Thursday, March 22, 2007

soulforce visits byu

Still sick and now with an exceedingly sore throat, but I'll survive. I'm going to try to get everything about Soulforce down in this one post, but if I get too tired or it's taking too long, I reserve the right to start in the middle and finish tomorrow. There's a lot to say.

So last night's discussion group was actually pretty decent. The Equality Riders gave a brief (about 20 minutes or so) presentation about...I forget the term...theological progression? Or something like that. Anyway, I kinda zoned out on most of their points - it's all stuff I've heard from left-wing activists trying to cater their message to a conservative group before. They were knowledgable with their Bibles, but it didn't really align with how the majority of GLBT BYU students feel - at least in my experience. Emily had some really helpful comments about the basis of good dialogue and forward progression and understanding being based in creating relationships. Sorta reminded me of the whole BRT step on the mission - building relationships of trust (sup now-defunct purple handbook). Truly, though, that was the only thing that a Soulforce member said that actually resonated with me and allowed me to feel the Spirit. Nowadays with stuff like this I largely follow my feelings, because I have a closeness to the Spirit when it comes to discerning the truth of things. I'm pretty sure it's one of my spiritual gifts. So though the Soulforce people intended well, they just weren't getting the picture.

After they took off, though, we were left with only one Soulforce guy - Mike, a former BYU student and current member of the Church. He obviously understood us better, and with 'our people' guiding the discussion, progress was made, and things felt better. They talked about submitting lists of grievances to the administration (a semi-futile approach, as I see it, and one that ended today with two Soulforce people being arrested in order to make a point), the fear that pervades the everyday lives of GLBT BYU students (I mostly just like putting all those letters in a row :D), the stereotypes that fly around, the misconceptions that the majority of the student populace has about us, and what we'd like to see changed in the Honor Code. The grievances bit, while good in principle, was attacked in entirely the wrong way. School administrators anywhere don't like to be pushed around, and a list of things we think are wrong is less than likely to be entertained, plus having Soulforce members 'march' the list on campus (their words) when they've been warned to stay off or be arrested...not so much a good idea. That was a big loss in my eyes. The talk of fear, stereotypes, and misconceptions was pretty good stuff. I personally haven't felt afraid of being myself on campus, but a lot of that is because of my personality and the feeling of invincibility I get when I think I'm in the right. I'm not going to be advocating public displays of homosexual affection on campus - I advocate open communication between all people about the subject and attempts to increase understanding and love amongst all students. So the fear has never really been a factor for me. Stereotypes of any kind bother me, and more so gay Mormon stereotypes, because they're close to home. Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I'm promiscuous, doesn't mean I whore myself out, doesn't mean I'm going to go limp-wristed and lispy (and if I did, who are you to judge me for it?), and it certainly doesn't mean that I'm not trying to live the gospel just as much as the next guy, or more so. It's myths like that that we're trying to dispel. As for the Honor Code, we just want clarity. We don't want a 6-page expose' on what homosexual activities are permissible or not - we want first of all to be able to discuss the issues in our lives without fear of ecclesiastical and administrative punishment. We want other people to hear and understand our stories, and perhaps feel compassion for our struggles and lend support. What do the scriptures say about dealing with people who are struggling?

...willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort... (Mosiah 18:8-9)
...lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. (D&C 81:5, out of context)

If we are able to have more discussions like that amongst the common BYU populace, we'll be partway to a more understanding campus.

Then, there was today. I didn't get to take part in the walls of Jericho march (sickness and work kept me away), Hidden did, and he told me that it was more good than bad. His interactions with Soulforce members was very positive, and he helped some of them catch a glimpse of the typical gay Mormon at BYU outlook. Some issues arose when the pro-same-sex temple sealings people started to pass around literature. It's people like them that give a horrible slant to our community and who lead Soulforce to believe that they can change Church doctrine. More on that in a moment.

We did, however, skip our history class to attend the rally at Kiwanis Park. It was not as well-attended as I had expected (I think it was about 50-50 or 40-60 Equality Riders to people who showed up on their own), but it started out great. Haven, a lesbian who organized the Soulforce visit last year, kicked it off (as far as I can tell, since we got there 5-10 minutes late) and was actually fairly well-spoken and fair. Then a "straight ally" current BYU student spoke to us about his experiences (he has a lesbian sister who left the church and thus his family has spoken about it), his findings (largely dealing with controversial electro-shock therapy used by a BYU professor in the 70's in an attempt to 'cure' homosexuality, a topic addressed in Carol Lynn Pearson's book, I think called No More Goodbyes (but I'm not positive, since I haven't read it)), and his opinion on what needs to happen. He also pulled some relavent quotes from his ancestor (from the time of Joseph Smith) and some stuff from Joseph Smith himself. It was good. Then a current BYU student who identifies as lesbian spoke, and was also very good. She talked about the pervasive fear on campus, her testimony of her trials and struggles, and how talking with others and being open allowed her to love herself again.

