United Brethren has retired.

Disagreeing with the Ensign article

Julie (in the T&S "Notes from all over" sidebar) doesn't want to talk about it, so I will. This month's Ensign has an article entitled "Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable" (not yet online). In it, an LDS teacher describes how she came into conflict with the rest of her school over a certain issue but nevertheless managed to stay friendly with her colleagues. It's difficult to argue with such sentiments, and clearly they echo President Hinckley's call to be more courteous to people even if we disagree with them because of our religion.

But it is the nature of the disagreement in the story that I find troubling. The teacher felt that she could not sign "a gay-student bill of rights". The story makes no further elaboration, so we are left unsure as to what this "bill of rights" actually entailed.

I can think of many instances when such a "bill or rights" for gay students at a school would be entirely appropriate. Gay people have a right to an education without fear or discrimination, the right to enjoy sports and other activities, the right to privacy. Are not these enshrined American principles? And as far as I can tell, the Church supports the rights of gays in these isssues: certainly "gay-bashing", whether physical or mental, is contrary to true Christianity. Again, we are not told by the Ensign what the exact details were, but I fear that Latter-day Saints reading the article will have reinforced in them the view that "homosexuality" is something the Church opposes, that anything that helps gays is wrong. But this is simply not true. As I understand it, the Church's attitude to homosexuality is that:

1. Homosexual behaviour is a sin.
2. We don't support the idea of gay marriage.
3. Despite 1 and 2, we show gays love and kindness; they are welcome in the Church, and are entitled to full activity if they, like anyone else, can keep the commandments.

The article conflates this "bill or rights" with number two by quoting President Hinckley on the matter, but I have a hard time imagining that a document at school would be about gay marriage. Maybe it was, but the Ensign doesn't specify. I wish they were more careful: sometimes the stories they carry that are written by members perpetuate Mormon folklore and myth, in this case that "gays" and "rights" are contrary to LDS belief. Other than in the case of marriage, I have never been given that impression. Many Ensign readers, however, will simply go away reaffirmed in their sometimes erroneously anti-gay belief.

Salon has a very balanced article on the affair in question. In it, Joanna Price (the LDS teacher) comes across quite well. In her own words:

"The Gay/Straight Alliance claims we're trying to prevent teachers from discussing homosexuality, and that's just a big lie. By all means, let's discuss homosexuality. But let's do it openly, honestly, respectfully, and in a proper forum."

What Price says she finds unacceptable "is the one-sided, doctrinaire approach to the issue" being taken at the high school. "What we oppose is a teacher taking up time in a science, math or English class to talk about gay rights, sexual orientation, their personal relationship with God or any other issues extraneous to the curriculum. What we oppose is teachers denigrating moral values and religious precepts they personally disagree with in order to promote tolerance. All we ask is that standards of professional conduct be observed and the state education code be adhered to. If certain administrators or staff members aren't willing to go along with that, maybe they don't belong in the public school system."

All good. (Read the article, it's very interesting). I just wish the Ensign had thought to make the issue at hand more explicit.

This segways nicely into a BYU NewsNet article that highlights the research of a BYU professor who has concluded that a) homosexual attraction is biologically-based, and that (b) orientation "therapy" hardly ever works. He claims (probably by extrapolation) that there are 132,200 gay members of the LDS church, or six members in every ward and that consequently, homosexuality affects 500,000 Latter-day Saints who have gay family members. That's a lot of gay Mormons, whose rights the Ensign would have us oppose. Maybe they were worth opposing in this instance, and the Salon article, hardly a bastion of homophobia, depicts Price in a sympathetic tone. But for all we know from the Ensign one-liner, maybe they weren't. In an issue as emotive as this, the Ensign must give no room for error.

Remember one more thing: straight kids can be just as "sinful" as gay kids.)

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Blogger Kim Siever said ... (February 18, 2005 10:58 AM) 


They turned down my submission about Simon Peter's conversion, but they publish sensational fluff like this.


Where's the Ensign of yesteryear?


Anonymous john fowles said ... (February 18, 2005 12:21 PM) 

Here's a link to the article in which Price is more centrally involved. That is the second article in a series of two articles. Ronan's link was to the first article in the series. The portion Ronan quoted is the very last paragraph of this two article series and is on the third page of the second article.


