I will update this as I go to/ finish writing for sessions.
TW: sexual assault, LGBTQ issues, church discipline, cultural alienation and abuse, polygamy, child molestation
As general background information, Sunstone panels typically take the format of of brief presentation and then a question/answer segment.
Ordain Women: Where we go from here?
Sidenote: I was late. So I only heard the question portion.
“How do you manage being attacked?”
Donna Kelly, Kate Kelly’s mother and an Ordain Women profile holder, asked how to manage the attacks and— frankly— cruelty that, her family specifically, but OW supporters in general, have face because of their religious activism. She specifically mentioned not being allowed to hold callings, her daughter’s excommunication last summer, and her home’s mailbox being repeatedly smashed.
“I love Mormonism… I have a hard time loving Mormons sometimes. I have a really hard time loving Mormons sometimes… Especially when people you’ve worshiped with for 20 years start to turn on you… It is hard. It is hard.” — Debra Jensen, Ordain Women Executive Board Leader
One piece of advice from Debra Jensen: “Every smashed mailbox (from Donna Kelly’s story) is someone who is afraid. The only thing we give women in this church is motherhood, and when we start saying that’s not enough, it scares them.”
Mark Barnes, the male allies committee chair, talked about being Mormon without being active, and participating in faithful activism without being technically active. He reassured everyone listening that there was and is still a place in OW, and religious activism in general, for those who are not currently able to attend the church.
“How do we help move the work forward?”
1. PROFILES! Three years ago, almost no one would publicly own that they thought women should be ordained, now, OW has over 600 profiles. “So submit more! You might be number 666!” Each profile creates a new voice and a new community.
2. Like the FB Page! Every like promotes the popularity of the page on Facebook, which means that OW will reach more people.
3. If you want to volunteer, the best first step is to submit a profile. Ordain Women has committees and responsibilities and ALWAYS needs help.
4. Come to the direct actions. Be there, put your body in the line, physically represent the desire for women’s ordination by showing up. Number matter.
Less than 15% of over 600 Profile Holders have received ecclesiastical pushback.
I am a Trans Child of God
* I just wrote a ton and I apologize for any paraphrasing or typos, and would love to know about them and correct them. Thanks!
Briana Cluck, Lucas Kieran Strider, and Meli (Curtis) Penfold are all members of the YMF community.
Mini-Biographies from the Sunstone guide:
Briana Cluck is an MTF transgender woman living in Orem, UT. She has a deep and abiding interest in Mormon history and Mormon sociology.
Lucas Kieran Strider is a nonbinary tans person living in SLC. They enjoy creating electronic music, reading about queer theory, and playing Minecraft.
Meli (Curtis) Penfold is a polyamorous, coffee-loving, bisexual, gender fluid androgyne, and drag artist who resigned from the LDS church in October 2013.
Both Briana and Lucas spoke about coming out and beginning their transitions, the way that— for many people— immediate full transitions are not possible, and how their transitions have impacted their faith.
Meli (also known as Curtis in some online feminist circles) talked about how not all transitions or coming out stories start at a young age. For Meli, the process started when they realized that they had never really connected with the gender they were assigned at birth, nor did they want to fully identify with the opposite gender binary. Meli says “I identify this way because I feel better this way.”
Briana opened the floor to all questions, with the caveat that the panelists could refuse to answer anything they weren’t comfortable with. (I’m only posting questions that were relevant and answered.)
Question: For nonbinary trans people, is surgical transition part of your world view?
Lucas Kieran Strider says they are planning to get top surgery, but wanted to really emphasize that surgical transition is as much a part a transition as each individual wants it to be. For some people, it simply isn’t an option. For others, it doesn’t seem appealing. There is no specific definition of what a transition looks like.
Meli agreed, emphasizing that it is entirely individual. There are trans people who do absolutely nothing medically to transition, and they are just as relevant to the community.
Question: What does dysphoria feel like, especially in the context of misrepresentation in society?
How could a straight/cis ally represent a trans person in literature?
Briana said there are multiple types of dysphoria. Body dysphoria is often over simplified to “a man born in a women’s body.” For her, she says it was more like “this is my body, but at some point, something screwed up. And now I want to make it mine again.” She said it sometimes feels as if the person in the mirror isn’t the person she expected to see.
Social dysphoria is a totally different kind of dysphoria, which is being perceived by other people as something that she’s not. It’s not the same thing as a personal body dysphoria, it’s other people’s incorrect perceptions that are hurtful. “It’s like being mistake for someone else, and when you try to correct the, that person tells you that you are wrong… and you are obviously they person they mistook you for.”
