Tag Archives: elders

Mormons push their church to be more accepting of gay members

Court decisions this week paving the way for same-sex marriage to become legal in dozens of states, including Mormon strongholds like Utah, Idaho and Nevada, have emboldened a growing group of Latter-day Saints who are pushing the conservative church to become more accepting of gay members.

The church’s stance toward gays has softened considerably since it was one of the leading forces behind California’s ban on gay marriage in 2008, but high-ranking leaders have reiterated time and again the faith’s opposition to same-sex unions.

Some Mormons hope to change that, or at least work to make congregations more welcoming places for gays and lesbians.

Erika Munson, co-founder of a group that is neutral on gay marriage but is trying to work within church doctrine and policy to make congregations more accepting of gays, said she worries about losing younger Mormons because of the church’s stance. One of her five children, an adult son, has chosen to not to practice Mormonism, in part because of the way LGBT people are treated at churches.

“People under 30 all know somebody who has come out. They are not the other, they are not scary. They understand that they are just like them,” said Munson, whose group Mormons Building Bridges stays neutral on gay marriage because they want to work within church doctrine. “So, that’s really hard to reconcile with a Christian church where we follow the teachings of Jesus.”

Last week — after the U.S. Supreme Court unexpectedly rejected appeals by Utah and four other states trying to protect their same-sex marriage bans — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement that the decision will have no effect on church doctrine or practices, while acknowledging that “as far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken.”

Still, church leaders are not ready to accept gay unions. Dallin H. Oaks, one of the church’s highest-ranking leaders, told a worldwide audience last week at a Mormon conference in Salt Lake City that legalizing same-sex marriage is among the world values threatening Mormon beliefs.

Yet he also urged members to be gracious toward those who believe differently in what many gay advocates in the church saw as the latest example of the softer tone leaders are taking.

The majority of Mormons will stand behind church teachings on the topic, said Scott Gordon, president of a volunteer organization that supports the church.

That doesn’t mean they are bigots or hatemongers, though, as they are sometimes labeled, he said.

The reality is that most Mormons have gay relatives or friends they love, but they also agree with the religion’s opposition to gay marriage rooted in a deeply-held belief that families are the center of life and for eternity, and that a family led by a man and a woman is best for children, he said.

“Marriage is not just about love. Yes, love is a large component of it, but marriage is about having families and raising children and doing those things that will help the children grow into adulthood,” said Gordon, of FairMormon. “The fundamental teachings of the church are never going to change on this. We’ll just adapt and move on.”

The history of the church suggests Mormons could alter their views, although no one is expecting doctrinal change anytime soon.

Mormons believe in ongoing revelations from God, which has led to fundamental changes. In 1978, Mormon church leaders lifted the ban on blacks in the priesthood. In 1890, the church president at the time received a revelation to end the practice of polygamous marriages that were part of the first 60 years of the church.

“They have change built into their cosmos,” said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “Churches exist in societies as well and that can’t help but effect how they think.”

Spencer W. Clark said his beliefs began shifting when he became friends with gay and lesbian classmates in high school and college, and he eventually became the leader of a group of faithful Mormons that supports gay marriage.

He, Munson and others hope that same-sex couples will become visible, active members of their communities, allowing more Mormons to get to know and appreciate families led by gay and lesbian couples. Even if Latter-day Saints don’t accept gay marriage right away, that could help break down barriers, Clark said.

“This helps people be more comfortable with it because it’s no longer the big, scary unknown,” said Clark, executive director of Mormons for Equality, who lives in Washington D.C. with his wife and three children. “They’ll find out this isn’t the doomsday scenario.”

Mormon founder of women’s group faces excommunication

Two months after Mormon Kate Kelly led hundreds in a demonstration to shed light on gender inequality in the religion — defying church orders to stay off Temple Square — the founder of a prominent Mormon women’s group is facing excommunication.

Kelly said she was shocked, dismayed and devastated to receive a letter earlier this week from the bishop of her congregation in Virginia informing her that a disciplinary hearing had been set for June 22 to discuss the possibility of her ouster. The leader of Ordain Women is accused of apostasy, defined as repeated and public advocacy of positions that oppose church teachings.

John P. Dehlin, the creator of a website that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith, is facing the same fate. He received his letter from a local church leader in Logan, Utah, giving him until June 18 to resign from the faith or face an excommunication hearing. The letter says church leaders are deeply concerned about Dehlin’s recent comments about no longer believing fundamental teachings of the faith.

The cases against the two lifelong members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mark the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University. That year, the church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine, ousting five and kicking out a sixth only temporarily.

Church leaders seem to be drawing a line between private or informal expressions of discontent with church teachings and public protests aimed at pressuring the church, Mauss said.

“The LDS Church is not a democratic institution, and has never claimed to be,” Mauss said in an email, “So such actions are interpreted by church leaders as attempts to displace or undermine their legitimate authority over church policies and teachings.”

Singling out two critics of church policy who have made themselves very visible seems like “boundary maintenance” by the church, said Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana who is a non-Mormon expert on the church.