Blogger Ronan said ... (February 18, 2005 12:38 PM) 

Thanks, John, for that clarification. It's interesting that Salon seems to sympathise with Price. Not what I would have expected.
Kim, has the Ensign ever been high-brow?


Blogger Geoff J said ... (February 18, 2005 1:06 PM) 

That BYUNewsnet article is very interesting. It seems to me the brethren have generally been pretty cautious in their language regarding nurture (choice) or nature being the cause of homosexuality.

In some practical ways it may not matter much. The church is clearly and emphatically against gay marriage. The law of chastity says sexual relations are only acceptable in marriage. Any sexual relations outside of marriage are in violation of that law (whether heterosexual or homosexual).

I think that if when the returns come in the evidence does show that homosexuality is biologically driven it could be good thing. It would help us be more understanding of the cross some saints have to bear in life and hopefully more compassionate too. Nevertheless, when it comes specifically to sexual activity, the cross a homosexual saint must bear is not much different than any other single saint in the long run... I have never understood why we would be so up in arms about a saint admitting he is gay and breaking the law of chastity but basically unfazed when another saint moves in with his girlfriend. The same eternal law is being broken – why the huge disparity in reaction?


Blogger Justin B. said ... (February 18, 2005 1:34 PM) 

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Blogger Justin B. said ... (February 18, 2005 1:38 PM) 

Very interesting article. Thanks for the link, Ronan.

I read the Ensign article last night, and I too found the writer too vague about the controversy and what she was opposed to.

Apparently one individual in the Leandro High story, Karl Debro, filed suit against the school district. He settled for $1 million in 2002.


Blogger HP said ... (February 18, 2005 1:49 PM) 

I have never understood why we would be so up in arms about a saint admitting he is gay and breaking the law of chastity but basically unfazed when another saint moves in with his girlfriend. The same eternal law is being broken – why the huge disparity in reaction?I would argue that the cross homosexual saints have to bear is harder, because single hetero saints get some outlets. They, at least, can kiss and hold hands without fearing a chat with the bishop. I doubt that a homosexual saint enjoys this same sort of peace.


Blogger Geoff J said ... (February 18, 2005 2:05 PM) 

Good point John C.


Blogger Rebecca said ... (February 18, 2005 3:00 PM) 

I think the problem with the article is it doesn't explain what 'gay issues' she was objecting to. The quote by Pres Hinckley references same sex marriage, which I can't imagine being on a bill of rights in a High School. I know the church is anti gay marriage, but this article can easily help fuel many people's homophobic attitudes.


Blogger Julie M. Smith said ... (February 18, 2005 3:04 PM) 

OK, first we need to find out what the 'bill of rights' said. I can imgine some scenarios where it would and others where it would not be appropriate for an LDS teacher to sign. Going off the salon article, tho, a principal who would not reprimand students for a PDS (ie public display of affection) is a bad egg regardless of the orientation of the students involved and I suspect that his bill would cross the line of what I could support.

No one has mentioned what I found most interesting about this article, tho: note that the Ensign has depicted in the artwork a lesbian. And she doesn't have that SINNER look that Ensign art usually gives wayward teens, people addicted to porn, etc.

Note that I am not saying that a lesbian in an relationship is NOT a sinner, but rather that the Ensign chose to focus on a different aspect of her: the fact that she could be friends with an LDS teacher and that the two of them could work together to improve the climate of the school. Correct me, but I think this is the first positive portrayal of a homosexual person in the Ensign.

Just in case anyone is wondering, I fully support the Churhc's position on homsexulity. But see the sidebar quote from Pres. Hinckley: we should love our gay brothers and lesbian sisters. And that side of it, to my knowledge, has never been emphasized in official discourse--until this article.


Blogger Kim Siever said ... (February 18, 2005 3:04 PM) 

Not high brow. However, there used to be more to the Ensign than faith-promoting experiences. There used to be articles that discussed gospel principles in depth, that addressed questions.


Blogger Ryan Bell said ... (February 18, 2005 4:11 PM) 

Ronan, this was interesting. A few weeks ago, a bill was brought in the Utah state senate allowing non-married domestic partners (including gays) to sign a simple, state-drafted contract conferring basic rights such as hospital visitation and organ donation rights, on each other.

