Mormons Prepare to March in LGBT Pride Parades Nationwide

This year, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—including active and observant Mormons—will march in at least seven LGBT Pride parades across the country.

From Seattle, Washington, to Washington D.C., New York, Portland, Boise, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City, members of three different Mormon contingents—Mormons Building Bridges, Mormons for Marriage Equality, and Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons—will walk during the month of June.

(Find complete details on LDS pride parade contingents here.)

First up is June 3, Salt Lake City. I spoke with Erika Munson, organizer of Salt Lake City’s Mormons Building Bridges group, a contingent of at least 100 self-described “active, faithful” Mormons that has been invited to walk at the head of the Salt Lake City pride parade.

How did you come to organize Mormons Building Bridges?

I’ve been active in the LDS Church all my life. I was a teenager in Boston during the leadup to the revelation [that ended the LDS ban on black ordination in 1978]; as a teenager for me that was incredibly painful, but looking back it was an amazing experience in that I felt the pain, I saw my parents feeling the pain, but working within the Church for change, and then I saw change before my eyes in all the things that we were praying for. It gave me a sense of optimism that has carried me throughout my whole life.

For many years, I felt like there was no other option for gay Mormon people than to discontinue activity in the LDS church. I completely understood why they couldn’t be a part of LDS Church life, and I felt bad about it, but I felt that’s what had to happen.

Then as my children started growing up—my kids are ages 13 to 27—and getting to a point where they decide whether or not to continue LDS Church activity into their own lives, I saw they faced this disconnect: “Gay people can’t be in this Church? What about all the love I’ve been taught my whole life?”

For example, my eighteen-year-old son received a phone call from the bishop for an interview to set him on the road to preparing for his missionary service. So we are in the hall, and I’m telling him, “You need to call the bishop.” My son looks at me and says, “Mom, I can’t do this.” We talked over many things he was concerned about. One of them was that he has an openly gay teacher who, he told me, “is one of the most spiritual people” he knows. “What is this Church if there is no place for him?” my son asked me.

Another story: I took my daughter to college at UCLA in September 2008. We were living in Connecticut then, so I had no idea what Proposition 8 was, but we saw all these Proposition 8 signs. I took her to the LDS student ward [congregation] on Sunday, and find out what Proposition 8 is, and the entire Relief Society [women’s auxiliary] meeting was a Proposition 8 organizing meeting—with phone trees and the bishop coming in and saying you’ve got to do this. We just left shaking, and she hasn’t gone back. She never set foot in that building again. 

Through my kids’ eyes, I see things in a fresh way. So I was thinking about the Utah Pride Parade, which is now almost bigger than the Days of ’47 [Pioneer Day parade commemorating Mormon pioneers]. This is a parade about love and diversity and human rights. I felt very strongly that LDS people should have a presence, even as a civic institution. I thought, let me put it out there and see if we can get active Mormons to march—people who are going to church—and let’s look Mormon.

If we stand up in this parade, the folks in the pews might say, “Hmm… I can do this too. Gosh, I didn’t know anyone felt the same way I do. I thought I was alone.” But also I wanted to reach out to LGBT community in general and just extend a hand and say, “We love you for who you are, not in spite of who you are but because God made you who you are.” And to young gay people especially. There is almost one LDS gay suicide a week in Utah. It’s got to stop. If just one young man who is gritting his teeth and going to church with his family sees us, perhaps he will know that there is someone in his ward, someone in his family he can talk to.

Tell me more about “looking like Mormons” when you walk in Salt Lake City on June 3.

I want everyone to wear what they wear to Church. I want us to look like the people streaming in and out of the LDS Conference Center, because that is who we are. We are active members of the LDS Church. I want the media to see those people who they thought were so conservative and narrow-minded and see that we are reaching out to the gay community. 

And you are very specific about your simple message.

The only message is one of love. We are focusing on a message of love. We are faithful Mormons. We believe. We attend our wards. But there has been heartbreak and strife and we want to end that. We are not supported by any political group, and we are asking people to have no signage for political causes. In this Pride Parade contingent, we are not taking a stand either way on marriage equality. Our signs are quotes from LDS Church General Authorities, the Bible, and LDS hymns about loving your neighbor.

You once had some concern about how the LGBT community would respond. What preparations have you been making?

We initially entered the parade as the LDS Tolerance Brigade, but we quickly learned—I am learning so much—that tolerance is not the most welcoming word. So we changed our name to “Mormons Building Bridges.” When I went to the first organizing meeting, I also put my little hand up and asked if we needed to worry about antagonism from the crowd, and the organizers said, “The crowd is going to love you. We are so happy you’re here.” I was overwhelmed with a feeling of welcome from that community.

Organizers within the LGBT community have been very supportive of our simple message of love and not going political and not dealing with the issue of marriage equality. And a group called OutReach—an organization that serves gay teenagers in northern Utah, including gay Mormon teenagers—those teenagers offered to march as volunteers to interact with the crowd as a buffer in case it was needed. 

Dustin Lance Black is the Salt Lake City pride parade marshall. He was really excited and supportive of our very simple message and he asked that we be moved to the head of the parade. 

But I also want to be very careful. We are guests at this parade, and I don’t want to steal other peoples’ thunder. For so many years, the Salt Lake City Pride folks have built this into an institution in the fabric of Utah. I just want to be very thankful for everything that they’re doing.

You’ve also had a supportive response from the LDS side.

I receive so many comments from fellow Mormons that “we have to show love.” This includes old Facebook friends from old wards I’ve lived in—people who I thought would not be receptive at all. For the purposes of this march, if we can stick to the simple message of love, we are going to reach a lot of people. 

Mormons Building Bridges has an open Facebook group so that we can monitor the number of people to anticipate. Right now, we anticipate 100 Mormons participating. I hope it will grow.

This is an invitation for people to be proactive. I know Pride is on a Sunday, and it’s a big deal for people to miss church. I understand that. This is an invitation to worship by walking, to worship by using our bodies—Mormon theology has a very specific place for bodies; our spirits came to earth to get bodies—and we are physically putting ourselves in a place to create a sacred space in this march. We will do that by keeping focused on our very simple message of love.

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.