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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009

Breakneck:

"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

She was raised Mormon, then fell for a girl

By Leah Lopshire

December 12, 2008 | Her senior year in high school Bailey Bell fell in love. But, unlike previous crushes, she was in love with another girl.

Bell, a senior in psychology at Utah State, is the first person on the panel to introduce herself and describe her coming out process to the scattered 30-some-odd people in the vast auditorium. With only one or two people in each row, the room looks bare. It's Diversity Week on campus, but the attendance suggests a lack of interest in diversity. Each panel member tells his/her story of how and when they came out.

Bailey, like many of the members of the GLBTA (Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender, Allies) was brought up LDS. After realizing she is a lesbian she did not confess to her parents. However, when she was pulled out of school without warning, and sat down by her parents she quickly learned she had been discovered.

"They quickly gave me Ensign (an LDS monthly magazine) articles and put me into what I call 'emergency therapy.' Basically they just called my therapist for an appointment that night to help me try to fight this."

Although same sex attraction is becoming more open and accepted in our country, many individuals still have a hard time "coming out" to family members (in particular) and friends. In a LDS family and community, it is even harder.

Maure Smith, GLBTA's program coordinator, grew up LDS and, while she was at Utah State, fell in love with a woman. "I was kind of surprised by this, and when it happened I decided I wasn't going to act on these feelings or tell my parents, but I kept hearing my mom's voice from when I was growing up, 'Smiths don't lie, Smiths don't lie.' So I knew that I couldn't hide it, and be true to myself like they always wanted their children to be."

Unlike Bell's parents, they did not put Smith in therapy, but there were other repercussions. "They told me that I was their daughter and they loved me, but they didn't want me to talk to my sisters for a while and cut me off financially."

Smith's and Bell's experiences are typical reactions from LDS parents. Going against the tide of many churches and religions in the country, the LDs church has stood firm in it's beliefs on same-sex attraction. It is wrong, and church leaders do not endorse it. Therefore, when LDS parents hear their child say they are gay, they either withdraw their support or they try to sure their child.

Although Bell's parents wanted her to get over her "temptation," they did not send her to a therapist who advocated LDS beliefs. "They wanted me to talk to someone to help me with this so I could get back on the right path." The Bells plan ended up backfiring. "Therapy actually really helped me to be able to talk to someone about what was going on openly, without being worried," Bell said.

Initially when Smith came out she was angry at her parents' reaction. Looking back, Smith realizes her parents weren't scared that she would infect her sisters; they didn't want them to be influenced while "I was going through my 'Queer Bounce.'" The post-coming-out phase when they experiment and do many things that are out of character, and taboo for them while growing up, and then they eventually bounce back to their previous character. This phase is also sometimes called a second adolescence.

When Smith came out, the climate on campus was pretty good. She recalled, "At that time there was only the Pride Alliance, but I didn't feel like I was in any real danger here." In 1998 the climate changed. "After Matt Shepard's death in Wyoming, the climate on campus got tense for a while." Shepard was a gay man who was tortured, then left to die tied to a fence post. The murder brought a nationwide attention to discrimination against the gay community, and the trial of the murder led to new legislation against hate crimes.

Pride Alliance members and allies on campus made signs with Matt Shepard's face and a quote from the Bible underneath about "loving they neighbor." The next day someone put new fliers over the old ones with the same picture but with a different quote from the Bible. "It had something dealing with ' when a man lies with another man he is condemned.'" That was not where it stopped. "Awful things happened that year." Days later gay and lesbian students were presented with slurs written in chalk along campus sidewalks. "They wrote things like ' Aids is God's way of eliminating fags,' things like that."

Asked about the campus climate now, Nicole Paul, a student who has lived in Logan the longest, said things have improved a lot since her arrival. "When I started school, I didn't feel comfortable, or that I belonged." Paul was beaten twice in Logan by a group of guys who jumped her from a truck while she was walking. "If you held hands on campus, people would scream things at you. When we had a Pride event in Logan canyon people shot guns at us. It was difficult." She ended saying that things have gotten a lot better on campus in the years since.

Another panel member, Constatine Leoussis, agreed, "I feel safer here than I would at home (New York City)."

According to Bell, recent passing of Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, has re-surfaced Mormon beliefs (acting on same-sex attractions is a sin), stirring up a hornets' nest on both sides.

For homecoming week Utah State organizations made banners and pictures to represent themselves. "Someone took red paint and painted over the same-sex couples holding hands, Bell said. Although it may not be as bad as it used to be, parallelisms to before make same-sex couples more on edge and feel less comfortable holding hands on campus. "These feelings of on edge are what my students have to go through everyday," Smith said.

In recent years more support groups have been added to Utah States campus. In addition to Pride Alliance, there is L.I.F.E (Love is for everyone), and Allies, and organization of GLBTA supporters. The motto of GLBTA is "you don't have to come out to come in."

"When I first came to Logan, I didn't go out much so other than my partner I felt very alone, until I got the job as Maure's assistant," Bell said. Working in the GLBTA office has allowed Bell to become more involved in the community, helping her feel safe and comfortable with herself.

The groups on campus provide support, create awareness and answer questions. "I'm always happy to help those students in the gay community, but I also really enjoy it when straight students or faculty come in to get questions answered about things they don't understand," Smith said.

In the office, on the third floor in the TSC building, there are not only individuals to talk to but literature, movies and pamphlets to help students better understand themselves, or a family member, or how to handle certain situations. For many students the office is a safe haven. The GLBTA gives students a chance to meet others in similar situations and helps create a sense of family. "After I came out and my parents became distant, it was nice to meet people and have a second family out here that gives me the support I need," Bell said.

With LDS beliefs being so strong against same-sex attraction many parents, like Bell's and Smith's, have a period of estrangement from their child. The GLBTA substitutes for parents who have been estranged, making it so important to those students in Utah, where the majority of the population is LDS.

"It took me a year to start talking to my family again after I came out," Smith recalls. "It's been 12 years and it's been a hard road with lots of talks. Some of the talks were shouting, some involved tears, but through it all we kept the belief that families are forever, so we are working to make it work, and it's gotten better.

Son after coming out, Bell left for school at BYU. "It was the only school I applied for." Growing up, Bell's mother was her best friend. "It was hard at first talking to my mom. It was like avoiding the huge pink elephant in the room." Since then Bell and her family have grown closer. "My mom and I finally talked about our feelings on Proposition 8 the other day. It felt good."

Because of her age, Smith's parents have had time to become more understanding of their daughter. To recent demonstrations and protests Smith's mothers has accompanied her daughter. When she was interviewed by the press, Smith decided to not mention the presence of her mother. She didn't want to make her uncomfortable. But then her mother leaned over and said, "And she is especially excited her mom's with her today."

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