From the Pulpit
One Gay Mormon: A Reconciliation
From a talk given by Tony Collette at the 1990 Affirmation Conference
There's a good chance that you are Mormon and gay. Some people would have you believe that these two vitally important aspects of yourself don't mix. "Like oil and water," they'd say, "being openly gay and an integral part of any organized religion—much less Mormonism just doesn't work. The two are simply incompatible. You won't be accepted, you won't be trusted and you'll drive yourself crazy in the process."
The leadership of this conference has invited me here to tell you
exactly the opposite. You can be Mormon and gay. You can be an
active, contributing member of your Ward. If you're persistent,
expend some energy and seize the opportunities that come your way,
you will be trusted, you will be accepted and, far from going crazy
in the midst of all this, you're much more likely to integrate two of
the most significant and enduring aspects of who you are.
Significant because your sexuality and your testimony of the
Gospel are both divine gifts given by loving Heavenly Parents. They
influence the vast majority of decisions you make every day.
Enduring because while both are likely to undergo the dynamism of
change over the years, neither is likely to leave you entirely.
If this is true, bringing the two together and living peacefully
with yourself and others becomes a central issue. How do you stay
true to yourself, true to who you are, and function successfully in
the middle of a bunch of Mormons? How do you convince these people
that you're a relatively normal, ordinary person? The simple truth
is that the average Mormon shares more common ground with a gay
member of the Church than he'll ever have in common with a straight
non-member. But how do you convince your fellow Ward members of
this? And, maybe more importantly, how do you bring your local LDS
leadership to the same conclusion? How do you preserve and nourish
your faith, allowing it to soften and heal your heart? How do you
maintain a loving relationship with the Lord in the midst of it all?
Just as there are a variety of roads leading to the same
destination, there exist as many ways to approach this challenge as
there are gay personalities. Bear with me while I share with you
some thoughts and suggestions, hopes and fears, successes and defeats
and a vision. A hopeful, enthusiastic vision of what may be—of
the way things could become. Of a future we could all participate in
that includes and integrates our sexuality, our spirituality, and our
fellow Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters.
Getting What You Want
I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about what I really want,
and exactly how to go about getting it. Whether it's a decent job, a
new friend, a more complete understanding of an idea, a chance to
help someone, an opportunity to create something beautiful, a closer
friendship with God or a few hours to simply be left alone—at one
time or another thoughts like these attract the focus of my attention
and motivate me to do something about them.
For years I wondered what to do about being a gay Mormon. Since
I figured the gay facet of my personality would eventually go away,
and because I couldn't imagine anyone being hurt by the situation,
there didn't seem to be a great need to do anything about it. Other
than discussing the issue with local Church leadership and praying
for guidance and understanding, the whole gay thing received little
attention and was shifted to a back burner—not to cool as I
thought at the time, but to simmer. And just like my very Italian
mother's tomato sauce—an all-day affair that bubbles on the stove,
the flavors intensifying, the texture and consistency changing with
each passing hour—the gay issue in the matrix of a Mormon
orientation to the world became more and more a central, core issue
in my life.
A Kind But Aggressive Method of Dealing With Local LDS Leadership
As I got to know more gay Mormons, I heard horror stories about how
they or their friends were terribly mistreated or unnecessarily
offended by rough handling from Bishops, Stake Presidents or GAs.
This seemed really stupid and completely avoidable. Finally I
decided that for my own sanity and the good of others, there had to
be a way to bring all of this together into some sort of a cohesive
whole. Why not try an experiment? What would happen if I went to
Church, participated in the meetings and discussions and let a few
people know that I not only sympathized with the gay cause but
actually was a Gay Mormon? This may not sound very brave to you, it
may not seem like a particularly ground-breaking idea, but to me it
was revolutionary. And a little on the kami-kazi side.
Things went pretty well for a while. At one point at least half
our Singles Ward of about 150 knew that I was gay. Except for an
occasional half-joking grumble from some of the girls in the Ward
disgusted with the dating situation, no one seemed to be particularly
bothered. Everyone was kind and some were even affectionate. When
one girl approached our EQ President to get "the scoop" as she put
it, he calmly and without the least bit of negative sentiment
explained as best he could. When my Home Teachers seemed ready, we
spoke about the gay issue for a couple of hours. They were mellow,
caring and didn't seem to be especially bent out of shape over it.
