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Draping Yourself in a Rainbow Flag Doesn’t Help Me Feel Loved

Journalists at Church-owned media who promote Pride Month material may not realize how confusing and discouraging it can be for active members like me.

Some time ago, I had lunch with a member of a stake presidency from the northwest. Once he learned that I experienced same-sex attraction, in an attempt to demonstrate his bona fides as an “ally,” he got out his phone and showed me pictures of himself draped in a rainbow flag and attending a Pride march. In his attempt to build a bridge and show that he understood me and advocated for me, he inadvertently demonstrated the opposite, since I don’t identify with the Pride flag and see some deep conflicts in Pride festivities in relation to my own faith and convictions. 

That good-hearted member’s attempt to show solidarity with me seems a perfect illustration in miniature of what the good-hearted writers at Church-owned media are doing with many of their LGBT-affirming stories. In the last three months, a flurry of different articles in Deseret Digital Media outlets (owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) have focused on LGBT+ topics and political concerns (see list at bottom). The overarching message is clear: hate is still prevalent in the state, what parents (and leaders) keep sharing with their kids is making things harder, and it would be really helpful—the loving, Christlike thing to do, in fact—for Latter-day Saint families to attend Pride festivities and join the cause of LGBT+ celebration.

What is the point of having church-owned media if it’s going to reflect so many of the values of the surrounding dominant culture?

To illustrate, coverage of protests against HB11 (the Utah state bill limiting transgender participation in some sports competitions) featured quotes that uniformly paint Utah as having passed “transphobic” legislation that “just doesn’t support so many kids” and which has furthered “oppression and continued dehumanization of people.” And in articles emphasizing hate crimes and continued discrimination in advance of Pride Month, several activists are quoted extensively, including two hinting not so subtly that orthodox teaching around sexuality, gender, and family may be contributing to the problem (without any faithful counterpoint provided). One asserted that “a lot of self-destructive behavior” witnessed in young people comes “because of the messages that they receive throughout their lives about who they are.” Another said, “When you’re told you’re supposed to fit in a cookie-cutter shape, and you don’t actually fit there, there’s not true belonging,” while insisting there was hope in seeing youth increasingly “understanding people’s humanity without gender” and being willing to “determine for themselves what to believe.”

Two different articles encouraged readers to come to Pride festivities—with one quoting a former Latter-day Saint who claims attending the event “changed his life forever” and channeling his hope that “everyone, gay or straight, attends festivities this weekend.” Then earlier this week, live coverage of the Pride flag raising at Salt Lake City Hall showed up on KSL Twitter:

Of course, there are many other articles and books produced by these same entities dating back years that have encouraged and strengthened all of our faith and families. That has included essays last year exploring the difficulty of loving both people and truth, pushing back on activist-skewed sexuality statistics, and ongoing efforts to counter simplistic narratives around LGBTQ+ suicide and religion. But especially recently, I have wondered if reporters understand how confusing articles which take for granted popular sexual ideology can be for people like me? There are hundreds of people living the gospel who have not only endured some occasional ostracism at church but who face pointed opposition and isolation from the gay community. And yet what we read at KSL and Deseret News is often the same thing we read in the SL Tribune, Washington Post, ABC, or CNN. What is the point of having church-owned media if it’s going to reflect so much of the messaging and values of the surrounding dominant culture? 

Like my priesthood leader friend, I’m sure these writers believe they are showing support to the Church and its members, perhaps especially faithful Latter-day Saints like me, by giving me “representation” in their coverage. But in so many ways, they are actually demonstrating that they don’t actually understand active members who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, or who identity as LGBTQ+. Though well-meaning, they don’t seem to know how to effectively support us and the church teachings we are striving to follow. And in my own long experience, these kinds of rainbow-centered efforts end up making us feel less understood, less supported, and less strengthened in living and standing up for gospel truths that we love. 

As Preston Jenkins recently said on his podcast, “I remember seeing members of the Church with rainbow flags or doing things that were supporting … behavior [contrary to prophetic teaching], and I remember distinctly losing trust in them … I was like, ‘I don’t know where you stand anymore. You’ve adopted a symbol that implies that you don’t agree with some of the basic teachings of the Church, so I can’t trust you as a source of gospel foundation and community.”