Briana also said the best way to represent trans person in fiction is to make sure they have a personality. Trans people are more than just their body, more than just their transition. “I have just as much personality as I had before my transition.” And it’s more than just “I am trans, I am Mormon, I am reconciled.” Briana asked people to recognize the complicated process, in both greater life and Mormonism, with changing a life in the way a transition can change a life. “I’m a lot more than just my transition story, I’m a lot more than just my faith journey.”
Lucas Kieran, as a disabled trans person, talked about how their body dysphoria and internalized ableism often combined. Their back pain could often contribute to their dysphoria about their chest lumps, and sometimes binding could make them have more back pain.
They recommended research. To portray trans people in fiction, learn more about trans people in life.
Meli talked about their social dysphoria, and how having friends who support them and accept them for who they are matters so much.
And Meli wants more trans characters who just happen to be trans. “Like, this dude you’ve been reading about? Happens to be a trans dude! And it isn’t a big deal!” They said characters who just are trans, whose transition isn’t the focus, would be incredibly important to them personally and the trans community if “normal” trans people were more seen.
Briana: “Please please please stop the trans victim narrative. If I wanted to read about a trans person being murdered or killed, I would read the newspaper… a RomCom about trans people would be cool, especially if it doesn’t have Adam Sandler.”
Question: How can we support trans people?
What is especially difficult in the Mormon community?
Briana pointed out that “California just passed a law that ruled out, as a criminal defense, finding out that the person you were on a date with was trans.” No other state has that law. (Which, personal aside, I did not know, and why the hell are we not doing something???)
Meli asked the audience to make sure we start working on getting rid of trans humor. Trans people should not be the butt of a joke. So just don’t, and don’t let the people around you either. Obviously, support the political issues. Be supportive. Recognize that “normal activities” can be scary for some trans people, like going to the bathroom.
Lucas said that, especially after the recent SCOTUS decision, remembering that the right to marry is definitely not the biggest issue in the trans community. Trans people are much more likely to be attacked or murdered. “Abuse and transphobia and feeling like you can’t come out lead to these suicidal feelings… Earlier this year there was this almost series of young trans kids committing suicide… So if we could just do something… Because I remember what it’s like to be 17 and have 18 and adulthood be so far away… We need resources so trans kids don’t end up homeless, and when I was homeless, I knew some other trans people who turned to drugs or sex work just to get a hotel room for tonight.” Lucas also talked about a time at the homeless shelter they were in where there was one male and two female beds left, and how the people around them were harassing and misgendering them constantly.
Meli added that a lot of trans people were not celebrating the SCOTUS decision, and got criticism for it, because of the trans woman (Jennicet Gutierrez) who interrupted Obama’s speech and was forcibly removed. “Because trans issues are not just at the level of Caitlin Jenner… Safety is a big deal, employment is a big deal… And BTW. ‘family friendly housing’ is code for no trans people allowed.”
Briana added information about the community Being Arrested for Walking While Trans. (Which everyone should look up.) This community deals with the fact that a police officer can search a trans person’s bag and, if they find anything related to sex, they can arrest that person for sex work. Which is a problem common enough to have a movement.
Lucas also added that substance abuse is a serious issue in the trans community, and a bigger issue than in the rest of the LGBTQ community. And not only are these issue present, it can be hard to get treatment for substance abuse because “people at the hospital just focus in on my being trans and my mental health issues… and until just last year… ‘gender identity disorder’ was listed as a mental disorder.”
Meli talked about more subtle things allies can do, like respect a trans person’s gender. Treat trans people like people, and if you wouldn’t say something to a cis person, then probably don’t say it to a trans person. It’s tacky and disrespectful.
Lucas said “unless you are planning on getting naked with someone, their genitals? Aren’t relevant to you.”
Question: What policies relating to your gender have you noticed in the church? Where do intersex people fall on the trans spectrum?
Lucas explained the definition of intersex and went on to say “the concept of biological sex is completely fallacious. It really doesn’t exist. Is anyone really perfectly… male or female? Because there are so many variations.” They also just pointed out that “no one in Mormonism talks about this.” Lucas shared how they didn’t know the difference in typically identified male and female genitalia because it simply isn’t discussed. “And it’s so weird going from trying really hard trying to be seen as a girl to trying really hard NOT to be seen as a girl.”