Unfortunately, the good stopped there. The next guy up was an older guy named Clay. He started out trying to lull us into his speaking style and getting us to trust his opinions by citing scriptures and faith that BYU would change its policy. Then he went off basically on church policy, saying that the 'rewards' to GLBT members of the church were unjust in the context of the scriptures, claiming that we have to take a stand against current powerful church leaders, and completely taking scriptures out of context to support his claims. It was a gross misrepresentation of what the majority of us stand for at BYU, and I don't think he should have been allowed to speak. It's people with stances like his that make Soulforce's visits unwelcome to many, and make me feel like they're less of a help to us than an inhibitor to actual dialogue. And as bad as Clay was, the next guy was worse. I didn't catch his name, but he said that we should call on church leaders to repent. He cited "Dollin" Oaks fearing that the Church would no longer be able to limit gays, he twisted I Am A Child of God, and generally was horribly creepy, and again, completely unrepresentative of what we stand for. I was horribly disappointed by how it ended up.

I didn't get to attend tonight's discussion group, but Hidden did, and he said it was phenomenal. Four of the six individuals who talked with Jan Scharman a few weeks ago were there, and only a couple of Soulforce members. They (Hidden and Pinetree, among others) were able to actually bring home our stance as gay Mormons - that to most of us (at least the ones in our circles), it's more important to be Mormon than to be gay. Basically that our goal isn't for BYU or the Church to allow us to 'act out' our sexual preferences, but that we want to be understood and free to talk about who we are and how we live, what we struggle with and how we can strengthen each other.

Tonight Soulforce is gone. They've stirred the pot, for sure. People are thinking about things, at least in part. We know that administration won't want to do anything that seems reactionary to Soulforce's visit, but we also know that they're open to discussing things behind closed doors, and profess to be open to creating something in the open as well. It's up to those of us who are in a position to do something to righteously and tactfully apply pressure to get things done, to speak when it is appropriate to speak and to make our voices heard. That's the only way we'll get anywhere before Soulforce returns again next year.

End of high horse. Sorry about long post.



playasinmar said...

Of course you feel invincible. You are. You get to wear your fiancĂ©e as armor. It proves to them they have nothing to fear from you. “He’s tame. We fixed him.”

What are the rest of us supposed to do?

"...we also know that [school administrators are] open to discussing things behind closed doors, and profess to be open to creating something in the open as well."

Well pardon my sarcasm but Whoopde-Fetchin-Do! Nothing like claiming to hold secret, behind-the-scenes policy meetings to cheer up the down-trodden!

Good news, everyone! The administration is secretly meeting behind closed doors to discuss not savaging us anymore. We're not invited but we have high hopes that everything will turn out fine! Honestly, when has a secret, closed-door policy meeting not benefited everyone involved?

drex said...

Well, the thing is that I've always felt invincible on this point. Before Salad and I were ever together. I didn't go around blaringly announcing that I was gay, but I didn't care if anyone found out (aside from family, at that point).

And pardon my incredulity, but that's how things get started. You can't go straight from no dialogue to wide open doors and open arms. It just doesn't happen, especially when there's bureaucracy and policy involved. It has to start with behind-the-scenes meetings to get things going.

Seriously. Can't you just be glad that something is happening right now, and hope and pray that it turns out for the best rather than shooting it down before it gets off the ground? Otherwise you're just playing in the same court as the people who don't want to do anything about anything.

Tito said...

I think it's great that things are happening more--behind closed doors or not. I have mixed feelings about Soulforce's visit, and I'm certain that what I believe they *hope* will happen--and which Esseg and Knowlton alluded to at the rally (ie, changes in doctrine)--will never happen, BUT I do believe that a more open and accepting atmosphere Will happen, and I look forward to it.

But, like you said, this is all a start, and things will happen slowly. Actually, I don't think it's just getting started. I think it's been going a long time... but it's all been the laying of groundwork... planting the seeds, so to speak. It seems to me that now things are starting to change and bear fruit.

playasinmar said...

