By Elena Thurston
Kariah is 11 and it’s a new year, so that means she’s invited to join the teenage girls in her ward. She was kind of preferring to be home with me on Sundays, but the idea of spending time with real teenagers overrides even her desire to stay in pajamas all day.
“Back in my day,” you didn’t join the Young Women’s organization until you were 12. She’s just five months from that. And yet my Mama Bear heart feels protective of this dainty little thing. Especially because she’s the daughter of a lesbian.
You came to my house, at my invitation. I wanted Kariah to see how we welcome you, to see how we value her community. And I wanted you to see that I wasn’t…whatever stereotype of a lesbian you have in your brain.
Your entire presidency and her two leaders were here. Sitting on my couches, smiling and laughing. First I asked, how many kids are in the Young Men’s and Young Women’s program? Almost 120 kids, 57 are in Young Women’s. I asked if there were any LGBTQ youth in the ward. You said no.
Sorry Sisters. But statistically, LGBTQ people make up around 4.5% of the U.S. population. Which means, right now there could be at least three young ladies, if not more, in your care who don’t feel safe enough to come out to you or to their parents. What have they heard you say? Why don’t they feel safe? This concerns me a lot.
I also asked about LGBTQ families in the ward and you didn’t know of any. We both know that within 300 families, there’s an extremely high likelihood of someone being gay. Which means, again, they don’t feel safe in being true to who they really are. Because of the geographical nature of the congregations, it means that they don’t feel safe in the church building or even their neighborhood. They’re deeply struggling. I know that struggle well.
I probably shouldn’t have had Kariah here when you came, because at that point, she started to feel pretty emotional. She felt “other”. She even said right there, “I just want to do Young Women’s like everyone else.” And we all felt that, didn’t we? We remember the gut wrenching need to be just like everyone else.
You responded, saying, “every family is crazy, every family has issues, don’t think anyone is perfect.” I was glad you did. It made total sense and it’s something every teenager needs to realize, the sooner the better.
And then you followed it up with, “Kariah, we don’t care that your mom is…the way she is. We just want to love you. We don’t care about anything else!”
What I didn’t realize until after you left is that you thought I was worried that Kariah would feel different and unloved. I served in Young Women’s for years. I know exactly how hard you work to make sure every girl feels loved. I know the hours of meetings and prayers and temple visits that go into loving and nurturing each and every girl. I am not worried about your efforts to love her at all.
I am worried that I will need to protect her from you. Because you “don’t care about anything else!”
According to your own words, my four children are the only children in your congregation of a gay parent. “We don’t care” isn’t an answer. You need to care. It’s a part of them. Why are we pretending that it’s unimportant?
I need to know, how can we help the 56 other teenage girls value, not ignore, this part of Kariah? What steps can we take to make sure Kariah doesn’t feel like a massive part of her life needs to be hidden? Because “no one cares”.
You are the leaders and I know that if you want to, you can come up with the exact right steps to take to find the answers to these questions. In addition to your own insight, let me give you some suggestions as her mom.
You can show respect and love and interest in Kariah’s mom and her bonus mom. You know now that we’ve met that I travel for work and my partner Kristen will be the one making sure she gets to her midweek meeting. You could ask her about my travels and her volleyball practice sessions with Kristen, or what Kristen taught her to make for dinner last night.
Admire anything rainbow that she wears to the activities. It’s not just cute in our family. It’s a symbol that you are beautiful and valued no matter how you show up in the world. For kids of gay parents, when you value the rainbow, you value the whole family. It sounds trite, I know. But when you’re 11 years old, it’s a legit way of communicating that you’re an ally.
Invite all of her parents to all the things and treat them equally. Kariah has worked hard to figure out how to love all of her parents and find equal value in them in her life. Support her in that effort by communicating the same thing, that even though I’m not a member of your congregation and I live a lifestyle that is denounced by your religion, I’m still her mother. Kristen and I deserve just as much respect as her straight dad and his girlfriend.
Lastly, please, please, let Young Women’s be a place where it’s safe to be vulnerable. Maybe do some research on vulnerability and what it takes, and the benefits of developing it. Maybe those other three girls will feel loved and supported on an entirely new level. And when Kariah hears the prophet say once again that homosexuality is a sin that is comparable to child abuse, she will have a trusted environment to process that information and how it makes her feel.
Finally, let’s have an open dialogue, sisters! If you discover another way to help her feel safe and loved, tell me! And I’ll do the same. I know we want the same things for her; we actually are on the same team.
I want her to trust you and open up to you.
Wait, do I? Because then your opinion matters to her, what you say will matter greatly to her. And I get scared.
Are you going to teach her to “love” me but not support me? Hate the sin, love the sinner? (That’s what we taught the girls when I was in Young Women’s. It made sense at the time.)
Will you teach her the shame of modesty and policing women’s bodies? Will you teach her that her fate is to have babies and share a husband in eternity? Will you have a lesson about eternal marriage, and end up teaching her that when I die, she’ll never see me again?
Maybe I should erase this whole thing. There is so much at stake. Why in the world would I help you develop a trusting relationship with my daughter?!
Because I love my daughter. And it’s what she wants.
To feel love from you. Her chosen community.
 “In U.S., Estimate of LGBT Population Rises to 4.5%.” Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx