This is going to be a shocking admission, but I’m a Democrat.
While I disagree with my party and my party’s candidates quite frequently, I still identify with and support Democrats.
Back when I worked for Congress, I started collecting campaign buttons from Democratic races. I’ve got all the presidential campaigns from Grover Cleveland (1884) to the present. I have buttons from Utah state elections, some from Maryland where we lived, and some from personal heroes like John Glenn, Mo Udall, and Patrick Moynihan. I have some rarities (like one with each of McGovern’s vice presidential choices and that Alton Parker is a tough one to find). I have a wonderful board on my wall to put all my campaign pins on, but it’s so full that I have to keep most in a box. I also collect political memorabilia like mugs and inaugural wine glasses (from which we drink our New Year’s Eve Martinelli’s non-alcoholic cider). I even have pins and bumper stickers from when I ran (twice!) for the Utah State Legislature (of course unsuccessfully, after all, I was running in Utah valley!).
One of my favorite pieces is a tie I bought at the Harry Truman museum that has illustrations of Democratic campaign buttons from all the presidential elections. Unfortunately, I don’t get too many opportunities to wear it. I will never wear it to church on Sunday, because I don’t believe that Church is the place to make political statements. Church is about unity, not division.
Nevertheless, this Sunday I will be joining members of the “Rainbow Mormon Initiative” and wearing a rainbow ribbon to Church. I realize that some may find this a political statement, so I want to explain why I am doing it: I want to save lives.
I have felt strongly that I need to take the sideline during the divisive discussion about gay marriage. As the program coordinator for Mormon studies at UVU and now as the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, I feel I represent institutions that must encourage dialogue but that shouldn’t close off dialogue. So I have kept my own views to myself except in private discussions with friends and family.
After the Church’s November 5th policy change, however, I wanted to signal to my students that I am “safe.” After all, my office is full of Mormon book titles and students know of my position organizing Mormon studies events here at the university. So I put a sticker up in my office that says “Mormons for equality.” It was, I hope, a subtle but meaningful gesture.
I was glad I had done it when a few months later a student visited me and told me that his parents had disowned him because he came out as gay. This was a young man who was trying desperately to make Mormonism work for him, who had kept all the rules and kept his covenants, but who could not deny his sexual identity. I was able to sympathize and comfort this young man and offer to direct him to resources that could help him.
Whether or not there is a direct link between the Church’s recent policy change and gay (especially teen and young adult) suicides, the numbers are too high. These lives matter. I do not know what the future holds for gay members of the Church. I am no prophet. I do understand how challenging the issues are for Mormon theology. I also know, despite the generational differences and their sometimes-clumsy messages, that our Church leaders are concerned about these souls. So I want to send a message to the gay members of my ward—especially the youth—that I will be their friend. This isn’t about politics; it’s about saving lives.