For many years now, I’ve struggled to have some kind of sense of how the people in my ward would feel if they knew that I experience same-sex attraction. It may surprise you, since I’ve been very vocal and open on the internet for a very long time, using my real name. As one friend put it, “The whole world knows, but not your own ward?!”
I know that’s a confusing thing. I’ve lived in my current home for thirteen years now, but in four different versions of a ward. It happens when ward boundaries change a lot, as they have here. In these thirteen years, though I have often alluded to a struggle, I’ve never really named it in a church meeting. That’s because it has never seemed appropriate to me to blurt it out when it is out of context for the meeting or topic of discussion.
I also have believed that not many local people knew because I live in a ward where there is a large population of somewhat transitory students that attend the University of Western States, a chiropractic college. Though I’ve gotten to know several of them and their spouses, for the most part, I don’t really think they know who I am. That is especially true lately as I have migrated from directing music in sacrament meeting to being away from my ward for my stake calling. A couple of weeks ago, when I volunteered to help with a youth temple trip, the Young Men President had to ask my name.
So, I really thought that I was relatively unknown and that of those who knew me, very few knew that I deal with same-sex attraction. I have told every bishop, not out of a need for confession, and a few select friends. Through Facebook, many of my ward members and local church friends have read about me and know. Yet, as a whole, I’ve believed that, for the most part, it was a secret.
Secret or not, I’ve struggled with the lack of forthrightness there has been on it. For many years, I never so much as heard the terms “homosexual,” “gay,” or “same-sex attraction.” It has been a very uneasy feeling for the reasons I outlined in my blog post, “How Silence Feels.”
In my part of the Church, for many years, I have come to know many, many people who deal with same-sex attraction and are afraid to let anyone else know because of their fear of how they would be treated. Those fears are not usually about their standing in the Church, because most of them are doing what the Church expects of them in terms of morality.
They have feared losing friends, the respect or love of their family members, or even access to their grandchildren. They have been certain of rejection, abandonment, and embarrassment. As much as I have wished that they could feel comfortable in disclosing their same-sex attraction, if only to close friends and family members, their fears are often understandable.
I’ve very much desired that I could set an example and show them that it isn’t so bad being known, but have dealt with my own fears insofar as my local ward and stake are concerned. Last Sunday, that all changed.
As is often the case, my plans for Sunday didn’t include my own ward. I am the first counselor in the stake Sunday School presidency and I visit the other Sunday Schools in the building where I attend church, along with occasional visits to other buildings and the wards that meet there.
I planned to visit the Gospel Principles class that meets in the ward that meets before mine, then attend my own sacrament meeting, then go home. I decided to park on the same side of the building as my bishop’s office. I usually don’t. Because of my arthritis, I like to park next to a curb. It makes getting out of my truck a lot easier.
As I walked past the bishop’s office, I glanced inside the open door to see Brother S. He is a counselor to the bishop. He asked if I would be attending our ward’s meetings. As we discussed it, I agreed that I would attend sacrament meeting but wasn’t sure after that.
In the class I visited in the other ward, there was my former bishop, the first bishop I had after moving into the area. I had been his executive secretary and we were pretty good friends, always up for poking fun at each other or people around us. He has known about my same-sex attraction from almost the beginning of being here. Teaching the class was a former high priest group leader of mine, someone with whom I have had several discussions about it.
A few minutes into the lesson, the former bishop asked the teacher, “Aren’t you going to introduce our visitor?”
He introduced me and discovered that I wasn’t just hanging out. I was there officially. In the course of introducing me properly, he referred to me as a “wonderful man.” It felt good.
I sat in the chapel alone for sacrament meeting. My wife was home with grandchildren in our air-conditioned family room. It was a very hot day and she doesn’t do well on hot days.
I was very touched by the sacrament hymn. (See Let Me Not Forget, O Savior.) When the meeting ended, I decided to venture into my own ward’s Gospel Principles class. I would also count that as a visit for my calling. Attending the class was a former member of the bishopric, another person I had discussed my same-sex attraction with.
After the class, I thought, “Well, I’ve done as much church as a regular three-hour block. I can go home now.” Something urged me to stay.
I went into the Relief Society room where there was to be a combined Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood meeting, as is the Church’s policy when a month has a fifth Sunday. I expected it to be about missionary work, preparedness, or one of the other oft-treated subjects. I was very surprised when Brother S announced that we’d be talking about same-sex attraction.
Brother S is one of those people that I didn’t think knew. I had never discussed it with him, even though he is my home teacher.
I was asked to direct the opening and closing hymns, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” respectively. I’m pretty sappy when it comes to patriotic hymns. I find it hard to not choke up when singing them.
The discussion began by Brother S asking people what the Church’s policy is on same-sex attraction. There were many comments about the Church’s definition of marriage, the Law of Chastity, and even kissing or holding hands in Church. It struck me as not being the point.
I raised my hand and said something like, “What we’ve been talking about is not the Church’s policy on same-sex attraction. We’ve been talking about the Church’s policy and doctrine regarding marriage. The Church’s policy on same-sex attraction is that as disciples of Jesus Christ, our obligation is to reach out in love and tolerance to all people, including those who deal with same-sex attraction.”
Brother S seemed to agree with me. He mentioned the Church’s web site, MormonsAndGays.org, and showed a video from the web site, the one with Ty and Danielle Mansfied. It was some time after that, I’m not sure how long, that I raised my hand again and removed all doubt from my mind whether people in my ward knew about me. I was finally certain.
One thing I particularly remember saying was that I have five wonderful children and eight awesome grandchildren and how much I love my life and that I wouldn’t change any of that for any life I might have if I had gone down any other path.
I’m prone to get very emotional any time I speak of things that are important and/or sacred to me. For the first few moments before I spoke, I looked down at my shirt and tie and saw them moving to my very loud heartbeat. I didn’t cry. I gasped for air for the words. I thought I was going to pass out.
I waited for a reaction, for comments about me, and there weren’t any. I felt strangely encouraged by that. Despite how I’ve said silence feels, it seemed like this time, the silence about me felt somewhat like, “OK, so it’s still the same Brother Goode. No big deal.”
Many things were discussed in that meeting, but I can happily say that throughout the whole thing, I never heard one comment that I would classify as unkind or intolerant. People spoke about friends and family members that they love and respect. The meeting met my expectations and hopes as I wrote about in “Teach the Gospel.”
A big part of me wanted to slink out of the meeting, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it inconspicuously, especially considering that I had to direct us in singing the national anthem. When the time came, I stood up front, opened up a hymnal and “The Star-Spangled Banner” filled the room while tears filled my eyes.
Since that day, I’ve discovered that many, many more people knew than I imagined. I know I write about it a lot on blogs, but very rarely do I get responses on my blogs from members of my ward. That has given me the impression that my ward members don’t read it, but I now know that many do.
I am so grateful to my local leaders for their willingness to approach this difficult topic with such compassion and tolerance. I’m grateful to my fellow ward members who were in attendance that day. For years, I’ve imagined that the discussion of same-sex attraction would be contentious and unkind. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Most of all, I want to give hope to others who want the love and support of their ward families. There is no way to guarantee that everyone and every ward will be as tolerant as mine has been. I’ve done this before, in a ward on the other side of the country fifteen years ago. There were a very few who revealed themselves to be completely unsupportive there and I suspect I might find one or two like that here, but the number of people who have been good to me have far outweighed all of the others. There is a treasure trove of love and support if you can only find the courage to express your needs.