Let’s be clear: this situation is more important in the church today than it ever has been. Laws have changed, society has changed: church members have to figure out how to address this growing reality – in and out of the church. Young Women are in the very center of that question, both as subjects – homosexuality isn’t just a guy thing – and as first responders. This article only addresses one part of that: when a Young Man opens up to a friend he trusts (read: you).
So what do you do when a Young Man comes out to you?
Rule #1: Do you, boo. Do you.
Your first instinct is going to be love. You will want to hug him and tell him that everything will be okay. Do that, of course, but remember that you are your first and most important responsibility. Take care of you. Finding out that one of your friends is gay can be earth-shaking. Lots of girls in this situation experience doubt, fear, confusion – some even lose their testimonies. While it’s okay to feel doubt, fear, and confusion, it is not and never will be okay for his (or anyone else’s) well-being to come at the cost of yours.
You need to talk to someone who is not him. Coming out is hard and scary: he is going to be just as confused as you, maybe more. You need someone a little further back from the situation who can help you sort through your thoughts and feelings. If his sexuality is still a secret, tell him that you don’t want to betray his trust or violate his privacy but that you still need to talk to someone. Ask him if you can bring it up with one of your parents, the bishop, or a youth leader. However you do it, figure out a way to talk to somebody who can help identify what you’re feeling and brainstorm ways to act on it.
After he comes out to you, you’re going to want everything to stay the same. He’s still him, you’re still you – why shouldn’t you still be friends? You can certainly still be friends, but – unfortunately – that’s not always how it works out. Sometimes gay Mormons don’t only come out of the closet, but they also come out against the church. They start criticizing church doctrine, church leaders, and church members. They start ignoring commandments that are unrelated to their sexuality – like the Word of Wisdom, profanity, modesty, Sabbath day observance, etc. – and that can be a real drag on active Mormon friends.
So what do you do if your gay friend makes it harder for you to be happy & live the gospel?
Rule #2: See Rule #1
The first rule of lifeguarding is that the lifeguard has to stay safe. Drowning people are afraid, and they frantically grab whatever they can reach and try to put it between them and the water. That’s why lifeguards are always throwing things: the drowning person can’t hurt the buoy, but if the lifeguard herself gets within arms’ reach of the drowning person she could (literally) be dragged down with him.
Being gay is not the same as drowning, but struggling with testimony problems is. You are the lifeguard, and when your friends are struggling with their testimonies the best thing you can do for them is to strengthen yours. I’m not saying that you need to shun all of your gay, inactive, or struggling friends. After all, part of your baptismal covenant is to “bear one another’s burdens that they may be light” and to “comfort those that” need it – but you cannot do that effectively without standing as a witness “of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in.” If preserving & maintaining your testimony is important to you, don’t let anything – even your gay friend – weaken your relationship with God. It’s totally possible (and awesome) to be friends with gay people, but it definitely requires balance and strength. Lots of active, good Mormons are close friends with ex-Mormon gays, but both sides have to respect the others’ choices.
An important thing to remember in situations like these is that we really are in control of who our friends are. You don’t have to be friends with anyone, gay or not. Choose your friends based on what they do, not who they are. You already know who they are: children of God, each with his or her own trials, strengths, talents, and struggles. If what your gay friend does tempts or drives you away from God, you need to put some distance between you and him – not too much, but enough to make the necessary space in your life for the Spirit and the Gospel.
Rule #1 and Rule #2 are all about you, but there are some things that you can do for your friend that can really help. Jesus Christ is a good example of someone who was friends with people who needed him – from lost sheep to outcast women.
Rule #3: Reach Out
Your friend loves and trusts you – otherwise he wouldn’t have opened up to you – but you are not the only person in the world. His parents, siblings, bishop, Young Men’s leader, Sunday School teacher, neighbor, dog, and ward organist – 99.9% of the time – all love him and would do literally anything for him. Sometimes, when our friends need help, we feel like we’re all they have, but – most of the time – that’s just wrong. Encourage your friend to speak to his parents, trusted siblings, and church leaders. Some of them may give him confusing – or even bad – advice. Some of them may say mean or hurtful things. Some may stop talking to him just because he’s gay. Most of them, however, will respond like you will – with love. He will benefit tremendously from having shared his burden.
Rule #4: Primary Answers
This rule really could – and probably should – be Rule #1. The Primary Answers are always good ideas – and I don’t mean just the big three. Yeah, reading your scriptures, praying, and going to church are super important, but we did a lot of really cool, really important stuff in Primary that is absolutely relevant to teenager and adult life. If your best guy friend at church comes out to you as gay, do all of the Primary Answers: sing, dance, laugh, learn, share, listen, and – most importantly – love one another.
Ellis grew up in Texas, served his mission in Milan, and lives in New York City, where he is finishing college at Columbia University. He is really good at squeezing toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, sleeping on airplanes, and reading books out loud to anyone who will listen (usually just his cat, Amal). He is trying to get better at combing his hair, writing, and using the stairs without tripping.