“They are saying to folks: `If you go this far, you are risking your membership,’ ” Shipps said.

Church officials said in a statement that there is room for questions and sincere conversations about the faith, but that some members’ actions “contradict church doctrine and lead others astray.”

In certain cases, local leaders step in to clarify false teachings and ensure other members aren’t misled, the church’s statement said. Disciplinary hearings only come after members are counseled and encouraged to change behavior.

“Some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs,” the statement reads. “This saddens leaders and fellow members.”

Even if Kelly and Dehlin are kicked out of the church, the door will remain open for them to repent and return someday. Excommunication is not a lifelong ban.

Nobody has solid numbers on how many church members are excommunicated each year, but the number is probably between 10,000 to 20,000, a fraction of the 15 million worldwide members, said Matt Martinich, a member of the LDS church who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation.

Kelly and Dehlin both hope to be allowed to continue to be members of a church that they love and that has been a part of their lives since birth. Both served Mormon missions and were married in temples.

Kelly, an international human rights lawyer, said she stands behind everything she has done since forming Ordain Women in 2013. She said she has not spoken out against church leaders or church doctrine, only saying publicly that men and women are not equal in the faith.

The bishop’s letter doesn’t include precise examples of why they accuse her of apostasy.

Her group drew the ire of church leaders in April when they marched on to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City and asked to be allowed in a meeting reserved for members of the priesthood, which includes most males in the church who are 12 and older. They had been told previously they wouldn’t be let in and warned by church leaders to stay off church property to preserve the sanctity of general conference weekend.

Mormon church officials say the women’s group views represent only a small fraction of church members.

Kelly doesn’t plan to attend the June 22 disciplinary hearing in Virginia, calling it “both cowardly and un-Christ like” to hold the meeting after she had moved to Utah.

She does plan to send in a package of letters from friends, families and other members of Ordain Women about how they’ve been inspired and their faith strengthened by joining the group.

Kelly said the feminist Mormon movement won’t die even if she’s kicked out of the religion.

“Disciplining arbitrarily and unfairly one person is not going to stop this movement,” Kelly said.

Dehlin, a doctoral candidate in psychology who previously worked in the high tech industry, said he believes he’s being targeted not only for the website, Mormonstories.org, which he started nine years ago, but also for his outspoken support of the LGBT community.

He said he has no plans to take down the website or back down from being an ally for gays and lesbians. But Dehlin said he worries about the effects the upcoming proceedings may have on his four children and wife, and Mormons everywhere who have misgivings.

“Excommunicating me sends the message to thousands of church members who are struggling with doubts and questions that they are not welcome in the church,” Dehlin said.

US sees call for more gay-friendly senior housing

Many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors fear discrimination, disrespect or worse by health care workers and residents of elder housing facilities, ultimately leading many back into the closet after years of being open, experts say.

That anxiety takes on new significance as the first of the 77 million baby boomers in the United States turn 65 this year. At least 1.5 million seniors are gay, a number expected to double by 2030, according to SAGE, the New York-based group Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

Recognizing the need, developers in Philadelphia have secured a site and initial funding for what would be one of the nation’s few GLBT-friendly affordable housing facilities. They hope to break ground on a 52-unit, $17 million building in 2013.

Anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, but projects can be made GLBT-friendly through marketing and location. And while private retirement facilities targeted at the gay community exist, such homes are often out of reach for all but the wealthiest seniors.

Census figures released this month indicate about 49 percent of Americans over 65 could be considered poor or low-income.

Gays are also less likely to have biological family to help with informal caregiving, either through estrangement or being childless, making them more dependent on outside services. That makes them more vulnerable, SAGE executive director Michael Adams said.

“They cannot at all assume that they will be treated well or given the welcome mat,” he said.

Cities including San Francisco and Chicago also have projects planned. But the first and, so far, only affordable housing complex for gay elders in the United States is Triangle Square-Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Open since 2007, the $22 million facility has 104 units available to any low-income senior 62 and over, gay or straight, according to executive director Mark Supper. Residents pay monthly rent on a sliding scale, from about $200 to $800, depending on their income. About 35 units are set aside for seniors with HIV/AIDS and for those at risk of becoming homeless, Supper said.

The Triangle’s population is about 90 percent GLBT and it has a waiting list of about 200 people. The project’s developer, Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing, plans to build a second facility in Southern California in the next 18 months, Supper said.

Chris Bartlett, executive director of the GLBT William Way Center in Philadelphia, noted that advocates spent the better part of two decades devoting their energy to programs for those affected by HIV or AIDS, which were decimating the gay community.

While AIDS remains a priority, Bartlett said, the crisis mentality has passed and allowed the community to focus on other things. He said he looks forward to the Way Center providing social services at the planned Philadelphia senior housing facility, in a sense repaying those who led the gay liberation movement.

“Don’t we owe it to them … to ensure that they have an experience as elders that’s worthy of what they gave to our community?” Bartlett said.

