Music has always been a big part of my life. I really feel like it’s a God-given talent. It’s my way of communicating with people, of speaking to people on an emotional level. I think music also saved me from a lot of trauma other LGBTQ members experience in the Mormon Church.
I came out to my ward the week Illinois legalized same-sex marriage. Most of my friends in the church had known I was gay for several years. I was never trying to keep a secret. But that day I stood up at my Fast and Testimony meeting and implied that God moved in mysterious ways. I said it was a day for rejoicing now that there was marriage equality in the state of Illinois. Afterwards my Bishop was basically like, ‘Very moving testimony. You’re still going to be here next Sunday to play the organ right?’
As much as his reaction gave me a sense of still feeling welcome in the church, he was actually saying, ‘We don’t accept this about you, but you have something we need.’ It made me feel like because I had something of value to the church, I was protected in ways other LGBTQ members were not. I felt guilty. Like I was being shielded from something, even though I was no more special or deserving.
Though I knew I was gay from a very young age, it’s hard reconciling that truth within Mormonism. I was taught to have a personal relationship with God, and I think I really did. Even before I had words to declare who and what I was, my whole being always felt affirmed by my creator, without question. It was the church that I knew wouldn’t affirm this one part of me.
Growing up, I’d always been the good kid. The joke in the family has always been that I’m the favorite child. It’s true. I am. I excelled in school and especially in music and was just an overall well-behaved kid. When I came out to my parents in college, after being out publicly to most people since middle school, I didn’t see myself as wrong. But here were my parents and this religion telling me, ‘You’re bad. You’re bad. You’re bad. You’re wrong.’ For the first time in my life, I felt like I was getting punished for bad behavior. It sent me into a deep depression for a short time.
I think because my mom grew up Catholic and converted to Mormonism, there’s an element of her feeling like she has to do it right. She has to prove herself as a faithful member. And this makes her adhere to Mormon rules and standards maybe even more stringently than others would. It was Mormonism that really guided her when I came out. She would say some incongruous things that had no real base in reality. Things like, ‘Oh, are you going to start wearing dresses now?’ or ‘Does your sister trust you around her young sons?’
My parents have always embraced the church, even though the church hasn’t always embraced them. My sister got pregnant at seventeen and was excommunicated. A couple years later, my parents filed assault charges against a youth leader after he physically removed my brother from youth group. Instead of rallying around us, the community and congregation swiftly ostracized us. The Bishop pulled out an overhead projector one day, revealing the ward’s new boundary line. The new line included a very small—but clearly intentional—shift, removing our family from the ward. My parents raised their hand to object. They were the only two people I’ve ever seen object. I was really embarrassed at the time, but also thought that was kind of badass. Still, in the end, they complied with the new designation, in fear of having their temple recommends revoked.
I left the church once I came to terms with the fact that I would never be inherently accepted by the institution for who I was. People in the church always loved and accepted Sal, but it felt a lot bigger than me. I didn’t think God was wrong or religion was wrong. I just thought there were people who did religion wrong. I left thinking I would take a break from religion for a while. But then I was invited to audition for a Lutheran Church choir. This church seemed radical at the time. There was a woman pastor, they accept gay people- it was something I wasn’t used to. I went into it viewing it purely as a good paying singing gig. But then things shifted. One Sunday the church brought in a female pastor from India. Her preaching touched me in a way I couldn’t describe. I remember looking around at the diverse group of people in the room and the unconditional acceptance of others and crying, thinking, ‘This must be what heaven actually looks like.’
In some ways I think maybe God helped protect me from the scars of the Mormon Church so that I could stay in it. Not in the Mormon Church, but the in greater church. Maybe it’s because I came away relatively unscathed, that I can help have these conversations.