St. George, Utah - Local advocates for the gay community led a conversation Thursday over what it means to grow up "Gay and Mormon."
"It took me until I was almost 40 years old to just say, 'Mom I'm going to move in with somebody, I'm in love with somebody, and he's a guy," said Doug Gubler, one of the three-person panel discussion hosted as part of the Dixie State University's "Dixie Forum" lecture series.
Gubler and others who grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discussed some of the trials, successes and future challenges for church members who are also part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, urging the audience of more than 100 to have compassion as they try to bridge the differences between church doctrine and their lifestyles.
Gubler was one of the founding members of the university's Gay-Straight Alliance, which began with about five people in 2007. He said things have improved for LGBT students since then — the club now has about 16 regular members, with various others who participate in some way — but there are still obstacles to face moving forward.
"I think it's gotten a lot better, but there's still stigma with it that they don't want to see something different," Gubler said.
Much of the discussion focused on urging parents and other family and friends to be more accepting and supportive of their LGBT loved ones.
Claudia Bradshaw, who founded a Southern Utah branch of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) 13 years ago after learning her 26-year-old son was gay, said she has urged parents to try and learn more about the topic before turning away from children who come out as LGBT.
"Every parent has to do it his or her own way, but I say do it with love," she said. "Do it with love and don't reject them."
Late last year, the LDS Church launched a new website, mormonsandgays.org, aimed at encouraging more conversation about same-sex attraction. The site explains the church's stance as understanding that some people have same-sex attraction, but that acting on that attraction is a sin.
Some have been unable to agree with that premise — Bradshaw said she had to leave the church when she felt the church would not accept her son — but others said they still identify as church members. Gubler said he is an active church elder.
Attending students said they were interested in learning more about the topic, with some saying the most important thing is to make sure LGBT people feel like they have support from somewhere, especially from friends and family.
David Columbus, 19, an LGBT student who moved to the area from Los Angeles in August, said he was bothered when he first moved to Southern Utah because the community was very conservative and opinionated. However, after getting to know many locals, including many LDS Church members, he said he feels that the community is actually very accepting.
"I think these people are beautiful," he said. "I think they're just scared. We fear what we do not know."
The Utah LGBT community celebrated a small victory earlier this month, after a Legislative committee passed a bill that would have protected residents from discrimination based on sexual orientation. It fizzled out before coming to the Senate floor for debate, but supporters argued that the progress the bill made showed significant progress.