Laura Leavitt had a sneaking thought that her son, True Leavitt, was gay. Four years ago she started to get nervous because she knew how some members of her church spoke about the LGBTQ community.
“One day I thought, ‘God is bigger than this,’” Leavitt said. “Our church used to teach that being gay was a mistake. I knew that I needed to listen to my heart.”
Leavitt joined the organization Mama Dragons, a group of women members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who support their LGBTQ children. The group has grown to 2,500 moms worldwide and now includes members of other religions. Groups like this helped Leavitt learn to be inclusive.
“I asked True once if he could change being gay and he said ‘No,’” Leavitt said. “That answer made me very happy. I love all of True.”
Now she is trying to help others learn those listening skills.
Leavitt helped organize an event at the College of Southern Idaho’s Fine Arts Theater earlier this month that featured Richard Ostler, a former LDS bishop who formed a Latter-day Saint LGBTQ support organization called Listen, Learn & Love. He also hosts a podcast talking to LGBTQ LDS members and has traveled around giving talks about inclusivity in the church.
When Ostler served as a bishop in the church, there were a handful of lesbian and gay members in his congregation of young adults and he decided to listen instead of judge.
“I realized that all my opinions of the LGBT community came from straight people,” Ostler said. “I did a hard reset and said ‘From now on I’m going to learn about them from them.’”
His talks focus on his journey of understanding; he’ll tell stories that LGBTQ members have told him and he focuses on how to keep families together when someone leaves the church.
“I don’t try to persuade, but I want us to have a discussion,” Ostler said. “I think there is a need for dialogue. It’s not a polarizing event, it’s meant to bring people together.”
Ostler understands that local LDS leaders may be nervous about this subject, and the event was not sponsored by or officially affiliated with the church, but he assures that someone can be an LGBTQ ally and a member of the church in good standing.
“I think people, of all things, want to do good in this area,” Ostler said. “We don’t talk about it too much.”
Jen Blair, a member of the Twin Falls chapter of Mama Dragons, said there is still a lot of growth needed for the church to be inclusive.
“We have this idea that LGBTQ people are over here and Mormon people are over here,” Blair said. “There is a lot of trepidation on this subject. It’s hard to get people to go to events without official endorsement from the church.”
Laura Leavitt and her family hope the event will help others the way that listening has helped them.
“I think it’s good to talk about this stuff,” True Leavitt said. “I know I’m comfortable with who I am. I know I’m not subject to these extremes. But this can help people.”
Ostler concurs: “I learned everything by listening.”
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