They in turn spoke with the Bishop who called me into his office. We
had a pleasant time together discussing the issues during a frank and
pointed hour. So far, the experiment was working well.
Then the Bishop recommended me to the Stake President to be a
stake missionary. This was a real surprise because I was sure the
Bishop understood I was sexually active. When we discussed the
calling, he said he thought I'd be a good missionary and the gay
thing wasn't a big concern to him. How bizarre! He had completely
misunderstood and assumed I wasn't sexually involved.
When the Stake President and I met, he told me that God had
called me to the position of stake missionary. "How do you feel
about this call from the Lord?" he asked. "Well, I think it's
great," I told him, "I'm really looking forward to it. I want you
to know that I'm gay but it won't interfere with this calling at
all," I offered. He was distressed. Visibly upset. We talked a
little longer and he suggested getting back in touch in a day or two.
When he did, he said under the circumstances the calling couldn't be
extended and he requested that we meet.
When we met at his clinic, he said he was really offended by my
breaking the commandments. I told him I was really offended by his
using the phrase "God has called you." "Look," I said, "If God
called me to be a stake missionary, He already knows I'm gay. If he
already knew, there's no need to rescind the call. If you're simply
asking me to accept an assignment in the Stake, that's perfectly
fine, but you should say what you mean."
This exchange began a relationship, a friendship, that, started in
confrontation and distrust and developed into reconciliation and
President G and I met about once every three weeks. He wanted me
to repent, renounce my beliefs, sacrifice my hope, and "go along"
with what the Brethren have to say on the matter. I told him I
couldn't repent of being who I am, that my beliefs were a personal
revelation from God, and that I respected the central LDS leadership
but didn't feel they understood. Two people could not possibly have
held more divergent points of view.
A High Council Court
Before long we found ourselves in a High Council Court, Ours was
a new Stake Center and the High Council room looked like a
minimalistically decorated, austere corporate board room. Our High
Council was very mature, made up mostly of men in their 50s and 60s.
There were a few younger guys on the Council. I hoped they'd be a
little more sympathetic than the older members. Knowing that they'd
be a captive audience, and thinking this would probably be a one-time
opportunity, I prepared a statement, written in "their language."
After President G briefed the High Council, I read it to them. It
took about 20 minutes. Then they asked some questions, Quite
surprisingly it was the younger guys who got the most distressed.
President G had to calm them down on at least two occasions. Their
pointed questions evoked equally pointed answers. When it was over,
it seemed they had every reason in the world to excommunicate me.
Even though I wanted to keep my membership, and even though I had
tried to be as persuasive as possible, they now had all the
ammunition they needed. I braced for the worst.
The worst never came. The Council, really President G, decided
to disfellowship me for one year. We met every month to discuss what
it means to be a gay Mormon. He agreed to read everything I brought
him if I'd agree to read everything he gave me. These monthly
sessions were really taxing at first, but quickly became enjoyable
and rejuvenating. We still disagreed on some important ideas, but he
was willing to listen, and that made all the difference.
Once he suggested that God's special calling for me as a
homosexual man was to be celibate for the rest of my life. I asked
him, "What sort of reaction to that idea would you get if you brought
any other member of my Ward into your office and told him—despite
the fact that we've taught you from Primary on that the ultimate
expression of your religion is to couple with another person, forget
all that. God's got something different in mind for you. It's not
just a question of circumstance that you remain single, but a matter
of personal choice. God wants you to choose to be single, not just
accept the fact that you happened to remain single." He mentally
chewed on that for a while and said he'd never thought of it that way
before. "You want me to sacrifice my hope, in advance. That's
completely different than accepting a situation already occurred."
This was the big impasse. It didn't look good.
