Included below are selections from the talks given at at the ALL Conference.
Please visit this page for full text and audio versions of the messages shared at the ALL Conference.
Welcome Address, Bryan Hendrickson
Over the past few months, we’ve had the wonderful experience of getting to know many of you and talking with more people about this. We are so glad that all of you are here today. I feel like more than anything any of us can say today, the fact that all of you are here is probably the most important.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how I wish I had known, for all those years that I felt so lonely and isolated, that someday there would be something like this, where people would be coming together. That’s really what this conference is about today. We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to come together… I know that many of you are here for your brother, or your sister, or your daughter or son, or maybe a friend, or even just a fellow member of the Church, or maybe you’re here for someone you’ve been called to serve as a leader in the Church. I want to say thank you for coming and being here.
Sometimes people ask, what’s the best thing I could do? When someone first learns that they have a family member that’s gay or has SSA, they may be asking questions like, “What should I do?”, “What should I tell them?”, or “How do we deal this?”. Really, I think the most important thing is being together and talking about it. All of you being here today and being willing to walk down this road together with your LGBT friends and family…It’s so easy to get caught in some of the conflict and debate on all of this, but I think at the end of the day, people just want to know that you’ll be there with them and that they’ll be welcome in your heart and in your homes. That’s what’s most important.
In some ways it’s a small thing for us to just be together, to come to a family home evening together, or to be here together today, but like I was saying before, for someone who once felt so alone, it’s rather significant to be with so many people who have shown kindness and love.
There are so many opportunities with these complicated issues for us to find conflict… We need to find a way to make love the defining feature of whatever interactions we might have on all of this. There’s room to show kindness and room to be understanding….As I’ve had the opportunity to meet other gay Mormons, or those who have SSA, I have yet to meet one who hasn’t encountered some measure of sorrow and pain in their life. I feel like all of us face incredible challenges, whatever choices that we make. I hope that we can find ways to find these people, wherever they are… I feel like it’s incredibly tragic that so many people feel like there isn’t a place for them in the Church, or that the conflicts are so great, or that for whatever reason, they’re gone and they’re not with us. I hope that we can find a way to reach out to people and let them know that we want them to be there, with us. Christ said let’s leave the ninety and nine and go after that one. Hopefully we can find ways to do that.
We need to make sure that people know that there is love. I feel like there is room for understanding and I feel that as we have opportunities to listen and learn from each other, that we’ll be able to find how to work out whatever questions we have or whatever conflicts there might be. I want to say thank you for being here. Thank you for coming to listen. Thank you to everyone that’s going to be speaking. I hope that what everyone will take a way is an experience they can carry forward to reach out to more people and to be closer together.
Making it Better for Our LGBT Family Members, Bryce Cook
Brothers and sisters, should there be any doubt in our minds as to how we should treat our gay brothers and sisters, especially as we have seen their sweet expressions here this day and witnessed the kind of people they are? Moroni taught us how to judge these things. He said everything that inviteth to do good and persuades to believe in Christ is of God. Which of those expressions that I read at the beginning persuades to do good and believe in Christ?
Too many people that I’ve seen, even in our group, have family members who are holding back love or who refuse to acknowledge the gay person’s feelings. They say yes, we love you but then never want to speak of it again. They basically have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in their own family. This is not outright rejection, but it is still not love – and it’s not emotionally healthy. Imagine being that child who knows that being gay is a core, fundamental part of who they are, but their parents don’t ever want to talk about it or acknowledge it. It’s still a sense of rejection.
Elder Quentin Cook on the website mormonsandgays.org addressed this issue specifically. He said, “Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender.” So what did he mean when he said let us not be “disrespectful” or “exclude”? I think it’s very clear that we are to still love and include them in our family gatherings.
We have to recognize that when a gay family member makes the decision to have a same-sex partner, it’s probably not a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision made out of rebelliousness. It carries tremendous weight. They know the huge consequences that they face. It usually comes after much thought, much study, maybe years of difficulty in working through this, and often times with much prayer, especially in the case of LDS gay people. But no matter what they choose, they must make a huge sacrifice. If they choose the Church’s position, they choose life-long celibacy, never knowing what it means to have a companion they can love and grow old with, and living alone for the rest of their lives. If they come to believe that that choice is not what God wants for them, and after a number of years they choose a path in which they feel they can fall in love and be with someone of the same sex, then they lose the full blessings of their Church and sometimes even the fellowship of their community and their family.
So either choice is fraught with pain and difficulty. Why then would we want to heap on and make the burden any heavier? We’ve covenanted to bear one another’s burdens so that they may be light, not to make it harder
I want to tell my two gay sons, all of my family and my extended LGBT family who are here today, how much I love you, how much you have helped me grow inside. Because I have to confess that I was not the kind of person Jesus wanted me to be earlier in my life in the feelings that I had towards LGBT people. But I’ve been blessed with two wonderful gay sons who have taught me an amazing lesson, and I’ve been blessed to associate with so many good, wonderful, humble, kind-hearted LGBT people who are now part of our family and part of our life. And I just express that thought again to all of you who mean so much to us and pray that God’s grace will be with us, that our hearts might be filled with love towards each other.
