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Church leadership post for an openly gay Mormon
Mitch Mayne, who is openly gay, hopes his newly assumed Mormon leadership position will increase understanding.
September 24th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Church leadership post for an openly gay Mormon

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Early on in life, Mitch Mayne knew exactly who he was.

He would race home from school to watch reruns of “Star Trek” and swoon over his crush, Captain Kirk. At 8, after his parents converted, he was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith he embraced. Even after he drifted away from the LDS Church following his parents’ divorce, he came back to Mormonism on his own in his mid-20s.

It is where he feels spiritually at home, irrespective of the fact that, for the past 10 years, he’s been openly gay.

“I’m a man that lives in two worlds that a lot of people don’t think intersect,” Mayne said. “Both sides of myself exist in me. It’s part of my DNA, part of my makeup.”

Actively Mormon and openly gay: It's the sort of combo that might leave people wondering. After all, the LDS Church teaches that homosexuality, specifically if same-sex attractions are acted upon, is a sin. And the church has actively backed measures to ban same-sex marriages.

Now, Mayne finds himself in the spotlight as he embarks on a journey he says “belongs to all of us.” In mid-August he was selected, or called (as Mormons say) by local church officials to serve in an LDS Church leadership position in San Francisco.

Mayne’s appointment may have generated attention, but he’s not the first gay Mormon to assume a leadership role in the church.

In Seattle, Washington, and Oakland, California, gay men have reportedly served in LDS Church leadership roles, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote in her piece about Mayne in The Salt Lake Tribune. What makes Mayne unique, Stack said, is that he "may be the first local LDS leader to announce his orientation over the pulpit.”

Late last month, from the pulpit, Mayne revealed - to anyone who didn't already know - who he is:

"I am a gay Latter-day Saint.

"I don't want pity. To pity me is to make me a victim. I want understanding. To understand me is to love me as an equal.

"I don't want tolerance. If I am tolerated, I am disliked in some way. I want respect as a fellow striving child of God - an equal in his eyes.

"I don't want acceptance. To accept me is to graciously grant me the favor of your company. To accept me is to marginalize me with the assumption that I am less than you. I am your peer. I am neither above you nor below you."

Mayne shared these words during a farewell address to the Oakland ward he long attended, amid an announcement that he would be leaving because he had been named the executive secretary to the bishop of the Bay Ward. It is a role in which he'll offer administrative help but also take part in shaping congregational work.

“While that’s not a big accomplishment in and of itself,” Mayne said, “it is a remarkable accomplishment for the simple fact that maybe for the first time, a man was called to a priesthood leadership position not in spite of the fact that he is gay, but partly because he is gay.”

For those unfamiliar with LDS Church vernacular, a ward is essentially a congregation or, to use Catholic terminology, a parish. Various wards fall under the auspices of a stake, the rough equivalent of a diocese. In this case, the Bay Ward is one of three wards that make up the San Francisco Stake.

The LDS Church, which entrusts local leaders to determine local callings, does not pay clergy, nor does it send would-be bishops to seminary. So Mayne, like the bishop who called him to serve, is a volunteer who works for the church on top of his full-time corporate communications job.

Don Fletcher, an ophthalmologist, said that when he was called last month to serve as the bishop and leader of the Bay Ward he wanted to make sure every Latter-day Saint in his ward knew they were welcome, including the vast majority who weren't showing up. Of the 950 members on the books, only 150 were appearing in the pews.

Because the Bay Ward serves a geographic area in San Francisco that includes the famously gay, rainbow-flag-waving Castro neighborhood, it stands to reason that a segment of those not attending church are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Among those who have been absent are members who grew up steeped in Mormonism, faithfully served as missionaries and have families still active in the church. For Fletcher, making members of the LGBT community feel comfortable enough to walk through his congregation's doors is personal.

Fletcher has a gay family member with AIDS and says he has seen firsthand how isolating that can be in the Mormon world.

“I love my church and have a lot of faith, but culturally we haven’t done a good job in dealing with people who are gay when they face life challenges,” whether that be coming out, depression or struggles with suicide or illness, Fletcher said. “I wanted to address it in the ward I live in.”

The response in his ward, and from other Mormons he has heard from, has been nothing but positive, "uniformly, no exception," the bishop said. And, he added with a laugh, in the past month he’s broadened his own knowledge – or, rather, his lingo base - learning about “the ‘Moho community,' Mormons who are homosexual. That was a new one to me.”

