VOICES OF HOPE
A native of Utah, Randy was raised in West Jordan where he developed a love for music and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He experienced his same-gender attraction from a young age and has felt the frustrations, loneliness, and isolation that are often associated with trying to make sense of same-sex feelings. Through it all, Randy believes that God has always tried to direct him into paths that would bring about his greatest happiness.
He felt impressed to live abroad, so he packed up and moved to the United Kingdom, later graduating with a masters degree in pharmacy from University of Nottingham. He takes great consolation and courage in knowing that God is ever mindful of and forever watching over him.
Full Interview (42 Minutes)
Highlights Interview (11 Minutes)
BREAKING DOWN WALLS
“Why can’t I overcome this? Why does this happen every time? What am I doing wrong? Am I not worthy of these blessings? If the Lord commands it, then there is a way, so why can’t I find it?”
These are the thoughts I’ve had over and over again throughout my life concerning dating and marriage. They’ve not plagued me on a daily basis, but they’ve been there consistently in the back of my mind. Because of these thoughts I’ve felt depressed, had feelings of low self-worth, and have been, at the best of times, confused and frustrated with my life.
“It must not be the Lord’s timing for me,” I would conclude in most cases. I would shove my emotions back down again and put on the “happy” face that all my friends and family had come to know. But it was a façade, covering the pain I was really feeling. It was an internal pain caused by my own lack of understanding. A pain magnified by the pressures of well-meaning church leaders, friends, or family to get married and stop delaying, as I was being disobedient, lazy, or too picky. All I could hear in their voices was disappointment, even if it was unintentional. I would internalize this and over time, feelings of pain, self-hatred, and incompetence would only accumulate.
This cycle repeated itself over and over again, as I attempted to date wonderful women that I saw as righteous prospects for marriage. I would court them and build up relationships, but could only progress so far and then I would lock up in every way: emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and, probably to some extent, physically as well. I had built up an invisible wall around my heart, due to my secret of experiencing same-sex attraction (SSA). I was terrified that people would find out how I really felt and what judgements might come with that knowledge. In my younger years, this wall helped protect me from people and kept me safe. But now, not only did it stop people from finding out about my SSA, but it also kept my heart prisoner and prevented me from developing meaningful relationships. It was a self-made prison with walls so thick not even I could penetrate them. On these walls were written fearful words of hate and self-loathing: “freak”, “faggot”, “abnormal”, “unloved,” and “unacceptable”. These words filled me with shame and fear, so I would stay away from this self-created barrier, never getting close enough to even read the letters, let alone begin to break through it.
So time after time I found myself on my knees, pleading with God for answers to these questions. I never asked “why me,” but simply, “why can’t I overcome this? Is it a question of my worthiness? What am I doing wrong?” I read my scriptures, prayed, and served with all my heart. I was your regular “Peter Priesthood”. What more did He require? His response seemed always the same: silence.
Although this paints a rather bleak picture, I knew that the gospel was true and found that serving within the church gave me purpose, acceptance, and love from other people. I knew that everything I had or would experience in my life had a purpose, no matter how challenging. To quote the apostle Paul:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
I had long seen my SSA as a burden to bear, a “thorn in the flesh,” if you will. It was something not given by God to bless my life, but simply something He allowed to happen as a natural part of mortality; I just needed to deal with it and He would bless me somehow. I would eventually come to feel differently about my SSA; however, at the time I was still extremely frustrated that I couldn’t control my attractions. The best I could get would be a slight diminishing of my urges, allowing me to gain the confidence to try and date someone of the opposite sex, but then I would hit that “wall” and watch everything fall apart. My SSA, even when diminished, never went away completely. I just wanted to be happy, do the Lord’s will, and have peace. So I trusted God. A trust He had earned from me during my younger years.
As I was growing up, I had always felt different from other kids. I never knew why or how, only that I didn’t fit the “normal” mold that everyone else seemed to. Perhaps because of this feeling of being different, I always strived to meet the expectations of friends and, more especially, adults—like teachers and church leaders. I was a “good” boy and it was how I filled that need to be accepted as one of the group.
Looking back, I began noticing my SSA feelings, as I know them now, at around 12-13 years old. However, I didn’t truly understand them and saw them more as a desire to be friends, rather than something to act on sexually.
