Mormon from My Eyes: Steve Thomas
An Easy Transition
Words by Steve Thomas
Growing up LDS since birth, I was active in an array of church functions, such as Roadshows (stage presentations performed for church members and their friends), Pioneer Day celebrations (carnival type games and prizes in conjunction with Roadshows), Sacrament Passing (Sunday church service bread and water offering), Mutual (a weekday night gathering of teens for games, community service, etc.), and Seminary, which is the study of the Bible and Book of Mormon before high school classes begin each day. I also held ranks and titles in the men’s part of the church.
At the age of fifteen, I started to realize I was “different” from some of my peers. I remained quiet for as long as I could, especially during Bishop interviews, so that I wouldn’t have to be rehabilitated or banned from church and my friends. But I did start acting out: smoking cigarettes before church and sneaking out at night to teenage dance clubs in Hollywood, where I met a diverse group of people who accepted me and helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. Time spent with my new friends began to compete with my church connections. Then one night, my best friend since the seventh grade, who isn’t a Mormon, confided that he was gay. I told him that it was OK. “I’m open minded,” I said. A few hours later, I confided that I thought I was gay, too. By finally saying this out loud, I started to make sense for myself.
I’ve never had a problem with being gay—that was always an easy transition— but I was afraid to tell my family and the church. I chose to remain quiet and ended up running away from home at age sixteen. This resulted in my parents placing me in a hospital for “family problems” for three months. That was followed by a threat of military school. I told my parents I would never speak to them again if they sent me away. They believed me, and I was allowed to finish my public high school education.
Following graduation, I moved in with my Mormon grandparents to work at their beachfront hotel in Marina Del Rey, California. They still didn’t know about my orientation, and explained that it was time to either go on a LDS mission or to college. I immediately picked college. But knowing that two of my Mormon friends were under investigation for being gay at Brigham Young University in Utah, I applied to BYU and left my Social Security number off the application to cause an automatic denial in admission. I also applied to UNLV and ended up moving to Nevada and attending.
My sexual orientation was apparent to my family but never discussed, and I was now more and more distant from the church. The majority of my friends were gay, and I fit right in. It was also around this time that I realized a second cousin and her partner were lesbians. They had been together for years, attending family functions as a couple, and whether the family members approved of their commitment or not, these two women always attended family gatherings with each other. My family was always fond of them, which I believe somewhat paved the way for their acceptance of me.
Still, I kept some distance from my family. But by the time I reached my early 30s, my parents began having health issues that required my help. By stepping in as a care-giver I became closer to my family, and on Christmas of 1997 I brought a boyfriend home. It was a big step, but my cousin was there with her partner and it turned out to be a great day. Though my family referred to my boyfriend as “my friend,” I felt it was the first of many small steps toward their acceptance.
As time went on, my parents’ health worsened. In the 2000s, my father had a stroke and my mother had two heart attacks, gastric bypass surgery, and was in need of knee replacement surgery. Through helping manage their health care, I have finally been able to share all the different layers and components of myself with my family, including my sexual orientation. And they have accepted me as my own person.
One key example: Shortly before the 2008 election, my mother awoke early one morning, looked out the window, and saw someone from the LDS church placing a “YES on 8” sign on the front lawn of her Southern California home. Dressed only in a nightgown (and with just one good knee), she immediately ran down two flights of stairs and outside to pick up that sign and toss it in the trash. When she told me and my father (a Midwest-born steelworker and general contractor) what she had done, he agreed with her actions. I don't think I can remember a time when I was more proud of her.
My father passed away last year from pancreatic cancer. I was elected to give the eulogy at a mostly Mormon funeral. And though my tribute to him was absent of religious quotes and testimony, several devout Mormons asked me if I would write their eulogies as well. I have found that you can help move people forward simply by showing up and coming from a place of love. Everyone understands love, you just have to show them that your heart is the same as theirs. It feels the same joy. It feels the same loss.
My family has the right to believe in, and follow, any religion they choose. That is part of what makes living in the United States of America so attractive. They also respect my decision to believe in what I think is right, so protesting the church after Prop 8’s passage wasn’t easy for me, but it was necessary. While I thank my family for introducing me to right and wrong and letting the church help mold my future, I had to disagree when the LDS church thought they had the right to make choices for me—like the right to marry—even though I had been inactive and separated from them for two decades.
My family has accepted me based on the person I am today. They have chosen to love others based on how they love, instead of who they love. This is similar to a Mormon Church teaching, except when it comes to the “who they love” part. All religions need to recognize the separation of church and state and adhere to the principal laws. If they don't, then I believe we have the right to choose what “tax exempt code” they can love.
Change isn't ever easy, but equal rights—at this stage of the game—should just be a given.