The following address was given by Rod Olson at the fireside, “Of One Heart and of One Mind: A Faithful Conversation on Race, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity,” on Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Hi everyone and thanks Kylee for the introduction!
I’m honored and humbled to have been included in this distinguished company of speakers this evening, thank you to Ty and Russell. What a great evening this has been, don’t you agree? And it’s going to continue, you want to know why… because I’m standing here. I’m serious, by me standing here at this podium means you only have about 15 minutes left!
Before I share some thoughts with you tonight, here’s a housekeeping note… a disclaimer of sorts. I’m going to quote a friend of mine who recently in a talk, said, “I will use the term ‘gay,’ as that is the most meaningful one to me, and I ask and hope that those who find ‘Same-Sex’ or ‘Same-Gender Attracted’ to be a more appropriate descriptor, to substitute SSA in your own mind when I say ‘gay.’” I also want to say that these thoughts and ideas are mine and do not represent those of The Church, North Star or any organization.
As Kylee mentioned, I had a pretty good idea I was gay at a very young age. Let me help you get a perspective, I was in the Valiant 10 primary class. I made an appointment with my Bishop and told him I thought I was gay and asked, “what should I do about it…” can you imagine how this poor Bishop must have felt? I remember there was a palatable awkward silence and I knew then he just didn’t have an answer. His advice to me was, “watch how you dress.” That was it. That was all the advice… so I immediately went out and bought some Armani.
First of all, the fact that I’m gay should have been a no brainer. I was born in San Francisco and as far back as I can remember, I have always loved Barbra Streisand… more specifically, Barbra from 1965 through 1979. Come on, only gays know that period of her career was perfection… come to think of it, not only Streisand, but all female belters! Hello?!!
Fast forwarding through my life… I was, over all, happy, had great friends, went to BYU, did the music thing, was in Young Ambassadors, was an AP on a mission, taught at the MTC… you know all those things that nice LDS gay boys do right? Because? We are trying to get the gay out of us. If we pray and fast and if we do every single thing we are supposed to do that is right, the Lord will make the miracle happen, right?
For better or worse, that type of logic is pounded into us… how many times have we read, been told and may have repeated to ourselves, “God can do anything.” “Look!, He created the cosmos…”, “He parted the Red Sea…,” “He can change me.”
As I began to prepare for this evening, I started to ask myself some questions to see if something would coalesce into a topic. I thought, “what could I say that would be new or insightful?” “How can I explain what I have learned so far in life?” “What would invite the spirit, so you could feel, more then remember my words…” and so on. It then came to me. I’m going to share a key I have found that has and is the primary role in bringing revelation to me and has helped me to stay in harmony with the Lord and His will.
It is in the questions themselves, it is not in the asking of questions, but in the asking of the right questions. In other words, “it really doesn’t matter what the answer is if you don’t ask the right question.”
Much of my life I have been asking the wrong questions. I had not known that… nevertheless, because of that, much of the time the answer from heaven was, (pause), silence. It’s pretty deafening.
I kept asking…”Why?” “I’ve done all the things You have asked of me… and where are You?”
Kylee gave you a framework of my past… during most of that time, I was asking the million dollar question, “why am I gay?” “How am I gay?” “Will you change me?” “How do I get the gay out of me?”
I’ve been through a lot of “therapy,” with a lot of different counselors and therapists, including private session with Joseph Nicolosi. I’m sure some of you are familiar with him, the “father” of reparative therapy– and I have even gone through some analysis. At one point, the Analyst said to me, “…I must tell you, you are well functioning and have a very healthy sense of humor… but, boy, are you lost.” I remember thinking, “yes, this is why I’m here… I’m paying a lot of money for him to say something I already know?” Now, in his office behind me, there was an enormous wall of books, so I said, looking behind me, “for all this money… and in all those books, you think you can find me a map?” Needless to say, that was the end of my $350 per hour sessions.
Let’s fast forward to NYC 1995. By this time, 29 years of seeking… I had whittled down my reconciliation with God to two options: 1) continue to live a virtuous, covenanted life, which meant a self-inflicted loneliness and I would be blessed in some incomprehensible future. Basically, living 50 more years of white knuckling or “turning it off”…anyone, anyone? It’s a song from Book of Mormon The Musical? OR 2) break my covenants, start to say yes to all the dating proposals and do some asking myself, find a partner, live as I felt was normal and stop trying to “turn it off, that great little Mormon trick.”
I need to say right here, that I was 100% wrong, nonetheless, and at that time, that was what I believed. I also want to add here I’m convinced and firmly believe that one of Satan’s finest tools is to narrow our vision, to whittle down our choices/agency and to get us to a point where we feel we have nowhere to go. In other words, to restrict our agency, to conclude we only have a few or no options. That notion is very powerful. We, then, will most likely, make irrational choices… we no longer can see that life is nuanced. There is more “grey” to life then just black and white. There are many ways to live happily as a covenant keeper but, being gay, in the Church, most of us get to a place where we think we have little or no options.
The Givens said it best this way, “we want a script, and we find we stand before a blank canvas. We expect a road map, and we find we have only a compass.”
