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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “21a – Mormons Building Bridges”

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21a – Mormons Building Bridges


“We are faithful Latter-day Saints dedicated to sharing a message of love and acceptance to the LGBT community. We seek to build bridges of understanding and respect after many years of strife and heartbreak. We want our gay brothers and sisters to feel welcome in our congregations and safe in our pews.…” (Erika Munson, “Mormons Building Bridges,” posted May 25, 2012)


“Munson said Mormons Building Bridges does not take a stance on issues like same sex marriage, but is hoping to reach out and encourage LDS members to ‘love thy neighbor,’ to tell LGBT people they are loved and accepted and help gay youth who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.…” (Ben Winslow, “Mormon group to march in Utah Pride Parade,” fox13now.com, May 30, 2012)


“Munson’s group is not affiliated with the LDS Church or any political party, and though it started just a few weeks ago, it’s been gaining steam through social media. As of Wednesday, the group had more than 900 members on Facebook; more than 100 had committed to Sunday’s march in downtown Salt Lake City.…” (Lisa Schencker, “Mormons to march in church clothes in Utah gay pride parade,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 31, 2012)


“‘I think the Mormon Church will look back on this period, much like a lot of the people in this country will, not just the Mormon Church, and look at the lives that have been lost, look at the young people that have taken their lives, the young people who have been forced out onto the streets because of who they are,’ he said. ‘I think there will be a lot of regret and there will be time for apologies and a time for forgiveness, and I think we’re starting that process now.’…” (Dustin Lance Black, quoted in “Utah Pride Grand Marshal hopes to ‘build bridges’ between LGBT, LDS,” fox13now.com, June 1, 2012)


“Assembled behind a white banner with the message ‘Mormons Building Bridges’ in black, block letters, the group of roughly 350 marched west along 200 South to show their love for their LGBT ‘brothers and sisters.’…” (Jared Page, “300-plus LDS Church members march in Pride parade,” Deseret News, June 3, 2012)


“Nearly 300 Mormons marched in a gay pride parade on Sunday, holding signs that read ‘God Loves His Children’ in a unique display of support from believers of a religious tradition that has long opposed homosexuality.…” (Jennifer Dobner, “Mormon Group Shows Its Support in Salt Lake City Gay Parade,” New York Times, June 3, 2012)


“Initially, Munson and other organizers had hoped to attract one hundred LDS marchers. About ten minutes before parade start time, marcher Clair Barrus of Draper, Utah, counted about 475 members of the Mormons Building Bridges delegation, ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens. (Newspapers estimated the Mormons Building Bridges crowd at more than 300.)…” (Joanna Brooks, “400 Churchgoing Mormons March in SLC Pride Parade,” Religion Dispatches, June 4, 2012)


“Calling themselves ‘Mormons Building Bridges,’ the group explained on its Facebook page that marching in the parade would be its first effort in a larger project to reach out to gay Mormons with ‘understanding and respect after many years of strife and heartbreak.’…

While Mormons Building Bridges has expressly denied any sort of political agenda and instead characterized its work as merely demonstrating ‘the values of empathy and compassion that our religion teaches,’ it’s hard to imagine the church’s endorsing even the organization’s fairly innocuous efforts. For now, the church has issued no comment on the group or its participation in the Salt Lake City pride march. But given its history with another unofficial Mormon organization that stepped into a broiling controversy of its day, the church may not be able to ignore this new Mormon group supporting gay rights for long.…

Given that it defines homosexual behavior as a ‘serious sin‘ and remains vociferously opposed to marriage equality it’s difficult to imagine the church’s turning a complete about-face on homosexuality. It’s almost equally hard to imagine, given the escalating politics of the gay marriage debate, that Mormons Building Bridges will be able to stay out of the fray.…

But if it succeeds in creating a sense that gay Mormons are welcome in the church, Mormons Building Bridges may eventually bring about important shifts in the church’s relationship to its gay members and its involvement in anti-gay politics. Gay Mormons have left the church in droves. One route Mormons Building Bridges might take would be to work to stop and even reverse that trend with a vigorous public campaign that assures gay Mormons they belong in church. Were gay Mormons to become a sizable and visible presence in church wards across the country, perhaps the church will take notice and adjust accordingly.…” (Neil J. Young, “Equal Rights, Gay Rights and the Mormon Church,” New York Times, June 13, 2012)


