Retooled LDS website says people can be ‘Mormon and gay’ — but they need to stay celibate

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new-site-front-page-mormonandgay-orgToday, the LDS Church has relaunched its website to help gay members of the church and their families, and there are number of key changes.

1. It’s part of lds.org.

“Relaunched?” you ask. “Don’t you mean ‘launched’?”

No, relaunched is correct, because the Church actually has hosted such a website since 2012. It aimed to promote “greater sensitivity and better understanding” about lesbian and gay members.

One problem with the old site has been that church members and bishops weren’t always aware of its existence—and, if it was pointed out to them, they sometimes didn’t necessarily believe it had the official imprimatur of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Unlike version 1.0, this 2.0 update is hosted on lds.org, and is branded conspicuously with the Church’s official logo.

2. You can be both “Mormon and gay.”

The site has a significant name change: mormonandgay.lds.org rather than mormonsandgays.org.

What a difference it makes to remove two small letters: Instead of pitting “Mormons and gays” against one another as if there were no overlap between those groups, the revamped site stakes a claim that these identities don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

You can be Mormon and gay. Moreover, the site makes clear, your core identity isn’t either of those things: it is as a child of God.

3. There’s a softening of language. To a point.

The Church’s position is still that a) any sexual behavior outside of marriage is sinful and that b) same-sex marriage is morally wrong, meaning therefore that c) all homosexual behavior is wrong.

That hasn’t changed. But I notice on the site that the language employed is a little different. For example, I counted seven uses of some form of the word “sin” on the front page of the old site and precisely zero on the front page of the new. If you click on the new front page to go to the area of the site with the Church’s teachings, you’ll find its position expressed without ambiguity, but you’ll also find repeated injunctions to love everyone and remember that we are all sinners.

The Church also reiterates that we don’t know what causes homosexuality and that experiencing it is not a sin. “The intensity of same-sex attraction is not a measure of your faithfulness,” the site explains. “Many people pray for years and do all they can to be obedient in an effort to reduce same-sex attraction, yet find they are still attracted to the same sex.

4. There are many personal stories of LGB (not T) Mormons and their families.

The new site feels like the Church, smartly, took a page from its own “I’m a Mormon” campaign and realized that one authentic personal story is worth a hundred carefully messaged sermons from church leaders. The stories are memorable and healing. In fact, they steal the show.

Most of these have a happy ending (parents who accept their gay children, a bishop who calls a celibate gay man to serve in an elders quorum presidency), but they also don’t hide conflict. I saw this in the story of Elizabeth, whose husband Ricardo came out during their marriage as gay. As he struggled to figure out who he was and how his life was changing, she was struggling to raise their six kids, sometimes without much help from him. They’ve figured this out and are closer than ever, but it’s obvious that they’ve been through a lot.

But . . . there are no transgender people at mormonandgay.ldsorg. At all. Here is what the site’s FAQ section says about that absence:

transgender-issues-mormonandgay-org

The site is correct in asserting that being transgender is not the same as being gay (which is not language the Church site generally uses; that’s also addressed in the FAQ). But making transgender people disappear is not the way to address that difference.

Even continuing to use the language of “gender dysphoria” suggests a misunderstanding. Whereas the Church’s language has evolved significantly from regarding homosexual orientation as a dangerous disorder (see Spencer W. Kimball for that, or even something as recent as Boyd K. Packer’s October 2010 General Conference talk), that more nuanced understanding of human sexuality does not, apparently, apply to transgender persons. It’s a “dysphoria,” a state of perpetual unease/disease. But not all transgender people experience dysphoria.

5. The site does not advise LGB members to change the fundamentals of who they are.

Ricardo and Elizabeth’s family is the only MOM—“mixed-orientation marriage”—I saw profiled on the revamped site. Nowhere did I find evidence that the Church is still trying to push gay people into marrying members of the opposite sex in order to “cure” them of their orientation.

Also missing were any suggestions about “reparative” or “conversion” therapy that would attempt to change a person’s orientation to heterosexual. Several times, though, the site or those interviewed mentioned how helpful it has been to receive psychological talk therapy in discussing sexuality, identity, and relationship—not to change, but to understand themselves better.

In all, I think the revamped site represents significant progress. There’s been a clear effort over the last two years that it has been in development to emphasize the need for Mormons to stop judging and start loving. I was particularly glad to see the Church emphasize how much it needs active gay members and how important it is to give them ward callings. Of course, the ugly truth is that this emphasis on welcome seems to come to a dead stop whenever we come to the Church’s LGBT exclusion policy for Mormons who are in a same-sex marriage (and their children).

I want to believe in this website, in this more loving and less confrontational approach. We’re not there yet, institutionally. But it’s an opening.