When Religion Creates Dragons
(Title used with permission from Lori Burkman)
By Wendy Montgomery
My son, Jordan, came out to us in January 2012. The past four years have been both heart wrenching and soul expanding; painful and beautiful. The pain we experienced did not come from having a gay son. It came from being a member of a church that had no place for him. It would not accept all of who Jordan was, despite the profoundly good person he is. Our pain was exponentially intensified on November 5, 2015 when our church instituted what has come to be known as the “Exclusion Policy.” Now our son is labelled Apostate (the meanest word we have in our religious vernacular) and his future children are also cast out. We are not alone in our pain. Never in my life have I been witness to such widespread mourning and devastation. When I look at this beloved LGBTQIA Mormon community, all I see is tears and scorched Earth.
So because of these policies, practices and the pervasive culture of Mormonism, our religion has unintentionally created us, a group of fierce loving women who are committed to protecting our children, and the children of others who do not have the same family support. No mother should EVER stand idly by while their young are wounded. Mormon mothers are no exception. In fact, Mormons are known around the world for our intense devotion to our families. The need for Mama Dragons has never been greater. Our children have never been more at risk. Because of the policy, they have never been exposed to more rejection and bigotry.
So what do we do as Mama Dragons?
Sometimes we can help in person. Sometimes it’s through social media, texts, emails or phone calls. We have attended same-sex weddings and celebrated with the new couple. We have buoyed each other up when unjust things have happened to our children. We have met with some of the highest leaders in the LDS Church, asking for more visibility and promotion of the church-sponsored Mormons & Gays website, and increased compassion and inclusivity in their talks about LGBTQIA (1) people. We have met with our local ward and stake leaders. We’ve testified at Capitol Hill advocating against LGBT discrimination bills. We have attended funerals of gay teen suicide victims and mourned with their bereaved families. We have written articles about our experiences that have helped to open the eyes and hearts of the people who read them. We have done podcasts, press interviews, documentaries, YouTube videos, etc. in the hopes of furthering our message of unconditional love, full acceptance and equality, and education of church leaders and members. (2) We work hard EVERY DAY to make things better for LGBTQIA Mormons, especially the youth. They are our most vulnerable. And unfortunately, the most invisible.
This isn’t just to make LGBTQIA people comfortable at church. This is literally to save lives. The following study was done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project and San Francisco State University. Their research and conclusions concerning LGBTQIA children raised in highly-religious families were peer-reviewed and published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“Higher rates of family rejection were significantly associated with poorer health outcomes. On the basis of odds ratios, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection. ” (3)
Utah has an estimated 5,000 homeless youths, about 40 percent of whom identify as LGBT people–50 percent of whom were raised in LDS families (4). What needs to be realized about the staggering nature of these statistics on homeless teens is that only 7% of teens in Utah identify as LGBT, so for them to make up 40% of the homeless youth in Utah is horrific.
Regardless of how you personally feel about homosexuality or gay marriage, these statistics and percentages should be enough to mobilize EVERY Latter-day Saint, indeed EVERY human, that reads this. I guarantee that there is someone in your life who is LGBTQIA, whether you know it or not. What are YOU doing to help that person feel loved, valued and included? If you don’t know anyone who is LGBTQIA, it could be because they don’t yet know that you are a safe person to talk to about this sensitive and tender subject. You could send them a subtle message by your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts, wearing a rainbow ring or ribbon, a bumper sticker on your car, bearing your testimony in Sacrament meeting or a supportive, loving comment at appropriate times at church. All of these things take courage, but please know that it is not an exaggeration when I tell you that these small actions have the power to save a life.
I hope that one day there will be no need for Mama Dragons. I hope that our children will be fully loved and wanted in their religious community, and not need to be protected from it. Sadly, today is not that day. So until then, we keep fighting. I am grateful for the work these women do, and that they have the courage, talons, and fire needed to protect God’s LGBTQIA sons and daughters from harm.
1) LGBTQIA: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.
2) Small sampling of the above mentioned:
3) “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults”. Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Caitlin Ryan, PhD, ACSW; David Heubner PhD, MPH; Rafael M. Diaz, PhD; Jorge Sanchez, BA. Pediatrics Vol. 123 No. 1 January 1, 2009 . pp. 346 -352
4) Standard-Examiner, Nancy Van Valkenburg, Oct 29 2013. http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/10/29/40-percent-homeless-utah-children-identified-lgbt
Wendy Montgomery lives in Chandler, AZ. She and her husband have 5 children, the oldest of which is fabulously gay. She is one of the founders of the Mama Dragons and on the Board of Directors for Affirmation. She and her family are featured in the short documentary film, Families Are Forever. She is an active member of the LDS Church and works hard from the inside to make a place for her LGBTQ brothers and sisters who desire to be there.