Coming Out: A Relief Society Response
by Laura Skaggs Dulin
This talk was given in Sacrament meeting on Sunday March 17th, 2013, to celebrate the birthday of the Relief Society. These are my words to the best of my recollection with some intentional changes to make my sentiments clearer.
I was asked to speak today on how the Relief Society has blessed my life personally. As some of you know, my life has been pretty interesting this past year. In January, many of you were here when I came out publicly that I identify as homosexual and today I want to share with you specifically how the Relief Society sisters have blessed my life through the difficult process of coming out.
For many, this is still a topic that can be uncomfortable to talk about. If you are one of those people, I want you to know that you are not alone—I am one of those people too—but as I continue to get the spiritual nudgings to be more and more open about this part of my life, there are some things that have been helpful for me to keep in mind:
The first, is that being attracted to a person of the same gender is not a sin.
The second, is that our Church leaders have been talking about this a lot lately—in our last general conference, two of our leaders spoke about it with love and compassion, and recently the church even put out a website called mormonsandgays.org to open up more meaningful conversation.
And third, on this website mormonsandgays.org, church leaders have stressed that while our doctrine is not changing, what is changing and what needs to change is how we as a community reach out with love to those who experience same-gender-attraction—which is Mormon speak for gay.
And so today I want to share with you how the Relief Society has blessed my life since I decided to come out.
To set the stage, I’ll first give you some background. Almost two years ago when I started graduate school, I made the decision to come out to my classmates (some of whom are here today). For the next year with this caring group of 24 budding Marriage and Family Therapists, I got some great practice and nurturing in being more open about this part of my life and getting more comfortable in my own skin. And so after a year of doing this, I came to the decision to be completely out.
Some of you might be people who get inspiration early in the morning and that is often the case for me. Early one morning last May, I woke up with the thought to come out in Fast and Testimony meeting in both the congregation that I grew up in, and also here in this ward. As I began to fully awaken, my awake self thought this was the most terrifying, insane, and awful idea thinkable—I could not imagine myself ever actually doing it and I put it in the back of my mind.
A few weeks later, I went back home to visit and attended the ward I grew up in. There, I saw my best-friend-growing-up’s mom and felt like I should come out to her, so—nervously I did. I just sort of blurted it out and we began to have a conversation as we walked around the outside of the church. It was really emotional, and at one point she said to me, “You know, if you had ever told us, we would have loved you and stood by you no matter what.”
I had never thought to tell her. Back then I didn’t want to tell anyone, but when she said those words in that moment I knew that what she was saying was true. And so the next week when I was home again visiting and she was the first to get up and bare her testimony, my heart began to pound and I knew that it was time. I prayed for the words and got up and did it. I came out and bore my testimony. When I came down from the stand, she was the first one sitting right there off to the side, and she clasped my hand, and let me know again she was proud of me and loved me. I will always be grateful for the love she gave me, which exemplified the Relief Society motto: “Charity never faileth.”
After testimony meeting, my husband, John and I both felt like a couple of deer in the headlights. It was really overwhelming for us to now be out in church! We left the building for the entire second hour to try and process through everything together. During our conversation, John even suggested we could leave for the rest of the day because we both felt so nervous going back, but I told him no. I needed to go back; otherwise I would never know more of how people would react.
We went back inside the church and by then Relief Society had already started. It was strange how a place that had always felt so warm and friendly, now felt absolutely terrifying. I went in, sat down in an empty row by myself, and tried to pretend like I was fine.
A few moments later, another sister who was arriving late came in on the other side of the room. She glanced around for a seat and then went back out the door. She then came in through the door on my side of the room and sat down next to me, so I was no longer alone. When the meeting ended, she seemed to feel awkward—I felt awkward—we were awkward together, but she sat and talked with me, asked me all about how my family was doing and told me repeatedly how good it was to see me. How grateful I am for this Relief Society sister, who at a time when I was feeling so vulnerable and so extremely out of my comfort zone, stepped out of her own comfort zone to be with me so I wasn’t alone.
