Sunday, August 27, 2017

Loved Loud

I have always been an outsider in one way or another, but never more so than in 1997 when I moved to Provo and started attending Brigham Young University as a closeted gay Mormon. It was incredibly isolating to feel that I was different from everybody around me and I couldn't talk to anyone about my private struggles. I remember sitting on the steps outside a building on campus one Sunday afternoon, pleading with God to send someone to talk to me, to hold me, to take away this miserable loneliness, and getting nothing. Nine years later, in 2006, I attended a rally in Provo hosted by Soulforce, a group traveling around the country protesting anti-gay policies on college campuses. The rally was attended by a little over 100 people. By this point in my life I was publicly out as gay even though I was married to a woman, I had many gay friends and straight allies, and I was on my way out of the church. The rally produced a jumble of conflicted thoughts and feelings in me, but one of the strongest feelings was the warmth that surrounded me as this large group of people sang the Mormon hymn "I Am A Child of God" together, all in unity with conflicted gay Mormons like me. Despite being in the process of losing faith in the religion itself, it was soul-nourishing to feel, even for a moment, like I was a wholly-accepted member of the religious culture I grew up in.

The Soulforce rally in 2006. I'm right of center in a brown jacket, next to my then-wife, our then-unborn son, and our then-two-year-old daughter sitting on a friend's lap. Photo courtesy of  

What I experienced 11 years ago pales in comparison to what I felt at last night's LoveLoud Festival in Orem. I bought tickets for the concert because I generally enjoy concerts and my husband generally doesn't, so the opportunity to see two bands he likes (and I liked well enough) within walking distance of our home was too good to pass up. The fact that the cost of our tickets would benefit good causes like The Trevor Project and Encircle added an extra feel-good aspect. I didn't realize that what I was actually signing up for was a cathartic evening that would go such a long way in healing the broken soul of the seventeen-year-old closeted BYU student inside me. People around me were laughing, cheering, having a great time, and I did plenty of that as well, but I also spent a good portion of the concert sobbing. While the 2006 rally attended by 100 was a powerful experience, last night's concert attended by 17,000 and headlined by major bands Imagine Dragons and Neon Trees, all focused on showing love for at-risk LGBTQ youth, made me feel loved and accepted within my current home community and my childhood religious community in a way I have never felt before.

Some of the moments that made me cry:

  • Hearing Tyler Glenn and Dan Reynolds sing the Mormon children's primary song "I'll Walk With You" and being reminded by my husband that this song was written by Carol Lynn Pearson in honor of her gay husband. 
  • Remembering that my friend Rhonda was part of the choir singing along with Glenn and Reynolds. 
  • Hearing twelve-year-old lesbian Mormon Savannah bear the testimony that her church leaders did not allow her to bear in church. 
  • Listening to Tyler Glenn talk about what an emotional experience this concert was for him. Can you imagine, attending BYU as a closeted gay kid and then coming back years later to perform to such a huge crowd as an out gay musician? 
  • Seeing the video clips about the brave LGBTQ kids at Encircle. I was so inspired by their courage to be vulnerable in front of such a huge audience, and grateful for the people who have made a safe place for them at Encircle. 
  • Watching a beautiful seventeen-year-old bisexual girl from Provo sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for an audience of 17,000. (For context, consider that the population of Orem is less than 100,000.)
  • Realizing, for once, that trying to look young didn't matter. If a single gay kid saw 37-year-old me there dancing with my 38-year-old husband and felt hope for their future, then I am happy to look my age. 
  • Realizing how much more powerful this experience was for my husband, who grew up here in Orem and never dreamed that he would see anything like this in his home town. 
As I've written before, I'm at a really good place in my life right now. I'm happily married and I have a solid network of friends and family both Mormon and non-Mormon who love and support me as I am. I had no idea I needed community validation like I experienced last night, but apparently the seventeen-year-old and the twenty-six-year-old inside me needed it. If you run into me and see my soul glowing, now you'll know why. 

At last night's LoveLoud Festival with my husband. 

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