When we interact with our LGBTQ members in the Church, are we showing them the respect they deserve as fellow brothers and sisters in the gospel?
Previous Latter-day Saint bishop and advisory board member of Listen, Learn and Love Richard Ostler, known as "Papa Ostler," has given presentations for Listen, Learn and Love about how members can be more inclusive toward their LGBT brothers and sisters.
Ostler also shares his thoughts on social media and recently shared four ways members can show respect to their LGBTQ members in a recent Facebook post.
1. Acknowledge them.
The first step in showing respect for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is acknowledging that they exist and have a place within the gospel. As Ostler points out in his Facebook post: "How can we minister, support and help a people if we don’t first acknowledge they exist?"
Quoting President M. Russell Ballard, Ostler shows that we not only need to acknowledge LGBTQ members exist but we also need to listen to what they have to say.
“I want anyone who is a member of the Church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do," President M. Russell Ballard said at a BYU devotional in 2017.
President Ballard continues:
“We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also acknowledged LGBTQ members and reiterated that there was a place for them in the Church in his April 2017 general conference talk "Songs Sung and Unsung."
"There is room for those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures, and live in a host of locations. There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions. In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior, for if love of God is the melody of our shared song, surely our common quest to obey Him is the indispensable harmony in it. With divine imperatives of love and faith, repentance and compassion, honesty and forgiveness, there is room in this choir for all who wish to be there. 'Come as you are,' a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, 'Don’t plan to stay as you are.' We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be."
While some members argue that acknowledging our LGBTQ members may feel like we are encouraging everything LGBTQ members say or do, Ostler points out that we generally don't have that same degree hesitation when it comes to acknowledging refugees, the homeless, or other marginalized groups.
"I’ve never had any [of] my LGBTQ friends want to take away my rights," Ostler says. "Rather, they want the chance to live their lives the best way they know how. I honored their individual decisions without [judgment] . . . even those living outside the circle of my beliefs. However, none [are] living outside of the circle of the human family . . . so I show love, kindness, and respect."
2. Let them decide what they want to be called.
Another step in showing respect to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is letting them decide how they want to refer to themselves.
"Some of my gay friends call themselves ‘gay’ while others use ‘same-sex attraction,'" Ostler says. "For my transgender friends, their name takes on added meaning and is a key element of their identity as most use a new first name to reflect their gender orientation. I show respect and use their desired first name and the appropriate pronouns (he/she/they). I don’t require them to prove the gender orientation by some hurdle before I extend this courtesy. It costs me nothing to call them by their preferred name."
As Ostler points out, we are commanded to "love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). We can show respect and love to our LGBTQ members when we show them the same respect we show others by using their preferred name or label.
3. See them as our own people.
When we talk about our members, no matter what group, race, status, or sexual orientation, it's important to never create an "us vs. them" mentality.
"All members are a part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and everyone is a child of God, and showing that kind of inclusiveness for all members shows a fundamental form of respect.
"After meeting hundreds of LGBTQ people, I see them as fellow humans . . . full equals . . . my fellow church members . . . part of the same human family . . . worthy of my full friendship and acceptance . . . often lifting my vision on how to lift and serve others," Ostler says. "I do not see them as a different ‘community.' I don’t really like the term ‘LGBTQ community’ as it creates a visual of a different group of people on a different road. . . . I like ‘God’s LGBTQ children.'"
4. Know what gifts and attributes they have to help spread the gospel.
Every member has gifts and attributes that help spread the gospel, and LGBTQ members are no different.
And because LGBTQ members have different life experiences, Ostler says in his experience LGBTQ members are more likely to have empathy for other marginalized groups.
"My experience is that being marginalized makes you more sensitive to other marginalized people. . . . The very people that Jesus wanted us to reach out and support," Ostler says. "In general, my LGBTQ friends have more compassion and empathy than my straight friends. I see them involved in causes and careers that are focused on serving their fellow human beings. I deeply admire their goodness and dedication."
As President Ballard said in his 2017 BYU devotional: "We must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord."
In addition to sharing his thoughts on social media, Ostler also hosts a Listen, Learn and Love podcast where LGBTQ members and family of LGBTQ members share their life stories and experiences. Click on the Facebook link below to see Ostler's full post about how members can show respect for LGBTQ members.