A Parent’s Perspective, Sara Cook
I am here today to share my experiences as a parent of two gay sons. It has been 10 years since I’ve known my oldest son Trevor is gay. We did not find out until he was 18 and attending BYU. He sent us a letter explaining how he felt and what was going on. I didn’t have any idea he was gay up until this time. When Trevor was a sophomore in high school, I knew that he was dealing with something very difficult, something he wasn’t telling me. I would question him and ask what was wrong. I remember my despair one night when I asked him what was wrong. All he could do was look at me, choke back his tears, and hold inside the thing he couldn’t tell me; that he was gay.
When Trevor “came out” to us, my first reaction was, “oh no! What do I do with this?” But Bryce and I never rejected our sons or turned them away. They know now, and knew when they told us, that we would always love them and be there for them. They know they always have a place in our family and in our home. We love our children and family with all our hearts. We would never kick them out or act punitively. That is very contrary to what we believe – to Christ-like love or what he would want us to do. However, I do wish we had taken the opportunity when Trevor came out to learn more and understand what it means to be gay. I wish I would have talked less and asked more questions about what he was going through.
Bryce and I, along with Bryan Hendrickson and our son Trevor, started a support group for Mormon LGBT people. Trevor was very concerned that others, like him, had a support group where they could go and find friendship, compassion, and acceptance. He wanted a safe place where LGBT people could be exactly who they were and talk about their experiences and how they feel. Trevor had hope that others would be spared some of the suffering and loneliness he’s experienced. Hopefully, it could be an alternative to despair, alcohol, drugs, or suicide. He hoped for a place where people who had left the church, would still have some connection to active members who loved and accepted them.
That is the kind of support group we have today. I have met many wonderful people. I am glad that my LGBT friends know that I am an active member of the church who loves and cares about them. I don’t shun or shut them out. I hope some who have left the church will feel comfortable about coming back to church, if they ever desire. I want them to know that many of us want them there.
I know this is what my Father in Heaven wants me to do at this time. As a parent, I know how much I want all of my children to love, help and care about each other. I compare this to a loving Heavenly Father who wants all of his own children to do the same. As the apostle Paul said, it doesn’t matter how much faith we have, how much gospel knowledge we have, or how well we keep the commandments, if we don’t have charity – the pure love of Christ – we are nothing.
I don’t have all the answers and sometimes still struggle with the turn my life has taken. I’ve had to think harder and look deeper, pray longer and with more intensity. I have had to stretch and grow far out of my comfort zone. I still have questions that don’t have answers. But my capacity to love has grown, and I have watched my husband grow into a more caring and compassionate man as well.
I feel that maybe Bryce and I were blessed with two gay sons so that we could help make a difference and be a light in the darkness for our sons and family, LGBT Mormons, and the LDS community we live in.
Closing Remarks, Stephanie Kim
My first crush was in the third grade. She sat across from me with a giant fro of beautiful, dark, curly hair that gave her some kind of power. She would stretch her legs across her desk with such attitude, like she owned it, like she owned the world. I was instantly thrown for her. Our teacher may have been bothered, but I was infatuated.
Just recently, I found the children’s book she gave me that year before moving away. As I read the note she had penned in her third-grade handwriting, I was overwhelmed by a sudden mess of emotions – nostalgia, deep affection, regret and sorrow for my childlike self who would face years of depression and anger over something I didn’t even fully understand. I wish I could go back to my 3rd grade self and just hold her so close and tell her it will all be okay. Because it really wasn’t.
I am here for our youth. I am here because the suicide rate among gay Mormon youth is 10x higher than the national youth suicide rate. That needs to stop. Families and church leaders of these LGBT girls and boys need to know that not only is it okay to love them, but it is imperative. We need to be the loving arms around these youth. We need to be the strong hearts protecting those who are too vulnerable to believe they are worth protecting. We need to be the unwavering voice assuring them that they are loved – and that there is no exception to that love, no prerequisite to that love. That they are perfect and deserving of our unconditional love.
In the words of poet Diane Ackerman,
I imagine a place
where the divine agency of love
will have mattered in the end
more than faith, call, reward
or a vein of panting stars.
Each one of you here today came out of bravery, out of compassion, out of empathy. Many of you are here for yourselves, in the hopes of beginning to heal the hurt. Many others of you are here for a daughter or son, a niece or nephew, a sibling, a cousin, a parent, a grandchild, a friend or a member of your congregation. Thank you. Thank you for being so brave. Thank you for your good hearts and your willing love.
There is nothing more Christlike than that.
To reference the scripture for which our conference is named:
He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; [for] all are alike unto God. (2 Nephi 26:33)