“I have a very humble, hardly earthshaking experience to report: my meeting with my stake president. Figuring I’d be proactive I made an appointment to see him on a Thursday night along with all the temple recommend seekers. I introduced myself (I’m fairly new in the stake) and told him about Mormons Building Bridges. He was fairly aware of the Pride Parade and hadn’t realized that the ‘mother of five from Sandy’ as I was described in the media, was in his stake. I think he was a bit taken aback at my desire to discuss how we can better support our LGBT brothers and sisters—I don’t think it’s at the top of his list—but as we talked he became more comfortable and shared that he had read In Quiet Desperation: Understanding Same-Gender Attraction. The book is perhaps a little out of date now, but it gave him a place to start the conversation from. He did seem to understand that there is a lot of pain out there. I had printed out the Family Acceptance Project’s Best Practices for LDS families with LGBT Children and gave it to him, as well as information on the South Jordan firesides, in case he knew of anyone that might be strengthened by them. He thanked me, we shook hands and out I went into the dark beauty of the stake center parking lot (the dark beauty part was a joke).

So this was hardly an overwhelming experience, but you know what? The Spirit was there, if only manifesting itself in a whisper. I think these little efforts matter. If every stake president of a Mormons Building Bridges member could hear their testimony of why they want to make their stake a safe and happy place for their LGBT brothers and sisters wouldn’t that be progress?” (Erika Munson to Mormons Building Bridges, July 10, 2012)


“Will this summer be remembered as a tipping point in the struggle for gay rights? In June, polls showed that for the first time a majority of voters in two American states — Maryland and Washington — are poised to hand same-sex marriage its first victories by popular referenda. Also this summer, LGBT pride parades in 10 American cities are witnessing the arrival of an unlikely new contingent of gay allies: Mormons.…

On June 3, about 400 members of the LDS Church marched in Salt Lake City’s LGBT Pride Parade as ‘Mormons Building Bridges.’ Their message was a simple expression of love for LGBT friends, relatives and neighbors.…

Skeptics have incorrectly characterized this effort as an election-year gambit to promote presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is Mormon and opposes same-sex marriage. In truth, this has been a grassroots movement led by faithful Mormons concerned about deep wounds over gay issues within LDS communities and the LGBT community at large.…” (Joanna Brooks, “A Summer of LGBT-LDS Love?” Huffington Post, July 20, 2012)


“Call it the ‘Gay Mormon Moment.’

After years of tension between Latter-day Saints and gay rights activists — with political action and theological pronouncements on one side, protests and pain on the other — the gulf between the two groups has begun to narrow.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has acknowledged that homosexuality is neither a choice nor a sin. It has supported anti-discrimination ordinances in Utah communities, stayed away from the 2012 battles against same-sex marriage in four states, and launched a website to soften the rhetoric about homosexuality and allow gay Mormons to tell their stories.

In the midst of that warming trend came more than 300 straight Mormons in their Sunday best, marching in Utah’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade, right behind ‘Milk’ screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and before the drag queens.

They called themselves Mormons Building Bridges. They were not out to debate politics or doctrine, organizers said, but to promote love and listening.…

They are The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utahns of the Year for 2012.…

Mormons typically view Gay Pride Parades ‘with loathing and disdain,’ says Gustav-Wrathall, who became involved early on with Bridges. ‘It was electrifying that there would be a large contingent marching in Salt Lake City. And I figured if they can do that there, we can do it anywhere.’…

Erika Munson, a straight, married Mormon mom who moved to Utah from Connecticut in 2009 and came up with the Bridges’ idea, is a reluctant revolutionary.…

As the date drew nearer, Munson enlisted award-winning Mormon filmmaker Kendall Wilcox and his co-producer Bianca Morrison Dillard to help with strategy and organizing.

