09:04, June 24 317 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-24 09:04:02
Mormon girl who says she is gay has microphone cut off, stirring protest

A video of a young Mormon girl in Utah telling her congregation that she is gay and still loved by God, before her microphone is turned off by local church leaders, has sparked a new round of discussions about how the religion handles LGBTQ issues.

The 13-year-old girl, named Savannah, spoke on 7 May in Eagle Mountain, Utah, during a once-a-month portion of Sunday services in which members are encouraged to share feelings and beliefs.

“They did not mess up when they gave me freckles or when they made me to be gay,” she said, wearing a white shirt and red tie. “God loves me just this way.”

Her mother, Heather Kester, said her daughter was passionate about coming out in church to be a voice and example for other LGBTQ children who struggle for acceptance within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Heather Kester asked that Savannah’s full name be withheld to protect her privacy.

The Mormon religion is one of many conservative faith groups upholding theological opposition to same-sex relationships amid widespread social acceptance and the US supreme court’s 2015 decision legalizing gay marriage.

The video, which Kester said was taken by a friend of Savannah’s who came to support her, was circulated online this month and featured in a Mormon LGBTQ podcast. While some consider Savannah a hero, other Mormons are upset that her speech was videotaped and is being circulated by critics of the church.

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A news report on the video.

Judd Law, the lay bishop who leads the congregation south of Salt Lake City, said in a statement that Savannah was a “brave young girl” and that the congregation was making sure she and her family feel loved. But he said the unauthorized recording and a “disruptive demonstration” by a group of non-Mormon adults who were there were “problematic”.

“We do not politic in our chapels,” Law said, “and exploiting this recording for political purposes is inconsistent with the nature of our worship services.”

Law, who was not at the service, did not address or explain the decision by two of his counselors to cut the microphone.

Savannah read from written notes from the pulpit. Kester said she is not Mormon, but her husband is and Savannah has been raised in the religion.

“I do not choose to be this way and this is not a fad,” Savannah said in her remarks in church. “I cannot make someone else gay … I believe that God wants us to treat each other with kindness, even if people are different, especially if they are different.”

Her microphone was muted after about two minutes – shortly after she said she was not a “horrible sinner” and that she someday hoped to have a partner, get married and have a family. She turned around to listen to something a man in a suit told her and then was walked down from the pulpit. Kester said her daughter came and cried in her lap. She told her she was beautiful and that God loved her, Kester said.

“I was devastated for her,” said Kester, adding: “I was angry at how that was handled.”

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In 2008, the Utah-based Mormon church was the subject of a critical backlash after helping lead the fight for California’s Proposition 8 constitutional ban on gay marriage. Religious leaders then sought to develop a more empathetic tone on LGBTQ matters. That was interrupted in 2015 when the church adopted rules banning children living with gay parents from being baptized until the age of 18.

In October, church leaders updated a website created in 2012 to let members know that that attraction to people of the same sex is not a sin or a measure of their faithfulness and may never go away. But the church also reminded members that having gay sex violates fundamental doctrinal beliefs that will not change.

Scott Gordon, president of FairMormon, a volunteer organization that supports the church, said it would have been OK for Savannah to come out as gay during testimony, but that she crossed the line when she mischaracterized church teachings by saying God would want her to have a partner and get married.

“While you can believe almost anything you want to believe, you can’t preach it from the pulpit,” Gordon said.

Britt Jones, a bisexual Mormon who runs a podcast called “I like to look for Rainbows” that featured Savannah’s story, said church leaders should have allowed Savannah to finish.

“Queer issues don’t get talked about in the church enough,” said Jones, who is married to a woman and has children. “It was really brave and really admirable, particularly for somebody that young, that she not only wanted to talk about it herself but be a voice for others suffering in silence.”