While no one was ever able to figure out how this bill actually helps the gay marriage movement, the "anything that helps gay people encourages gay marriage" wing of the state shot the bill down, on those grounds. It was sort of sad.


Blogger HP said ... (February 18, 2005 6:53 PM) 

Correct me, but I think this is the first positive portrayal of a homosexual person in the Ensign.
Well, Julie, if you listen to what D.M. Quinn has to say about Joseph Smith...;)


Blogger Ronan said ... (February 18, 2005 10:52 PM) 

Julie: I'm glad you found a positive angle to the depiction of gays in this article. I guess I missed that, but I have a certain sensitivity as I'm one of the 500,000 Mormons who has a gay family member. But you're right: the flip side to the article is that we can and should be *nice* to gays and lesbians. That's easy for me to do: some of the nicest people I know are gay.

Geoff: too true. Heterosexual immorality is just as "immoral" as its homosexual counterpart.

JC: we ask gay Mormons to do something most of us could never do--to live a life of celibacy. I hope that when we ask them to do that we are certain that our own lives are in order.

Ryan: that's sad. But see my comment on John's post for my thoughts on "gay rights".

Everyone: to reiterate--the Salon article makes it plain that Sister Price was not an evil homophobic wench. It may well have been that the case in question deserved to be opposed, but the Ensign leaves the impression that Mormons should oppose any kind of gay rights, period. I don't support that, and I don't think the Church does either.


Blogger Stephen said ... (February 18, 2005 11:51 PM) 

I remember in around '82 or so realizing that Salt Lake County had an anti-discrimination policy in regards to employment of gays.

They had a clear economic rights protection, which I thought was interesting.


Blogger Dave said ... (February 19, 2005 11:46 AM) 

Ronan, I haven't read the article yet, but I think the "we hate homosexuality but love gays as people" line is something of a compromise. It straddles the divide between the Church's need (for PR reasons) to appear tolerant and the utter disgust and repugnance with which LDS leaders view both homosexuality and, I think, gays themselves.

I think there's a remarkable parallel between the current rhetoric on homosexuality and the racial views and beliefs of LDS leaders in the fifties and sixties. At that time, public explanations gave various doctrinal explanations or apologies for LDS racial doctrine, which might be paraphrased as "we reject black men from holding any priesthood rights, but love them as people," when in fact most leaders were just racial bigots like the rest of conservative American society.


Anonymous Ronan said ... (February 19, 2005 12:02 PM) 


Let me make a prediction here: I think it's safe to say that as time goes on homosexuality will become more and more accepted by society (watch the Simpsons on Sunday!) We will live to see gays have all the rights of straights. That's just a fact.

So, the Church will be caught on the wrong side of public opinion. One might say that that is irrelevant, that the church doesn't need to please public opinion. But we've been here before--polygamy and civil rights--and eventually caught up with the mainstream. Eventually! So don't hold your breath, but one day you might see a change in LDS policy towards gays (perhaps the acceptance of monogomous gay partnerships/marriages "for time").

Outrageous you say? Well, 1880s and 1960s Mormons would have said the same.

Please note, that I actually do not believe that the Manisfesto and OD 2 were cave-ins by uninspired leaders. Having read a little about the 1978 revelation I am convinced it was divinely inspired. It was indeed a "revelation", not a PR exercise.


Blogger Justin B. said ... (February 20, 2005 10:28 AM) 

I came across the following document on the web which may be the "bill of rights" at issue in the article:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Students' Bill of Educational Rights

We, as teachers and staff of [Your High School], believe that society's stigmatization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals is unjust;

That this largely unchallenged stigma is responsible for an educational environment hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students throughout society;

That such an environment perpetuates homophobic bias;

That we, as teachers and staff, have a responsibility to create a school climate which welcomes and honors, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals just as it should welcome and honor all others.

We, therefore, pledge to support this Bill of Educational Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students.

We will serve these students in accordance with these principles and actively support their adoption by the [Your School District] as part of our concern for the rights and dignity of all people.

1. The right to fair and factual information about sexual orientation in textbooks and other classroom materials.

2. The right to unbiased information about the historical and continuing contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all subject areas, including art, literature, science, sports and history.