Wilcox, a well-respected gay Mormon who last year began filming interviews with LGBT members, sensed Bridges’ potential. He helped Munson clarify the group’s mission and became an invaluable liaison with the LGBT community.…” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Tribune’s Utahns of the Year: Mormons Building Bridges,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 25, 2012)


“Though this year’s theme of the Days of ’47 Parade is ‘Pioneers-Pushing Toward Our Future,’ that future apparently does not include gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and ally pioneers. Parade organizers have rejected an application for Mormons Building Bridges, which has marched in the Utah Pride Parade since 2012 and has grown to 5,000 Facebook members, to join in the festivities.…” (“Mormons Building Bridges rejected by Days of ’47 parade,” Q Salt Lake, May 8, 2014)


“Here in our stake they are ‘neutering’ people who walked in the Pride Parade.  They can attend church, and there is no probation, but they are not allowed to teach the youth in any capacity.  My friend can’t even visit teach.  They were afraid her ‘politics’ would infect another woman, so they allow her to be visit taught, but she cannot be a teacher to someone else.”  (Carol Lynn Pearson to GAP, November 9, 2014)

Williams: Let me back up a little bit.  For my own personal healing and transformation, I wrote this play that became a huge hit, “The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon.”  It was about a Mormon housewife with a gay son, and I really wanted to flip the narrative.  I wanted, instead of the Mormon parent who kicks their kid out, to tell a story of a Mormon mom who fought courageously and fiercely for her gay son.  It was a comedy, so we could do a lot of humor.  This show that we did, in downtown Salt Lake, was a huge success.  We sold out every night.  We had to bring it back for two revivals.  It was this crazy phenomenon—all of these active Mormons started coming to the play.  It was a little bit rowdy, but it kept the Mormon elements true to it.

Prince: Did it surprise you that the straight Mormons were coming to see it?

Williams: Yes!  There were BYU professors, there were Mormon moms from Kaysville.  These Mormon moms would come up to me after the play and take my hand and say, “This is my story!  I have a gay kid.”  I started hearing this over and over again.  As I wrote the play, I felt all of this warmth and love that I had as a Mormon kid.  I was really going back into my memory and writing all this stuff, and I remember how good it felt to be a Mormon kid—how loving, and what a protective, wonderful community that I had.  I felt myself kind of melting as I was writing this play, and having Mormons be quite loving toward it and responding so well to it.  It was really subversive, because I really used Sonia Johnson as a template.  Dottie started protesting, and then she chained herself to a Deseret Book Store at a strip mall in Orem and got arrested and thrown in jail.  Her whole mission was that she had this vision that she had to bring Mormons and gays back together.  That was her whole mission, and it was the whole driving story of the play.  And she was excommunicated for it.  So Lavina Anderson and all these Mormon matriarchs that I had admired in my life became sort of the template for this story.

At the end of the play there was this montage where Dottie realized that even though she was excommunicated, she was still a Mormon and she still had this work to do; so there was this montage that she stayed true to her past, and this Heavenly Mother came and sang to her.  Then, there was this flash forward into the future with all of these newspaper headlines the she was reinstated in the Church and became the first female apostle.  Then she was on the Ensign cover, and she became the first female prophet.  The end of the play was that she was in the Celestial Kingdom, and then she went off to become a Heavenly Mother with her own planet.  It was very radically left, but the crowd just went crazy for it.  

I realized at that point that I could speak to Mormons.  I could talk to them in their language.

There was a video clip from the play, after she got released from jail, where she went on Doug Fabrizio’s show and said, “You know, Mormons and gays have a lot in common.  We both know what it’s like to be ostracized for being different.”  I just started connecting all of that together.  Mormons have a history of being persecuted and hated, and so do queer people.  We know what it’s like to be raided with the cops, and thrown in jail and beaten.  We have this affinity, because we both have a peculiar history with relationships and marriage.  Mormons are like the Queers of Christianity.  They are the freaks of the religious world, and we are the freaks of the sexual world.  We have so much more in common than differences.  So that became really clear to me, and my whole focus started shifting on how I would be an activist.…

It’s not my product anymore.  But with the original thing, I realized that Dottie’s mission became my mission.  I went and had myself arrested and thrown in jail, and I’ve done everything I can to bring Mormons and gays back together.  It became this crazy mission of mine.

Prince: A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Williams: Yes.  I wrote it, I scripted it, and then I lived it.  What I love so much is that you have to flip the narrative.  There is this old script and it is not working for our community, so we have to throw it out and create a new script.  The Mormon needed a new script, and so I wanted to give that template to them.  The tagline about Dottie was, “She was the proud Mormon mother of a gay son, and she didn’t have to choose between church and child.”  That was in all of our literature.  I’m going to come back to that in a second.

