18 July 2014


Mornings have a unique innocence. It's those serene moments in the dim grey light of the morning, where the dew is fresh on the grass, and the larks and mockingbirds have yet to sing. The dawn is yet to wake, and the world, for just a moment, is still asleep. I treasure these moments. In these moments lose myself as I feel her curl up beside me. I forget the last year. I forget all of the heartache and all of the pain. I forget that she doesn't love me.

I only remember the morning. I only remember her strong, soft arms pulling me into her embrace. The curvature of her body, and her head resting on my chest. In these moments I know no pain. I know no sorrow. In these brief moments, I am at peace.

Then I wake up. And she's gone.

24 May 2014


I had the privilege to go to Nauvoo, Illinois from May 1-May 5 for a leadership retreat with Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends. I was asked to write a piece on the experience I had with Nauvoo. (It was published here) I came to Nauvoo with an interesting perspective... I left with an entirely new one.

"What am I doing here," I muttered to myself as I stepped off the plane in St. Louis. "This is too close, My past is too vivid here, it's too vulnerable. I don't belong here... this is the one place that I cannot go."

As I collected my bags, and met up the other Affirmation members I was carpooling with, I was filled with a conflicted sense of pain. I didn't feel like the confident 24 year old that I've grown to be; I had been replaced with my 18 year old self... the wanderer., traveling aimlessly into an unknown abyss.

We all piled into a Suburban, and started the drive north along the Mississippi River. I had a lot of time to think, and ponder on what the weekend would bring, and the emotions it would create. Nauvoo is of utmost importance to the Church, and it's members, but as a convert, it had no significant place for me. To me, the City of Joseph was a place filled with religious history, a history filled with holes, and tainted with doubt. I never felt an affinity with Nauvoo... not until I arrived in the city itself.

As we all ate dinner, and set up things at the Nauvoo House on Thursday night, I could feel the Spirit lingering, and the pain that had occurred there. I could feel it hovering... pooling around the buildings, the trees, and the roads. I could feel the aching pain in the Smith family cemetery, and inside the Nauvoo House, the house that Emma had last called home.

Nauvoo's birth was veiled with trauma – the Saints were forced to leave behind their beloved temple in Kirtland, and the Prophet Joseph was imprisoned at Liberty Jail, leaving Emma and the Saints to fend for themselves while being expelled from Missouri. The Saints continued to experience pain with the doctrine of plural marriage, and the eventual martyrdom of Hyrum and Joseph. Nauvoo, while indeed the beautiful place that had inspired it's name, was not a place of joy... it was a place of injury and inexplicable pain and suffering.

Friday morning and afternoon, I had the opportunity to explore the historical sites of Nauvoo. I walked down Main Street and stopped at the Times and Seasons, the home of Apostle (and 3rd President of the Church) John Taylor, and Scovil Bakery on my way to the LDS Visitors Center, where I took a wagon ride along the historical districts of the city. I was struck by the abandoned feeling of the flatlands of Old Nauvoo. Most of the buildings had been torn down within the first 40 years after the Saints crossed the plains. All that was left were empty fields and the handful of buildings that had been preserved and renovated.

As I made my way back to the river to Emma's Nauvoo House, people had started to arrive. Dinner as being made in the kitchen, and volunteers were beginning to set up the parlor with tables and chairs. These were my people – my family – and my heart began to fill with joy. These were the people who know me, and understood my journey as a gay Mormon.

We sat down to dinner, and the conversation flowed. I was catching up with old friends, and planting seeds with new friends. Everything was wonderful. After dinner was finished, we pushed the tables to the side, and started the ice breaker activities. We went around the room and shared 3 adjectives about our anticipation of the weekend. Many described feelings of joy, and excitement, as well as faith and devotion. Mine however revealed my cloud of apprehension – my adjectives were hope, fear, and trepidation.

The next activity had us move around the room in a game called "social mapping". We were first told to move to where we lived. For me, that as Salt Lake City... easy enough. The next however threw that cloud of uncertainty over me. Move to where you call home. I don't have a home. I was born and raised in Defiance, Ohio, but that is far from anything I would consider home. In Salt Lake, I have a house that I live in, with a roommate and a dog, but it isn't home. I was homeless, so I moved to a corner that could only be called limbo.

That night I was plagued with restless sleep. I tossed and turned, wrestling with the parallels drawn between myself and this place. Nauvoo was too close to home. It represented everything that I had run away from – everything that I had left behind, and never looked back to remember. It represented a place that required a recommend of worthiness I cannot obtain.

Saturday morning, I awoke and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. I gathered my things and drove over to the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church) Visitors Center where we held a scripture study session led by John Gustav-Wrathall, Judy Finch, Todd Richardson, and Tom Christofferson. As we discussed passages from the Doctrine and Covenants, an interesting point was made about how the LDS Church, and its members, handle pain... we smile through it. I realized that I've done this my entire life. Every step I have ever taken, I made sure to take it in a way that showed my friends, my family, and the members of my ward that everything was fine, even as my world was crumbling before my eyes. I tried to look at it from a point of view that turned it into good, but did it without taking the time to mourn, to sob, to anguish, and to panic. I tried to turn it into a blessing before I had given myself the opportunity to heal. It was during this session, that I learned to confront my own demons, and mourn my losses. I learned that everything is a blessing, but it can't be a blessing until I am ready to fight back against the abuse that I had left unchallenged.

