In an attempt to understand what being gay meant, I went with friends, some of them straight, some gay, to night clubs and discos that had a predominantly gay following. They seemed pretty much like all the other discos I had been to. The idea of dancing and being with friends was appealing but the "fast track" lifestyle of drinking, drug use and casual sex didn't appeal to me at all. Within a year I had my first overt sexual experience. Because of a job change, I moved to Dallas.
During this time I became increasingly involved in social activity and a seeking for information that would help me understand what being gay meant. Part of what the subculture offered was worthwhile and part of it was not. I rejected the idea of sex as a hobby or sport, and from this time onward tried to avoid any sexual involvement that was not preceded by real affection and caring for the person involved.
While still trying to put all the pieces together, I left the Church for six months to try to determine just how important it was to me. At one point Bishop B and I met and he referred me to Stake President B. At his home, President B and I had a very involved and open discussion during which I related to him my experiences and feelings about what had happened to me. His reaction was to tell me that a Church Court would be held and some type of action would be taken. He took my home and work numbers and I fully expected him to contact me with information about a Court immediately. The phone call never came. For reasons which were never explained to me, President B didn't pursue any action.
Another job transfer to Garland placed me in the Richardson Stake and the 11th Ward. During the time away from the Church, I came to realize that the Church was more than just a habit, it was a vitally important part of my life. I resolved to get back into Church activity, but on a limited basis. In the 11th Ward I accepted callings which did not require a worthiness interview, I spoke in meetings and occasionally sang in Sacrament Meeting. I was not a Home Teacher not did I perform any ordinances or teach classes because it didn't seem appropriate to represent the Church in such an official way. While this compromise arrangement might have offended some people, it seemed very agreeable and workable to me.
About three months ago, Bishop M recommended me to the Stake Presidency to be a Stake Missionary. During the interview with President G, I expressed a willingness to serve the Lord as called but was very open and honest with him about my personal situation. He felt, under the circumstances, the calling would not be appropriate and that is how the process of this Church Court began.
There has been some confusion about whether Bishop N and I ever discussed the particulars about my sexual activity. Just so you will know, I have never tried to hide or conceal any facet of my struggle with homosexuality from the Church leaders who have had jurisdiction over me. Indeed, just before moving into this Stake, I completely discussed all of this with the appropriate Church authority. While being open and up front with Church leaders, I have generally tried to be as low profile as possible with most Church members. It has never seemed all that important to make such personal things a matter of public knowledge. I have, however, shared some of this with close personal friends in the Ward. But it has never been my intention to make a big deal out of my sexual orientation.
I have lived every day of my life trying to come to an understanding of my sexual orientation. In my youth that journey of understanding took the form of blind faith and naive optimism. In early adulthood they were replaced with a simple determination to do what I felt was right by attending the Temple and serving a mission. Eventually, I came to the realization that sexual attraction for men was simply a part of who I am and not something which I chose. My hunger for understanding revolved more around seeking information about secular and medical discoveries and about the meaning and intent of the scriptures which mention homosexuality. These methods were and continue to be very useful, but they pale in comparison to the method which I have employed the most—and that is seeking the Lord's will in meditation and prayer. Through the past 14 years I have unceasingly prayed for guidance and insight. Discovering the Lord's will in all of this has been an almost all-consuming passion.
It has not ceased to be so. During the course of this search, the Lord has made plain to me certain things which I will share with you. I do not believe that these ideas are meant for anyone else. But there is no doubt that they are meant for me and that they have been revealed to me as answers to prayer from the Lord.
The first is that Heavenly Father loves me as intensely and with as much passion as He loves any of the rest of His children. He knows me and cares for me beyond description. He is aware and apprised of the situation and has great compassion for me.
The second is that I have done nothing to deserve the situation in which I find myself—that is, nothing I did grieved the Lord enough to cause me to be sexually attracted to men. My sexual orientation is not a punishment and it is not any less a divine part of my identity than your sexual orientation is a divine part of your identity.
The third is that Heavenly Father does not expect me to be celibate for the rest of my life. It was not His intention to create me as I am and abandon me to loneliness in this life or the next. It is His will that I learn to responsibly and appropriately use the sexual orientation that is within me to further the same goals which Heavenly Father has placed for all of His children. And those include the creation of a loving home, the ability to love someone else more than yourself, and the charity not to use sexuality as a tool of force or a means of coercion, but as a method of expressing love, affection and all of what is good in a person.
I believe my sexuality is just as beautiful, divine and lovely as that which can be found in any one of you here today. In my youth I hated it, but through prayer and meditation I have come to accept my sexual orientation as a challenge and an opportunity—and in some ways a special blessing. For this understanding I thank a loving and caring Heavenly Father who has not abandoned me, but whose hand and influence are present in my life.
Now you will consider whether it is appropriate for me to remain a member of the Church in full standing. When I came to this Stake and the 11th Ward, the most appropriate thing seemed to be the arrangement which I discussed earlier—specifically that I accepted callings which did not require a worthiness interview, spoke and occasionally sung in meetings, was not a Home Teacher or teach any classes or represent the Church in any way. I do not perform any priesthood functions. The limits of this arrangement have served my needs and the needs of the members of the Ward well. I hope it is possible to continue this in some official form.
As you consider the issues involved I ask that you remember these things. I did not choose to be gay. Secondly, I have always been open and honest with the Bishops and Stake Presidents whose responsibility it has been to counsel me. Third, before coming to this Stake, I met with and fully discussed the situation with President B who took no action. Fourth, the main reason we are meeting today is because during an interview with President G I was honest and willing to share my feelings with him.
The last thing I'd like you to keep in mind is that although the object of this Court is to consider the appropriateness of my conduct specifically, there are thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people in the Church just like me. Men and women who, through no action or choice of their own, find themselves in the very difficult position of being sexually attracted to members of the same sex. As you consider me and my actions, keep them in your minds and in your hearts. Just as surely as we are here in this room, they are there. Many years ago as a youth, the difficulty of the situation became obvious to me. I believe in a religion whose ultimate expression is Temple Marriage—and I am not marriable. As difficult as this is, I did not give up on the Church. Rather I struggled along through good times and bad, determined to discover the Lord's will and do it.
The Lord has not finished with me. As long as I am willing to struggle, He is willing to support me. As I did not give up on the Church 14 years ago, please do not give up on me now.
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Update Sept 2001: Since writing these articles, Tony has terminated his membership with the church on his own terms and is no longer affiliated with it.