This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
A Mormon missionary in Italy abandons his mission to move in with the Italian man he loves. A conflicted Mormon father is confronted with a transgender son who wants to be his daughter. A polygamist in 1855 Utah is ordered to take a fourth wife, when all he really wants is to be with another man. A virginal gay man takes out a contract on his own life to protect his virtue.
If I could have read stories like these before my mission, perhaps I wouldn't have stood at the railing of a ferry taking me from Sardinia to the mainland of Italy, staring at the water for two hours as I contemplated suicide.
"The weather is so nasty," I thought. "No one else is on deck. Everyone would think I'd slipped in the storm."
Because of my church's extreme homophobia, this course of action actually seemed like the best option for me. If stories like these were routinely available to Mormon youth, perhaps the suicide rate for gay teens in Utah wouldn't be one of the highest in the nation.
Of over 425 short stories I've published in 30 books, almost half of them deal with gay Mormons. My books include "Mormon Underwear," "Sex among the Saints," "Gayrabian Nights," and many more. Six of my books have been named to Kirkus Reviews' Best of the Year.
And I'm not alone in writing about the gay Mormon experience. Marty Beaudet writes about a gay missionary in Europe recruited by his mission president to work for the CIA. Ryan Rhodes describes the horror of electroshock torture at BYU. Writer Jeff Laver addresses various aspects of the gay Mormon world as well. Brian Andersen produces a comic book about a gay Mormon superhero called "Stripling Warrior." Heterosexual Mormons write about LGBTQ members, tooDonna Banta, Eric Samuelsen, Levi Peterson and the esteemed Carol Lynn Pearson. An anthology of some of the best work about LGBTQ Mormons appears in "Latter-Gay Saints," edited by Gerald Argetsinger, former Artistic Director of the Hill Cumorah Pageant.
The truth is that Mormons should support all LDS art and literature more fully. And this means reading work other than that published solely by Deseret Book. Intellectual and progressive Mormons enjoy reading history and non-fiction, but facts alone tell a mere fraction of the story. It is the lived experience illustrated in various forms of literature that reveal the most to us. It is the difference between reading a scholarly article on the Holocaust versus watching "Schindler's List."
As most Mormons know, the LDS Church is frequently in the national news because of its homophobic policies toward LGBTQ people. It raised $20 million for Prop 8 and has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to fight same-sex marriage since the early 1990's. In 2015, the LDS Church redefined apostasy to include same-sex marriage. And it implemented a new policy denying its ordinances and blessings to children of same-sex couples.
Mormons make up a powerful voting bloc in the Western U.S., and those voters often, in the most well-meaning of ways, deliberately hurt their own LGBTQ family members. The worst part is that they sincerely believe they are demonstrating love by doing so. But well-intentioned Mormons keep hurting us only because they don't really know us on a deeper level. Fortunately, there are groups such as the Mama Dragons, Q-Saints and Family Fellowship who help LGBTQ Mormons and their allies support each other.
But all Mormons could make a stronger effort to understand gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people more fully, both in and out of the church. Certainly, those who consider themselves our allies need to do so.
One easy and effective way to accomplish this is by reading work by gay Mormon artists who are trying to humanize those so often demonized by religion. Yes, there are some four-letter words among our pages, and there might even be an allusion or two to sex. But if we're not strong enough to read about real life without swooning, we're not going to be much help to the LGBTQ friends and family we claim to love. True understanding can only come about if we make that effort. Let's read what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters write to know more about their world.
Johnny Townsend earned an MFA in fiction writing from Louisiana State University. He served a mission to Italy and held a number of callings before his excommunication for being gay. He is an associate producer for the documentary "Upstairs Inferno," about an arson in a gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans that killed 32 people on Gay Pride Day in 1973.