"Can't you just be glad that something is happening right now..."

Then you'll be thrilled to hear about the secret, behind-closed-doors meetings about granting you millions of dollars and a Viper automobile.

"...I'm certain that what I believe they *hope* will happen...(ie, changes in doctrine)--will never happen..."

Never change? Really? Doctrine has been flat-out reversed, inverted, 180-flipped.

The only thing that remains the same is the inevitability of change.

drex said...

"Then you'll be thrilled to hear about the secret, behind-closed-doors meetings about granting you millions of dollars and a Viper automobile."

There's a difference between stupid lying gimmicks and knowing people who have directly discussed things with administration. How about you don't treat my posts like crap and take my comments out of context, and I'll try really hard not to get mad that you're being a jerk in my blog.

drex said...

And if you ever say I'm 'fixed' again simply because I'm trying to live a gospel I believe in, I'll be really pissed. It's sad that you think that anyone who attempts to live a heterosexual lifestyle automatically doesn't understand what struggling is about. I guess that rules out -L-, Beck, Jayson, and other married gay Mormons in the Mohosphere.

playasinmar said...

“It's sad that you think that anyone who attempts to live a heterosexual lifestyle automatically doesn't understand what struggling is about.”

That’s not what I think. I said you are fully expected to feel invincible at BYU because, engaged, they have no reason to fear you. And they do so want to fear you. If you’re married they think they won. They think they fixed you.

I don’t believe it is a matter of winning. I don’t believe it is even a contest. I do think some officials want to accept you and everyone like us. They just keep reaching for solutions that are hard for me to accept.

I’m referring to the not-so-secret solutions here such as: We will not marry homosexuals together. We will not recognize your marriages no matter who performs them. So if you two fall in love you can only be sinning. (for example)

Tito said...

"Never change? Really? Doctrine has been flat-out reversed, inverted, 180-flipped."

Some things do change. Our understanding of things evolve--or at least the explanations and meaning we often assign to things we don't understand.

In the case of same-sex relationships, I do believe Church members will become much more understanding and compassionate and *socially* accepting. Even policies of the Church might evolve to be more helpful and accommodating to people "where they are." I do NOT believe, however, that the doctrinal prohibition against homosexual relationships for those who desire the fullness of the blessings of the gospel will ever change. I feel firm that there will never be same-sex temple weddings. The idea is absurd to me. And it's not because I don't understand what it's like to be gay. If God ever reveals that same-sex couple can enjoy all the blessings of the Church, I'm not so dogmatic as to be unwilling to accept that or eat my former words, but I simply don't believe it will ever happen.

playasinmar said...

“Some things do change. Our understanding of things evolve--or at least the explanations and meaning we often assign to things we don't understand.”

I was starting to think I was the only one who ever thought that!

When the church changes course they never delete the scriptures that provided the previous heading. They just say, “It doesn’t mean that anymore.” I think the critical point is that it never did. God is constant, immutable, unchanging. The existence of changed doctrine seems to imply that God lets the church makes mistakes on it’s own sometimes. To humble us, I imagine. He’s always doing things to humble us.

-L- said...

[quietly tiptoes into conversation and sits mildly with hands folded]

I appreciate your activism and idealism, Drex. I got really irritated by the way a particular honor code issue was handled while I was at BYU and I ended up writing a letter to an administrator about it. He contacted me shortly afterward and said that he was extremely impressed with the professional way I expressed my concerns and would I like to meet with him personally to discuss it? I said, "sure, you betcha" and stomped my way up to the ASB in a huff.

The explanation he offered me was one you will never read in the paper, and I could never have gotten in any other way. It's part of being an administrator that you have to balance PR and openness and everything else. Anyway, I left mollified.

The point of that lil vignette is that I'm a believer in being a mover and a shaker and I say more power to you BYU dudes who want to work within the system. Go you.

Silus Grok said...

Howdy, y'all.

Greetings, Drex... don't think we've "met" before, but some of the guys here know me.

A couple of observations: first, I've never been completely at-ease with the Soulforce thing (which would surprise folks who know that I hosted them via FHEfamily a few months back and then again on Monday at a bonfire up the canyon). It's complex for me... a large part is my post-Manifesto Mormon "don't rock the boat" mentality, and another is having outsiders coming to our rescue (images of Iraqis wondering what the hell Americans are doing in their country, come to mind). Yet another is the warm feelings I have for luminaries such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr and the civil disobedience they inspired. Of course, I'm not alone: I joke that Mormons today would have crucified George Washington had we been around then — that our reverence for him and our Founding Fathers doesn't square at all with our decidedely corporate approach to injustice and controversy.

