June 17, 2016, a small group of Mormons organized and conducted a prayer vigil in response to the Orlando murders. It was held in a community clubhouse in Sugar Land, Texas.
Oh, what a night it was! A little band of thirteen diverse men and women gathered together. Mormons & former Mormons. Believers & non-believers. Gay & straight. One serving bishop & three former bishops. Rainbow ribbons were prepared and donned by all.
We sang, we cried, we laughed. We shared, we listened, we remembered. Accompanied by Amazing Grace, the names of the 49 slain were read aloud. A prayer was offered in memory of the departed, for healing of the wounded, and that all might unite in brotherhood as fellow citizens and human beings.
I was delighted with the turnout. We sat in a compact & comfortable circle. It made for an intimate setting that was conducive to poignant communication. All who spoke expressed love, unity and support for our LGBT brothers and sisters. All have close family, or friends, or both who are gay.
When our vigil ended, no one moved from their chairs. When we did finally stir, conversations continued for another hour. Hugs were common as we departed. Such a sweet meeting of friends, new & old. One attendee described it as quaint. In that case, I have a new respect and yearning for ‘quaint.’ The gay man, who none of us had met before, expressed great appreciation for the group’s support. He happens to be an active Mormon, serving as the executive secretary in his congregation. Openly he recounted challenges he has faced. I felt honored and trusted to hear his story.
One of my daughters made this comment, “Dad, there are lots of us who want to show love and support for those who are gay. But, we don’t know how. Tonight, just sitting in the prayer vigil, I felt like I was doing something. What else could I do?” I pointed to the rainbow ribbon on my chest and said, “wear one of these at church.”
Besides the ‘Friday Thirteen,’ over 30 additional well wishers from around the globe sent messages of strong support. They related that their thoughts, prayers and hearts were with us in reaching out to the LGBT community. All their messages were read during the vigil.
From me, a Mormon
Now, if you are gay I’d like to express the feelings of my heart.
You not a lesser part of society.
I love you.
I love you without conditions.
With me you are safe.
I have your back.
I stand with you and for you.
Thank you for being my friend.
A Gay Friend Talks Me Down From the Ledge
Putting this vigil together had it’s difficulties. It’s genesis occurred on a plane from Utah to Houston on Sunday evening. The terrible shooting had occurred early that morning. Initially, my spirit was high. It was a time of sadness, despair, and confusion. It was also a time of need. This was an opportunity to actively reach out to the LGBT community. Very special, was the chance to send a message of love and support to those in my own church who are gay, whether they have come out or not.
From Monday to Thursday, one difficulty after another presented itself. By Thursday, evening, I was angry. My thinking went something like this: Cancel the crumby vigil. Take ‘Mormon’ off the title. Quit the Mormon church!!!
I reached out to several people. The response was either troubling or silence.
My frustration mounted. Then, I called a gay friend. I had gotten to know him over 20 years ago as his bishop. Somehow, someway, he had managed to remain active until the church’s new gay policy was released in November 2015. As a direct result, he has now left the church. After a good and long discussion, I said, “Are you trying to talk me into staying with the church?” He responded, “No. I’ve really lost any interest in working for change within the church. That door has closed. Maybe you will be more successful. What I know is that your ribbon WILL touch somebody.”
That was the clencher. My treasured and true gay friend knows that I can give hope to some unknown fellow Mormon, simply by being in church with my rainbow.
Further encouragement came on Friday. Supportive communications were received from three of my local LDS leadership. They are all good men with good hearts.
My final message to my gay family, my gay friends & the gay community in general: I will not forget you!!!