Our second session was conducted on the banks of the Mississippi River, at the end of the Trail of Hope where the Saints had left Nauvoo to begin their trek west. This is where the Saints looked back on their homes, their businesses, their schools, and their beloved temple, and chose to abandon them, so as to leave and search for a better life. I reflected and meditated on the loss of the Saints felt as they left their homes. I was reminded of the Atonement of the Savior, and how the Saints had to have leaned on Him for their strength and good spirits in that desperate time of need. Aside from the temple, this is where I felt the Spirit most strongly. It kept pushing me toward the bank, saying, "Go. The pain of your personal exodus in life pales in comparison to the pain here. Go. Find your own joy."

After a morning of exploring that opened my eyes to understanding I had never before uncovered, we took a break for lunch and free time. The first couple of hours I spent with the women of the Conference. We had our lunch overlooking the river and getting to know one another on a deeper level than we had the previous night. After lunch, I went to find my scriptures, and my journal, and I was overcome with emotion. The closer I came to understanding the events that transpired here, the more I was brought back to my own past, and the experiences that made me who I am today. I fought the tears that came from a place buried deep inside of me. No matter where I turned for peace, the peace was overwhelmed by pain.

After dinner, we all gathered into cars and we drove up to the temple for our group picture. The sun was just beginning to set, and the view from the hill overlooking the land and the river was remarkable. It was here and here alone that I felt peace. I watched the boys skip down the hill, and looked over at the young couple taking their wedding photos. I felt a very distinct feeling that told me everything would be ok, and that all things would ultimately turnout for my good. With all of the conflicting emotions I had felt this weekend, that confirmation and blessings of peace from my Heavenly Mother and Father was exactly what I needed for my journey to inner peace.

The last event of the night was the meeting we held on the second floor of Joseph Smith's Red Brick Store. Berta Marquez shared her story of being a Guatemalan refugee in the oppressive conditions of her country's dictatorship. She was able to create a new life for herself, and she pulled herself out of a place of despair, into a place of hope. I grew up being taught, and eventually begun to believe that I was to shoulder my burdens, and accept the side effects and limitations that came with them. This was yet another confirmation to challenge the things taught to me, and to forge my own path.

Carol Lynn Pearson was the last to speak that night. Her presentation struck me, and transformed my experience. She spoke about Emma Hale Smith, Joseph's beloved wife. She spoke of the devotion and unconditional love she had for her husband, but also spoke of the suffering and anguish she endured through the revelation of her husband's plural marriages, and then the crippling trauma of his assassination. Carol Lynn performed a monologue that she had written about Emma in her play, Mother Wove the Morning. It was so touching, and so moving that I had tears flowing down my face the entire monologue. She summed up, in 10 minutes, the thoughts and feelings that I had harbored, and clutched so closely to my heart for all of these years.

Sunday morning, we had a testimony meeting in the Seventies Hall owned by the LDS Church. The Nauvoo Mission President was present, and he spoke to us briefly before the stand was opened to us to share our feelings and our testimonies. Every single one of us spoke straight from the heart, and spoke with a vulnerable authenticity that we can't always express in our wards and branches back home.

As I walked up to the stand to bear my testimony, I was sustained with a shot of confidence that I had been lacking for the last few days. I went up, and shared my favorite passage from the Book of Mormon. The first 8 verses of the Book of Enos begin with Enos wrestling before God, and his soul hungering for truth. He knelt down before his Maker and "cried unto Him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul." It goes on to read, "all the day long did I cry unto him, yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens."

This is what I had done for so long... prayed, cried, and anguished for the Lord to fix something that was unfixable. I had pleaded with the Lord to help me with the trials of my childhood and adolescence, so that I could be made whole once more. My Heavenly Mother and Father had helped me accept myself as a gay woman, but now I needed Their help in calming the waters of my past, and allowing me to grow.

Like Enos, I prayed for the Lord to bless me with forgiven sins, and a calm heart. Like Enos, I don't know how it was to be accomplished, but I knew that it would be done. The Lord tells Enos, "Because of your faith in Christ, who thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years lass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

The rest of the day was filled with hugs and goodbyes as people set off to drive back home and the the airport. By the end, there were only a handful of us left. We drove to Carthage, to see the site of the martyrdom, and once again the Spirit there was one of anguish. The room where the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed held a chill... it was an eerie sense of finality and certitude. It's a feeling that I will never forget.

When I got back from Carthage, and after all the chores were finished, I went outside, and looked out over the river for the final time. I walked over the the Smith family cemetery and placed my hand on Emma's marker. I laughed with her, and I cried with her. I shared in her joys and in her triumphs, and mourned with her over her losses, and her pain. I shared with her my love for her, and my admiration of her courage, and driven nature. I poured my heart out to her about my life – sharing the joy and pride of my success, and sharing the pain I've harbored for so long. I told her of my family, and explained how I yearn to be reunited with them someday. Emma and I developed a sisterhood that night. I created that bond that I so desperately needed to create with this place. And I was finally at peace.

As I boarded the place back to Salt Lake City, I allowed Nauvoo to stay with me. I didn't leave and never look back like I had so often done before. I allowed myself to see that Nauvoo was home. I am a Saint. I have been left behind, I have been left abandoned. I have been the one driven out; I have been the one with an extermination order written against me. I had once been the weary traveler; I had once been the aimless wanderer. Nauvoo welcomed me with open arms; The City of Joseph is home.

29 April 2014

Eternal Perspectives

Last Tuesday was my last week of Institute for the semester. It was an interesting semester, filled with both ups, and downs. The highlight of the semester was by far my Women and the Gospel: Eternal Perspectives class. While the class did not emulate my vision of women in the Church, nor did it change my beliefs, it offered me a different perspective, and a different voice to the conversation.