Adams said the real solution lies not only in building more facilities, but in cultural competency training for staffers at existing elder programs. The Philadelphia Corporation on Aging, the private nonprofit that serves the city’s seniors, began offering such seminars to health care workers a couple of years ago, said Tom Shea, the agency’s director of training.

“They’re going to be seeing a diverse slice of the aging population in Philadelphia … and we need to be sensitive to all their needs,” Shea said.

Adams suggested that discrimination faced by today’s GLBT elders could diminish in the decades ahead, since he said opinion research shows that younger generations are less likely to harbor anti-gay biases than older generations.

“So we hope that the passage of time will provide part of the solution,” he said. “But of course, today’s LGBT elders can’t wait for that.”

Jackie Adams, 54, said being diagnosed with AIDS many years ago meant she never thought she’d live long enough to need elder housing. But now Adams, who was born male and lives as a female, is part of a local initiative focused on GLBT senior issues.

On a limited income after losing her job as an outreach worker for those with HIV, Adams said affordable, GLBT-friendly senior housing is badly needed. She is not related to Michael Adams.

“I would be incomplete if I had to go from wearing stockings and dresses to (work boots) and jeans,” Adams said. “I would like to be able to live in a community where I could fully be me.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an AP-APME joint project looking at the aging of the baby boomers and the impact this so-called silver tsunami will have on the communities in which they live.

‘Gen Silent’ documents LGBT senior hardships

You’re old, ill and in a nursing home. How can you survive discrimination?

That’s the subject of “Gen Silent,” a new LGBT documentary from award-winning filmmaker Stu Maddux. He’ll visit Milwaukee to present and discuss his work as part of the 24th annual Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival Oct. 20-23.

The documentary chronicles the lives of six LGBT seniors as they deal with a care system that’s often hostile to their lifestyles.

“There is this generation of people who have decided to be silent rather than be out there anymore, because they’ve been forced back into the closet,” says Madddux, who lives in San Francisco.

“It’s happening everywhere,” he says. “The problem is that even LGBT people around the world don’t see it. Their eyes aren’t open to it.” 

“Gen Silent” premiered in Boston in 2010, and has been widely praised.

“This film is critically important to our movement,” says Loree Cook-Daniels, program and policy director for the Milwaukee-based FORGE Transgender Aging Network. FORGE is co-sponsoring Maddux’s appearance, with SAGE/Milwaukee (Senior Action in a Gay Environment).

“I’ve been working on LGBT aging issues for 37 years, and there were facts in this documentary that I’d never known,” says Cook-Daniels. “More importantly, it introduces us to real people who get under our skin, who make us laugh, and who move us to tears. It’s unforgettable.”

Maddux’s films include the critically acclaimed “Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure,” about an Army sergeant who began an affair with his commanding officer in 1952. The two men came out to their unit and are still together.

It was while making that film that Maddux became interested in the struggles of older LGBT people.

The subjects of “Gen Silent” were all drawn from the Boston area. They include Lawrence Johnson and Alexandre Rheume, an interracial couple with a 22-year age difference. When Johnson searched for an assisted living home for his partner, he was made to feel uncomfortable even for feeding Rheume or holding his hand.

“It’s bad enough that you have to put someone in a nursing home,” Johnson says. “Then to compound the fact there may be prejudices, and the person going into the nursing home might not be treated as well – not in overt ways, but all these subtle things that let you know you’re not wanted.”

Also profiled in “Gen Silent” are Sheri Barden and Lois Johnson. Their story traces past indignities, from narrowly avoiding being outed by 1950s magazines that published the names of suspected homosexuals to being tailed by FBI agents after rallies in the 1960s.

Another subject, KrysAnne Hembrough, a 59-year-old transgender woman dealing with a terminal illness, is now deceased. She transitioned in 2003 and afterward was estranged from her family. Even when diagnosed with lung cancer, she received no calls or visits.

Making the film was sometimes emotionally grueling.

“Very much so,” Maddux says. “The most emotionally difficult part for me was being a caregiver for KrysAnne, shooting that, and then having to go back and look at the footage of all those hours of caregiving again, and her hope that her family would come back into the picture.”

“Gen Silent” has been shown at film festivals throughout the United States and Europe. It’s received audience and jury awards at 10 of them, including the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the Sacramento Film and Music Festival, the Charlotte Film Festival and Outflix Memphis Film Festival. In November, PBS excerpted more than 20 minutes of the documentary as part of its program “In the Life,” which focuses on social injustice within the LGBT community.

Maddux is looking forward to visiting Milwaukee for the first time.

“What’s really cool about this screening is that there are some leaders in LGBT aging work right there in Milwaukee,” he says. “Anything I can give back in a small way, I’m delighted to be of service.”

“Gen Silent” will be shown at the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival at 3 p.m. on Oct. 22 in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Union Theatre, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

A talk-back with Maddux and an in-depth discussion will be held afterward. Snacks will be provided.

Parking is available beneath the theater.

Festival ticket prices vary.

For reservations or more information on the festival, call the box office at 414-229-4308, or visit arts.uwm.edu/lgbtfilm.