My family was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but as I moved into my teenage years, my family began to struggle and we all left church activity. My siblings and I continued to attend youth events for a while, but one by one we stopped going. I remember my last activity for me was a scouting evening at the chapel. I spent all night working on getting my requirements passed off with the other boys there. I joined the line to get my book signed off and as my turn came, my leader took the book, looked back at me, and stated he wouldn’t sign off anything. He said he hadn’t seen me there all night; therefore, I hadn’t met the requirements. There was no one to vouch for me, as I was the last one there, so as I tried to explain that I had been present all evening, he handed the book back and said “You’re a liar and I’m not signing anything.“ I was devastated that someone I had tried so hard to please would say that to me. This particular leader seemed to be good friends with many other youth leaders in my local congregation so in my mind I assumed they all thought the same thing. I decided that I didn’t want to be around people who insisted that’s who I was. I left that evening and committed to never attend church-related activities from that time onward.
As time went on, the gospel wasn’t really mentioned in our home. We stopped praying and we didn’t read the scriptures. As an individual, my attitude towards the church changed from one of eagerness to learn to one of apathy towards church doctrine and beliefs and irritation at well-meaning members. I saw the church as a place where judgmental people criticized and demeaned others but were still set up as part of the righteous. I was not comfortable there and didn’t want anything to do with it or its members.
I was your typical nerdy kid throughout the rest of my teenage years. I loved video games, comics, cartoons, playing with friends, and just wasting time, like most teens. I loved anything having to do with X-Men. I felt I could relate to the themes of accepting those that were different, as that’s how I always saw myself. I was horrible at sports and avoided playing them whenever possible. I loved music and became involved in marching bands and choirs. My SSA was present this whole time, but as I entered my late teens it progressed a stage further. Instead of just wanting to be friends with young men, I wanted to be with them in a more physical way, wondering what it might be like to kiss them or hold their hand. However, to acknowledge that would be “gay” and gay was not good, so I would tell myself I just wanted to be friends, push my feelings down, and move forward. Although more sexualized, my SSA didn’t give me much grief and I focused on schooling and other activities I was involved in.
I went on dates with many girls and had a lot of fun in high school. I even had an unofficial girlfriend. I say “unofficial” because we still allowed other people to ask us out, but we did most “dating” things together. We were great friends, but nothing became of it. I believe she really liked me, but I could not reciprocate the feelings. At least not the way she wanted.
Returning to the Gospel
As my senior year approached, I was called down to the school office to discuss a scheduling conflict for two of my registered courses for the following year. As I sat in the counsellor’s office, I remember her asking which of the two I wanted. I told her my choice and then she proceeded to ask for an additional class to fill in the other time slot. My mind went blank and before I could consciously control my mouth I heard the word “seminary” come out of it.
“Of course we can sign you up for that,” she said with a smile. “You can go now.”
I wish I could go back and see the surprise on my face as I left her office. Why would I even say such a word as “seminary”? My mother had encouraged me to take seminary three years earlier but I refused. I had no desire to go, no desire to step foot in the building. With some parental encouragement I begrudgingly accepted my fate. I would treat it like a regular school class. I would attend class, do my homework, and get a good grade. Nothing else.
The environment seemed so foreign with scriptures, firesides, devotionals, etc. Doctrine and Covenants was the subject that year. I did my work, learned the scriptures, and even took the additional invitation upon myself to read the Book of Mormon. Unlike my previous experiences with church, these people were loving and were happy just to see me there, regardless of who I might have been. As I learned the doctrines, pondered their meaning, and did my best to apply them, I began to realize that the Lord was teaching and directing me. I began to see more clearly His hand in my life. Over the proceeding months I continued to learn and I began to feel that the Lord had left his ninety and nine to retrieve me, this one who was lost, with no desire to be found. But He came for me anyway. He went out of His way to bring me home. Could God love me that much? “I’m not worthy of His love,” I thought. I’m a sinner. I have SSA thoughts and feelings, which must make me worse than everyone else. But He came anyway. He took me as I was and he brought me home. As I came to better understand God’s unconditional love for me, I developed an unflinching trust in Him.
So what did this mean for my SSA now that I had a religious belief? Simple—being gay was not in God’s plan; therefore, there was no way I could be gay. I simply had some messed up feelings due to my natural body. These feelings were not conducive to the gospel, so “don’t acknowledge them” I thought, and “over time they will just go away.” I followed this process many times over the years, not really understanding that each time I pushed these feelings down, I was adding a layer to my “wall.”