Sister Lisa Clayton is one of the biggest reasons I have stayed active in the Church. She showed us glimpses of our futures, filled with free thought, postgraduate education, careers, and motherhood. She allowed us to have an opinion, and did not shut down a conversation when difficult questions were asked, or when alternative opinions were voiced. She let us think, pray, ponder, and learn. She allowed us to come up with our own conclusions. She gave us freedom to choose.

At the end of class I gave her a letter. Sister Clayton will not be back next semester to teach, because she will be in the Toronto Canada Mission serving as Mission President with her husband. I have all the hope in the world that she will be a resource, a mentor, and a guide to those 19 year old sisters. Because that's exactly what she was to me.

Sister Clayton,

I just wanted to say how thankful I am for you, and for you're class. I signed up for Institute this year with hesitation... I've had less than positive experiences in Institute, and in the Church, so I walked into your classroom filled with doubt and trepidation.

In all honesty, I expected your class to be full of lessons on a "woman's place"... in the home, nurturing the children and supporting our husbands in their careers and Priesthood callings. The Church has really been hammering the idea that a woman's greatest achievements and honors come from motherhood, and I expected the class to mirror those talking points. I was pleasantly surprised every week.

Your lessons allowed for discussion, free thought, and personal opinion... something that I have been hard pressed to find in my classes and meetings as someone with alternative opinions. You allowed us to blaze our own trails, march to the beats of our own drummers. While some of us will choose to stay at home, most of us will go on to post graduate education, and careers that allow us to fulfill our mortal responsibilities and desires, while also allowing us to exceed our eternal destinies. Thank you for empowering us with these possibilities.

You asked me a few months ago in an email what I see upon my horizon... what I see my future brings. At the time, I was unsure of how to answer... the answers are anything but simple or typical. But they begin with my patriarchal blessing. The biggest thing that stands out to me is this:
The world is in commotion. There is a multitude of opinions, motives, and desires in conflict, and it is difficult for a seeker of truth to know who is right. The grace of God has given you the answer. Be grateful for the knowledge and testimony He has given you.
You see... in December 2011, right after my bishop and stake president revoked my mission call, I was in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple in South Jordan. I was in the baptistery and weeping uncontrollably. I was begging for God to take my same sex attraction away. I did not want it. And every time I asked, I was met with a tidal wave of despair and hopelessness. I believed the words of my bishop... that I was defected. Broken. Unclean. I planned on the trip being my last temple attendance. I was planning suicide.

And then, suddenly, I asked, "Is it ok for me to be gay? Is this how you made me?" The floodgates burst open, and all of the love, support, and joy I've been praying for, flooded into my body. This revelation of love and confirmation that God did indeed love me, and made me this way was not the only one. I felt strong impressions to find a wife, and to have a family... but most importantly, I was instructed to stay in the Church. My Heavenly Mother, and my Heavenly Father validated my hurt feelings, but They told me to "stay a little longer." So I'm still here.

I firmly believe that the revelation was from God. Satan cannot penetrate the walls of the temple, and his misleading messages cause doubt and fear. This was the farthest thing from fear and doubt. This was my spiritual rebirth.

My Patriarchal Blessing goes on to tell me:
You have been reserves to come to Earth in the dispensation of the fullness of times in which you now live, in order that you could assist in the preparations for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will be able to accomplish the purposes for which you were sent to the Earth. There are significant purposes and circumstances where you'll provide very valuable assistance in accomplishing the work of the Lord.
I now know, 3 years later, that my true mission is here. Being active in my ward. Being a leader with Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends. My mission is to quell the untrue myths about LGBT people. I am here to show that we are just as good people, just as good parents, and just as good disciples of Christ as our heterosexual and cisgender brothers and sisters.

I do not claim to be receiving revelation for the Church. I want that to be clear. But I do want to stress that my Heavenly Mother and Father told me these things so that I would stay. Stay in the Church, but also to stay on the Earth. In mortality. I didn't know it then, but They needed me to be here to help the change in the Church to flourish and grow.

So... my horizon has a wife. Foster kids. A career in public service. A temple marriage. Ward/stake callings. Maybe even a few books. Pretty normal if you ask me. And hopefully, in 5, 10 or 20 years it will be seen as normal by everyone else.

Thank you for all of your love and support. You will be a fantastic asset to all of those sisters. Empower them to be who they are, to think for themselves, and help them grow into the strong leaders we will need in the future.

Love, Ellen

24 April 2014

Public Service Announcement!

This year, Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends wants to march in the Salt Lake City Pride Parade. In the last few years, our members have marched with other groups like Mormons Building Bridges, and Mormons For Equality

While these groups are integral to the success of LGBT Mormons everywhere, they are seen by the public as the straight allies. The parents, siblings, neighbors and coworkers of their LGBT friends and family members.

In Affirmation, we ARE the LGBT Mormons. Whether we are active, inactive, excommunicated, no longer members, or have never been members of the Church, we all, in our own way, lay claim to Mormonism. This is what sets us apart, and makes us unique.

With that said, we do not want to be seen as fleeting in numbers, compared to the other Mormon groups marching. Small numbers can be seen as non functioning, and unorganized, and we are far from that.

So... we need to have a count. Who will march with us in the Salt Lake Pride Parade? We want to hit at least 50 secured marchers, so we can move forward with registration. My goal is to have 100-150. We can get there.

I am in charge of the coordination of the booth, and the parade marchers. So let me know if you are in by posting a comment or sending me an email... help us show Affirmation to the world!


