I was in an older singles ward and began coming out of the closet. I was referred to LDS Social Services for counseling and I had a good relationship with my bishop. As a member of an older singles ward, clearly I was not the only gay member and a few of us started to connect. We were active and had temple recommends, pretty much the same as everyone else except we had the added challenge of making sense of our sexual orientation. During this same time, the Stake President of a neighboring stake had a monthly fireside for gay members. I attended that meeting regularly, even though this was not my stake. I asked about doing something like that in my stake, and that request was not viewed kindly. The bishop I liked was diagnosed with cancer and was released. An interim bishop was put in and it seemed that man, while nice and probably well-intentioned, was trying to bring the singles ward more in line with what the Stake President wanted. During this same period, I realized that being gay was simply a part of who I was. Not only could I not change my sexual orientation, but I shouldn't. I wasn't ready to date or to do anything that violated my temple covenants but it was clear I had to be honest with myself. My own father had been called as bishop in his stake and he and mom had accepted me. Word spread about me and I became more and more open about it. In my area, there was a counselor in the Elder's Quorum that was gay and I had a good model for how I could coexist in a religion that was otherwise hostile to people like me. In fact, the neighboring Stake President from the "more LGBT friendly" stake encouraged me to switch to a family ward because in his opinion I was a family of one, complete and whole, and I belonged with other families, not in a ward where I let pressure to marry or to pair up.
Several months later, we had a high councilman speak. He was a liberal voice the Stake liked to point to as a hip member. He gave a fairly typical speech, probably uplifting in parts, but then went off the rails on homosexuality, boasting about his role in the successful effort to repeal a recent gay equality decision at a local city or school district (I don't recall specifically, but it was a government agency, not a private company). He thought nothing of dismissing the gay and lesbian community, quoting church leaders, and driving the point home that gays were a scourge and we needed to fight them. I'm paraphrasing and summarizing his words, He didn't use "fight" exactly, but it was something along those lines: we needed to stand up and protect our families and our children. It never occurred to him that some members of the older singles ward might actually be gay or lesbian.
I was dealing with the recent suicide of a friend and the comments from the high councilman were too much. I held it together though the meeting but lost it in the lobby afterward when a friend asked me to sign up for a temple session. She said she hadn't heard the guy say anything I heard him say, and that was another moment of harsh realization for me: he said what he said! I heard him, yet here I was speaking to a college educated woman who had heard the same stuff but filtered it out--the anti-gay stuff was invisible to her. She was in tears and went over to a mutual friend's house immediately afterward to tell him I was gay. That didn't go well because he said "I know. I'm gay, too." He then went on to tell her a number of men in the ward were.
I got home, collected my thoughts, calmed down, and penned a letter to the high councilman with a copy to the Stake President. I knew that would start a process but I could not stand by and not challenge what was said. The Stake President soon wanted to meet with me. In the meeting, he outed a fellow stake member, telling me I should be more like him. He also went back and forth, saying there was no such thing as being gay--I wasn't actually gay, just in a state of arrested development--to saying "the gays" were a very real threat to his stake and it was his duty to protect the innocent members. He also told me at least one women told him she felt she was in competition with me for the elders. Seriously, he told me that! The interview was hostile from the beginning, with the Stake President telling me he was in charge and I was subject to him. The conversation went downhill fast. He said I would be healed in the next life and I had to be celibate in this life. I pushed back and said that sounded like an encouragement for suicide, or at least it could be construed that way by someone who was struggling: hey, if everything is going to fine in the next life, then why not speed the process? The Stake President snapped back at me and said I was twisting his words. I disagreed. He had never been challenged on the basic Mormon idea that telling a gay person they were sick and could be restored in the next life could actually be a subtle message signaling what a person should do.
Then he went fishing for sexual transgressions. He asked me if I had anything to confess to him and I responded by saying I had a current recommend. He asked again, and told me to answer his question--he was getting angry at this point. I again repeated I had a current recommend and he had no reason to assume anything was amiss. He asked again, demanding an answer. This is where my memory is foggy, but I held my ground. I told him my sexual history was none of his business unless I chose to make it his business. I had a valid temple recommend and could answer all the questions accordingly. I said something along the lines that if he continued to want to ask me questions of a sexual nature, I was happy to answer honestly, but I would expect he would therefore be open to answering my questions about him and his wife, and my first question would be how recently it was that his wife performed fellatio on him. He was seething and told me that was none of my business...and yet he didn't see anything wrong asking me deeply personal questions.
I should add, that I remained calm during the interview and never raised my voice. I had been Mormon my whole life and knew how the system worked.
In order for me to be effective, I had to not react, be cool, and calm. I accomplished that. Then came the ultimatum. The SP was flustered and told me if I wanted to continue to attend church and be a faithful member, as I knew I should, I had to pretend to be straight, even if I wasn't. Those were his words: "pretend to be straight." He went on to add that if it got back to him that I had told anyone, LDS or not, that the other man in the stake was gay, he would take that as a sign of insubordination and apostasy and there would be consequences.
I happened to know the Stake President was a convert and recovering alcoholic. He was big into AA and always talked about his group in church meetings. I let his words hang in silence, and then asked him what his group members would say if they heard what he had just told me: that it was better to pretend than to be honest; that it was better to do what other people told him to do than to do what he knew was right. I said I was a seventh generation Mormon man who had discovered he was gay. I was gay and Mormon. Each aspect of my being was an integral part of who I was and I could not give up one for the other. That was my truth. The Stake President exploded at that point. My comment about honesty and AA had hit a nerve and the man was actually shouting at me. He was frustrated he had nothing on me to call a court over, and as I left, he said I was on a dangerous path to apostasy and if I continued, I would never know what happiness was.
I remained calm in the interview but I was dying inside. As soon as I drove out of the parking lot, I lost it. I sobbed uncontrollably and had to pull into a shopping center parking lot let out all the emotions. My life in the church would be different going forward, and given the multi-stake reach of our singles ward, the Stake President had jurisdiction over me anywhere I lived in the area. I transferred my records into the neighboring LGBT friendly stake. I never returned to that ward or stake.
At that time in my life, my church membership was important to me. I didn't speak to anyone for a week, when my sister called. We chatted a bit but then she said it was clear something was up. I told her what had happened, which made me break down again. She cried with me, but added the SP was full of it and I knew better than to believe him. I said I knew that but this was a big deal that put me in the crosshairs of a church court. She was great (I'm tearing up writing about this--I always do) and said she loved me and there was no way in hell I was going to go through this alone. I soon got a phone call from my dad. Keep in mind he was a sitting bishop. He said he I knew he and mom loved me, that I knew who I was, and no matter what happened, we would do this as a family.
So, it was an interesting week: I saw the crappy side of the church with this abusive Stake President, but also got to see the good side of the faith and philosophy not only with my folks but with other friends. When I recounted the incident to the Stake President in the neighboring LGBT friendly stake,
a man who would attend my wedding 13 years later, he was floored. He was at a loss for words as to why someone would conduct a priesthood interview as my Stake President had, and why those kinds of questions would have been asked. I credit that Stake President and his outreach firesides
for giving me a soft landing. I was able to make a healthy exit from the LDS community and go on to have a productive life. My husband and I have been together over twenty years. My life is the opposite of what the abusive Stake President said it would be. My story made it up to Elder Holland.
It is also not unique: lots of people have stories like mine.There are many things I dislike about the Mormon community but I would not trade the friends I made or the people who had a positive influence on my life.