Students divide after church leader's remarks
By By BENJAMIN WOOD
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 11:10
STUDENTS CONVERSE while sitting in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance resource center in the TSC. BENJAMIN WOOD photo
LDS Temple 102010
THE LOGAN LDS TEMPLE is one of many bulidings in Cache Vallley that mark the densely populated Mormon religion in the area. KATELYN BATTLES photo
The GLBTA Resource Library sits in a quiet but visible corner of the TSC's third floor. It is a lounge, meeting place, materials center, and safe haven for students, faculty and staff. The walls are lined with books, movies, political message stickers and bright flags.
Outside the TSC and just across the sidewalk sits another safe haven, where students can engage in religious discussion, theological education, and worship of their god.
On Oct. 3, and in the days that followed, the two groups seemed more distant than ever.
Speaking at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Boyd K. Packer, the second-ranking leader in the LDS church, delivered an address in which he described same-sex attraction as "impure and unnatural," and suggested a loving god would never place his children in such a condition. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest civil rights organization, responded almost immediately, issuing nation-wide action alerts and gathering over 100,000 signatures for a petition urging Packer to apologize for and correct his statements. Local groups organized protests at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, portions of Packer's speech were eliminated from online publications and on Oct. 12 the HRC presented the petition to church officials.
"People across the country still need to hear from Elder Packer that he was wrong and that his statements were dangerous," HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a press release.
The local reaction
In the wake of Packer's remarks, members of the LDS church appeared somewhat divided between supporting their leaders and supporting gay friends and family members. Thousands of facebook users joined groups in support of Packer, while letters to the editor in The Statesman, Herald Journal and Salt Lake Tribune suggested some Mormons were hesitant to cross the line drawn in the sand.
Liz Emery, a USU junior who interns at the GLBTA Resource Library, was one of many who participated in the protest at Temple Square. Protesters wore black and circled the perimeter of the church's downtown property.
"It was very peaceful, very solemn," Emery said.
Emery disagreed with Packer's comments, and worried about the effect they could have on young church members who are struggling with their identity.
"My biggest concern is that when (Packer) says something like that, he reaches a broad audience," Emery said. "It empowers parents to use that as a weapon against their gay child."
Maure Smith-Benanti, GLBTA program coordinator, said every religion has a right to say what it believes, but Packer's comments seemed to show a shift from the LDS church's usual rhetoric.
"His statements seemed to be a departure from a more loving, inclusive nature," Smith-Benanti said. "It doesn't seem very sensitive to say those kinds of things when there are young people trying to stay alive."
Many of the groups in opposition to Packer's comments made note that his remarks came on the heels of a string of sexual-identity related suicides across the country.
"It seems like Packer's remarks were dismissive of that fact," Smith-Benanti said.
Emery also said the recent suicides made Packer's comments all the more damaging.
"He could have picked a better timing," she said.
Tolerance at USU
Smith-Benanti began working as program coordinator for GLBTA three years ago, around the time the Resource Library was located to the third floor of the TSC. She said before the location was set aside, the materials were located at the university library, where they would often be defaced or destroyed.
"Things were always mysteriously missing," Smith-Benanti said.
Smith-Benanti and her organization, which is part of the newly-formed Access and Diversity Center, offer counseling and support as well as organize discussion groups and classroom panel presentations.
She said her students generally feel safe on campus, and perhaps safer than they feel in Logan, but even at USU things are not perfect and the danger of suicide is very real.
"I know of at least three for a fact that have been prevented by the services we offer," Smith-Benanti said.
In a community where the majority of students belong to the LDS faith, Smith-Benanti said there exists a sense of privilege most individuals may not be aware of. Similarly to the way men may not consider the dangers of walking alone at night, member of the LDS church can sometimes assume everyone around them shares their views.
"There are privileges associated with being a dominant culture member," Smith-Benanti said. "It's an assumption of lived, shared experiences that are not always the case."
LGBT and non-LDS students on the other hand, she said, are extremely aware of the dominant culture.
"It's a difficult concept to wrap your head around because we want to think that the world is fair," she said.
Emery said at USU, most LGBT students have friends who are LDS, and vice-versa, and the sentiment amongst members of the church is generally one of not agreeing with the lifestyle, but also not terminating friendships as a result.
"For the most part I don't think people have malicious intent," Emery said.
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Wed Oct 20 2010 16:17
The title of the article reminds me of a parable about wheat.
Wed Oct 20 2010 15:50
The Church clearly does not teach what Packer insinuated. Packer's comments were indeed unfortunate, and the Church has issued a response that almost qualifies as an apology. I think everyone should look to the official Church policy on homosexuality outlined over the past few years in announcements, interviews, pamphlets, Ensign articles, etc. , not this one unfortunate comment. Michael Otterson's statement was much closer to the mark.
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