08 April 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

This Saturday, April 5th, I had the opportunity and privilege to stand in line with a few hundred of my fellow Sisters, and many Brothers, seeking admission to the General Priesthood Session of General Conference. I stand in awe of the testimonies of the women I surrounded myself with that day, and I am so blessed to be able to call them friends.

This is my account of the events of that afternoon. My opinions and actions are mine, and many other women have similar stories. I'm just blessed to be able to voice my own.

I attended the Saturday Afternoon Session at the Conference Center right before the General Priesthood Session. At the close of the session, I watched the crowds filing out of the auditorium, and watched the seats empty. With a start, I realized that in a span of one hour, I would no longer be welcome inside of the building. It was a sobering realization.

I arrived to City Creek Park just before everyone started lining up to leave. I was herded into line right after many of the women in leadership positions, and other prominent figures like Joanna Brooks and Margaret Toscano. As we started leaving the park, there were a handful of men with signs that started yelling at us. One yelled, "Get back in the kitchen and make me some cookies!" Another yelled, "Go make me a ham sandwich and get me a Coke!" I stifled the urge to laugh... the only sandwich I would be making for a man would be a knuckle sandwich... to the crotch. But as I walked past them, I blew them both a kiss. In that moment, there was no better expression of love and compassion I could have given them.
The Salt Lake Police were there, escorting us to Temple Square. They directed us to cross the intersection from the park to Temple Square diagonally. I certainly thought it was a good idea, after all, it was more direct. The people in their cars however, did not appreciate it. Most of them were in their Sunday best, and it was clear that they were members of the Church headed to or from Conference. There were loud honks from their horns, offensive gestures out of rolled down windows, and shouted insults, and jeers. From one I heard, "You're blocking f****** traffic!" From another, "Get out of the street! Get out of the Church!" How can it possibly be seen as Christ-like, when you are screaming and flipping people off? How would Christ react to us? What would He say to us?

The hail started coming down, just as we entered the grounds by the Church Office Building. As we walked, there were women talking about their pioneer heritage. That no matter the hardships, the cold, the rain, or the snow, they persevered. I'm a convert; I have no pioneer heritage. But this helped me understand the hardships of the pioneers, and their quest for equality, and validation in their religious beliefs. The hail continued to fall, and I (without a coat or umbrella) started getting cold, wet, and a little bit miserable. But all I could continue to think was, "If this doesn't show my will and dedication for the hard work, and dedication of the priesthood, I don't know what will."

Once we got the the southeast gate of Temple Square, I noticed that the gate had been shut. The gates are NEVER shut to Temple Square unless it's after hours. I was shocked. I remembered seeing a news release saying that the Church was not going to bar us from entering Temple Square. And yet, the door was closed to us, simply because we are different. Kate noticed that the gate was not locked. So we opened the door, and we started moving towards the tabernacle.

We walked confidently, with our heads held high. As we started getting near the Tabernacle, many of the men looked at us with scorn, and distaste. There was even a man asking to see our Temple Recommends. Yet nothing, not even the hail pelting my skin, could diminish my resolve, nor put out the fire burning inside of me. I was doing what I knew to be right.

Suddenly, without warning, an older gentleman ran right into me, cutting me off, causing me to stumble, and almost fall to the ground. I couldn't believe it. There is no way that he could not have seen me! I was walking two by two near the front of a long line of women! I regained my balance, and called out to him, asking if he was ok. He never once looked back at me.

I kept moving, and I took my place in the stand by line. Women and men were lining up behind me, and the line was making its way around the Tabernacle. I started chatting with a few other people in line near me, when I noticed two men in line with us, who were not a part of Ordain Women. They were chatting with some people in front of me, when the younger man noticed that a female usher was quietly leading a handful of men to another entrance. The young man started urging the older man to get out of line, and to follow the other usher to the other entrance. Once I saw what was happening, I knew at that moment, that the "stand by" line that I was standing in, was a fake. The "real" line was somewhere else... somewhere where I was not invited.

At last, I was at the front of the line. I was standing in front of Kim Farah, the Church's chosen representative from the Public Relations Department. She introduced herself, and the first thing that she noticed was that I was soaking wet. She cared about me as a person, not as a perceived "protester". We chatted for a moment, and I asked for the opportunity to show my willingness and dedication to serve my fellow sisters and brothers in ways I have never been able to do, because I am a woman. I asked for the opportunity to bless my family and bless my home with the power and authority of God. She smiled, and politely gave the reasons why women are not ordained, and encouraged me to watch the General Women's meeting, if I had not yet seen it. I told her that I had, and that I appreciated the small steps the Church has taken in regards to the female membership and participation in our doctrine. I mentioned how pleased I was last year to listen to the historic moment where a woman was finally asked to pray in General Conference, and how exciting the news was when the photographs of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Presidencies were hung in the Conference Center, next to the existing ones for the men.

Before I left, I asked her one more question. I asked, "Kim? Because this is the general priesthood meeting, are non member males, or male members who have not yet been ordained, allowed into the meeting?"

She said yes.

I replied, "Even though they do not hold the Priesthood, they are still admitted?" She answered yes again, saying that it was part of their instruction as men in the Church, similar to how women have the Women's Meeting, even if they are not members.