Now let’s jump to 2009, a cold, rainy morning around 4:30 am walking on W. 45th street, in New York City. I had been using crystal meth for most of the weekend. In was in sweatpants and a t-shirt and to keep the rain from hitting my face, my head was down… I, suddenly, had a feeling to look up; there was the Imperial Theatre, a place where I had performed almost a decade earlier. I thought to myself, “what has happened to me?” Now that was a right question but I did not know it. Yet looking back, it seemed to unlock the way God was going to work in my life.
Shortly after, a funny thing happened, while using crystal with a friend, he asked if I wanted to go with him to CMA (Crystal Meth Anonymous). I said, “Wait? What? You go to CMA? We’re using here…” He said, “I know, I shouldn’t… you want to go with me next Sunday, or not?” I did… and as the meeting began, I thought holy cow, this is the gospel just presented on a different platter. I was hearing, if you want to live (sobriety and life is one, in the same), you have to have faith, hope, humility, acknowledge God, while following the suggested steps, give of self—live a life of service, be ruthlessly honest and accountable to a sponsor and the people in “the rooms” and do missionary work. The best home and visiting teaching program, I have found so far, is in those rooms. I still, today, have people from the very first meeting I attended, over 9 years ago, reach out to me… just to see how I’m doing. Why? Because they know their very life depends on it. In those rooms, we are taught that our sobriety is dependent on serving everyone else… and to me, that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all stuck with each other, right? We are going to be with each other a very long time, eternity, in fact.
Brigham Young said, “It is necessary to have a regular chain clear back to Adam, and if we have commenced it and if we are faithful we shall accomplish it.” This was an insistent theme with Young. There “must be a connection from Adam to the last man born of woman the same as in the priesthood in eternity, like Nephi’s iron rod. If you let go ’tis the same as though the rod was taken away. If men are not saved together they cannot be saved at all.” And again, “as soon as the time comes I shall form a chain to Father Adam. That is the business of this church.”
About 6 months later, I found myself attending the LDS version of the 12-step program, mostly because it was in a ward building that was very close to my apt. In retrospect, it was a way to get closer, reconnect to the church. I wanted to see how the church would be OK with people being so open… in other words, feeling “safe” enough to say anything they were feeling or wanted to say. I have to admit, I thought it was like a joke by comparison and not very successful… it wasn’t safe, very few felt comfortable being “that” open. I used to get the guys all riled up by pushing them to say their “reason” for being there… I, think, they kinda hated me. Ha. Yet, they would call me, when things went bad for them… I still attended. In time, I left my boyfriend, moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan… which just so happened to be 3 blocks from the newly finished Stake Center, a pervious bishop, stake president, the newly called bishop and one of the best AA group’s I have ever attended… started at 6:30 am every morning. It felt like seminary, all over again.
For me, the gospel, in conjunction with the 12-step program have worked the best. I am able to find a place, a peace of mind, with God and self. I’ve learned that the Lord really doesn’t care what He has to do and will keep doing whatever He has too, to get me, in the end, “facing the temple.”
Let me state right here, I’m a believer. That’s a huge problem, right? I’m one of those people who have always known this to be The Church of Jesus Christ. I believe so strongly, that it’s almost, “a knowledge,” that God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared and spoke to Joseph Smith. When I read the Book of Mormon, even just a few random verses, I say to myself, “there is no way, this is not holy writ.” Again, this was always my conflict, my wrestle. Seeing my religious convictions, my caring and concerned boyfriends, wanted me to satisfy them more fully… would suggest we go to other churches; I was truly grateful for their concern, yet, I had to refuse. I told them, those other faiths, while with great intensions and good hearted, did not have the authority to administer the ordinances and rituals that are required to be preform here on earth.
I do want to make clear, this is not to say, that we have all the truth and have the only “good, righteous, God-fearing” people on the earth. I think Mother Theresa will be so far ahead in-line for the Celestial Kingdom… that those who are also in-line, won’t be able to see her, she will be that far ahead… oh, to be like Mother Theresa!!!
(I’m out of time…)
In conclusion, I began to see, that for most of my life, my desires and questions I had petitioned to the Lord, were off base. There is a prayer recited at the end of every 12-Step meeting that goes:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Those simple four lines, repositioned my thinking. I stopped praying for God to take away my “gay.” I actually like being “gay” now. And to realize there were other things that were more important then my homosexuality. I began to see, I was so obsessed with myself. I was so obsessed with being gay. So obsessed that I wasn’t a heterosexual. So obsessed with trying to force myself to date women. I was so obsessed with things that were out of my control, I forgot everyone else.
The only way you can find out who you are… the only way you can give up, who you think you are… is to go and help someone else. I promise you, you will find yourself, if you stop worrying and obsessing about yourself. You will find yourself, I promise you that.
I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Tom Christofferson, “Circling the Wagons Conference,” Salt Lake City, UT, February 21, 2015
 “Turn It Off” – McKinley and Missionaries. The Book of Mormon is a religious satire musical with book, lyrics, and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone.
 Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith, Terryl Givens, Fiona Givens, © 2014 Terryl L. Givens. pg. 51
 Givens, Terryl L. (2014-09-19). Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (p. 272). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. Italics added