Brad found himself 'living a lie' as a missionary. Now he celebrates his sexuality as a Peacock Mormon

ABC Radio National, Australia/March 3, 2021

By Nick Baker

After putting the finishing touches on a bejewelled angel costume, 50-year-old Brad Harker sums up his life as "one huge full circle".

"I was originally a Mormon missionary; I baptised 65 people," he says.

"[But then I became] a missionary for marriage equality, a missionary for LGBTIQ+ rights."

Mr Harker is from a sixth-generation Mormon family and was an ardent follower of the faith, but after decades of being "taught to live a lie", he came out as gay in 2011.

He is one of about 12 former and current Mormons who will march as part of the "Peacock Mormons" float at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade on Saturday.

Mr Harker says like other Christian groups, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the official name of the Mormon church) has a history of espousing anti-LGBTQIA+ teachings.

"Historically, they would produce anti-gay literature, they would have books on how not to be gay, they'd teach you not to be gay, that it was a sin," he says.

"Basically, it was Satan's territory. You were taught, if you were gay, to have shame and to lie."

Mr Harker married twice and had four children before he came out. He went on to marry his partner Scott, and says his children continue to be "very supportive" of his journey.

"I now just want to advocate that being gay is OK," he says. "We can be visible, not invisible."

The Peacock Mormons

The Mormon church, headquartered in the US state of Utah, says it has about 150,000 members in Australia.

It has strict rules around sexuality and "sexual purity," with church material saying, "sexual relations between a man and woman who are not married, or between people of the same sex, violate one of our Father in Heaven's most important laws and get in the way of our eternal progress".

In regard to homosexuality, church material says, "the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is."

Against this backdrop, Brisbane-based Mr Harker is still officially a Mormon, but no longer practises. He calls himself a "Peacock Mormon".

Since coming out, he has been lobbying the church to be more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community.

This included organising the Peacock Mormons group and its first float in the 2018 Mardi Gras parade, where dozens of former and current Mormons dressed in black-and-white missionary attire with name tags reading "Elder Equality".

Mr Harker was part of a global push that saw the church recently remove two of its policies.

In 2019, the church announced it would no longer characterise Mormons in same-sex marriages as "apostates", and removed a ban on baptising children of LGBTQIA+ couples.

But rather than feeling bitterness towards the church, Mr Harker says now is a time for "forgiving each other and being able to move on together".

"They're starting to turn the page now. They're starting to change," he says.

Richard Hunter, a spokesperson for the Mormon church in Australia and New Zealand, says: "We hope that members and friends of our faith who are also in the LGBTQIA+ community will know that we recognise all people as beloved children of God.

"As individual Latter-day Saints we are working to do better at opening our doors and our hearts to those who want to fellowship with us as we strive to become better people."

Rise Up Religions of The World

The 2021 Mardi Gras Parade will be very different to previous years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of a street parade, it will be held in the Sydney Cricket Ground, with seated spectators.

The theme of this year's Peacock Mormons float will be Rise Up Religions of The World.

Some of its members will "very respectfully" dress in different religious outfits, while others will have angel costumes.

"There are walls that have gone up between religions and the LGBTIQ+ community. We are about bringing down those walls," Mr Harker says.

Other members of Mr Harker's family will also march with the Peacock Mormons, including his younger brother Troy, who lives in Sydney with his wife and child.

The younger Mr Harker says his message to the Mormon church and other religions more broadly is, "just listen to the people".

"Listen to what we're asking for and come up with ways of being all-inclusive and all-accepting," he says.

"This is a fun way of being noticed and getting a message across. What we are trying to achieve is a more united society, where everybody is equal."

Not just Mormons

With the Rise Up Religions of The World theme, the 2021 Peacock Mormons float has also attracted participants from other religions, cultures and backgrounds to join them.

Ramtin, who requested his last name not be used, grew up in Iran and now lives in Melbourne. He says he was drawn to the Peacock Mormons because of their shared experiences.

"We have so many things in common because of being supressed by the community and feeling silenced by the community," the 32-year-old says.

Ramtin says his time in the strictly Islamic country of Iran was "suffocating".

"You can be sentenced to death in Iran for being homosexual ... [So] every single day of your life you have to choose between the truth and death."

Ramtin says he will march with the Peacock Mormons float wearing "a traditional Middle Eastern outfit" in an effort to be a "visible role model" that he never had growing up.

"I want to bring some hope to people who may still be struggling with their sexual orientation and identity," he says, adding, "just stay strong until you can express yourself."

Mr Harker says having people from many different backgrounds join the Peacock Mormons is what Mardi Gras is all about.

"It's really wonderful," he says. "It shows that the whole LGBTIQ+ community can come together as one and present something that's meaningful to religious communities and the broader world."

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