The Media’s Influence and the Goals of Mormons Building Bridges

The Media’s Influence and the Goals of Mormons Building Bridges

Comments for the Society of Professional Journalists: LGBT and the media panel on November 21, 2013, Salt Lake Public Library

My name is Erika Munson and I represent Mormons Building Bridges. We are a grassroots organization whose goal is to make LDS homes and congregations safe and welcoming for LGBT people and support our LGBT brothers and sisters on their life’s path. We are primarily faithful practicing Mormons who seek to do this within the context of current Church doctrine and policy.

We do this one heart, one member, one family at a time. Our method is to encourage allies, and there are thousands of them—although they may not yet know they are allies– to pay attention to that uncomfortable feeling that comes when they hear a homophobic remark in church, or when they see a gay child being shunned by her parents; to articulate that the attitude these behaviors represent is not what Jesus taught, not what their religion stands for. We model home spun, practical , and meaningful ways to stand up for our LGBT brothers and sisters–using the capital that we earn over the years serving everyone in our tight-knit congregations. Whenever there is a message of hope and acceptance coming from Church leadership, we seek to amplify it; we want to catch the membership up on current Church policy, which of late has been somewhat hopeful for gay Mormons but sadly has not been disseminated in any organized way down to the local level.

I believe the media can help us by emphasizing the values and experience that gay and straight people share.

On a summer’s day sitting in my back yard, I was chatting with my LDS neighbor who was visiting me as part of her church duties. She is aware of my activity in Mormons Building Bridges and was, I think, trying in her own way to give me some support while also drawing some kind of line over which she would not step.

“I work with lots of gay people” she said, “and I know they’re God’s children but” (and there’s always a “but” isn’t there?) “I don’t ever want gay to be considered normal.”

Substitute “integration” or “women working outside the home” for “gay” in that remark and you can see where she is on road to full acceptance of LGBT people in her church and community; a place civil rights and feminism were fifty years ago. How can we speed that up? By showing the real lives of LGBT individuals and in particular families, who, if observed up close and personal by my neighbor would in fact look very normal and mainstream–maybe even a little dull. And there’s the problem– lesbian parents making lunches, dropping kids at school, going to the office, and volunteering for the PTA isn’t exactly breaking news–but those stories need to get out there.

Reporting on the everydayness of the LGBT experience can and does have an impact on Mormons–I want my neighbor to be exposed to these stories so when a gay couple shows up in her ward—and this is starting to happen in some places—she has a context to put them in.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to how media owned by the LDS Church impacts the Mormon community in a more targeted way. Mostly, I am full of questions.

I find the LGBT coverage in the Deseret News and KSL sometimes negative, occasionally positive, and frequently nonexistent. Of course I believe the Church has a right to own media companies, and a right to have the resulting content in alignment with the values of the Church. But as an outsider looking at the coverage the various Deseret Media Companies provide I feel that those values, when it comes to our LGBT brothers and sisters seem to be out of alignment with current Church statements. The Church website Mormonsandgays.org launched a year ago says that what needs to change in the church is and I quote “to help Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere” and that “Understanding comes when people on all sides of a discussion are given a chance to tell their stories”. Now I have no illusions about the statements in between those words; the Church’s position that “homosexual behavior” is a sin. BUT if it’s OK to share stories on a church website, why aren’t there more of them in the church media company’s news broadcasts, newspaper, and digital content? I like the mission statement of the Deseret Management Corporation: “to be a trusted voice that promotes integrity, civility, morality and respect for all people” these goals can in fact help counter the argument that stories about LGBT families just being good citizens aren’t important enough to run. The Deseret News and KSL does a great job of spotlighting ordinary people who are making a difference in their communities–consider our gay neighbors ordinary, please! Every LDS extended family has gay members, Mormons kids are coming out to their parents and bishops every day–they deserve to see people like them contributing in positive ways.

But there’s another part of the equation: in order to be a truly trusted voice, it seems to me that it doesn’t make sense to run the risk of being seen as withholding information from your public: for example, (and yes, I sound like a conceited community organizer when I say this) choosing to put a single column piece about the first Mormons Building Bridges march in the Utah Pride Parade–a local story that made national and international news that day– inside the paper, or–not covering at all the first ever Provo Pride Festival last September. When significant omissions like these take place it just feels creepy–like some kind of alternate universe is being presented; so remote from the experience of the majority of Mormons that it becomes irrelevant.

I know truth is both an LDS value and the essence of good news reporting; I am eager to learn how one informs the other at the Deseret News and KSL when it comes to covering LGBT issues.