Mormons in Pride Parades Okay, I need to vent (Part 2)

(Part 1 is here.)

Now that the Pride parades are almost wound down for the summer, there are concerns I have about the Mormon presence that I would like to address.

One major theme I’ve seen is this idea that “local politics is inherently good politics.” Prominent liberal Mormon bloggers have advocated that however Mormon Pride contingents have emerged at the local level is inherently okay. The argument goes something like this:

Not everywhere in America has the same level of acceptance for gay people. Supporting gay marriage would be a giant step for most Mormons in probably most locales. A lot of Mormons first need to feel that they can publicly support their loved ones. In the end, it’s all good because, at best, some LDS contingents did support gay marriage, and at worst, they showed love, which is also good.

Yet if we take a look at the policy of Mormons Building Brides (MBB), we find that the organization is basically correlated to the Church. Not only does it have a rule of no political signage (or, in the aftermath of the parades, debates of politics), but it also has a rule of no signage that’s different than Church doctrine (or in the aftermath, debating church doctrine, specifically the fact that there’s no acceptance of same-sex relationships in the Church). Instead, what we got were cryptic messages like “LDS loves LGBT,” which seems positive except when it’s set alongside the fact that no messages were allowed to counteract the Church’s official policy of “love the sinner, not the sin.”

One way to explain my concern with what’s happening here is through a metaphor I’ve seen regarding the matter of gay equality in the Church at the macro level. It’s been suggested, optimistically, that even if Mormons are currently flowing down different queer streams (some in support of gay marriage, some who love the sinner, but not the sin), they’ll all eventually emerge at the same ocean of gay equality. Maybe this is true, but what if what we’ve seen this summer and in recent years is actually more complex sandbags placed around streams to ensure they don’t merge and reach the gay ocean?

Let me give a concrete example: the Salt Lake City nondiscrimination ordinances passed in 2009 with the Church’s support. It has been noted that twenty years ago, Church leaders thought employment nondiscrimination was a “slippery slope,” but now the Church supports it, as seen with the ordinances. In actuality, the Church does not support employment nondiscrimination, as it will fire any BYU teacher who has a gay relationship. The Church supported the ordinances mainly because they continued to allow the Church to discriminate in this way (“religious exemption”). Take away the Church’s supposed “right” to do this, and there would’ve been no support from the Church whatsoever. So, really, the SLC ordinances were not an example of “moving toward the same ocean” at all. They’re an example of sandbags being placed around two different streams, and the change in language required to make this come to pass.

Unfortunately, this new language and means of being “pro-gay” without actually being pro-gay has manifested this summer with Mormons Building Bridges, in my opinion. Just today, I heard that at the Sunstone Symposium, Erika Munson (one of the founders of MBB) gave a talk on how MBB is a first step in making space for Mormons to feel more comfortable talking about their support of gays and gay rights. Huh?! Mormons Building Bridges forbid signage about gay rights! What is going on here? Are Mormons co-opting the phrase “gay rights” to mean whatever they want it to mean?

“Gay rights” means a gay individual’s right to be loved and welcomed in their wards and homes. It also means supporting gay people’s civil rights like the right not to be fired based on who you’re in a relationship with, except this does not apply to the Church, because in the Church only opposite-gender relationships are acceptable. “Gay rights” does not include having to accept gay relationships as “good,” or gay marriage, because that would be infringing upon my rights as a Mormon.

(Just to be clear, gay rights has nothing to do with what Mormons think they are, and everything to do with what gay people think they are.)

I think a lot folks aren’t getting how Mormon heterosexism works these days.

At the root of Mormon theology, one’s relationship with God is more important than one’s relationship with one’s family. Even if a family is quite loving and supportive, the doctrinal/institutional heterosexism of the Church can drive a gay kid into depression and suicidal thoughts. I have seen this happen to at least one smart, individualistic youth who wanted to be the best Mormon he could be — and viewed his pro-gay family members as misguided. Local family politics do not trump the goal of institutional change when a translocal institution is negatively affecting individuals regardless of their family dynamics.

I told my LDS mother about how Mormons marched in Pride parades this year, and she said, “Well, yeah, you’re supposed to love and support people even if you disapprove of their — ” and I had to let her know that some Mormons marched for marriage equality, not “love the sinner, not the sin.” What she made clear to me is that it’s not inconceivable that the average loving Mormon in 2012 might march in a Pride parade without moving one iota doctrinally. One major bridge that appears to have been built this summer is the one that lets the Church exist comfortably longer with its heterosexist status quo. I think we need to stop pretending that Mormons marching in Pride parades is a sure sign we’re moving toward an ocean of gay equality in the Church.

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3 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    This seems likely enough. It’s probably a similar situation with James Dobson from Focus on the Family surprising everyone a few years ago by advocating for Civil Union laws in Colorado.

    It wasn’t so much an indication of Dobson moving for absolute gay equality, as it was an attempt to provide a future with gay marriage not in it. He recognized that the case against gay marriage was that much more difficult if gay couples were being mistreated under the law. He saw civil unions as a way to end the mistreatment – and consequently eliminate the major motivating drive for gay marriage.

    However, it would also be wrong to dismiss Dobson’s sense of social injustice as completely motivated by a desire to deny gay marriage. It is not the case that social conservatives cannot be moved by real human problems on the ground-level.

    I guess that people drafting strategy in this social movement are going to have to decide if they want to welcome these moves to make the plight of gays better or not.

  2. muucavwon says:

    Alan, what is your opinion of Mormons for Marriage?

  3. Alan says:

    muucavwon, Mormons for Marriage, and/or Mormons for Marriage Equality (M4ME) are fine.

    Like I said, there are different “queer streams” in the Church — some okay with same-sex relationships, others not. My concern is about the latter, which are more representative of the Church, and how they’re successfully building a wall around themselves while still being present in queer spaces like Pride.

    As an example, this summer M4ME folded in with MBB at SLC Pride in a show of support (M4ME agreed to MBB’s rules of no gay marriage signage or anything against Church doctrine). When later marches came around, or even so much as requests for mutual advertizing, MBB did not return the favor for M4ME. This is because MBB does not want to associate itself with M4ME; it doesn’t want to be out of line with the official Church.

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