By Laura Latzko, January 2016 Issue.
For better or worse, the Mormon Church always seems to be making headlines. And, while LGBTQ Mormons are finding increased levels of acceptance within their families and social circles, there still remains a need for faith-based fellowship.
To fill this void, ALL Arizona – Arizona LDS LGBT/SSA (same-sex attracted) was established.
This local sub-congregation is made up of individuals with both positive and negative stories of coming out as LGBT Mormons. With monthly meet ups scheduled to rotate among the homes of designated host families, ALL continues to fill in the gaps that the church has created.
The Cook family – Bryce, Sara and their two gays sons, Trevor and Tanner – have played a key role in the development and growth of the ALL community.
On a quest for a social group for LGBTQ Mormons, because he often felt alone growing up, Trevor started organizing socials locally.
“I wanted to meet other people in a similar situation as I was and be able to relate to them,” Trevor said. “Even in the gay community, a lot of people don’t share the experience of having [a Mormon] background or understand growing up with that religious belief and how it affects your life.”
This led to the Cooks co-founding ALL with Bryan Hendrickson, which began as a gathering of 15 people at their home.
Although Bryce recalls initially having a difficult time with Trevor’s coming out 11 years ago, he said he hopes to encourage other LDS parents to support their LGBTQ children.
“We wanted to make life better for gay people in our church because we recognized there was a lot of misinformation and ignorance. As a result, it was not a welcoming place for gay people,” Bryce said. “In particular, we were concerned with the young kids who are gay and growing up in this culture, who were then filled with self-loathing and depression. We just wanted to change that.”
ALL meetup hosts Jonathan and Rachel Manwaring have become strong supporters of the LGBT community in support of Jonathan’s brother, Jamison, who is gay.
Although Jonathan, struggled when his brother first came out to the world via YouTube, he and his family not only came to support him, but other LGBT Mormons as well.
“It was hard, but it was easy because I loved my brother,” he said, adding that as a doctor he often works with LGBT and minority patients.
ALL is made up of people who with both positive and negative stories of coming out as LGBT Mormons. While a number of members have found various levels of acceptance within their families and social circles, stories of losing friends and clients because of their sexuality still persist.
Nathan Kitchen, a dentist, lost patients and friends after coming out as gay. He was married to a woman (with whom he fathered five kids) for 18 years before coming out.
For Kitchen, the monthly ALL socials allow him to be among people with shared beliefs and values.
“They have the same base language of Mormonism,” Kitchen said. “It’s like a culture. It’s a part of you.”
Theresa and Rachel Mangum-Bartholomew, a lesbian couple, often bring their energetic 20-month-old to the family friendly meet ups.
According to Theresa, the group was the first space the couple was out publicly, adding that they have developed some of their closest friendships through ALL.
ALL has allowed them to have a connection to their religion, Theresa said.
“This group has been a part of reconciling our faith heritage and allowing us to have a different relationship with Christ,” Theresa said.
According to Bryce, the group was never meant to be a substitute for church but rather a safe place for discussion, education, conversation and outreach.
Today, anywhere from 30 to 50 people attend ALL’s monthly meet ups, the times and locations of which are posted on the group’s private Facebook group (which has approximately 250 members from throughout Arizona).
In additional to its monthly meet ups, ALL offers a variety of bible study groups and also hosts annual conferences that serve as a platform for members of the Mormon LGBTQ community, and families, to share their testimonies and participate in panel discussions
For more information on ALL Arizona – Arizona LDS LGBT/SSA monthly meetups, visit allarizona.org. To gain membership to ALL’s private Facebook group, interested parties are asked to send a message via the public fan page at facebook.com/allarizona.