Following the larger currents. In fairness, it’s not hard to understand why these kinds of messages and emphases might show up. After all, they are everywhere. From universities to corporate spaces and from social media to popular sitcoms (and even kids’ TV), the same assumptions, ideas, and messages are virtually everywhere you look.  

So, why wouldn’t they show up in our own media too? In so many ways, of course, Christians must “stand athwart” many cultural tides (no thanks polyamory, sorry). This is right and proper. Why, in this case, and on these issues, have we decided to allow ourselves to be carried along with the prevailing cultural tides?

It certainly doesn’t help that people like me are completely invisible in mainstream news, movies, and TV shows—and hardly ever featured in popular discourse, except by way of critique and ridicule. In the absence of more attention to the real possibility of a vibrant reconciliation between committed discipleship and LGBT+ questions, many believers have embraced the idea that these popular societal currents represent a distillation of God’s higher will. That translates into accepting without question the thesis that the LGBT+ movement is a logical extension of the 1960s’ civil rights efforts, and that the achievement of an (ever-expanding) list of political objectives will lead to improved mental health and personal fulfillment of all LGBT-identifying individuals. 

These kinds of assumptions are taken for granted—and sometimes made explicit—in virtually all of the recent offerings on the topic at Desert Book, another church-owned entity. That includes Charlie Bird’s “Without the Mask: Coming Out and Coming Into God’s Light” (2020), Ben Schilaty’s “A Walk in My Shoes: Questions I’m Often Asked as a Gay Latter-day Saint” (2021), and Steve Young’s “The Law of Love” (2022). There are also two different publications by Tom Christofferson, a personal friend whom I greatly admire—which hold similar presuppositions.

There are certainly virtues in each of these texts and something meaningful each offers. But it’s important for people to recognize that they are all taking as an unquestioned starting point the same essential narrative of sexuality—one that Princeton University professor Robert George recently called “identitarian” in a commentary encouraging Latter-day Saints to take more seriously the clear conflicts between this popular narrative and the plain teaching of our own prophet leaders.  

How many thousands—even tens of thousands—of families have been directly influenced by these many books and news articles, alongside all the interviews, podcasts, and publicity associated with each of them?

No doubt, this enormous impact is one the authors and publication managers hope is overwhelmingly positive, for both people’s faith and relationships. I don’t question their intent at all.  

The question I am raising is this: Is it really working? Is all this writing and publishing  accomplishing what we hope it will accomplish? To say it more plainly, are those reading and influenced by these offerings being encouraged to stay on the covenant path and aspire for its higher blessings?  

Taking more seriously the downstream consequences. Despite assurances and witnesses to the contrary, my experience is this narrative—especially when adopted uncritically, and especially when a faithful counterpoint is nowhere presented—sweeps formerly faithful people away from the Church and the safety of their covenants, with almost irrevocable force.  The metaphor which comes to mind is a calm river. From the outside, it looks like a peaceful, lazily flowing river. But once you get in the water, you find the powerful current is impossible to resist, it inexorably and irresistibly pulls you downstream along with all the other flotsam and jetsam.

I never feel more estranged and more unwelcome, in the products I purchase, in the news media I consume, in the streets I walk and drive down than I do during Pride Month.

And that includes some of these being held up as models.  It’s well known that Charlie Bird, recently promoted as an example for thousands of Latter-day Saint families hoping their child will “come into God’s light,” has a boyfriend and is pursuing a life trajectory contrary to prophetic counsel.  In a public interview, Charlie has said being reminded about doctrine regarding marriage and family “never helped me once.” And on his podcast with Ben Schilaty, Charlie spoke of spiritually feeling led to enter into homosexual relationships, “I felt like I should date guys when I was praying.”

Former Studio C actor Stacey Harkey, who was likewise promoted in LDS Living as a model for youth, also started dating his boyfriend within months after the article appeared. And Tom Christofferson has announced intentions to pursue the same, though with the anticipation of keeping his temple covenants.