I then said, "Well, that is unfortunate. I could understand being barred from the meeting if it was a matter of not holding the priesthood, because then the man who lives next door to me would also be denied entrance. But it is unfortunate that my only disqualifying trait is the fact that I am a woman." I thanked her, and I gave her a hug. Before I walked away however, I paused at the closed door of the Tabernacle, and I stepped up to touch the door. I could feel the faint vibrations from the activity inside, and I said a very quick prayer of thanks, and asked the Lord to bless me with strength and patience. As I opened my eyes, a faint voice told me, "Stay yet a little longer." Only then, with my strength renewed and my testimony reinforced, did I walk away.
That night, I saw on Salt Lake Tribune the Church statement about the event... claiming that we refused to leave when asked, among other things. About a week before General Conference, the Church banned the media was from entering Temple Square. Without the press, the Church's statement is the only information released, and the information is extremely one sided. I was never told by a Church employee to leave. In the end... the fact that the Church issued this misleading statement, hurt me more than anything else over the weekend. And in hindsight, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to speak to the press after we were denied entry to the meeting. It is important for people to know what had happened, through the eyes of the people who experienced it.

Regardless of your personal feelings towards Ordain Women and it's mission, and regardless of whether or not you agree with my view of the world, and my views on the Church, what do you think Christ would have done. Would He have honked His horn and yelled out of His car window at me? Would He have caused me to stumble and fall? Would He have ridiculed me, questioned my testimony, and tell me to leave His Church? No! He would have waited patiently in His car, and caught me as I fell, so I could steady my unstable feet. He would have told me that He loved me unconditionally, and made sure that I felt welcome and valued in His Church. He would have welcomed me with open arms. So knock. Ask. Have strength, and have courage. But ask yourself... What Would Jesus Do?

02 April 2014

Down In The River To Pray

Earlier this week, while driving to Boise, ID, the hymn "Down in the River to Pray" came on the radio. (Ironically, on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Pandora station) It was a version sung by Allison Krauss on her album "A Hundred Miles or More". The song is sung completely A Capella, and the lyrics are virtually the same throughout, but at the beginning of each verse and chorus, the song addresses a new group of people. Sisters. Brothers. Fathers. Mothers. Then... at the very end... Sinners.
On the eve of General Conference, and another General Priesthood Session, this rings throughout my heart, like a bell being sounded in a bell tower.

The Church loves gender roles. There is always at least one talk that solely focuses on them, and countless others that mention and refer to them in one way or another. These talks are meant to emphasize (and usually over emphasize) that we are different, separate, and not meant to blend. (BUT STILL EQUAL!)

The simple fact is that we are different. We are remarkable, unparalleled, and extraordinary. We have different opinions, and different interests. We have different experiences, and have different talents. We are of different heights, weights, colors, ethnicity, and language. We are unique! (Just like everyone else...)
We are Sisters and Mothers. Brothers and Fathers. We are friends, and sometimes foes. But most importantly, we are sinners. We all sin differently. Many of us swear, and work on the Sabbath. Others may take something that is not theirs, and then lie to cover their tracks. A few of us may have even done something more serious, like committing adultery. But no matter what we have done, and no matter who we are, or what positions we hold, we are all sinners.

So we really are all the same. We have our petty differences, and the things that make us who we are. But we are the same. We have the same desires to be close to our Heavenly Parents. We have the same desires to be Christ-like, and to serve others. We have the desire to wake up the next morning as a better person than we were the day before.

But most importantly, in the prophetic words of the Book of Mormon prophet, Nephi, Our Heavenly Parents inviteth all that come unto Them, and denieth none. Black and white; bond and free; FEMALE and MALE, we are all alike unto God.

14 March 2014

Heavenly Mother, Are You Really There?

Last night I was in bed getting ready to say my prayers. My prayers are really more like conversations... talking to God about the concerns I have in my life. He knows me personally, and He made me unique from everyone else in the world. So I feel like I have the liberty to talk to Him personally.

So I laid down, and opened with "Heavenly Parents". I talked and put out my concerns, and asked for blessings... you know... all the normal stuff. Then quite abruptly, I realized that I was only addressing Heavenly Father. The only time that I had acknowledged Heavenly Mother was in the beginning.
This, unfortunately, isn't surprising to me. I'm sure that part of it comes from being raised in Catholicism's version of patriarchy, and being thrust into Mormonism's extreme patriarchal culture certainly didn't help. But the trigger is looking at the parallells in my relationships between my Heavenly Parents, and my mom and dad.

My relationship with my parents is non existant, and has been for several years now. But when I was still living at home, while still unstable and forced, was at least in existance. My dad was the "good cop"... he would talk to me in mild tones, and would (usually) listen to my side of the story, or my feelings on matters. When I needed to ask permission from someone, it was from Dad. I felt comfortable coming to him with tears in my eyes, and asking for a hug... and the answer was always yes, often with no questions asked.

Mom? Never. We never talked civilly. Her tones were sharp and condescending. I was uncomfortable and intimidated. She yelled at me, and I yelled back. I never felt safe to confide in her, and I rarely felt her love... and often, not even her tolerance.

(I do want to make clear that I was the worst teenager who had ever walked the face of the Earth, and I deserved to be treated this way. But still... this has stunted me.)

Heavenly Father loves me. I know He does. He listens to me when I'm worried, and even when I'm wrong. He corrects me, usually by gently pushing me in the right direction, but sometimes sharply when it's needed. But I always know that He loves me.

Heavenly Mother is very different... I do not feel her love. And instead of seeing Her, I see my mother.
This is devestating to me. I have one Divine Being to look to, to see what my eternal destiny is supposed to be... and I have no relationship with Her, and I have virtually no scriptural or scholarly examples to look to, and to study.The boys have Heavenly Father, and Christ, and we have thousands... millions of resources to look to, to see what they should aspire to be, and to work towards.

