Mor­mon girl’s com­ing-out ig­nites fresh de­bate

Sunday Star-Times - - WORLD - AP, Reuters

A video of a young Mor­mon girl re­veal­ing to her con­gre­ga­tion that she is a les­bian and still loved by God – be­fore her mi­cro­phone was turned off by lo­cal church lead­ers – is spark­ing a new round of dis­cus­sions about how the reli­gion han­dles LGBT is­sues.

Sa­van­nah, 13, spoke on May 7 in Ea­gle Moun­tain, Utah about her be­lief that she is the child of heav­enly par­ents who didn’t make any mis­takes when she was cre­ated. Her com­ments came dur­ing a once-a-month por­tion of Mor­mon Sun­day ser­vices where mem­bers are en­cour­aged to share feel­ings and be­liefs.

‘‘They did not mess up when they gave me freck­les or when they made me to be gay,’’ Sa­van­nah said. ‘‘God loves me just this way.’’

Her mother, Heather Kester, said yes­ter­day that her daugh­ter was pas­sion­ate about com­ing out in church to be a voice and ex­am­ple for other LGBT chil­dren who strug­gled for ac­cep­tance within the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter­day Saints.

The Mor­mon reli­gion is one of many con­ser­va­tive faith groups up­hold­ing the­o­log­i­cal op­po­si­tion to same-sex re­la­tion­ships amid wide­spread so­cial ac­cep­tance and the US Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion le­gal­is­ing gay mar­riage. At the same time, the Mor­mon church is try­ing to fos­ter an em­pa­thetic stance to­wards LGBT peo­ple.

The video, which Kester said was taken by a friend of Sa­van­nah who went to church to sup­port her, has gen­er­ated a buzz af­ter it was cir­cu­lated on­line and fea­tured in a Mor­mon LGBT pod­cast.

While some con­sider Sa­van­nah a hero, other Mor­mons are up­set that her speech was videoed and that it is be­ing cir­cu­lated by church crit­ics to try to paint the church in an un­flat­ter­ing light.

Judd Law, the lay bishop who leads the con­gre­ga­tion south of Salt Lake City, said in a state­ment dis­trib­uted by church head­quar­ters that Sa­van­nah was a ‘‘brave young girl’’, and that the con­gre­ga­tion was mak­ing sure she and her fam­ily felt loved.

But he called the unau­tho­rised record­ing, and a ‘‘dis­rup­tive demon­stra­tion’’ by a group of nonMor­mon adults ‘‘prob­lem­atic’’.

Law did not ad­dress or ex­plain the de­ci­sion by two of his coun­sel­lors to cut the mi­cro­phone. He was not at the ser­vice.

‘‘I do not choose to be this way, and this is not a fad,’’ Sa­van­nah said. ‘‘I can­not make some­one else gay . . . I be­lieve that God wants us to treat each other with kind­ness, even if peo­ple are dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially if they are dif­fer­ent.’’

Her mi­cro­phone was muted af­ter about two min­utes, shortly af­ter she said she was not a ‘‘hor­ri­ble sin­ner’’ and that she some day hoped to have a part­ner, get mar­ried and have a fam­ily.

‘‘I was dev­as­tated for her,’’ Kester. ‘‘I was an­gry at how was han­dled.’’ who were there, said that

Af­ter the Utah-based Mor­mon church re­ceived a back­lash in 2008 for helping to lead the fight for a Cal­i­for­nia con­sti­tu­tional ban on gay mar­riage, its lead­ers spent sev­eral years care­fully de­vel­op­ing a more em­pa­thetic LGBT tone. That was in­ter­rupted in 2015 when the church adopted new rules ban­ning chil­dren liv­ing with gay par­ents from be­ing bap­tised un­til age 18.

In Oc­to­ber, church lead­ers up­dated a web­site cre­ated in 2012 to let mem­bers know that at­trac­tion to peo­ple of the same sex is not a sin or a mea­sure of their faith­ful­ness, and may never go away. But the church also re­minded mem­bers that hav­ing gay sex vi­o­lated fun­da­men­tal doc­tri­nal be­liefs that would not change.

Sa­van­nah, 13, has been called a ‘‘brave young girl’’ by the lay bishop who leads her con­gre­ga­tion for a speech in which she re­vealed that she is a les­bian, be­fore she was si­lenced by church lead­ers.

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