None of this is about overwrought quibbling or niggling judgmentalism. After all, we can’t hold Deseret Book and LDS Living responsible for Charlie Bird and Stacey Harkey’s choices after publication. What I’m talking about is something that was or should have been discernible before publication. Remember my metaphor about those deceptively strong currents? The best way to resist them and keep from getting swept away is not to get in the river in the first place. And in this metaphor, the strong current is the popular identarian LGBTQ+ worldview implicit in so many of these messages widely promoted within our faith community.

When we hold them up as models for so many families to follow, we essentially invite these others into the river. However encouraging some of their witnesses of Christ feel in the moment they are published and the immediate celebratory aftermath, I am suggesting that the larger and more long-term trajectory their witness is setting them upon is not a safe one. (Another case in point: newly-minted gay identitarian David Archuleta who now publicly speaks of giving up on covenant marriage as he preaches the gospel of “be you”). The only reason I mention these peoples’ subsequent life choices (I respect their agency and do not wish to condemn them) is because I think that is evidence for what I am arguing here. Once they adopted these worldviews, combined with all the praise and accolades heaped upon them for adopting them (because that’s what loving Christlike people are supposed to do, right?), the outcome was all but foreordained. Can we really claim to be blindsided by their subsequent decisions when, by many measures, an uncritical embrace of this narrative of self creates natural estrangement in their relationship with the gospel and Church?

Of course nothing is inevitable, people always have choices and can make changes no matter when. But I do think this is a negative example of the “spiritual momentum” President Nelson recently taught us about. We need to consider not just where people are at in the moment they are “coming out,” but what course and direction we are setting them up to follow (along with those who follow their example). That is discernible beforehand for those tuned into the currents flowing underneath these deceptively calm waters.

My issue with these LGBTQ+ celebrities and writers specifically isn’t so much what they’ve been saying at the time they are published and interviewed in Church media, which is largely unobjectionable. It’s what they aren’t saying that concerns me most. What they aren’t saying is how the gospel represents the solution to what ails all of us individually and as a society.  They aren’t saying that they take the blessings and warnings foretold in the Proclamation on the Family seriously. Most of the time the principles in the Proclamation aren’t mentioned at all, leaving discerning readers wondering where exactly these people stand on this important and foundational teaching. And that matters because the world is uniformly hostile to it. If we adopt the world’s LGBTQ+ constructs, but say nothing to strengthen or affirm the Proclamation, we are effectively playing a game of Jenga with our spiritual foundations—pulling out some important buttresses without doing any backfill reinforcement elsewhere. If you object, saying perhaps that none of that matters and all we should care about is keeping our focus on these individuals’ immediate witness of a broad, non-specific, non-demanding Christ, then I have one word for you: myopic.

The unique burdens of Pride Month.  Many of these people, no doubt, assume Pride Month is a boon to our spirits—and a time we feel especially encouraged.  For those seeking to live the gospel, it’s often quite the opposite. It definitely is for me. I never feel more estranged and more unwelcome, in the products I purchase, in the news media I consume, in the streets I walk and drive down than I do during Pride Month. I think this is how many of those who are remaining faithful to the Church feel. And this goes double for those of us who have publicly defended prophetic teachings because we are regularly in the crosshairs of activists who see us as obstacles to their objectives. Many of those most wedded to gay pride and the rainbow flag have been most vocal in their wish for people like me to be miserable, disappear, and even die. (My recent articles defending Elder Jeffrey Holland and therapists who support traditional sexual morality have made me even less popular in that camp).

Whether it’s David Archuleta casting doubt on the possibility of happiness in traditional marriage to more overtly hostile attacks on the Church because of its stances, all of this can and does discourage us and make us feel more besieged. Meanwhile, those who have forsaken their covenants and turned their backs on their testimonies are often validated—and even celebrated. In an ultimate inversion, the betrayal of sacred teaching is praised as a liberating virtue. Despite the endlessly proliferating variations of the Pride flag, there is still no color on there for those choosing to be faithful to traditional morality.  There is no parade for the diamond marriages and the sapphire singles.

