A man shares his personal story of coming to terms with faith and sexuality in the Mormon Church.
In November of 2015, the Mormon Church declared that, not only are gay Mormons apostate, their children could not be blessed or baptized until they are 18, and then only after disavowing same-sex marriage. While it was already generally accepted among the Latter Day Saint (LDS) culture that same-sex relationships were sinful, many interpreted the new declaration as a hateful move toward the children of LGBT people. In fact, it was reported, around 1,500 people resigned from the church the next day, following the announcement.
The seemingly abrupt declaration on this issue from the Mormon hierarchy alienated thousands of LGBT people and their families, already struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and faith. Just three months later, 32 suicides were reported in one support group alone, said the founder of Mama Dragons, and LGBT support group for parents. Additionally, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that “Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts.” What’s clear, is that it’s not easy being gay and Mormon.
As a young man, Bryan did not grow up in the LDS church. He was raised as a Southern Baptist, but found his home in the Mormon Church after moving to Washington D.C. and befriending a man who was the antithesis of his dad. “I grew up with a critical, hot-tempered father,” he said, “who put his own interests of hunting and fishing with his buddies above spending time with me.” In his new friend, who worked several levels above Bryan’s boss, Bryan found someone “more like the type of dad that I’d always wanted to have,” he said.
At first, Bryan looked for ways to minister to his boss, once he found out he was a Mormon, but over time, and as he studied the Book of Mormon, Bryan was instead drawn into the religion. Of his relationship with this person he said, “I felt truly loved for the first time.”
The leader of his new church, who knew that Bryan had just turned 30, approached him a week after his baptism. “He said I needed to get married now because I was, as Brigham Young phrased it, ‘a menace to society,’” Bryan said. Bryan confessed his personal struggle with same sex attraction to his leader and was told that his sexual “frustrations” would be resolved once he just found a good wife.
“Just remember,” this person told Bryan, “The head of our faith says that there is no reason why any two people committed to gospel principles can’t be happy.” Bryan said he gave him a deadline of six months to find that person.
Bryan believed that his life would change and, with his new baptism, his old feelings of attraction toward men would disappear. But within six weeks, he said, “I discovered that those same thoughts, attractions and weaknesses were creeping back and consuming me again, which created a feeling of hopelessness and despair.” Through series of events, however, Bryan made a renewed commitment and soon found the woman he believed God wanted him to marry.
“Shortly before the wedding, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of panic as I realized that along with a wedding would come a honeymoon,” Bryan said. “I was about to go from a life currently devoid of almost all physical contact to the most intimate of human relationships.” Bryan said that sex and love with his new wife was more amazing than he thought it would be and described the event to a friend later as, “the best minute and a half of my life.”
Soon he became a father of four sons and describes the next several years of that part of his life as a blur. “Because I was so busy, thoughts related to same-sex attraction rarely surfaced anymore,” he said. “Still, there was an uneasiness that I felt from time to time. Sometimes, though rarely, I felt I didn’t want this life at all, as good as it seemed, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what exactly it was that I was missing, even though I felt that I was truly ‘fixed.’”
Bryan had suffered horrible sexual abuse as a teenager at the hands of a middle-aged man. Triggers began bubbling to the surface: the smell of motor oil, or words stenciled on cans of emergency water which lined the wall of a basement, similar to the one in which he was raped. He felt he was coming undone.
One afternoon, Bryan picked up the mail and found an LDS magazine. His eye was drawn to a picture of some attractive young men on the cover, but it was the title that caught his attention: “Living with Same-Sex Attraction: Our Story.” Bryan stopped everything he was doing and read the stories. The article referenced a book he had, which he’d forgotten about, that also told the stories of gay Mormon men. He grabbed the book and read all of it that night. At the end of the book, he recognized the name of someone he knew and decided to reach out to him. Bryan ended up sharing his entire story for the first time ever. “Becoming more authentic is what led me, in a huge leap of faith and trust, to first confide my story to my family,” he said.
At first, Bryan’s wife was relieved to hear of his struggle. “I always knew there was something that kept this wall there between us. I’ve been waiting to have this talk for 25 years,” she told him. But as time went on, she grew angrier. She felt deceived.
“She felt that our whole marriage was a lie,” Bryan said. While he was feeling like a weight had been lifted off of him, she was detaching.
Bryan began sharing his story with others on a website he founded. The purpose of the site was to give voice to the many ways gay Mormons choose to live their lives. “Becoming truly authentic led to an increased desire to share the story of my journey with others,” he said. That journey has not been easy. Last year Bryan and his wife divorced after more than 25 years of marriage.
Bryan still holds to his faith, though he admits that it looks different than it did. “Part of the transition over the last couple of years has been to put less emphasis on the appearance of doing the right things and being a better person. Rather than trying to become ‘a good Mormon,’ my focus has become trying to love and serve other people,” he said.
Bryan’s church includes many members of the gay community and he still serves in the church, but as an openly gay man. It’s important to him to create an environment where others feel valued and included. When asked about his position on homosexuality and celibacy, he said, “I’ve gotten much more tolerant and accepting of people’s individual choices and the right to have those. I’ve come to the conclusion that a loving heavenly father would not relegate people to hell for things beyond their control. For every person who has a faith driven life, it is a personal decision between abstinence and unabashed anonymous sex. Everybody has to find a place where they can reconcile all the aspects of their life that works for them. It feels wrong for me to have sexual experiences with people I don’t feel strongly about.”
Bryan and his family have made peace with his decisions. Though his children are grown, he and his ex-wife still spend time with their family and grandchildren. Bryan’s children have come to admire their father and his work within the gay community, especially since some of their own friends have admitted they are gay.
Still, Bryan admits that it is difficult. “Being gay and Mormon,” he said, “you don’t fit into either world.” He struggles to find people with whom to share his life, who also share his religious beliefs and values. In a word, Bryan said what it’s like to be gay a Mormon, is lonely.
Photo – Getty Images