How My Gay Family Members and Friends Have Changed Me

Note: I recognize that the experience of sexual orientation can be dynamic and personal for all; I also know that terminology can be important, too. Without trying to offend anyone, and for simplicity sake, I am going to use the word “gay” in this article to describe those who have helped shaped me into the person I am today. Please insert whichever term is most comfortable for you.

About four years ago, I attended a church leader training given by then General Sunday School president, Russell Osguthorpe. As part of their church assignments, he and his wife had recently traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to train church members and leaders there. They told us about their experience among these faithful, spiritual, and committed people who had literally nothing of worldly possessions, but had spiritual riches above measure. In describing their experience among those humble people, Sister Osguthorpe said something like this: “Those of us here on the Wasatch Front sometimes think: ‘now, how are we going to change and teach these members overseas and impart to them our wisdom?’ Our experience in Congo changed our lives forever. We were wrong–they taught us.’”

I, too, have had my life changed by an unlikely group of people: my gay family members and friends.

Before my brother came out to me about 10 years ago, I don’t think I personally knew anyone who identified as gay. Since that day, through a variety of associations I’ve been blessed to have, I’ve met literally hundreds of gay people who have become some of my dearest friends and admired examples. I want to express how their influence in my life has changed me forever.

I know that there are quite possibly some mean, rude, and unkind gay people out there. They probably have some of the same annoying and harmful traits that many of us straight people have. And, I know it isn’t wise to generalize an entire group of people based on their sexual attractions, but my personal experience with nearly every, single gay person I’ve met has been the same: there is something special, sensitive, spiritual, and kind in each of them that I believe is a gift from God. My wife, Rachel, tells me that she can see something special in their eyes. I believe it is a gift of the Spirit, because of their nature.

When I think of the word nature, I think of the very core, heavenly attributes that we are sent to earth with as sons and daughters of God. I believe that when referring to our natures, we could really be referring to the gifts of the Spirit bestowed upon us “before the world was” (Abraham 3:22). Gifts of the spirit are given to us in this life to bless, uplift, encourage, and strengthen others. “And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (D&C 46:16). We are taught that there are some gifts we can pray to have bestowed upon us, some gifts we can work hard to achieve, but other gifts we are just born with. Could it be possible that our gay brothers and sisters aren’t just born with distinct attractions, but are also born with a common, special gift of the Spirit that is intended to bless, strengthen, and influence others? Is it possible that the often soft, nurturing, and gentle nature of those who are gay could be intended to help those of us who are rough, withdrawn, and hardened? What if the special gifts of our gay loved ones could lead us closer to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ?” (Ephesians 4:13)

I have heard some of my gay friends refer to their “nature” as a curse, a stumbling block, or a struggle. While I do not presume to understand the pain and struggle that can happen to some of those attracted to the same gender, I do understand the beauty that has come into my life from associating with them. I wish to tell them to value this gift, to impart of their goodness and uniqueness to others, and to not “hide their [gift] under a bushel.” I believe the Lord would have them use these gifts in humility, sincere desire, and “real intent” to bless others, as they may feel prompted to do.

A great example of one who shared this gift for the benefit of others, is Apple CEO, Tim Cook. Very recently, he made the following statement:

“Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to maintain a basic level of privacy. I come from humble roots, and I don’t seek to draw attention to myself…At the same time, I believe deeply in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’?”

“While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Mr. Cook goes on to say how his “nature” has allowed him to develop Christlike attributes and to share his life with other people. He says: “[It] has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life.” He concludes by saying: “So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.” I’m sure I’d be correct in assuming that many of Mr. Cook’s straight colleagues have also been blessed and softened by his nature.

Today, I am eternally grateful and indebted to the gay people in my life who have helped me “put off the natural man” and develop Christlike attributes I didn’t even realize that I lacked. Though I am still deeply flawed and so far from arriving, I can say that today, greatly because of the influence of my gay friends and family, I am much more sensitive, empathetic, and thoughtful of others. I think more about how I treat people, how I may unintentionally behave like a bully, and how my arrogance and pride affect those around me. I think more about how the words I say and the way I say them may affect others. I’m softer, more sensitive, and more in-tune with my inner feelings. I believe I’m more sensitive, caring, and thoughtful of my dear wife than I’ve ever been. My gay loved ones have taught me the importance of the Lord’s injunction to priesthood holders: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121: 41-42).

If you want a tough guy to soften, encourage him to become friends with loving gay people and his heart will change forever.

Ultimately, what I have learned more than anything from my gay loved ones is the true meaning of charity, the pure love of Christ. That is a gift I desire to have. “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail” (Moroni 7:45-46).

My testimony is that God has put gay people into my life to teach me, to change me, and to allow me to develop Godlike attributes. I believe God has given them special gifts of the Spirit because of their nature, to bless and soften His children. My earnest desire is that my gay brothers and sisters know how special they truly are and how sacred their role is in God’s great plan of happiness. I hope and pray that they share their gifts with others and that everyone can recognize their special influence in our lives.

Leave a Reply

8 comments

  1. avatar

    teri

    This post exemplifies how I have come to feel as well.. Not only have you come to be blessed by your relationships with those in the gay community but you and Rachel have opened a world of blessings to those of us who don’t have as close of connections. Your advocacy has helped many to take a look at their own feelings on this subject and move into the light of acceptance and love for our neighbors.

  2. avatar

    teri

    This post exemplifies how I have come to feel as well.. Not only have you come to be blessed by your relationships with those in the gay community but you and Rachel have opened a world of blessings to those of us who don’t have as close of connections. Your advocacy has helped many to take a look at their own feelings on this subject and move into the light of acceptance and love for our neighbors.”

  3. avatar

    Elise

    Thank you for sharing your insight, wisdom, and love. I have experienced the same gentleness of spirit in the gay people I know.

  4. avatar

    Jimmy Merrell

    Thanks Jonathan. It’s nice to know there are folks out there like you and your sweet wife that seek ways to include those who believe they are on the fringe. You are a blessing and an example we all need to follow.

  5. avatar

    Colton Hansen

    This is a beautiful piece of writing. I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting your brother, Jamison, and have always admired his balance between his spiritual being and personal identity. His “gift” (example), really helped me fight through some tough times as I was discovering myself and finding it difficult to overcome my own personal stereotypes. It is clear that he comes from a strong, spiritual, and loving family. My point is that individuals, like yourself, have given me the opportunity to share my gifts with them by merely accepting who I was and allowing me to be a part of their lives. They have showered me with love and acceptance despite internal conflicts with their religious beliefs and I am eternally grateful to have these people in my life. Basically, that was a long winded way of saying thank you. The outlook you’ve described will help people look past their differences and focus on the positive traits that can be gained from showing all people love and acceptance. Gay or straight, everyone has gifts that can shared. Thank you for sharing yours.

  6. avatar

    Colton Hansen

    Don’t ask me how but I “disliked” my own comment. I obviously don’t know how this site operates :)

  7. avatar

    Russell Baughman

    That was beautifully written! I have had my own experiences with that same realization where I have felt strongly that being gay has been much more a blessing than a burden in my life. It has opened my eyes to such a broader group of people, helped me to understand and connect with so many new people, and helped me to become more sensitive and loving. I appreciate you putting this out there to share. It’s easier for other straight people to hear these things from another straight person. Especially a Mormon man like yourself who serves in the church leadership. Thank you!

  8. avatar

    Laurie Campbell

    Very well done. Thanks so much for contributing.