This is as it should be. These stalwarts seek a reward that is not of this world, and one that lasts longer than a month. Rather than celebrating as others do all around us, they look forward to the day when all who have overcome the world will sit down with saints of all ages at the wedding feast of the Lamb at a celebration that stretches into eternity. Pride month is a helpful reminder to them that they are strangers and pilgrims here, and that they cannot fully be at home in any earthly city. They have learned that any embrace of a contingent, temporary, and worldly identity like LGBTQ+ labels must be cautious and arm’s length if adopted at all, lest they fall prey to the many spiritually perilous assumptions that undergird these identity constructs and be swept along on those deceptively strong currents of our popular culture.

If we feel like foreigners to the world, we do expect to feel more at home in the Church. So again, it is jarring to read many of these same assumptions and identity constructs not just wholeheartedly adopted, but eagerly promoted in Church-owned media. And it’s disheartening to regularly read stories and interviews which demonstrate that even there, people do not “get” where we are coming from and what we are committed to. My understanding is that the Church (I dearly love) operates media efforts like these so that it can articulate its vision and values to the world. But if church-owned media merely popularizes among Latter-day Saints an already dominant worldly wisdom, what again is the point of having church-owned media?

It’s not just sexuality where this happens, of course. So often, we read articles simply echoing reigning orthodoxies in the national discourse, whether that’s imminent catastrophic man-made climate change or mechanistic, atheistic worldviews that undergird so much of biology and medicine.  (To pick just two among many examples.) In this sense and on this level, church-owned media becomes indistinguishable from everywhere else.

Ed Gantt and Richard Williams have raised similar questions to social science faculty over the years at Brigham Young University—encouraging not only more careful attention to underlying assumptions being embraced uncritically, but bigger imaginations of what could be possible in a psychology that takes the radical message of Jesus (and His restored gospel and Church) seriously.   

Of course, people don’t want to go back to silence, and disappear sexual minorities—and none of us are asking them to.  There is more than one way to foster inclusion and compassion, and help people work through shame or self-doubt—and there are many hundreds of people who can attest to ways of navigating these questions, albeit less popular, that align perfectly with the gospel.  

If it’s marginalized communities you really want to support, maybe you could pay a little more attention to those who are faithful to the gospel and LGBT+ —including by attending the upcoming North Star conference, which is sure to present a cornucopia of spiritual feasting and a cavalcade of inspiring personal examples of devotion to the gospel. That cavalcade includes a glorious diversity. My fellow leaders and participants don’t all agree with me on these topics. You’ll see people wearing rainbow-themed items there, and several of my colleagues have felt moved to participate in Pride over the years. Some loved these books that I didn’t. We continue to disagree about some of these things, and that’s okay: we come together under the “big tent” of our love of the restored gospel.

I personally believe the way the world conceives of LGBTQ+ identity is fundamentally at odds with gospel discipleship. We cannot serve two masters, Jesus Christ and the Mammon of LGBTQ+ identarianism. The Church media examples I am questioning here seem to imply that you can. By failing to interrogate and explain the components of the worldly conception of LGBTQ+ identarianism, the effect in Church media is to give a superficial impression that these differences can just be papered over with more “love” and “inclusion.” Most of them cannot. Certainly there are some deeply devoted disciples who use these labels, but when they are used in Church media with these people it’s worth taking the time to examine which elements they are adopting and which they are rejecting. In this article on David Archuleta at an earlier point in his journey, Archuleta says he “goes out with guys in the same way he went out with womennot in a sexual way.”

What exactly does this mean? Are these romantic or just social outings? Is it exclusive with one person, and towards what goal? Especially on the heels of the controversy about the revisions to BYU’s Honor Code, it would have been so helpful to drill in a bit further as to what kind of relationships with the same sex are helpful to our discipleship and which are not. Yet this article doesn’t broach the tension and potential peril of “non-sexual” gay dating, whatever that may even mean. All that we read is that more “love” and “acceptance” and “compassion” will solve it! Perhaps that article wasn’t the place to examine my questions, but the way it was treated seemed to give an imprimatur to romantic same-sex behavior so long as it’s not sexual, and that seems in conflict with the guidance given to BYU students. My own feelings on this aside, Archuleta’s further steps on his personal journey suggest these choices might not be as helpful to staying on the covenant path as he once believed. And if that’s the case, perhaps Church-owned media could consider highlighting some other role models and positive approaches to same-sex friendships, which I do agree are vital to our spiritual and emotional well-being?

