Saturday night, myself and about 150 other Mormons (and over a hundred more whose names were carried on cards by proxies) individually requested entrance to the tabernacle on Temple Square to wait in the standby line for the Priesthood Session. The last 30 or so were not able to request entrance as a garbage truck was driven in front of the door and the line closed soon after, since it was 6:00pm and the session was beginning. I compiled a post on Friday in preparation for the action here, you can read about Ordain Women here, news articles about the event here and here, a personal blog post about the event from OW founder Kate Kelly here, and you can see pictures of the event- including of each person being denied entrance- here. Church spokeswoman Ruth Todd has stated that the Relief Society meeting is a corollary to the Priesthood session of conference, but this answer is unsatisfying even on its face.
You can see a short video clip of us standing in line here.
I was shocked at how emotional the experience was for me, and from talking with others who attended, it was a common experience. Below are some brief reflections from young Mormon feminists on what it felt like to be excluded not merely from attending a session of General Conference but from even attending in a satellite location.
One week before Priesthood Session October 2013, Hannah Wheelwright and I decided to go the General Relief Society Meeting together. That night, I was allowed to step over the threshold of the Conference Center before a man placed his hand on my back and called, “Brother, this is a ticketed event for women only.” After he ushered us back over the threshold, Hannah and I walked across the street to the Tabernacle. There we were greeted with smiles from missionaries acting as ushers, anxious to gather everyone on Temple Square into the Tabernacle to enjoy the meeting. As disappointed as I was at not being admitted to the Conference Center, I felt glad to be permitted to sit beside others, women and men, to view the Relief Society Meeting broadcast from the Tabernacle. The Priesthood Session was a different experience. I was shocked as we were turned away not only from the Conference Center, but also from the Tabernacle. As we approached the Tabernacle, one by one, there were no missionaries to greet us. Instead, as I approached the Tabernacle, I saw groups of men rushing inside at the beckoning of one large man, while another man, Doug Peterson, stood to meet each of us. Upon approaching him, I asked him if sisters were being admitted to this session. “No,” he told me. I told him how I had been admitted to the Tabernacle one week earlier to view the Relief Society Meeting. He told me that I would need to direct my concern to Temple Square authorities, not him. As I turned around, my pain doubled. Missionaries ushered men into the Relief Society Meeting broadcast. Doug Peterson flatly told women that they were not welcome to view the Priesthood Session broadcast. After being turned away, we walked through the cold evening air, and we heard the voice of Henry B. Eyring leak out of the tiny speaker of a smartphone: “To hold the priesthood of God is to be held responsible by God for the eternal lives of his children.”
After being personally rejected at the door of the tabernacle I cried. I wanted to compose myself, so I looked for a private place. I walked to a nearby tabernacle wall, where no one else stood. During the hour I stood in line people tried not to see me, looking above or beyond me and my sisters and brothers. Now, I felt someone’s eyes on me. I looked up and saw through the age old glass of the tabernacle windows a man looking out at me. We held eye contact. He looked torn as he gazed out the window at me. Our interchange was real and personal. He stood inside, accepted in to listen to our prophets speak, and I, I stood outside. The reality of my rejection become undeniable. I began to cry harder. The man seemed torn, as if he desired to comfort me, if only he could. He began to smile, perhaps to better connect with me or cheer me, but then, quickly realizing it would not be appropriate, pulled his lips down and then his eyes, breaking our eye contact. He couldn’t continue to keep gazing at me as I stood outside, denied and tearful.
A powerful dimension of this experience for me was that this man was African American. Whether or not he has ever experienced this type of treatment personally, he has inherited a heritage of discrimination and oppression.
I’m grateful for this man and our interaction. This experience humanized him and the men and boys who walked unseeing by me into the tabernacle. I pray that this experience humanized the identity of Mormon Feminist for him. This forcefully manifested the reality of gender inequalities and discrimination in the church I cherish. I believe women should be ordained.
I didn’t expect to be let in.
Yesterday, I went to the park resolved to walk to the Priesthood session and then walk back to the park all too quickly. I wore comfortable shoes so that I could bear all that walking. And I bore a comfortable attitude of cynicism so that my heart would no be broken when I was turned away because of my gender.