Briana addressed the first question and talked about the LDS church’s official policy. Which is “if a member receives elective transsexual operations they may lose the priesthood and be subject to disciplinary actions” (quoting the handbook verbatim.) The church has the same requirements to be baptized as a trans persons that they do for being baptized as a sex offender. “I have done a lot of research, and I have… found nothing to show that trans people are bad [in LDS scripture]. But I have found a lot of stuff to show that they are good, like the stories about eunuchs that Christ told in the New Testament… There is nothing specifically going against trans people in the doctrine.” She also pointed out that the vague wording in the handbook leaves a trans person’s experience up to “bishop roulette.” And she stated that “the idea of ‘elective transsexual surgery’ is kind of like an elective pacemaker. But maybe that’s just me.”
Meli also added that, for non binary people, there are clear separations. People are male or female in the temple, and, if gender is eternal, then it’s assumed to be male or female. Which doesn’t work for people who don’t identify with the gender binary.
Question: How do you support both the parents of a trans child and a trans child?
Lucas said that, had their own experience gone differently, and had they been more supported, their life would have been very different.
Briana talked about the official standards of care for trans people (which I couldn’t write fast enough, but everyone should look them up). “Basically, if you [as a psychologist] have a child who is trans, get them to an endocrinologist.” She said that children who need hormones should get the, because it matters and “makes a big difference.”
Lucas said “yeah, I would have wanted puberty blockers… I tried to many times to hurt myself [because of going through puberty that felt wrong].”
Meli asked cis people to “consider gender neutral parenting… I think it ends better for everyone.”
God’s Name in Vain: Using Faith to Harm Others
Lindsey Hansen-Park is the assistant director for the Sunstone Education Foundation and the founder of the Feminist Mormon Housewives Podcast.
Trevor Jeffs was born and raised in the FLDS Church where he was brought up in a strict polygamous household. He has since left his family and the community.
C. Jane Kendrick has an award winning blog CJaneKendrick.com where she writes about life, religion, birthing, wifehood, motherhood, womanhood, and body acceptance.
Stan Shepp converted to the mainstream LDS Church in 1989 and studied Mormon fundamentalism extensively before joining the centennial park community.
Kristen Decker was born in a polygamist group and got her BA in education.
John Neilson was born and raised FLDS, and was forced out of the community in 2004.
Lindsey: “I don’t have a problem with polygamy. Polygamy is not the problem. I have a problem with a system of belief that harm’s people… which is why we need to look at the problems in our own back yard.” Lindsey started with her own biography, talking about how her best friend from USU, Malia, started leaving in the church, and Lindsey struggled with it without being able to talk to her friend. When Malia left for a concert over the weekend, Lindsey decided to take a “hard stance” and kicked her out of her apartment. Linsey said “I was really proud of myself, for taking a hard stance… because my religion told me the harder something was, the more righteous it was… I was consumed and overwhelmed by the feeling of this righteous crusade.”
One of the first things Lindsey clarified was the difference between fundamentalist thinking and Mormon fundamentalist, where one is a dangerous mindset (fundamentalism) and another is a religion and culture that is not inherently bad.
Lindsey gave a list of how to be a Religious Terrorist which included:
- Maintain a religious delusion. Often this will include an idea of forbidden actions having consequences or needing to have consequences. This can also include unquestioned positions in the sight of God, and unquestionable authority.
- Psychological Isolation
- Sexual Misconduct
- Physical Violence
The mindset becomes “it’s okay to do things that your moral compass says is bad, or that you would normally think is bad, as long as you have God’s stamp of approval.”
Trevor: Trevor left the FLDS church about a year ago, and “we weren’t allowed to have any worldly media… but I was a bit of a rebel, and I started watching movies and TV shows… I worked two jobs away from home and it was like a windmill into reality.” Trevor talked about how audiobooks were some of his favorite discoveries. But he eventually moved back home and started working in his father’s mechanics shop. When his family, who were in hiding, moved back to Colorado City they were reunited with the centralized Church who talked about the United Order. They had to get rid of any media, they had to confess all of their sins to become worthy.
He had a meeting with his bishop where he was asked questions with remarkable similarities to the LDS temple questions with the exciting addition of “have you had any associations with girls?” Trevor had to categorize everything he owned, from jeans to pans to clothes, and give anything that was not a “need” to the church storehouse. He kept an illicit guitar and computer, which he says he’s very glad he kept.
In order to become a full part of the order, he was baptized three times.
As part of his religion, he couldn’t drink coffee or eat pork. Alcohol was frowned upon. Toys and games were frowned upon, and many people had to get rid of their computers. The United Order started having remarkably strange prayer circles. And then the command to stop using internet started. Church authorities took away smart phones and put data blocks on the phones. Trevor says it took him about two hours to get rid of that. However, he was eventually caught and sent to the “repentance” section of the United Order. He wasn’t allowed to live in the same room as a full member and lost access to a lot of his family.
About a year ago, he gave his parents a letter saying he “couldn’t keep living in the toxic environment.”
