Gay-rights freedom riders met for more than two hours Monday with a handful of LDS officials in Salt Lake City to raise continuing concerns about Mormon policies and language that the advocates see as harmful to their community.
The group, Soulforce's 2012 Equality Ride, had four specific requests for the LDS Church: to cut all ties with and denounce Evergreen International, which continues to use "reparative" therapy in its treatment of gays; to stop funding groups that are fighting civil marriage equality across the country; to encourage LDS Business College to bring its policies on homosexuality in line with current Mormon teachings; and to add sexual orientation and gender identity/expression to the faith's policies for church employees.
Equality Ride had sought a meeting with Mormon higher-ups, including apostles or members of the church's governing First Presidency. Instead, the advocates huddled with LDS legislative lobbyist Bill Evans, public-affairs representative John Taylor, former TV reporter Ruth Todd and LDS attorney Alexander Dushku, who helped write briefs defending the church's position on California's Proposition 8.
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter confirmed the meeting, noting that "the church meets with many people representing a variety of organizations and issues."
Jason Conner, Equality Ride's co-director, described the meeting as "overall positive," noting that Evans in particular was "very gracious and hospitable."
The five-member Soulforce team was "disappointed that no LDS Church leadership were involved," Conner said in a phone interview. "But we are cautiously optimistic that progress is being made regarding LGBTQ issues."
The activists pointed out, for example, the subtle discrepancies and emphases between the honor code at Brigham Young University in Provo and the one at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City — both schools are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Conner said the Mormon officials took the issue under advisement.
A representative of LDS Business College was unavailable for comment Monday.
Conner said Mormon officials also agreed to work on using "more inclusive language" and to reiterate to members that no gay person should "question their worth or value or be kicked out of their home because of their orientation or gender expression identity."
The church, for example, should stop describing members who were "struggling with their sexuality," Conner said. "I'm not struggling. I am completely comfortable with my sexuality."
Conner, who was raised Mormon and served a two-year LDS mission, said one of the hardest moments for him came after he asked to have his name removed from the church's membership rolls. He received a letter from his bishop, he said, claiming that all the blessings he had received in the church and all the good he had done as a missionary were "null and void."
Two of the LDS participants said that "was not true," Conner reported, and that "my service is still valid and those blessings are valid."
It was, he said, "a healing moment."
Another Equality rider, Robert Moore, who is an active Mormon, asked, "Why won't my leaders sit down at a table with me?"
The group noted that gay representatives have been meeting for three years with LDS public-affairs officials, but never church authorities.
"So much can be learned by sharing stories," Conner said. "We feel it needs to happen at all levels of the church."
LDS officials did agree to keep meeting with gay activists on the national and local level. That, he said, is a sign of forward movement.