It sometimes feels like we are trying so hard at wanting to be seen as loving—and to acquire the social advantages of the same—that we are pushing away some contradictions and inadvertently compromising in some important areas. It reminds me a bit of our intensive effort in recent decades to say “No, we really are Christian” in our interfaith engagement with other Christian denominations. Sometimes, with so much force, we inadvertently swept under the rug some differences deserving not only attention but emphasis and celebration. 

Some practical suggestions. No one likes a crank—and my intention here is to raise awareness, not condemn or merely complain. In fairness, it’s difficult for any believer to know what to say in our current environment. For journalists and publishers, this challenge is especially fraught. To help others trying to navigate these media environments, I close with a few more actionable suggestions of my own: 

1. Think more critically about dominant narratives of sexuality and identity. The take-away from most of the recent material cited above is that popular understandings of LGBT+ issues are something to be wholly embraced and celebrated—and that those who push back are reflecting hatred and a desire to oppress. It shouldn’t be too much to ask journalists at church-owned media to do more than simply uncritically repeat this public rhetoric. Maybe it’s time we all considered more carefully Robert George’s cautions about conflicts with rhetoric and prophetic teachings—and, in particular, what it means when we encourage people to adopt a new grand narrative of identity (a conflict that President Nelson seems especially attuned to as well). What I’m encouraging is deeper reading—well beyond the popular commentaries about sexuality in social media influencers and popular culture. Here are three identity explorations that might help, the first which I wrote with Meagan Koehler (Visible Identities & Invisible People) the second by Dan Ellsworth (Our Deepening Divide Over Identity), and the third by me (Whose Image Are You Seeking In Your Countenance?) Beyond identity, here’s a good overall summary of current conflicts between Latter-day Saint teachings and perceptions of the same: Seven Ways Latter-day Saint Teachings about Sexuality Have Been Misrepresented

2. Listen more deeply to those with concerns.  In old-style journalism, you used to have two sides. It shouldn’t be too much to expect faith-oriented journalists to seek out those with concerns about what’s happening at Pride parades—including all the speedo-clad yoga dancing boys, or the “un-baptisms” being offered by Satanists. A balanced article might also feature someone advising against bringing family members—or at least think twice about a blanket endorsement of these activities. This simply isn’t happening in these aforementioned articles.

I’m encouraging is deeper reading—well beyond the popular commentaries about sexuality in social media influencers and popular culture.

For example, in the articles covering the HB11 protests, compared with hundreds of words cited directly from activists, there were exactly four words and nine words from the sponsoring legislators of the bill.  Immediately following this brief citation, the Pride Center leader was cited extensively arguing that “separating sports by gender” is problematic and reflective of “Jim Crow” bigotry that “infantilizes” women by pretending women can’t compete with men. She also insisted that instead of focusing on gender we should realize “we’re all one—we’re human.”  It’s hard not to come away with only a superficial understanding of the legislator’s own motives. (Reading this interview, A Conversation with Rep. Kera Birkeland, and this commentary, A Better Conversation about HB 11, might help in that regard.) Bottom line:  Please try to be a bit more objective and ask some hard questions, including about Pride month itself (for another perspective on the Pride flag, check out this Jacob Hess and I wrote: Restoring the Meaning of the Rainbow). Consider trying to interview subjects who might give different perspectives on the dominant, celebratory narrative.

3. Use prophetic frameworks as the infrastructure for balancing competing tensions. Prophet leaders have not been silent about how to navigate these matters. In recent years, Presidents Nelson, Oaks, and Ballard have spoken extensively on them all, with several extremely practical frameworks to help us navigate this:  Love and Law help us appreciate the balance between justice and mercy implicit in the gospel. Fairness for All helps us appreciate the balance between our freedom to share this religion and working to honor others’ concerns. And lastly, the inspired recent focus by President Nelson on three fundamental identities—and cautions against allowing them to be obscured—represents a uniquely practical rubric to help people think through appropriate balances in discussions of identity. I can’t help but think if these local journalist efforts modeled the same tensions, they would be more helpful to everyone. For instance, if you’re going to interview activists expressing concerns about discrimination, do the work to bring into the article the balancing voices of religious folks sharing their own concerns. And if you’re going to highlight someone embracing their identity as gay—ask some questions about what this has meant for other core identities as a person of faith (notice how that could have made a difference in this KSL article, where the implications for faith of an embrace of the popular narrative remain unexamined).