The LDS Church's top leadership, and by extension many Mormons sitting in pews, heavily supported the campaign behind Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative to ban same-sex marriage, which is currently tied up in the state’s high court.

Church doctrine says members should avoid sexual relations until marriage, which only can exist between a man and a woman. But the church’s involvement in the Prop 8 battle, and the Mormons who financially fueled the effort, created rifts in wards, spawned protests outside LDS temples and pushed some members, likely already on the churchgoing fence, out the door.

The Oakland First Ward, which Mayne attended for more than a decade, held a series of meetings to help heal those post-Prop 8 wounds. He said he sees his new church position in San Francisco’s Bay Ward as an extension of such bridge-building and a positive evolution from where he once was. The appointment will allow him to do extensive outreach in the LGBT and Mormon communities.

“It’s been hard to be a gay Mormon,” Mayne said. In the course of his life, he said he came out "no less than three times to bishops and stake presidents, and each time I was pushed back into the closet. … This is an opportunity to take my own pain and challenges and make it an opportunity to help. How can I not do that?”

He and Fletcher have already seen dividends from Mayne's calling. On a recent Sunday, Fletcher said he looked out to see seven formerly absent members take their seats in the pews because Mayne is there.

“I talked to a couple that hadn’t been to church in 20 years,” Fletcher said. “I’m not reinventing doctrine. I’m just trying to put in place what Jesus Christ would have us doing. … Even if you’re in a gay relationship and have no interest in living all the commandments, you’re still welcome in church, by all means.”

The development has stirred up discussion far beyond California. In one week, Mayne said, his personal website, which links to a blog in which he writes openly about who he is, received 30,000 views from 67 countries.

“I’m not a lone wolf on this,” he said. “I just happen to be a face of it. … There is a place for everyone at our savior’s table.”

But not everyone is as confident that Mayne’s calling will make a difference.

“I’m conflicted about this,” said Eric Ethington of Salt Lake City, the founder of the LGBT blog PRIDEinUtah.

“On the one hand, I view this as a positive step forward for the church, a church that has a history of extreme persecutions against the LGBT community,” he said. “But on the other hand,  I worry about LGBT people … because the church teaches you that you cannot reach your full potential and have full acceptance in the church unless you marry someone of the opposite sex.”

Ethington was raised in the LDS Church and says he was kicked out of the house when he came out at 17. He later closeted himself and married a woman in an LDS temple, only to divorce a couple of years later after realizing he was kidding himself.

“I can’t share (Mitch’s) optimism, but I share his hope,” he said. “Whether the church is ever going to change its policies, that’s a question for (LDS Church President) Thomas Monson. But one thing I hope the church will do, and maybe Mitch can help with this, is educate local leadership. Some kids are gay. … And that’s OK.”

Ethington pointed out, though, that Mayne, who was in a longtime monogamous relationship until a year ago, was only able to get his church calling because he’s not currently with someone.

“If he falls in love again and wants to be with that man, he won’t be allowed to serve,” he said.

Matt Mosman, a high councilor with the San Francisco Stake, said that if Mayne were to find himself in another romantic relationship, there would be an expectation that he would step down.

But the expectation that Mayne will abstain from premarital sex while in a leadership role, Mosman added, is no different from what would be expected of a single man who is not gay.

“The idea that a gay man who is not currently active in a gay relationship could serve actively in a high-ranking calling – that is a policy in the Mormon church that you could argue has been around since the church’s inception,” said Mosman, who works in corporate development.

For now, Mayne looks forward to his service and to promoting conversations and understanding. He will not, however, commit to a life of celibacy and hopes, “for all my gay brothers and sisters,” that same-sex marriage will someday be an option.

“I’m not saying I have an intent to go out and sin,” he said. “Here’s where I am; I am able and willing to serve. But I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know what the future holds.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Homosexuality • Mormonism • Same-sex marriage

soundoff (1,700 Responses)
  1. DaveinSC

    I guess this guy has not read the bible very closely, but wait, he is mormon. they have no idea what the bible says.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Gumby

      All Christians think they know the Bible better than all the other Christians. Your holier-than-thou Christian clown car act gets tiresome. Christer, heal thyself.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  2. Trashcup

    I can see the next Mormon television ad – story about the gay Mormon and then it ends: "and I'm a Mormon"...Once the Mormon's put that ad out, I'[ll believe they accept gays.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  3. AtheistSteve

    All you thickheaded dolts who believe being Gay is a choice deserve to have your children "catch the gay" so you can wallow in despair over their doomed souls. Doubly fortunate since you then wouldn't have grandchildren and your pathetic blood line would cease to exist.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • DaveinSC

      We can only hope that the gays will breed themselves out of existence. after all you cannot have a baby from your butthol*.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Gumby

      DaveInSC demonstrates the hatred of Christianity.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      And we can only hope that christians breed themselves out of existence...what a beautiful world it would be!