After that, over the summer, I sat down with many wonderful people as I thought about how I would continue my journey and possibly write something about my story. One Relief Society sister in particular sat with me for hours and hours as I unpacked with her what it was like to grow up Mormon and gay, the decisions I made, the spiritual experiences I had, finally falling in love with my husband, and what its been like since. When I finally came out in this ward in January, it was this same sister who quickly came and found me in the hallway, hugged me and told me how courageous I was, and reassured the scared part of me that just wanted to be away somewhere in the fetal position. Later that night, this sister called just to check in on how I was doing and listened again for an hour as I expressed my feelings and lingering worries. How grateful I am for this sister’s true friendship and continued watchcare over me.
Had I more time, I would tell you about my visiting teachers and how they have sat with me and listened as I have finally broken down and sobbed about some of the negative reactions I’ve had. And I would also tell you about my Relief Society President who on a particularly dark day with all this, bore her testimony (along with others) just for me at my request. She also invited me and my family to dinner that night and then sat and listened to me as I talked about some of the heartache I was experiencing. And I would tell you about the many sisters who have reached out to me—sisters who know me well and sisters who don’t know me at all—who’ve sent an email or a text message of support, who’ve given a spiritual lesson just when I needed it, and who’ve all expressed their appreciation to me for coming out and baring my testimony.
As we go through the most difficult and most vulnerable times in our lives—and those things come to be known– and people show up for us with genuine compassion and care, it fills you with a sense of indebtedness and overwhelming gratitude. It brings needed relief and it brings a sense of safety that makes those people and those places the ones you never want to leave. And that is how I feel about my classmates and that is how I feel about the Relief Society — which is the opposite of how I always thought it would be if I ever came out. I always thought that everyone would distance themselves from me and I would end up alone. But that has not come true and I will be forever grateful for those who have been with me and cared for me. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Some After Thoughts…
I was the last speaker that day. At the close of my talk, I left the stand to sit with my MFT classmates who filled the entire front row. My dear friends on each side of me clasped my hands through the closing song and prayer as I took deep breaths. When the meeting was finally over, my 7 classmates, my exceptional husband, and a dozen-plus members of my ward, congregated by the stand and waited to hug me one-by-one, and thank me for my words.
That surreal image and feeling of overwhelming support is one that will forever be etched in my heart and memory as perhaps the most beautiful and healing moment I have ever experienced within community. As the days go by, I find myself with the persistent yearning and prayer that all of my fellow LGB/Same-gender-attracted/homosexual (whichever one chooses to call it) Mormons—could somehow also feel this magnitude of love within the community of the church we all share. It has caused me to reflect more deeply again on how all of these things came to be.
If I could convey only one thing about coming out to both those who experience same-gender-attraction and to my fellow Saints who are tasked with how to respond, it would be to seek to understand the difference between what it means to confess, in contrast with what it means to confide.
A confession is what we do when we commit a serious sin. Confessions in the church are made to appointed leaders who hold certain priesthood keys and may also be made to someone we have harmed. They are made with the intention to repent, to get counsel, to make amends and to move forward clean and whole. Confession of serious sin is an important step to assist one in moving on and letting go of guilt.
To confide, on the other hand, is something different. Healthy confiding happens when someone has earned our trust by how well they treat us, usually gradually over time. It occurs independent of position or authority that a person may or may not hold. Individuals gain our trust not only by how well they treat us but also by how well they treat others. We confide things that are personal, or sensitive; things we want handled with care. We confide to be understood and to gain support and comfort through the challenges and transitions of our lives.
When a person comes out, it is an act of confiding, not confessing. I believe that If we truly cling to the inspired teaching of our church leaders that being attracted to persons of the same gender is not a sin, coming out will more accurately and consistently be understood as a journey of confiding that is likewise responded to with the sensitivity and love each individual craves and needs.
To other Mormons coming out or considering coming out, my sincere and simple hope is that you listen to the part of you that is spiritual to assist you to find the people in your life in whom you can truly confide and to help you find the words and the strength to do it. As time goes on, I look forward to meeting many more of you as you journey your way out in your own unique way. Please know that I continue to pray for your safe passage.