Growing up gay in Utah County under the shadow of the Mormon church was definitely a unique experience.
I was always pretty vocal about the fact that I was attracted to men. When I was 16, all of my friends knew and none of them cared. I generally had a feeling of acceptance and love from my immediate circle of friends.
When I was 25, I finally came out to my parents. The situation did not go over well with my mom, who took some time to accept it.
As I made friends in the gay community and heard other peoples’ stories, I realized that I never had to deal with a lot of the things that prior generations dealt with. I never feared for my life or safety, or worried that I would lose a job or my place in my community because of my sexual orientation. Even from a religious standpoint, I didn’t suffer too much because I never felt a strong connection to the Mormon church anyway. In short, I feel like I got off pretty easy.
As I’ve gotten older and watched the landscape change, I have seen a tremendous amount of social progress. Thanks to marriage equality, same-sex couples are finally able to stand on equal ground with heterosexual couples.
Being gay, or having a gay family member or friend is no longer taboo in the majority of places. We are seeing worldwide acceptance on a much larger scale than in the past. This gives hope to people in our communities. Even in Utah, things have been on a steady upward trend for a while. This includes the 2015 statewide legislation to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment and housing.
While rulings like this are praised and lead to progress, I can’t help but think that it’s a problem that we even need them. The fact that my orientation and lifestyle specifically calls out the need for that protection is something I take issue with.
Recently, I was speaking with a neighbor who told me about his granddaughter. He said that she was, “like me” (gay), but struggling pretty badly with reconciling her sexual orientation and her faith in the Mormon church. He told me through tears that they have almost lost her to suicide more than once.
That was a problem I hadn’t thought about for a while. With that conversation, the realization came crashing into me ― there are still people in our community struggling and hurting. People who have lived a good lives yet, no matter how obedient or strong of faith, they do not feel whole, and they suffer by feeling like something is wrong with them. (If this is you, you need to know that there is NOTHING wrong with you!)
Last spring I was hit pretty hard by some of the things that I felt I had escaped from. I was let go from a new job and given no explanation as to why. All I had to go on was a word of warning from a coworker. He asked me when I realized I was gay. I was about to give him an answer when he interrupted me, saying, “You know you can’t talk like this with other people here, right? You really need to be careful what you say and who you talk to.“
When I started at my current job, I made the decision to keep my sexuality to myself (which is part of the reason I chose to write this using a pseudonym.) This decision was validated last June when I overheard many of my coworkers’ homophobic and intolerant remarks regarding homosexuality and pride month, and this is at a company that proudly flies the rainbow flag every June.
“Unfortunately, you work in an industry that you really can’t be gay in,” a friend told me. That is when I realized I’m not comfortable being “out” at work. I worry that I would be treated differently if people knew. Unfortunately, this is not a problem that would resolve itself by simply getting a new job.
I am not going to say that things have not gotten better, because clearly they have. Even though we need legislation to protect us, the fact that there are people in power who recognize that we need these protections and are actively trying to make life better for everyone means everything.
The closeted homophobes and the families and friends who tell us how much they love us and care about us, then actively vote for people who openly object to our lifestyle are the real problem.
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