He says he came from a fairly large family; his father had four fives and 23 kids, but this wasn’t “one of the largest families in the community.”
He went to fourth grade in Arizona, at Jeffs Academy, where Warren Jeffs was the principal. He stopped school in about the middle of eighth grade, when his father was commanded to move his business to Las Vegas. Trevor says this was around when his relationship with his family started to dwindle.
“I never quite fit in… I always felt separated from my family… I believed differently. That’s probably why I never really thought I fit in.”
During confessions, Trevor says that confessions “were a way of controlling everyone with guilt and shame… I was never totally truthful with my confessions, but they didn’t know that. They always just thought I was a good boy who would become a strong part of God’s kingdom on Earth.”
“I remember looking into the definition of a cult, and being surprised how well the FLDS church fit… They strongly encouraged us to write letters to Warren at least once a week, telling him our sins, if we had any… They would use the pressure from the community to make you want to confess… The leaders had almost absolute power over the people.”
“I think an education and openminded curiosity is one of the only ways to overcome this kind of control.”
Kristen: Kristen was born and raised in the Allred group, and her father was the prophet of the group. Her mother was his first of thirteen wives and she said “I think it’s interesting to know how many siblings I might have in the next life, if I make it up there.”
Her take on God’s Name in Faith is: “I always questioned… polygamy, my life, why is my mother so sad, why am I so sad… But I knew with all my heart that this is what God wanted us to do… I remember when I put my first sister wife’s hand into my husband’s hand, and my father was performing the marriage… I had never known what it was like… Everyone put on a happy face, I actually had a friend teach me how to give my husband another wife… So I stood up with a smile on my face and I tried to think ‘I’m so happy to do this,’ but inside, I was dying.
“My soul was telling me something was wrong with this picture, that something was not right.”
Kristen was told all her life that polygamy was what would make God happy. She recalled times in her childhood— the times she was molested, the times her mother would be crying, the times she was told to protect the idea of plural marriage at all cost— and said that her “soul was telling her something was wrong.
“Yeah, we [her, her sisterwives, her sisters, her brother’s wives, his father’s wives] loved each other because we wanted to… But when I was confirmed with the gift of the Holy Ghost, I was told to listen to the still small voice… But when men on the Priesthood council told us things we should question, I was told not to listen [to that voice]… I was told to fast and pray more.”
She kept the secrets of her faith to promote plural marriage, to promote the ideas God would make happy.
According to Kristen, using God’s Name in Vain is not honoring ourselves and the feelings we have that something is not right. And it’s being told constantly to ignore that voice and that idea. She said she had to constantly “put away and put away those heart aches” to defend her faith and support her leaders.
John: John was born in the FLDS community, but “I’m a lot older than Trevor and left later.” John was “kicked out” in 2004, because “I was too free in behavior for them… and they didn’t like me asking questions.” John talked about how there is a lot of focus in the group around Warren Jeffs, who John has known since he was about five, but he was originally a nobody. John also said that “there is inherent harm in the group because they won’t let their [80 year old] leaders retire… and I see a bunch of people trying to misinterpret things.” John also wanted to make it clear that he is not an activist, and he never saw his mothers fight. But by the time he saw his friends get married and take on second wives, “none of them were happy.” He also recommended visiting mormonpolygamydocuments.com, which he read some excerpts from.
John wanted to also be very clear that Warren Jeffs did not invent these doctrines, he learned these doctrines. A lot of these doctrines come from the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. Warren Jeffs was born in 1954. He talked about how many of his friends were reported to have “run away,” but now that he has left the community he is finding them and learning that many of them “were run off” in the 80s.
He read excerpts from commandments that became progressively stricter and progressively harsher. The specific laws he read were about “relations between young men and women.” He also pointed out that “when you have one man and seven women [the ideal number in this religion], you’re going to run out.” He talked about how there girls who didn’t want to be polygamous wives, but had to. And boys who just wanted one wife, but there weren’t enough. He also explained that the idea of seven wives is the number required to eventually receive their own planet. John compared the LDS church to the FLDS church he grew up in, and said that the large number of quorums and groups in the LDS church actually keeps the doctrine safer from dramatic and radicalized changes.
Jane: She explained that she grew up in a family of nine kids, a big family for mainstream LDS families. She shared a more personal story about ecclesiastical abuse and religious terrorism “not just in these ‘outdoor, extreme, LDS sects.’” Jane has worked hard in Provo, UT to create a community for her family— while working with Provo’s Mayor John Curtis— to make Provo a place where people want to live.