My mission was an opportunity to show the Lord how grateful I was for everything He had done for me. I spoke to my bishop about past transgressions, as I wanted to make sure I was clean and worthy to serve in every way. But I never disclosed anything about my SSA. I was too afraid. I wanted to be worthy to serve the Lord in all aspects, but my SSA thoughts always made me question in the back of my mind whether I really was. But I trusted the Lord and knew he wouldn’t call me if I wasn’t worthy. I was called to serve in the Tennessee Nashville Mission, Spanish-speaking, and I loved it.
Apart from one or two cases where I was slightly attracted to a fellow missionary, my SSA was barely noticeable. I believe this was due to a combination of focusing on the Lord’s work and my interaction with other missionaries. Before, I had never really felt close to any guys, although I had guy friends, and so “real” men were always something foreign to me. But as I went on my mission, I became best friends with my companions and others. We treated each other as equals and for once I wasn’t different; I was a part of something and I was “equal” to these men. Missionaries were always throwing arms around each other, giving hugs and handshakes, and uplifting one another. My physical and emotional needs to be accepted and loved by other men were being met in a completely non-sexual way, and because of this my feelings of SSA practically disappeared. I didn’t understand how my needs were being seen to at the time, I just assumed everything was okay and I had nothing to worry about. I even began to find women more attractive. I loved serving the Lord’s children in that part of the world and seeing the gospel change their lives, just as it had mine. I saw it as an honor and was grateful for each and every day.
I don’t know who gained more from my experience: the people that I taught, or me serving as a missionary. It changed me so deeply that I felt like a completely new person by the time I came home.
Depression and Hardships with Dating
My difficult times started about a year after I came home from my mission. I enjoyed dating for the first year, made many friends, and had great experiences. I assumed my SSA worries were over. I even had a relationship with a girl that I was actually head over heels for. Things didn’t work out in that relationship for other reasons, but that experience had convinced me that my SSA was no longer a problem. However, unbeknownst to me that wall was still around my heart and I had never addressed it.
When I first came home I had moved away and lived with my grandmother so I could attend college, but after a year I felt I needed to be closer to my immediate family, so I eventually returned home. My family’s home was not gospel-centred at the time and although they were good people and I loved them, the combination of that change in spiritual environment and leaving my new guy friends left a spiritual and emotional vacuum. I quickly became depressed and my feelings of same-sex attraction became stronger than I had ever felt them. My inability to control them only added to the depression. I was extremely frustrated. I believed I had conquered this battle. I tried reading and praying more, but it didn’t really help. I felt all joy and hope slipping out of my life and I felt no matter what I tried I kept falling. All the things that used to bring me joy—music, writing, etc.—brought no satisfaction, and I soon became apathetic toward these things. Certain aspects of my personality seemed to change as well. I became less outgoing, less social, less enthusiastic about life. I never wanted to be spontaneous or goofy anymore. I felt, at times, like I was living the life of a different person. I refused to take any medication because, at the time, I felt it would “dull” my senses and I was already having a hard time feeling happy about anything. Through all this however, I felt I needed to be strong and put on a happy face for others, so I just kept on going to work and church, and putting up the facade. I lived this day in and day out for about six months. I feel that I received small moments at work and at church where the depression and my mood wasn’t quite so heavy and so I started to work more and I tried to do as many church service activities as possible.
During all this time I didn’t act on my SSA. I was still afraid of anyone finding out, but I also felt the shame that doing so might tip me over the edge. I felt I was being bombarded with constant thoughts and emotions that made me a sinner and brought further shame and self-loathing.
Although I loved my family, I felt I had to move away from them again in order to sort myself out. That move allowed me a more spiritual environment at home, which I so desperately needed. In addition to my move I began to make new guy friends and friends in general. Over time this led me slowly out of that depression and my SSA became manageable again. It was one of the darker times in my life, and I’ve always felt that I had lost parts of my identity during that brief period. It has taken over ten years, but I believe I am starting to recover those pieces of my personality, identity, and interests I had lost during those six months of my life.