3. The right to positive role models, both in person and in the curriculum; the right to accurate information about themselves, free of negative judgment, and delivered by trained adults who do not only inform lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, but affirm them.

4. The right to attend schools free of verbal and physical harassment, where education, not survival, is the priority.

5. The right to attend schools where respect and dignity for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, is a standard set by the superintendent of public instruction, supported by the boards of education, and enforced by every principal, teacher and staff member.

6. The right to be included in all support programs that exist to help teenagers deal with the difficulties of adolescence.

7. The right to a heritage free of crippling self-hate and unchallenged discrimination.

8. The right to advocacy through concerned staff and faculty.

9. The right to inclusion in programs, curriculum, activities and teacher training that address issues of cultural diversity.

Based on a document created by the faculty, staff and students of San Leandro High School, San Leandro, California.


Blogger Geoff J said ... (February 20, 2005 1:05 PM) 

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Blogger Geoff J said ... (February 20, 2005 1:07 PM) 

"perhaps the acceptance of monogomous gay partnerships/marriages "for time""

I personally think this is about as likely as God changing his mind about that whole pre-marital sex thing. It may look like we've joined step with the mainstream on a couple of issues over the last 150 years, but we will grow increasingly out of step with the mainstream on nearly all others.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (February 20, 2005 3:36 PM) 

That William Bradshaw thing sounded lame. For a moment I was embarrassed to be a BYU alum. But I do concur with his conclusions.

First, I have to say I’m more than a bit perplexed by all this, because the church has more effeminate men than any other organization I’m involve in. BYU, at least when I was there, had even more. I always assumed most of them were gay, and the ones that aren’t I assume don’t mind if you think they’re gay. As a BYU undergrad, I used to joke when someone would say a certain flammer wasn’t gay: Alright, I’ll say he’s gay but just hasn’t figured it out yet.

While homosexuality might be a choice for some, it's obvious most are just born that way based on my own heterosexual orientation. Even before puberty, I knew women had all the right equipment for me, long before I understood the reproductive aspects of sexual desire. For a man to want a man, a woman a woman, they must have been born that way. Switch hitting bisexuality, however, is obviously a choice.

I really think the heart of the debate/concern is reproduction. A kid’s homosexuality is tough on parents and family, because they raised the kid to pass on their genes into the future. Complete homosexuality is a Darwinian dead end. My suspicion is that the human mind is so complex, that during embryonic and fetal development, sometimes something goes wrong. To those who say G-d wouldn’t do that, I ask why does the almighty allow any birth defect? It’s not a perfect world. Remember, the war in heaven continues here; we are living plan B.

The thing I really don’t get is why don't we just go to a “don't ask, don't tell” policy in the church. I was heterosexually active long before marriage, and that’s how I dealt with it. I remember once a BYU bishop called me in to discuss accusations from other students that I was sleeping with my gf (they found a condom in the trash). I told him there was nothing to discuss, and he was smart enough not to pry further.


Blogger Stephen said ... (February 20, 2005 9:13 PM) 

"perhaps the acceptance of monogomous gay partnerships/marriages "for time""

I personally think this is about as likely as God changing his mind about that whole pre-marital sex thing. It may look like we've joined step with the mainstream on a couple of issues over the last 150 years, but we will grow increasingly out of step with the mainstream on nearly all others.
Well, a couple of thoughts.

First, there are some really interesting speculations by evolutionary biologists.

Second, the homosexuality condemned by Paul consists of bi-sexual adultery as a form of birth control. We don't see much of that in our world.

Third, given the mass of humanity and the issues, as the Anglican's have pointed out, every time they ordain a Gay bishop in the United States, the Anglican Church in the third world takes a massive hit.

If you put your personal satisfaction over the safety and progress of your church in other countries (and far be it from me to downgrade the value of personal satisfaction once survival is no longer a question), it leads to different conclusions.

Now, on the other hand, if there are legal requirements, the Church can comply with them without the issues. Which leads to a number of interesting issues.

As for "don't ask, don't tell" regarding pre-marital sex, that is a spiritual dead end. I'm not sure I see that as an acceptable answer.

The real issue is finding a way that resolves the issues without offending the spirit or breaching chastity.

But that is a longer discussion for another day. Suffice it to say, I don't think that handing out condoms and looking the other way at BYU is the answer.


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