I don't know what my divine potential means as a female, and it makes me feel less important. The problem is... I don't know how to fix it...

27 February 2014

Utah State Senate Testimony Session

Today I attended an after hours "session" of the Utah State Senate. There were about 40 members of the Utah House and Senate present, and more than 300 people present representing the LGBT community and their loved ones. This was the first public conversation between our state's legislators and the Utah LGBT community where they had an opportunity to meet people in our community, and to see us as constituents rather than a charade of smoke and mirrors.
I was asked by Equality Utah to prepare a statement to read at the session. In the end, I wasn't chosen to testify at the meeting, but being there to hear the testimonies of the courageous men and women, as well as the reactions of the legislators, meant the entire world to me. To see the tears from Senator Luz Robles, and Representative Jen Seelig, and to hear the sincere words of love and community from these men and women. 

The highlight of the evening for me, was Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox. This man had to leave in the middle of the meeting to give a speech at a conference downtown. No one would have thought less of him if he didn't come back... hell, no one could have possibly known if he would have had enough time to come back. But he came back to listen to us. And that has left a lasting impression on me.
At the end of the meeting, I was able to meet Lt. Gov. Cox. He came up to myself and the woman I was speaking to, to introduce himself personally. He had tears in his eyes as he expressed his regret that he had to leave, and miss out on our stories. It was at this moment, that I pulled out my typed testimony from my bag, and I handed it to him. I told him that there was no greater respect he could have shown to us than to come back to the meeting. It proved that the conversation was important enough for him to come back and understand. 

I could not have asked for a more understanding group of men and women to share my experiences with. Because I didn't have the opportunity to testify publicly, I'm publishing my prepared testimony here. People need to hear our stories and our experiences. No one should live in fear in this state. Ever.

My name is Ellen Koester. I’m 24 years old, and I consider myself to be a pretty normal person. I play the piano, ride a motorcycle, and make the world’s best spaghetti and meat sauce. I take my dog for walks, I spend way too much time on Facebook, and I only ski on the best snow on earth. But simply, I’m me! I’m a full time student, a lesbian and, most importantly, I am an active Latter Day Saint.

In 2009, I was a 19 year old freshman attending Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I was a newly baptized member of the LDS Church, and at semester’s end, I started looking for housing and employment off campus. I soon found that my bishop was a landlord with apartments for rent, and my stake president was looking for another employee for the summer. Both welcomed me with open arms, and I considered myself to be a responsible tenant and a hard working employee.

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that I was gay, but when I joined the Church, I became hesitant and scared to tell other people. But one day, about a year later, I decided to confide in a roommate about the struggles, and feelings of internal contention I was having. My roommate was less than compassionate, and the next day I received a call from the bishop letting me know that the apartment I had called home would cease to be home in 48 hours. The next day, when I went into work, I was immediately pulled into my supervisor’s office, and told to pack my things.

I was blindsided. I felt betrayed, because I had not violated the contract of my lease, nor had I violated any workplace policies. When I started looking into the legality of what had happened, I was certain that I would find protection in the Civil Rights Act, and in laws passed by the state. But where I found protection for race, color, sex, religion, national origin and disability, I found that protection of sexual orientation was nowhere to be found. I was 20 years old, and I was completely alone.

In the Gospel of John, in chapter 13, verse 34 we read these words, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” From these words we learn that because we are all children of God, we are to love each other, and see each other as if we were looking through God’s eyes. From the official Church website, mormonsandgays.org, we hear Elder Quentin L. Cook say, “[L]et us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and lets not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I’m sorry, I feel very strongly about this as you can tell. I think it’s a very important principle.”

Senators, I want to thank you for the time you have spent here today, and for coming together with our community to find love and understanding. It is only by standing together that we will find great opportunity for tomorrow.

20 February 2014

What Is Truth?

I encourage people who read my blog to express their opinions on the subjects that I write about. Even (and especially) when those opinions disagree with my own. I encourage people to comment on the posts themselves, or on social media where they're posted. Comments are common, and I love them... it shows that you are speaking your truth, and it's instrumental in my ability to speak my own.

Today, I got my first email. I didn't think too much of it, until I got to the subject line. The email, while polite and courteous, spent almost a full typed page telling me that I create doubt rather that build faith... and honestly, I was surprised. This last conference, President Uchtdorf taught us that, "A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others." The things that create doubt in me, can build strength in others. These things that are creating doubt in this person, create strength and stability for me. And that's ok!
I'm used to being labeled. And believe it or not, I really like labels. They're linear, and structured, and I need a little bit of that in my crazy, messed up life. I'm labeled as not having enough faith... and sometimes that's true. I'm labeled as spiritually stunted because I rely on my brain AND my faith, instead of on my faith alone. I'm labeled as a "Doubting Thomas" and quite honestly, I carry that as a badge of pride.

I don't blindly follow the Church. I don't believe it's honest to believe in something, simply because a Church leader told that you it is. Brigham Young said, "I am ... afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self -security. ...Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates." Way too many people do this... me included!
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a CES Fireside in January 2013 titled "What Is Truth?", where he tells us, "Latter-day Saints are not asked to blindly accept everything they hear. We are encouraged to think and discover truth for ourselves. We are expected to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to a personal knowledge of the truth." 