      September 25, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  4. D.B.

    Wow. Another God loves gays and gays love God story. Let's call the Pulitzer folks right now.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  5. RightCoastVA

    I'm an active Mormon and completely agree with the Eric that was quoted in the article. It's a promising step, but our doctrine is in a weird place when it comes to LGBT.

    On one hand our leaders have acknowledged that being gay is not a choice (God made them that way), but on the other hand despite that acknowledgement gays still can't participate in many of the things that God intends to bring us happiness while on this rock (family, spouse, etc).

    There is an expression in the church that we do the best we can and sort out the specifics in the afterlife. It's time to do our best and make some sort of an allowance for our gay brothers and sisters so they can marry, can have a family, can participate in all the things that make this life happy, and then leave it up to a just and loving God to sort out the specifics.

    Best of luck to Mitch, the early Sunday morning meetings are a killer....:)

    September 25, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  6. LizM

    Mitch... get thee out! You got out of the closet, now get out of the meetinghouse! I understand that need to want to be back where you "think" is the safe place, the church. It's no different than abused women who return to the husband who beats them (did you know the average abused woman will leave 16 times before she leaves for good?) It's because the child inside her desperately WANTS her marriage to be the safe, accepting place she dreams it to be. Same with children in an abused home... they still love their parents. They'll often cover up for their parents, hide the neglect from teachers, neighbors, grandparents, so they can continue to have the only 'normal' they've known.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  7. alweg

    "Even if you’re in a gay relationship and have no interest in living all the commandments"...uh, 'cause they're really only suggestions..or something.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  8. Paul in Louisville

    I will never understand wanting to be part of an organization that hates you. From the church to GOProud, it just makes no sense. They're basic tenets are against you. In some cases, they'd like to see you dead. Someone spoke of progress. The only real progress is to have the shackles of religion removed. It's time to move into the 21st century.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Paul in Louisville

      *Their...jeez...

      September 25, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • skin6

      Well said Paul...

      September 25, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • mike

      Well gays and abortionists want to change the groups they belong to. Otherwise why would so many Catholics vote for abortion and gay marriage? Why do gays demand acceptance by groups that don't want them? It's not just religious groups. It's families too. Instead of just going away, my gay nephew wants us to accept him and his partner. And, just in case. I don't belong to any religiuous group.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Gumby

      Nicely said.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  9. skin6

    I find this whole article a smokescreen from the LDS church. As a former gay Mormon I was not able to partake of the sacrament if I was involved in a relationship and was informed that church doctrine taught that I could only be a ministering angel (a servant) to fathful mormons after death and never achieve the "true" heaven if I didn't marry. I was told I was unnatural and being lead by satan. They sent me to counseling to undo the gay in me–what a joke, ultimatly I left the church and have never looked back.
    BTW - you can notice that he isn't wearing the sacred mormon underwear with his shirt being open, it makes me wonder if the church has truly accepted him or is the church denying sacrements to him because he is openly gay?

    September 25, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  10. emanym

    Oh I get it – he can be Gay but he just can't act on his feelings. That makes perfect sense!

    September 25, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Gumby

      Religion loves to control the masses by dictating what behavior is and is not acceptable, right down to what two consenting adults do behind closed bedroom doors. I find it amusing that Christers so enthusiastically applaud their own enslavement.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  11. Ggargoyle

    Well perhaps he'll get his very own all gay planet!

    September 25, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • skin6

      or he could be interior decorator to the mormon gods...