She said that, while everyone is talking about family, she wanted to share her own experience. Mayor Curtis is working on bringing a UTA bus rapid transit system (BRT) in Provo, which would make public transportation available in Provo, which a lot of people in her neighborhood were not thrilled with. (Personal side note: if you don’t know about this and live in Provo/go to BYU, please google. It’s important.) Jane works with Curtis on this campaign and is very for it, but woke up one morning to an OpEd by her brother talking about how the BRT was opposing the Proclamation to the Family because “bus people are not family people.”
Jane viewed this as religious manipulation, but when she called her sister, her sister thought that God has given her a confirmation that this OpEd needed to be in The Daily Herald.
But she understands where this extremism can come from. She shared how she was vegetarian for a long time because she thought that was what the Word of Wisdom wanted from her. And then she decided that if she was even more religious, she would be vegan. So at a ward BBQ she felt her Samoan Bishop’s roast pig was sinful. “So, while it’s easy to say things like ‘the FLDS people are just crazy and extreme!’ we need to remember that we can have extremism too.”
Stan: Stan was raised Catholic, and met Mormon missionaries in 1989. His own beliefs consisted of a lot of Christianity, he was offended by infant baptism, he didn’t believe the Pope was infallible, and he didn’t believe that the Catholic church had the keys to seal things on Earth and in Heaven. He did believe in eternal marriage. He remembered that when he first read the Book of Mormon he had a strong impression that it was either “written by God to save him or the Devil to tempt him.” He immediately wanted to absorb everything he could about Mormonism and Jesus.
He often told the joke that “I only know two things about Mormons: they have more than one wife, and I want to be one.”
He read the Journal of Discourses from the library, and he eventually gained a testimony of both Plural Marriage and the Adam God Doctrine. He “was a drummer in a rock band, smoke, drank, did drugs… was not the ideal Mormon candidate.” But he took Moroni’s promise and found that it was true.
His friends “disfellowshipped him” because he was not longer “buying beer or mixing drinks or smoking out of a plastic bag.” He thought he still had his family, but he came home from work one day and his aunt, who was a Catholic nun, was there to talk him out of it. They talked about prayer and not just doing repetitions, and some of it took, but his Catholic family abandoned him. Because “if you’re not Catholic, you can’t go to Heaven. Now, if you’re Mormon, you might think if you’re not Mormon you can’t go to Heaven. But for my family, it was the Catholics.”
But he loved his new Mormon community. He became a Scout Master and had so much fun with the boys he was leading. He felt loved and accepted and embraced. But he still had this testimony of Adam-God and polygamy. He kept doing research and was studying the Journal of Discourses. Stan said “I was a fundamentalist by the time I joined the church… I just didn’t know what that was… But I was teaching in Elder’s Quorum one day and said something about Adam-God, just assuming everyone believed it. They didn’t.” This discovery made him feel very alone again, like he had when he was disagreeing with the Catholic church, which was hurtful because Stan had thought he had finally found his own religious community.
He eventually went to visit Owen Allred to see if he had the Priesthood and left convinced that he did not have the Priesthood.
About two weeks prior to this trip, Stan’s wife, who had been planning to come visit Owen Allred with him, changed her mind. “And the fundamental principle of Mormonism for me is agency… So if she wasn’t going to go, she wasn’t going to go… But about two days before the trip, she said she had changed her mind again. Now, I wasn’t going to go.” Even though his wife threatened (and eventually went through with) a divorce, Stan still needed to go see Owen Allred. In his custody battle, he was given a PA court order to not talk to his daughter about plural marriage at all. And Stan was excommunicated. He was also banned from visiting church property. Because he had a testimony of polygamy and the Adam-God doctrine.
“I believe that plural marriage is an eternal doctrine. I believe that it is true… But I lost my temple recommend. You know what that means to [my 12 year old daughter]? I can’t go to heaven… So the church is allowed to teach my daughter that I have to go to hell… while I can’t tell her anything different… because I believe what Brigham Young and Joseph Smith taught.
“In the community I live in now, in Centennial Arizona, agency is key… I teach my family the principles of the gospel based on what they need to know. I have two wives, and they have their agency. They both know me inside out, and they both choose to be with me… But I believe that if they decide to leave, they have a right to leave. And it is my job to treat them with honor and respect… and to raise my children up to be good people.
“But I get to maintain that, and I get to become a better man, and my wives get to help me. And I’m not going to tell you it’s easy or there’s no jealousy… I will tell you it’s not all about the sex, people need to stop with that.”
“Our homes are filled with love.”
Update from the question segment: Stan’s wives would be allowed to sleep together if they wanted to. They don’t really want to. But agency really is a fundamental guiding principle.