The next thing that I helped orchestrate was the Mormons Building Bridges Pride Parade in 2012.  These will all tie back together in a second.  Erika Munson came to me and introduced herself, and said, “We want to march in the parade.”

Prince: Why did she come to you?

Williams: Because I am an activist in town.  She wanted my advice, and this was a scary thing to do.

Prince: Had you met her previously?

Williams: No, I had never met her before.  We met at the Pride Center and she pitched this idea to me: “We are going to come in our church clothes, and we are going to sing hymns on the parade route.”  They were #80—they had just gotten their spot in the parade route.

Prince: Oh, so she was already in the parade?

Williams: Yes, she was in the parade.  I was terrified at this idea.  I was worried about how our crowd would treat them, because there was so much anger.  It just happened to be that Lance Black was the Grand Marshall for the parade that year.  I called him up and talked to him, and we were working through what this meant.  He said, “Troy, let’s put them at the front of the parade with us.”  I was going to drive him in the first car.  The lights went on.  I thought, “This is it!”

So Lance and I began this public relations thing leading up to the parade.  We reorganized everything and put them right up in front, and we started this media campaign leading up to it.  We said, “Well have Mormons Building Bridges up front, and have a celebrity at the front so that the press is going to pay attention.”  We called up the New York Times, CNN, everybody.  We said, “This will be the most subversive thing we will ever do!”

Sure enough, that day 300 active Mormons showed up.  Everyone was bawling.  The Mormons were crying, the crowd was crying.  The Mormons had these beautiful signs, “LDS Love LGBT,” “Sorry We’re Late.”  It was the beginning of a truth-and-reconciliation moment.  We were bawling as I watched them marching so stoically behind us.  I knew I was experiencing history—it was changing the game.  I thought, “Things will never again be the same after this.”

Prince: Did it affect Lance?

Williams: Oh, yes, tremendously.  We were both bawling.  It was overwhelming.  That was June 2012.

Prince: We came out for the choir concert in December of that year.

Williams: Right.  After the parade I drove Lance to the airport, and then I rushed to a coffee shop and pulled out my laptop.  There it was.  I knew we had done it when I saw that The Onion had parodied it.  I was like, “We did it!”  It was an international sensation, and I knew that the next day the Brethren were going to have to open the newspaper and see Mormons being praised internationally for supporting gay rights.  I thought, “This is it!”  On a certain level, it was the most subversive thing I had ever done in my life.  Of all the loudmouthed, crazy activism I’d done, that was the moment, up to that point.  It was building up to everything that I had led to.

Then, back to the Dottie thing, I saw a news report a week later about these Mormon parents.  I think it was in an Ogden newspaper, and it said, “Proud Mormon Parents of a Gay Son.”  In the body these Mormon parents said, “We don’t have to choose between our church or our child.”  It was the Dottie script, and it had now been laid on a real-life story.  I was like, “That’s how you do this!  We have to give Mormons a new script.”

Prince: And permission.

Williams: And permission.  Yes.  And now there is this whole phenomenon, the Momma Dragons, that has come out.  They are these fierce warriors for their gay kids.  They are the most-fierce allies.  They are a bunch of Dottie Dixon’s who are willing to go to the wall.  I don’t remember the name of the first one I met, but she had a 15-year-old gay son and she was like, “I just told my bishop that if he wants my temple recommend, he can come and get it!”  What is happening is that the consciousness is shifting rapidly.

So there is this new paradigm, this new story emerging, and it’s so exciting and beautiful and stunning.  I’m just lucky to be part of it.  I’m one, tiny part of this great thing that is happening.

(Troy Williams, March 30, 2015)

In the last six years, Mormons have been on the ground, forming and supporting LGBT support groups.  They have started gay-straight alliances in their schools.  They have been marching in Pride Parades all across the country.  Four-hundred-fifty Mormons marched in Salt Lake Pride this year.  They are using their voices.  And do you know what it sounds like?  It sounds like a big, beautiful choir.  We are no longer just a few, desperately shouting.  We are now thousands, singing!  The chorus grows bigger and bigger everyday.  Our sound and song is so beautiful that even with the last, desperate calls of hate being thrown from respected positions, others can only hear our song.

(Barbara Young, remarks at San Francisco Human Rights Campaign Gala, October 11, 2014)