After a year was up Church policy required the Stake President to
reconvene the Council to either reinstate or excommunicate. Those
were the only two options. We were both pretty nervous about it. I
told him it would be a total, complete mistake to excommunicate me or
anyone else in a similar position. Who would it help? Would the
Church be better off? Would the individual? How would
excommunication of a gay member prepare the world for the return of
Christ? Exactly what good would it do? He shifted in his chair. He
shifted again. His face got red. His eyes teared up. He didn't
talk for a while, but when he did his voice was broken and full of
emotion. I don't remember what he said, I remember the way he said
it. This man loved me. He felt for me. It left a deep impression.
Within a few weeks he became aware of a policy change that
removed the former restrictions and allowed the Stake President to do
whatever he wanted with a disfellowshipped member. What a relief!
We kept on meeting. I ran across an interview with the former Bishop
of the SF Singles Ward and started thinking. How could we do this in
Dallas? At one point the hope issue came up again, only this time
President G said something about no one really being able to
completely guarantee their future actions. I didn't read into this
any sense of a loophole or a way around anything. But it felt
comforting and reassuring, and it stayed with me.
Some Conclusions and Decisions
After some extended soul-searching, prayer and a lot of thought, I
came to the following conclusions. The Church is what it claims to
be. God did reach down and with His own hand he formed the Church,
restored the Priesthood and commissioned the Saints to accomplish
some very specific tasks relating to the preparation of the world for
the return of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Church is
composed of ordinary humans, loving people who are imperfect and
therefore make mistakes—sometimes small, sometimes big. Obviously
these loving, caring people had simply made a massive mistake in
their assumptions about homosexuality. Could I forgive them for
making such a big mistake?
Eventually the answer was yes. The next realization was that the
promises of God apply to me just as much as anyone else—and they
are absolute. He'll come through on every promise and every
agreement we've made. With those two thoughts in place, and a desire
to see what has happened in the SF Singles Ward repeat itself in
Dallas, I met with President G and asked him if we could start
He offered two possible options concerning what would and
wouldn't be appropriate to do and say about homosexuality and the
Church. I told him neither felt right and offered a third which was
more compatible with the intent of the Gospel. We discussed it and
he agreed. After some discussion with his counselors, the issue was
raised again. Obviously they were really nervous about what I might
say in public, or possibly from the stand. Understanding the tension
they felt, I tried to reassure them, but their doubts were
persistent. They were truly worried.
He called the High Council together and we had a really nice
meeting. President G briefed them again and then asked me to bear my
testimony and answer some questions. The council had gotten a lot
younger in a year and a half. This worried me. Although the
questions were blunt and the answers blunter, the texture of the
meeting stayed friendly and pleasant. Bishop F told them that the
issue was whether I could answer the appropriate questions in a
temple recommend interview and that everything else was completely
irrelevant. "We don't understand this stuff, so let's not pretend we
do," he said.
After a short adjournment, President G announced the decision of
the Presidency to reinstate me into full fellowship. After making a
quick round shaking everyone's hand, I left that room with my Bishop,
thinking, "This whole thing has been way too weird." I was really
happy, excited, and VERYvery relieved that this ongoing confrontation
with the institutional Church was finally over.
Was It Worth It?
What was the point? Why put up with the hassle? Why should
anyone have to go through all this distress? To get what you want.
Through it all I was convinced that this was the only way to get what
I wanted, And that was (1) to be accepted as a gay man, and not as a
person who's sexual orientation needs to be changed, (2) to be
treated like everyone else, to have the same opportunities to
experiment with the principles of the Gospel in an LDS Ward setting,
(3) to be trusted with the power to seriously embarrass or
significantly uplift, (4) to educate the local LDS leadership about
the truths of homosexuality as best I understand them, and (5) to
make a significant change in the way they would react to someone,
especially someone young, who came to them to discuss their own
Now that the tension with the Church is over, I intend to get on
with the more important aspects of the Gospel. Like learning to love
your neighbor, understanding what God wants and how to do it, and
loving someone else more than you love yourself. And I look forward
to having some fun—simple, clean Mormon fun—with the wild and
crazy members of my Ward.
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.
Contact Tony at:
P.O. Box 60288 - Oklahoma City, OK 73146
(800) 552-3135 - (405) 748-3119/fax