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During the summer of 2011 there were three separate hate-motivated violent attacks on three different gay men in Utah. As a Mormon, and a currently serving bishop of the church from Illinois at that time, I decided that I needed to do more to stand up against hate and support the civil and human rights of our LGBT sisters and brothers. As a result of that decision, I flew to Salt Lake City and “came out” as an LGBT ally.
Since that time Mormons have been found marching in pride parades across the country, and the church launched a new website called mormonsandgays.org where church leaders reach out and affirmatively acknowledge that orientation is not a choice and family members should never shun or exclude regardless of the path their gay loved ones may choose. Only a few weeks ago, the church has taken a crucial step towards supporting change on an issue that would have been completely unheard of even a year ago—the change of policy on orientation in Boy Scouts.
For Mormon boys, Boy Scouts is the activity arm of the church. Since I became an LGBT ally, I had become concerned as my own children began and continued in scouting if one day they would face discrimination if they were gay.
The messages of exclusion and discrimination from an organization that is supposed to build character and inculcate principle-centered values seemed completely at odds with one another.
The ban of gay boy scouts and leaders also seemed incongruent with current church policy that allows openly gay young men to bless and pass the Sacrament (communion), receive ordination, and perform the ordinance of baptism. And 18 year old young men are allowed to serve as missionaries and be ordained to the high priesthood if they are openly gay. Yet, if my son or any other Mormon parents’ son is gay they could be excluded from Boy Scouts under the current ban. Gay adults and parents would also be ineligible to become Boy Scout leaders under the ban. This gap in Mormon culture between church and activities is not sustainable and does not make sense.
I was excited and enthused when I heard the church recently came out in support of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) moving towards ending the ban against gay scouts. This was a huge step for our faith tradition that has such strong ties to scouting. In fact, our church sponsors 25% of all local Cub and Boy Scout groups. Many in our faith community previously believed that if the scouts took the step towards inclusion, the church would abandon scouting and start their own activity program. It appears this won’t be the case and I could not be more pleased. This important inclusionary step will harmonize with current church policy.
While I am excited and energized about this progress, there will continue to be a ban on gay leaders. This is extremely unfortunate because it continues to promote the atrocious myths and stereotypes that have long been assigned to our gay friends, family, and neighbors. These myths promote fear, misunderstanding, discrimination, hate and even lead to violence against our sisters and brothers. They also send the wrong message to our youth.
I look forward to a day when our LGBT sisters and brothers will be judged not by orientation or gender identity but on the content of their character. We still have not come to that day yet, but I do see progress. I hope my faith community and the BSA will continue to make progress towards inclusion and acceptance of our gay neighbors and loved ones, and that scouting will return to its honored tradition of developing leadership and values in all of our youth and the ban against gay leaders will be lifted.
Kevin Kloosterman is a former Mormon bishop and a devout and active Mormon from Illinois. He is married and the father of three children. He has been a mental health professional for over 15 years.