      September 25, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Milcha

      I remember tecnaihg a guy about our church and my friends kept telling him how big of a sacrifice it is to join our church. They emphasized over and over again how much time it takes. How we spend tons of hours serving, how we go visit one another, go to activities, are asked to teach at church, etc. etc. I seriously started panicking. I thought this guy would walk away thinking there is no way I want my life to be like that. He was already super busy with school and his life. I was wrong.He loved how much our church serves and helps one another. He loved the commitment. He loved the people and he joined the church and spends a lot of his time now serving in the church.From the outside, people think it's a big commitment. But I think there is a paradox of choice happening in the world where people love to belong. They love to have good life guidelines. And they appreciate being in a community of love and support.

      June 26, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  12. The Half Baked Lunatic

    Do you know why you always bring two mormons with you when you go fishing? If you bring just one, he'll drink all your beer!

    September 25, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  13. Me

    I know a girl that was Mormon and the day she came out was the day she was excommunicated from the church. Her parents were furious at the church for that. A few days later they found her in her room hanging by a belt. Hope the church is happy...

    September 25, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      That's sad and unfortunately an all too often scenario. Recently a 14 year old killed himself over bullying due to being gay. There is no reason for this and the sooner we educate on the facts of being and how bullying affects people, the sooner this world has a chance of healing.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • skin6

      I am very sad for that girl and I'm perplexed by this article. Being a former mormon, I was told I was a son of perdition and belonged to satan and his angels if I had gay feelings.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • DaveinSC

      Its not the churches fault she was stupid enoguh to hang herself.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Gumby

      DaveInSC once again demonstrates the evil and hate of Christianity.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      No-one is necessarily blaming the church for her hanging herself...there are other social factors that go along with it...the church is only part of it. To think for one second that condemning one for being gay is right and it in turns leads to them killing themselves becomes a good thing (rid the planet of this type of person) only stands to show how bigoted some of the views of the buybull are. Start reading a book that does not condemn every one and look at what the studies have shown to be accurate facts in the here and now, and not 2000 years ago!

      September 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • John Richardson

      @DaveinSC Are you even va-guely acquainted with the concept of compassion?

      September 25, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  14. unowhoitsme

    Don't blame DNA for being gay. Perhaps, the now altered DNA through environmental hazzards. It's a learned behavior, just like religion. Keep your preferences to yourself. Stop invading my space. I have rights, too, but don't go around slinging them in other people's faces.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      BIGOT

      September 25, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • DaveinSC

      TruthPrevails

      the best you can do is call someone a bigot because they do not see things your way. How pathetic you are, and close-minded.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      I call someone a bigot for acting on someone's se.xuality by saying it is a disease or wrong when in fact it is not! That has nothing to do with opinion, that has to do with facts and studies done by professionals.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Gumby

      ignorant Christian bigot

      September 25, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • John Richardson

      Who is invading your space?

      September 25, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  15. mike

    Another gay story. Change the name to GNN. It's just disgusting.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  16. diane

    whats wrong with you people, god loves all his children

    September 25, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • The Half Baked Lunatic

      'god' is an idiotic idea promoted by immoral people to control and pacify the weak minded people.

      It's OUR choice – we can accept all people and love them, or we can spread hatred, bigotry, and violence. 'god' has nothing to do with it.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Gumby

      God loves all his children, except when he's busy exterminating them on a global scale with floods, or having his human armies slaughter entire countries, or siccing she-bears on them for calling one of his prophets bald. Yeah right. Your immoral, genocidal sky-daddy doesn't exist, and that's a good thing. Now if we could only bring the drooling Christers into the 21st century.

      September 25, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  17. dave

    If these people follow the angel moroni , why aren't they called morons instead?

    September 25, 2011 at 8:21 am |
  18. Jesus

    Bow before me, minions. "God" doesn't give a turd about what goes on here on the surface of the earth. He's so powerful but refuses to show us his manly image.. lmao

    September 25, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  19. SCAtheist

    Stop believing in the invisible man in the sky, and the problem goes away.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • The Half Baked Lunatic

      Amen!

      September 25, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Kace

      That problem, and many more!

      September 25, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  20. Sara

    Thank you Jessica, this is a great piece. My partner converted to Mormonism in her 20's but left that church after she realized she was a lesbian. When she moved to NYC and spoke with the Bishop in her Ward, he told her it was OK to be gay, she just couldn't act on it. It broke her heart. I imagine similar things have happened to many LGT Mormons. Hopefully this will pave the way for acceptance and love. Hey, if the Jews can make progress, so can Mormons.

    September 25, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Kudos to your partner for not hiding her true self.

      September 25, 2011 at 8:42 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.