I feel like it's hypocritical to "fall in with the party line" when you don't believe in it, and I believe it's contrary to the message in James 1:5 to ask of God when you lack wisdom, or truth. It's hypocracy, and I firmly believe that there is only one thing that God disapproves of, and it's being a hypocrite.
So... anonymous letter writer... I'm Mormon. I know it. I live it. I love it. I'm Mormon because it's where I belong. I'm Mormon because doctrinally, I believe more often than I doubt. Personal revelation, and promptings from the Holy Ghost have led me to stay in the Church, even while surrounded by hurtful doctrines, and teachings. I'm not going anywhere, better get used to me. ;)

15 February 2014

Doubt Your Doubts

I absolutely love President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. That man is amazing. His talks in General Conference, and articles in the Ensign feel like the are written specifically for me, and no one else. He is the rock that holds my testimony in place. I strive to have the faith that he has, and the love and compassion he has for everyone; not just the members of the Church.
This last conference further strengthened my love for him. He validated my emotions and my concerns about my doubts in Mormonism. He reaffirmed my personal revelation that I needed to stay in the Church. He reaffirmed my place. He pushed aside the people that are unwilling to give me a seat in their pew, and said, "There is a place for you. You belong here." There is nothing about President Uchtdorf that I could dislike. He makes airplane jokes! What's to hate about that?

What I can't stand, however, is the Church's obsession with ignoring EVERYTHING in his talk, and instead only quoting the one-liner, "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith".

I see it everywhere. I see it on Facebook, I see it on Twitter. I see it on the wall in the foyer of the Institute Building, and I hear it from all my friends as a catch all cure for all my doubts and questions.
It. Drives. Me. Nuts.

When I see these signs and pin ups, all I think of is: Doubt your doubts about the Church's lack of transparency on its history. Doubt your doubts about the lack of importance of women. Doubt your doubts that the Church had it absolutely WRONG about the Priesthood ban on blacks, polygamy, and now homosexuality. Stay firm in your beliefs, and if concerns arise, doubt your doubts and continue to stay firm in your beliefs. The cycle is never ending.
People assume that "doubt you doubts before you doubt your faith" only applies to doubts about official Church teachings, doctrines and positions, but how many times do we doubt ourselves about something that we know down to our very bones to be right? How many times do we doubt the personal revelation we receive? How many times do we doubt our own inspired and prayerful interpretations of our patriarchal blessings and other Priesthood blessings?

Answer? All of the time.

We see these things as something that we cooked up during our less-than-lucid moments when we're on the brink on sleep, or in the torturous moments before fully waking up. We see them as moments of weakness... confusion, or even the Adversary tempting us into doing something wrong. These things happen, don't get me wrong... but it's not always the case.

I constantly am doubting my doubts. I doubt my own personal revelation. I constantly push back against it, because the majority of the Church sees it as something I made up in my head, because I wanted so badly for it to be true... some even see it as bordering on apostasy. I doubt that God loves me. I doubt that They love me for being gay. I doubt that God made me this way. I go back and forth with myself. I go back and forth with the dogma I was taught to believe with unwavering certainty, and they knowledge I know to be true, by going to God directly... just like Joseph Smith.
When we pray, we turn toward God. When I pray, I feel comforted, not confused. When I pray I am strengthened, not filled with contention. When I pray, I may be scared, but I finish with a level of understanding. Faith isn't faith if we doubt our ability to hear God, or doubt Their ability to deliver us from adversity.

Therefore, my dear sisters and brothers—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

11 February 2014

Discrimination Goes Both Ways

Outside the Governor Gary Herbert's office yesterday was a group of 13 men and women, protesting the Utah Senate's refusal to hear SB100, a bill that would make it illegal to refuse housing and employment to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people, based solely on their identity and orientation. Here's the article from The Salt Lake Tribune.

Last week, the House Republican caucus, in a closed door session, decided to kill SB100, (a bill that had a 72% approval in a recent Deseret News poll) along with other bills, by refusing to hear any bill addressing LGBT issues, in order to take the safest course of action so as to not harm the State's position in their appeal of Judge Robert Shelby's decision. House Speaker, Becky Lockhart is quoted by the Tribune saying, "Maybe we should take a step back and see how things go in court. What is the right thing to do in terms of where we are in this process? Where we are right now is the court has it, so let the court deal with it." 

All of this has gotten me thinking... What if I owned my own business, or was a manager for a company and had the authority to fire an employee? What if I was a landlord, or worked at a bank as a mortgage manager, and had the authority to evict a person or a family?

That employee and that family live an alternative lifestyle from my own. Heterosexual relationships are as backwards, unappealing, and unnatural to me as homosexual relationships are to the heterosexual, not to mention that they violate my own personal religious convictions.

Under the current laws in the State of Utah (local laws aside for simplicity's sake), I would be completely within the law to fire and evict them, based solely on the fact that they are straight, and I believe that it's wrong.

Would this ever happen in Utah? No... discrimination against the majority rarely (if never) happens, and even if it would happen, there would be riots in the streets. But perspective is everything... non discrimination bills go both ways...

06 February 2014

"Lord, I Would Follow Thee"

"Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly? In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can't see. Who am I to judge another? Lord, I would follow thee."

This is the second verse of Hymn 220 Lord, I Would Follow Thee from the LDS Hymn Book. We sang this hymn at the opening of my Teachings of President Thomas S. Monson Institute class last night, and after all the hell that has gone on in this class, Brother Butler has really redeemed himself.

The entire lesson was about how we are to be our brother's keeper; not picking out their flaws, and shortcomings, but loving them without judgement or scorn. We talked about President Monson's time serving as the Bishop of the 6th & 7th Ward, and his overwhelming generosity he expressed to his ward members. He gave love and service to his ward without a second thought.
Brother Butler then wrote on the whiteboard these 7 words: Vision, Patience, Balance, Effort, Understanding, Courtesy, and Love. He asked us to pick one of those words and search the Scriptures for references that meant something to us. I immediately turned to the Topical Guide to find something for UnderstandingProverbs 3:5-6 popped out at me first, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." For the word Love, I immediately thought of Doctrine and Covenants 18:10, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God."

