Daniels joined others in a friendly chat between LDS Church members and gay Utahns in a Salt Lake City Main Library conference room this week. Hosted each month by Mormons Building Bridges (MBB), these "community conversations" invite active Mormons and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Utahns to get to know one another at four public libraries.
It's one of several programs that have grown in the past year since MBB got its start with about 300 straight, churchgoing LDS members marching in the Utah Pride Parade.
The group now has 3,142 members (and rising) on Facebook and is branching out into the community to help make the LDS Church a more welcoming place for LGBT people.
During Tuesday's community conversation, members discussed the possibility of lobbying for a statewide nondiscrimination policy. LGBT Utahns now can be booted from their rental home or their job, except in 17 municipalities with local ordinances, including Salt Lake City.
Eight people joined the discussion in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night, including Janice Marcus, president of the Salt Lake City chapter of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).
"Since MBB, we have PFLAG meetings with LDS members," Marcus said. "There's been more interest."
MBB founder Erika Munson brought up Mormon history and how the early church pioneers were persecuted themselves. Daniels agreed and pointed out that many people believe being gay is a choice or that gay men are pedophiles.
Dan Christensen, a gay LDS man, said he hears a lot of talk about the Celestial Kingdom and how gay and single people will fit into it. "But who knows what it's about," he said.
Anyone can join the library discussions and the rules are simple: Be curious (ask open, honest questions); be humble (respond to questions with "I" statements); be respectful (don't try to persuade, teach or change others).
"It's been one of my favorite things," said Doree Burt, a MBB member. "I didn't realize the divide [between LDS and LGBT people] was so far. There were people weeping on the side as we walked in the parade. I'm just an average Mormon mom."
During the past year, Munson said there's been an overwhelming response to her original idea of faithful Mormons staying within the parameters of the church but making their congregations and homes more welcoming to LGBT people.
"I'm really impressed with the LGBT Mormons who are now looking for a way to make the church work for them," said Munson, a Mormon mother of five and an English teacher.
LDS leaders teach that same-sex attraction isn't a sin, but acting on it is. They also oppose gay marriage.
Daniels said strides have been made among the LDS leadership in discussing gay members, pointing to the new church website Mormonsandgays.org. But it has not always filtered down to the congregations, he said.
Daniels said he often gets asked by his ward members: Can you take sacrament? Go to the temple? Answer: Yes.
That's because he's single, but that could change.
"How can we go through life without experiencing love?" Daniels asked, referring to his celibacy. "I hope to remain active in the church. I've seen paradigms change because people would get to know me [in church]."
An increasing number of Mormon LGBT people are choosing to stay and integrate the pews, observes Berta Marquez, a MBB steering committee member, in a text message. "There is still a great deal of work to do," she said, "but some LGBT members are being treated with greater kindness and understanding than they might have in the past."
Twitter@RayUtah Mormons Building Bridges branches out
Among community initiatives by Mormons Building Bridges (MBB):
Sit With Me Sunday: Tabernacle Choir Edition • This Sunday, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., LGBT people are invited to attend services with MBB members. "As a way of honoring our LDS pioneers past and LDS LGBT pioneers present, we will enjoy the live broadcast of Mormon Tabernacle Choir together." The event is free. Details are at on.fb.me/15uYBT6.
The Family Acceptance Project • On July 31, a documentary produced by The Family Acceptance Project about a Mormon family's journey to support a gay son, "Families Are Forever," will be shown at the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. MBB will participate in a panel responding to the film.
Community Conversations • On the third Tuesday of every month, public discussions of issues of interest to the LGBT and LDS community are held. The meetings are at 7 p.m. at libraries in Logan, Provo, downtown Salt Lake City and Park City. On Aug. 20, the topic will be: Who is responsible for addressing the bullying of LGBT, or same-sex attraction, teens?
Out of the Darkness Community Walk • MBB members will participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's community walk in Salt Lake City on Sept. 14, highlighting Utah's high youth suicide rate.
Safe and Sound • Ogden OUTreach center seeks safe, temporary homes for homeless youth, where LGBT teens are over-represented. Mormons Building Bridges is promoting the Safe and Sound program and the first host family approved comes from MBB. Details are at bit.ly/1bxGdPN.
New gay Mormon scholarship
LDS Church members who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) can apply for scholarships of $1,000 for two-year degree programs in Utah.
The new "Sit with Me Sunday" scholarship was established by the Community Foundation of Utah in partnership with Thomas and Sherri Park. They hope others will donate to the new fund at Utahcf.org.
To apply for the scholarship, email at email@example.com.
Gay Mormons tell their stories at the following websites:
YouTube project: under "Mormon It gets better" channel