(I was asked to bear my testimony at a recent Stake Council. My stake is preparing to have a fireside to raise awareness of and bring support to its LGBTQ members. Here is what I shared.)
I’m here tonight to bear my testimony to you all. I love my Father in Heaven and my savior, Jesus Christ. I believe in the power of the atonement and in the plan of salvation. I believe that we are here on earth to become more like Christ. I pray daily to hear Him and follow His will for me.
A few years ago, I would have borne a very similar testimony, but it would have come from a very different place. For most of my life, I was anxious, impatient, and angry. I had little trust in myself, my decisions, or my abilities. My relationship with the Church was one of fear, duty, conformity, and a need for validation. My life choices were based almost solely on what others said I should do. I had a vague idea that God loves us as a whole human race, but I had very little personal familiarity with Him or His love. I hated myself, resented everyone around me, and felt like I was broken. Despite all my efforts to choose the right, I despaired that I would ever feel the true happiness that was promised the obedient.
So what has changed since then? I finally came out to myself and the world as gay. I stopped trying to force myself to be someone I was not, and instead, chose to live with integrity to who my Heavenly Father created me to be.
There was a problem though. I had only seen two choices modeled for me on how to be a gay LDS person: I could continue to hide, denying my orientation and struggling fruitlessly in a marriage that was anything but Celestial, or I could leave the church. Neither of those options felt right for me.
So I agonized in personal prayer during one sacrament meeting. I begged Heavenly Father for direction. I thoroughly expected Him to urge me to keep my marriage together, command me to forsake my “temptation,” and reprimand me for being so self-absorbed. Instead, in response to my prayer, I felt the most intense love I have ever experienced wash over me. It was like I was sitting in the brightest sunshine, whereas moments before I had been in darkness. I heard in God’s voice the phrase, “Angela…I made you, and I love you.” It was exactly what I needed.
In that moment, I felt whole for the first time in my entire life. I realized that I was not broken. I was not a mistake. And I realized that my life was truly my own. God trusted me with agency and wanted me to use it. He didn’t want me to feel compelled to choose right out of fear. I got to choose what to make of my life. It was an amazing feeling!
I took time to ponder what I truly wanted. And what I quickly realized was that I still wanted to be an active member of the Church. However, I wanted to attend as myself. I wanted there to be a place for ME, the true me, at church, and if there wasn’t one currently, I would stubbornly stay until there could be.
I’m not a person who seeks conflict and confrontation - in fact, if you know me at all, you know that I avoid it whenever I can. I feel it very strongly when I am being disapproved of. But, I had had confirmation that Heavenly Father intentionally created me the way I am. I am not a mistake and He is not ashamed of me. So, if I act ashamed of who I am and quietly fall away from church, I would be confirming to everyone that who I am, is shameful.
So, I have stayed, but it’s not always easy to feel like you constantly have to defend your right to exist in a space that isn’t designed for you. After I came out and got divorced, well-meaning Church members who had known me for decades were suddenly awkward around me. I was afraid to talk about anything in church that wasn’t “safe” and superficial. I have been worried that my presence would offend members and leadership. I was terrified that I would be denied belonging in a place that professes to welcome all, for reasons that I cannot change.
As an LGBTQ person in the church, I can say that many of us feel we are living on borrowed time. Our future with the church lies in the hands of local leaders and varies wildly depending on who our “bishop roulette” lands on. The acceptance of our ward families is often balanced on the backs of a few hardworking allies. Many members remain silent, waiting to be told who is “safe” to love. Every Sunday, we don’t know if a talk over the pulpit will lift us up or tear us down.
I know many good, faithful LGBTQ people who are living lives away from a church that rejected them. They want to worship the Savior with their ward families, but it’s sometimes just too painful to keep trying to belong to a family that doesn’t have a place for them. The pain is palpable at the intersection of LGBTQ and LDS. I won’t get into specifics, but the overall policies, practices, and attitudes of the church, while perhaps better than they were in the past, don’t really allow for LGBTQ members who choose to live their lives in the way the plan of salvation intends.
I know that my Father in Heaven created me intentionally, although I don’t always know what His purposes for me are. I know He loves me just as I am and that He wants me to live my own life to the fullest measure of His creation. I want to stay at Church as long as I am allowed and as long as I am capable, because I do feel His love here. I hope to be able to show Church members, LGBTQ and otherwise, that God’s love encompasses all of His children. But how much more wonderful would it be if we could feel His love amplified through the loving acceptance and understanding of His people as well?