Unfortunately, my feet hurt anyway, and I still felt rejected and broken. I wasn’t optimistic, I wasn’t positive, but I was still desperate for some acknowledgement from the church that I am God’s DAUGHTER and not Their Daughter IN LAW. I didn’t get that. I got a man’s apologetic eyes as I was told to leave, I got a garbage truck rolled in front of the door, telling me I am less valuable than trash, I got blister from the walking, and I got a new goal as men streamed past us as we waited in the cold, looking everywhere but at our faces. Our heartbreak.
I am going to continue to make them look at me, not matter how much people want to look away. I will continue to ask, and knock, and seek. To stand in lines, at the back of the bus, in a different room, at a park with my Sisters and Brothers.
And I believe, someday, we will be let in the door.And that my heart, and my feet, won’t have to hurt anymore.
Standing in line for priesthood session was both an empowering and humbling experience. It was amazing to stand in a sea of women who want the same things that I do. It is so easy to often feel so alone within the church, and it was lovely to meet and be around people who truly understand my hopes for the church. As I approached the steps of the tabernacle, I knew that I would be turned away as it had been made very clear that no women would be admitted to the session. I wasn’t expecting the rejection to sting as much as it did. “Women are not allowed inside that building” is what I was told. It was extremely shocking an hurtful to be told in a matter-of-fact way that my gender wasn’t welcome.
I wasn’t planning on coming to the Ordain Women event. I completely supported it, I just found myself reluctant to attend such a public, controversial event. However, when the church announced they were broadcasting it live, I felt a little slighted. It felt as if the church said, “We know what you’re going to do—stay at home and watch it and stop complaining.”
As I stood in line at Ordain Women, I pondered why I was there. I thought of all the women who came before me, and I thought of the women who couldn’t be there, and lastly, I thought of my dear brother and sister, who I know would be standing with me if they could.
I stood in line, and I smiled. I actually felt strangely hopeful—they had to let us in, right? They wouldn’t let not let us in. Even when I heard they would deny all of us, I kept thinking maybe they would just get frustrated and usher us in. When I approached the front of the line, I felt my heart beating so fast. “I’m here to watch the priesthood session of conference,” I said with a smile. The man looked at me, weary, and replied, “We’re sorry; it’s only for the men. You can watch it somewhere else.”
I walked away, my heart breaking. All of a sudden, into my mind came two things. First, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Second, I was filled with overwhelming love from my Savior, which was mixed with pain by being turned away as I recited my favorite scripture, 2 Nephi 26:33, which includes the phrase: God denieth none, male or female…
As we sang “I Am a Child of God”, after every woman had been denied, I looked up to the Salt Lake Temple and began to cry. I cried out of pain and sorrow, but I also felt a strange peace when singing “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me” as we turned away from the tabernacle and walked back to the park.
I cannot express how I felt after, it is the same pain mixed with hope, a hope that things will change. A hope that I will walk up the Conference Center one day, and they will take my tickets and say, “Thank you Sister” and I will sit with all my friends in the gospel—male or female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile, Black or White.
I decided to go before I realized the event was going to be a big deal. Even though I wasn’t decided enough to actually advocate women’s ordination, I wanted to support my friends and make sure they knew I was not only there in fair weather. I wanted to show them that I hear them and respect their search. I also wanted to help open the conversation about gender roles in the Church. At the event I felt sad that it should be necessary but grateful I could be a part of it. I was not as emotionally attached as many women there, though it was a bit awkward asking for a ticket, being allowed in, then declining to go in. As I listened to the session at the park, sitting around a phone with three women, I heard the priesthood speakers through a new filter that sometimes made their comments especially poignant or sadly ironic. I began to wonder what the big deal was in resisting female ordination.
Something that was surprising was how disappointing it felt. Going in, I fully expected to be turned away; the point I felt was not to get in but to raise awareness and start a dialogue. Even so, it was heartbreaking to stand by, watching hundreds of men pass me by, and when we finally got a chance to ask at the door to be personally turned away, one by one. Someone caught a picture of my face while I was at the door, and emotions were completely transparent at that moment; I can see myself fighting back tears. Still, I feel it was overall a positive experience, and I am so proud of all of my fellow sisters and brothers who stood with me. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Becca Hiatt, my proxy whose card I carried with me in the line. I thought about you to help give me courage when it was my turn to ask in person. Thank you and thanks to all of those who could not make it for coming in spirit.
The most surprising thing about the experience was how very few people walking by were willing to look me in the eye. People kept walking by, looking at the ground, and hurrying their children along, as if we somehow would contaminate them if they acknowledged that we were there. However, the few people who stopped to talk to us in line were largely kind and supportive. One man asked why we were in line, and when we said that we wanted to attend the session and that we wanted the priesthood, he said, “Good! You should!” I feel very lucky to have been able to stand there with so many of my sisters and to know that I’m not the only one who feels the pain that I feel about the limited role women play in the Church. It was much more disappointing to be turned away than I expected it to be, but I hope that this will start important conversations and I look forward to a future in which women will be able to participate more fully in the Church that they have committed so much to.
I was anxious about the action for months. Sometimes when I thought about it I felt sick to my stomach or my heart would pound really hard. It’s hard to do something that you know is going to be unpopular. I was still nervous as I drove to Salt Lake City, and as we walked through the crowds of men at the conference center, but I felt safe being in line with my friends and with all of the other supporters who were there. The strangest part was the men walking past us to Priesthood Session. The ones farther away stared at us, talked about us, and took pictures, like they thought we couldn’t see them. The ones who passed by closer to us avoided eye contact, walked by quickly and looked at the ground or over our heads. It was like being invisible and being in a fishbowl all at the same time. Walking up to ask for the tickets was scary too, but I am glad that I did it. It made the whole experience more personal and meaningful to me. Overall, I am happy about the action and I think that a very important conversation has begun within Mormonism. I am excited about the future of Mormonism and women’s place in it, and I am ready for whatever comes next.
I joined the group of women requesting entry into the priesthood session as a male ally. Even though the odds seemed stacked against us, for some reason I was relatively confident that we would be let in. And, I was really hoping that the women would be allowed to join us men in listening to our prophets. But I could not anticipate what lay before us. I thought it was amazing that every woman was going up, one by one, to ask for entrance. However, I had no idea how painful it would be. It honestly broke my heart to see these women broken down by the rejection, to see so many women so hurt by what happened. And yet, at the end of the day, even though they were not admitted, I still love the spirit of solidarity and support they all had for each other even when they were turned away. And it made me ready to support them even stronger in the future and advocate even harder for change, because I know that these women deserve far better than this.
At this event, I felt what Relief Society is supposed to be like for the first time. I felt the Spirit stronger than I have in a long time. I felt like I belonged. I felt loved, listened to, and wanted, just like how I’ve wanted to feel at church. Even standing in line and knowing I wouldn’t be allowed into the meeting, I felt the comfort of the Spirit telling me I was doing the right thing. When I reached the front of the line, I was looked in the eye and told I couldn’t enter the building. I felt like a little child being rebuked for asking a question I thought was legitimate and answerable. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. It was too ridiculous. It was too small to cry over. It was too small a thing to be denied. But the Spirit came back on the way home. We laughed and encouraged one another. Yesterday, I saw fellow members who welcomed me into their fold. I saw a church, however, that did not.
I wasn’t terribly emotionally invested in this event. I’d decided to go to support those who are invested, defending their right to ask questions and speak up about problems. I also wanted to meet other LDS feminists and feel their positive energy. I anticipated having fun. I did have fun. The people with whom I stood in line were awesome, the weather was nice, the music was pretty. I didn’t really expect us to get in . . . but, I realize now, I didn’t really expect us to be kept out, either.
He responded, “I appreciate that. However, this is a standby line for a meeting for men only“. I said, “Thank you”. And stepped aside.
Hearing those words, “Men only”, was shocking to me. It was so strange to me knowing I was being denied entrance to a building because I am not a man. That was the only reason.
As I stepped out of the line, crying harder now, I was embraced, enveloped in the arms of two women who I had never met. The love, unity, and support I felt from these women and all those who stood with me that day. Although I felt heartbroken and hurt, I also felt the spirit reaffirm that this is a righteous desire and that my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and brother Jesus Christ love me and my sisters. They are “No respecter of persons” and my hope and faith that women will someday be ordained in this church that I love, is stronger than ever.
There are things I am very unsure of. I’ve had a variety of spiritual experiences, but I remain uncertain as to what those spiritual experiences exactly mean. Regardless, I feel I should mention that every contact I’ve had with Ordain Women has felt spiritual to me, including this past Saturday waiting in line for the Priesthood Session.