People tend to believe that because someone's lifestyle or opinions don't match our own, we are right in our excuse to not understand them. And because we are excused from understanding them, we excuse ourselves from our duty to love them. We are wrong in doing so. Every soul is of worth in the sight of God! Lean not unto your own understanding about them, and go seek them out in compassion.

The final verse in the Hymn, "Lord, I Would Follow Thee" begins like this, "Savior, may I love my brother as I know thou lovest me," We are to lift the fallen, not to figure out if they deserve to be lifted. We are to heal the hurting, not to judge whether or not they are worthy of the healing. We are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and to do so without hesitation nor pause. For inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me. - Matthew 25:40

17 January 2014

Tuesday's Warriors

I was dreading Tuesday. I was terrified of Tuesday. Last Tuesday I was ostracized, outcast, and oppressed. Tuesday broke me.

But this Tuesday... Tuesday was to be the day that I stood up to my fears. Tuesday was to be the day that I stood up to my oppressors. Tuesday was to be the day that I stood up for myself.

It turned out to be so much more.
I attend Institute at the Salt Lake City Institute at the University of Utah. Last week, when I attended my "Teachings of President Thomas S. Monson" class, I was absolutely smeared and belittled for being gay by the substitute teacher. Here's the story. I was scared to go back... I was so excited for this class, and now I'm fighting with myself to go. It shouldn't be that way.

I sent out a cry for help to Mormons Building Bridges, Young Mormon Feminists, Affirmation Millennial's, and Feminist Mormon Housewives on Monday. Dozens from out of state sent their love and their prayers. Others got a hold of family members that live in Salt Lake to see if they could attend with me. All in all, three people were able to make it to my class: Andrew, Laura, and Katie.

Andrew and I arrived together, and set up shop in the front corner of the classroom. A few minutes after class started, Laura came in. We didn't know each other until that day, so she stood in the back and said, "Is Ellen here? I'm looking for Ellen." Very timidly, I rose my hand and said, "I'm Ellen." And she came right over, full of self confidence and spunk, and kicked Andrew right out of his seat! He was a great sport, and Laura was thrilled to see that he was there for me too. She introduced herself and gave me a hug, and then let class continue. A few minutes later, Katie came in. I waved her over, and she came to sit right behind me. My army had arrived. I felt safe. I had the strength to speak my truth.

The lesson was a crap fest. Very traditional, orthodox Mormon. The class focus is supposed to be the Teachings of President Monson, and yet, the only thing discussed about him was the age change for missionaries. I brought up how wonderful it was to see more Sisters entering the mission field. Brother Butler agreed with me, and suggested that it was divinely inspired to "level the playing field" between the men and the women. His logic was that educated, professional women intimidate the men, and therefore encourage them to be lazy and play video games all day.

Laura, in all her Mormon Feminist glory, spoke up and asked, "Why is it a problem for women to be professional and have careers? Why is it a problem for them to own their home or condo? Why are these young men intimidated? Maybe we should be raising and teaching our young men differently."

Next up was the equating argument between Motherhood and the Priesthood. Laura countered and explained that Fatherhood = Motherhood; Priesthood is an entirely different thing. While Brother Butler stepped back to clarify that he meant it in more of a metaphorical way, he never backed off of the comparison.
He explained that it's the mother's responsibility to usher us into the world, and the Priesthood's responsibility to usher us into the hereafter. He talked about the Ordain Women movement, and described it as a "peculiar new idea", after which a girl spoke up and started saying that "being equal to men doesn't mean to be the same as them." Which then segued into a call to read Sherri Dew's new Book "Women and the Priesthood". Which is gross.

The argument about how Satan hates family was brought up often. How he continually attacks the institution of the family (though he never brought up LGBT families, which I consider a win), and the divine role of women. He hates women because he will never have an eternal family with a wife and children. It was certainly an explanation that I had never heard before, and it certainly raised a few eyebrows, even if they were just from the four of us.
Heavenly Mother was brought up, and the first real explanation as to why we never talk about Her was given: "It hasn't yet been revealed." It was nice to have someone say, "I don't know," rather than to divert back to the "She's too special," cop out. Katie absolutely rocked it by offering places to find information on Heavenly Mother... specifically this BYU Study. Once he realized that he had a handful of Feminists in the room, he said that he was open to difficult discussions, and topics.

To end the lesson, we went over a timeline of the big moments of President Monson's life and ministry. We closed with a prayer and a hymn, and then the rest of the class dispersed. Katie, Andrew and Laura all stayed behind with me so I could talk to Brother Butler about the concerns I had from last week. He was already aware of mormonsandgays.org, and he didn't erase it from the board after I wrote it there. He listened intently while I told him about the collapse of my mission, and the affirming experience I had in the Temple that brought me out of the deep depression I had slipped into. He listened to what Elder Peters had said and done last week, and he welcomes the fact that I'm outspoken, and that I will stand up for the things that I believe in. We'll see if he really wants what he's going to get...

All in all... the Thomas S. Monson class is going to be the most challenging class. But the Women and the Gospel: Eternal Perspectives class... the class that I was convinced was going to be a shit show... is going to be my salvation. That class is at 7:30 in room W003. Please come and experience the awesome. I'm going to start blogging about that class too, so stay tuned!