In the end, though, I imagine/hope that Soulforce will work some small miracles — if only to shake some of us from our intransigence.


playasinmar: wow... you realize that you're coming off as a real ass, right? I can't imagine that's your goal, as I've enjoyed your posts elsewhere. But, wow...


The difficulty with closed-door meetings is that it's hard to surmise whether the parties are there to work quiet miracles or to mollify — whether they're our true advocates with power or ass-covering bureaucrats. It's this unknowing that bothers me — not the glacial pace of change.


I've said it before, but it bears repeating: BYU administrators are torn in three directions: academia, quieting the fears of doting ( * choke, cough * ) parents, and the pressures inherent in being a very real part of the Church's PR apparatus. Pulled as they are by what appear to be mutually-exclusive aims, it's a miracle that anything ever happens. Good thing I believe in miracles.

The Hidden Gay said...

The comment is totally going to be a meta-post. LOL

Lord knows I hate arguments. Why do people always gotta be so damn judgmental? *shakes head*

I have alot of things I could say right now, but I'll try not to get lost in the bullets flying back and forth...or the "dialogue" as some may see it.

As for Soulforceness...since I don't have a blog, and definitely don't have time to make one, and definitely spend too much time here already... I'll just slap this up here...

Drex did a good job of summarizing most of what happened with Soulforce.

I'd say the big thing I want to point out was that when I was with Soulforce in public, one thing happened; when we were chatting one-on-one or in private, they were an entirely different Soulforce.

Really they only damage themselves with all the negative media, etc., and I agree with Drex about the box of grievances. That's why we are friends :)

As for the second discussion, Pintree, El Veneno, Baker's Son, and the 4th whose blog I can't find off hand... met with Amy and Rebecca of the Soulforce crowd. There were scattered other individuals there also, some who I know, others not so much.

Anyway, the discussion was really important and the issue of authenticity came up again...

To be "authentic" for many gays is to "be true to self" and act out on feelings. I stand solidly on the belief that the specturm of homosexuality is as different as each individual who inhabits it. What may be "authentic" for you is not necessarily "authentic" for me. I can be "authentic" by living true to the things that I believe and acting on that. That's not denying any part of me, or hiding myself. It's being true to what's most important to me, and that may be my beliefs.

Much of the discussion centered on what Pinetree commented on in his last post: Us defending ourselves against the Mormons who scream at us to just change our gayness, and also us defending ourselves from the gays (Soulforce) about our mormonness. Sometimes it would just be easier not to feel attacked from both sides...

But Amy and Rebecca were able to wrap around the concept that our issues do not HAVE to separate us from our faith, do not HAVE to alienate us from God. In actuality, the more we embrace them the closer they can draw us to God. They stated that was their REAL intention as Soulforce--(wow they suck at getting that across)--Reconciliation. Our being true to us should reconcile us with God and our personal convictions.

Granted, I also agree with my pal Mike (the lone Soulforcer who stayed Wed night) when he said that this process of reconciliation will be a life-long pursuit. There's just alot to mesh together, and the details can get so gritty...

To touch briefly on "closed-door" meetings, I motion throwing out that term completely. Administration is working with us and working openly...others are invited. It's not a VIP event, we're just the ones who stepped up to take some initiative. As Drex said, tt essentially cannot BE "open-door" at the outset. We have to start somewhere. Admin can't trumpet a horn and announce to the world that things are different when, um, oh yeah, we are still working on them. But people know. It's not like it's a top-secret project that no one hears about and only happens in dark alleyways where no one is watching.

We're approaching it the right way, the only way it will work. Soulforce made that even more clear this time. With an administration caught up in policy, etc., they cannot be approached in even a quasi-militaristic manner and have demands put to them. We are appraoching them on a humanistic level, connecting emotionally by letting them know that we are here, and this IS hard, and we want their aid and what could we do to get that?

It started the dialogue. Nothing has happened yet, sure. But that doesn't mean the hope isn't there. As was talked about in depth Wed night, we cannot villify the administration at this school in our attempts to end their villification of us. It just doesn't work that way.

If we cannot run with our hopes as far as they will take us, then with what and where can we run?

P.S. I now claim the record for the longest comment in the history of the Queerosphere (though would be happy to be proven wrong on this...I'm not trying to be self-absorbed)