4. Pay more attention to the diversity within LGBT-identifying voices. Watch out for the trap of current tribal politics—painting groups as a monolith. Be more explicit about recognizing real and meaningful diversity among those identifying as LGBTQ+ —especially when it comes to faith. Rather than only interviewing “a gay person, ” consider interviewing a gay person outside the Church, and also someone who is actively a part of it. And work harder to feature the voices of faithful members in your reporting (in fairness, Deseret News did publish one recently—Skyler Sorenson’s I’m a devout Latter-day Saint gay man. I’m married to a woman. (This is my story, April 21). It’s also with noting, as Blake Fisher did recently, how often those living faithfully are incentivized to stay quiet in this current climate. Yes, faithful voices are often harder to find. But when they read article after article which ignores them or doesn’t speak to them, that only makes them more likely to withdraw further. 

This will all take some additional effort, but I plead with you to expand your Rolodex! There is such a rich variety of voices out there that could make your articles so much more vibrant and interesting, and that would increase engagement and sharing when people read things that surprise or cause them to think about things in new ways, rather than recycling the same pablum over and over again.

5. Deepen your personal and professional connections with the many LGBT+ folks on the covenant path. There are a lot more faithful members of the Church out there who experience same-sex attraction than you might realize! (See, again, Why “All-in” LGBT+/SSA Saints Are So Reluctant to Speak Up.) If you’d like to hear and learn more—or if you know a family who could benefit from seeing this example—check here to sign-up to attend or listen in to sessions at the upcoming North Star Conference, June 10-11.

In doing so, you might also consider topics uniquely interesting to active Latter-day Saints, especially those who experience same-sex attraction: How do they find happiness in marriage on the covenant path—and in raising children?  How are they serving in the Church? And how do they reconcile their faith and sexuality to lead vibrant lives? How can their fellow members of the Church help them feel more welcome and included? How do they navigate friendship and heterosexual dating? How do they handle the pressure to date and marry when that might not be a part of their path right now? Where do they go for support? Has therapy been helpful, and if so, what kind and how? What do they wish therapists understood more about them? What kinds of questions would be good questions that members could ask that could help them better get to know their fellow Latter-day Saints who experience these feelings?  How can same-sex friendships bless us, heal feelings of estrangement we might feel from others, and strengthen our resolve to live the gospel–and are there any pitfalls to avoid in those friendships? All these topics and many more will be featured at the aforementioned North Star Conference.

A direct appeal to the management of Deseret Digital Media. I recognize I have been speaking to harried writers who are expected to have subject matter competence in a bewildering variety of topics, and Deseret Book product managers who might not be aware of the landmines around this topic. You all have a harder job than I do; I just write occasionally, part-time, and exclusively on topics that interest me. You are writing and editing on deadline, and are often paid by the word and by the click, and the pressure to produce stories and products is relentless. In an atmosphere like this, you have few incentives to dig deeper, challenge conventional wisdom, or reach out for more than a few quotes from the most popular voices and readily-accessible sources (including pre-written press releases that make your job so much easier). So I conclude my piece with a direct appeal to the management of Deseret Digital Media: please consider additional steps that might re-align the management incentives you have your writers and editors working under. Do whatever it takes to make sure those incentives align with the larger goals of the institution which sponsors your media companies. From my perspective, additional training and an adjustment of the performance standards by which you measure your employees are overdue. And finally, I repeat for a third and final time my invitation to attend the North Star Conference. There you can meet personally a multitude of new sources who can teach you a lot about what kind of content you can produce that will better support and strengthen your fellow members as they seek to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Thank you for listening.

