One of my earliest memories is of singing “Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked,” and walked, and walked, aaaaaand waaaaaalked … As I sang (off key and out of tune, but I tried) I imagined my great, great, great, great grandmother Wee Granny, a 4-foot-7 old Scottish woman, shuffling along the trail to Utah. She passed away on the plains of Nebraska before reaching the Saints in Salt Lake City, but she asked her descendants to remember that she “died with her face toward Zion.” And I have.
Diane (in stripes) playing Pioneers in the backyard.
Like my ancestors for generations, I’m a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of all our doctrines, the ones I love most are about the eternal family. We believe that through Christ, families are knit together throughout time and beyond death. We are all children of heavenly parents, linked through the generations, from Wee Granny down to me.
Given my faith in Heavenly Father and Mother, it seemed to me growing up that gay marriage was incompatible with that paradigm. When two of my closest friends came out to me as bisexual in high school, I listened with heartache.
In 2004, I enrolled at Brigham Young University, and I loved it like home. But it was there that I first started hearing the stories. Searing stories from my closeted LGBTQ friends at BYU that in all my life I will never forget. Stories of praying all night to be different, to be good, not to be gay anymore. Stories of self-hatred and suicide attempts. Stories, too, of joy and romance and love and hope and a vision of acceptance.
Every story broke down walls inside of me, and filled my heart up with them. They taught me the simple truth that families are indeed forever, and that my LGBTQ brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings are my family. We are all children of the God who loves us.
But a heart is a slow thing to thaw. After BYU, I returned to California and I was here in 2008 for Proposition 8, the resolution to nullify LGBTQ marriages across the state. I turned down the fundraising requests, and the phone-banking assignments. I wouldn't put up the yard signs or the posters. I thought of their stories.
But the ballot—the ballot stayed on my desk for weeks. I’d stare at it every day. Yes or no. Yes or no. I believe in Prophets of God living today, and I couldn’t understand how to hold on to both the Church and equality. On the last possible day, I voted yes. I wanted to show the faith my ancestors did.
I dropped the ballot in the mailbox and, inexplicably, I started running. I hadn't planned on that; I hadn't locked the door or put on a coat, but I was running anyway. I sprinted until finally I found myself in the middle of a field, where I stopped and cried. As it turns out, you can't run away from yourself.
I had hoped the ballot was a test of my faith, and that I'd pass. I realized, instead, that it was a test of my love, and I'd failed. I knew then what Jesus would have me do. If He were here, He'd love every single one of us. He'd make this Church a home for all of us. He'd pray with us, He’d mourn with us, He’s sing with us. He’d walk with us.
Several years after Prop 8, I heard a speech at Stanford University. In the speech, addressed to future world leaders, the speaker invited us—in our busy days of working and networking and “working the room”—to ask ourselves: “Who is not in the room?” She continued: “Because we are here and others are not, do we not have an obligation to think of them and say what they would say if they were in the room?” She said:
You may be wondering why I consider this a particularly Mormon moral obligation. My inspiration for this talk comes from the temple. For our guests, I will explain that when we enter that Holy house, we are each given a small slip of paper bearing the name of a deceased person, often one of our own cherished ancestors.
In a room on earth where they can no longer be, we say on their behalf the words they can no longer say.
Most of the LGBTQ Latter-day Saints I have known and loved are no longer Church members. Intolerance and exclusion forced them out. Too many of their voices are missing from our most sacred places: the pulpit, the chapel, and the temple.
And so, as an ally, in church rooms, Sunday School classes, and Relief Society activities, at the pulpit and inside the temple, in sacred places where LGBTQ voices have gone silent, I think of them. I imagine myself gripping that little slip of paper in my pocket, with the name of someone we’ve lost. What would they have me say?
Ultimately, of course, my often off key and out of tune voice is no substitute for anyone else’s. Every voice missing from Zion lessens us. As Jeffrey R. Holland said:
It is by divine design that not all the voices in God’s choir are the same. It takes variety—sopranos and altos, baritones and bases—to make rich music…. The loss of even one voice diminishes every other singer in this great mortal choir of ours, including the loss of those who feel they are on the margins, the margins of society or the margins of the church.
And so my vision for Emmaus is to hear LGBTQ voices ring out in all our sacred spaces.
To do that, we need to make room. Christ calls us all to unity. The road is long, but we never walk it alone; the story of Emmaus is that Christ was with us all along. Wee Granny walked, and walked, and walked towards Zion, singing the best she could. I can do the same.