 

Notes. Some of the recent articles:

  • Marjorie Cortez’s “What Utah’s higher education board did to affirm support for LGBTQ college community” (March 25) cheered the Utah Board of Higher Education unanimous support for a resolution to affirm and support the Utah System of Higher Education’s LGBTQ+ community in Utah’s universities—presented as a clear contrast to the Utah legislature’s efforts which have been lamented by the paper. Cortez quoted the leader of Utah’s Encircle as claiming that “a lot of self-destructive behavior” witnessed in young people comes “because of the messages that they receive throughout their lives about who they are.”
  • Logan Stefanich’s “East High School students hold walkout in protest of HB11” (April 15) cited local gay politician Derek Kitchen saying “It’s time for the youth to take over this state and show the Legislature what we’re made of” and high school freshman saying “We are so much better than a set of transphobic laws put in place by people we do not agree with.”
  • Bridger Beal-Cvetko’s “Will young Utahns’ protests against the Legislature’s transgender athletes ban have an impact?” (April 28) showcasing 13-year-old middle-schooler Caroline Drake as an inspiring model for condemning the Utah legislature’s “crazy” legislation on high school sports, “We could not believe that our Legislature just doesn’t support so many kids”—adding “I feel embarrassed for the Legislature, because they’re adults” and [we as kids] are “showing that we are more supportive than the people that are supposed to be supporting us.” The school was also portrayed as a model, with her mother Katie saying, “We actually have quite a few trans kids here who are out at Clayton, which I think is awesome.” The article goes on to cite a leader at the Utah Pride Center as agreeing Utah legislators have furthered “oppression and continued dehumanization of people” and hinting that consistent faith teaching may be part of the problem: “When you’re told you’re supposed to fit in a cookie-cutter shape, and you don’t actually fit there, there’s not true belonging” but that there is hope in seeing youth increasingly “understanding people’s humanity without gender” and willing to “determine for themselves what to believe.”
  • Mike Anderson’s “Spike in hate crimes targets Utah’s LGBTQ community” (June 1) which portrays a steep rise in hatred (most commonly flags getting taken down) and insisting there is a “lot more needs to be done to help people feel safer,” before quoting an ally encouraging people to come to Pride parades and celebrations: “Come to Davis County Pride. Go to Utah Pride and see how much love there is and see if you even still hate those people because you can’t.”
  • Carter William’s “’The work’s not done’: Salt Lake leaders celebrate LGBTQ advancements, seek further inclusion” (June 1) that quotes former Latter-day Saint Darin Mano as saying his first time at the Utah Pride Festival “changed his life forever”—channeling his hope that “everyone, gay or straight, attends festivities this weekend.”
  • Matt Rascon’s “Transgender students say school got their names wrong in senior yearbook” (June 2) sharing the heartache and outrage of two transgender-identifying students whose preferred names were (accidentally) not used in the yearbook—which instead used their “dead name”—aka, of “someone who does not exist anymore or maybe never has” in the words of one student. That same student interviewed for the headline story said dramatically “what’s done is done” but that it “felt like a punch in the face for sure.” The article’s climax was the principal’s own apology in behalf of the two mistakes (other trans-identified students had their names right)—while expressing her “love and support for the queer and trans students at the school.”
  • Ashley Imlay’s “LGBT group decries Utah lawmaker’s letter over ‘transgender phenomenon’ in schools” (June 3) framed Rep Kera Birkeland’s sharing of a pamphlet with Utah school leaders on navigating the transgender concerns of students as an outrage—channeling Troy Williams’ indignation in insisting her views stand “in stark opposition” to medical and educational experts.” (The article shared this background explanation about the pamphlet: “Until now, school leaders trying to implement policies to address this phenomenon have only had one-sided resources with the agenda of affirming a child’s belief that he or she was ‘born in the wrong body.’ These ideologically driven materials omit important scientifically accurate information about the serious mental health and medical concerns raised by this phenomenon and fail to address the rights of other students and of parents”). Although attempting to reach out to Birkeland for comment, Imlay’s article was indistinguishable in tone and conclusion from other condemnatory commentaries—ending with William’s stirring declaration, “Rep. Birkeland’s ongoing attacks on transgender youth and public school educators will not stand. This Pride Month, we are reminded that there are craven politicians who can only build power by persecuting those who can’t fight back. But transgender youth are not alone in Utah. We see you, we love you and we stand with you. We will never stop fighting for you.”

About the author

Jeff Bennion

Jeff Bennion is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He co-founded North Star International in 2007, and has written for several publications on the topics of sexuality, faith, and marriage.
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