Even after I had come out of my depression with my SSA becoming manageable, that SSA “wall” still towered over me as I strived to have relationships. I would go on many dates with wonderful women, who possessed those characteristics of someone I should marry. But that wall was too thick, tall, and overbearing, and I was too scared to face it. I did not want to get close enough to read the words written on its surface and I could not acknowledge that I might be homosexual. In every relationship there comes a time when things need to become more intimate, more personal, and it was at these times I would became emotionally immobilized. I remember when I was dating one particular young woman. We were around a campfire, holding hands as “normal” couples do. I remember looking at other couples there and was baffled about how happy they were just to be in each other’s presence. I didn’t feel like that, no matter how hard I tried. The harder I tried the more frustrated I would become that I couldn’t give this woman and subsequently other women I tried to date the love they deserved. I began to hate myself more and more to the point that being in their presences began to be a burden rather than a pleasure and I would start to avoid them. I would tell myself that there was no way they could understand how I was feeling—not even I understood what I was feeling. I had based my whole social life, desires, hopes, and beliefs around the church. The fear of rejection from loved ones, from church, etc. was still very real to me and I couldn’t get past it. No one could know. All I could think of was to terminate any relationships, leaving these wonderful women hurt and confused. This described almost every single relationship I attempted after coming home from my mission.
Times of Change
These cycles of dating failures repeated, but outside of that I moved on as normal trying to maintain what I thought to be a good life. I finished my undergraduate degree and was applying for pharmacy schools when I received a strong impression to apply to out-of-country universities. I had always wanted the experience of living abroad and I had always been one to do my best to follow an inspired thought. So I followed that spiritual nudge and I applied to pharmacy schools in the United Kingdom, even though I had no idea whether I even met their requirements. To my surprise, I was accepted to every school for which I applied and soon found myself studying in England.
Life in the UK was different than anything I had previously experienced. Different foods, different ideas, and even the language was hard to understand at times. My first few days were the hardest. I was lumped together with all other international students from various countries and I felt like an outsider, but I felt that the Lord had told me to come here, so I persevered and with time I began to adjust to my surroundings and the people. I sought out the church and began to make friends. I even thought about dating, but my old nemesis, SSA, was always present and able to play its “wall” card in any relationship I attempted.
As I look back on it I had many tender mercies and very personal and spiritual experiences from Especially for Youth sessions, Young Single Adult leadership callings, and many other experiences that I would not have had had I not gone to the UK. Those experiences shaped the person I am today and I am forever grateful to God for seeing what I needed. But this was a refining process and at the time I couldn’t see past the trials in front of me. I felt so alone in my struggles. There was no one I could talk to or relate to. No one that truly understood how I felt. So I took to the internet in desperate search for answers and people who understood, as I had learnt that I needed to pray for help and then get up and work as if it all depended on me.
I searched YouTube videos and did Google searches, trying to find members who felt as I did yet were living the gospel. I would find “coming out” stories, but then I would search their videos or blogs and find that a few months down the line they had completely left the church. This is not what I wanted. If being open and honest with people about how I was feeling meant leaving the church, family, and friends, then I wasn’t having anything to do with it. I had my frustrations with the Lord, but He reached out in His mercy and brought me into his fold and loved me, and I would not leave Him.
I continued my search and came across a video showing a group of men going on a retreat to come to terms with their homosexuality. I recognised one of the men as someone I had known previously and I knew he was still active in the church today. This man was not a “freak” or “abnormal” and he didn’t fit the typical “gay” stereotype. He was just an everyday guy and this gave me hope that someone else understood.
I eventually came across the church’s website: mormonsandgays.org. I remember ravenously scrolling through every article and video. Finally, the church seemed to be taking a more proactive approach about same-gender attraction. The years of guilt and feelings of unworthiness began to diminish as I read. A video by Ty Mansfield and his life experiences resonated with me and I felt the Lord delivering a special message to me saying “You know I love you, just stick with me and in time you will understand” It was like a hammer was beginning to break down that wall I had built up.
Soon afterward I discovered North Star, and their video project entitled “Voices of Hope.” This video collaboration of people experiencing same-sex attraction was amazing. This project confirmed to me that there were many more people living with SSA and striving to keep their covenants than I had ever thought. There were single people and they were happy. There were married people who experienced SSA. Was that even possible? Not just married, but happily married and working through life. I almost couldn’t believe it.
As I watched video after video, their stories spoke to my soul. My loneliness was being replaced with the knowledge that others understood. Fear and despair were replaced with hope and faith. That internal barrier I had created was now cracked and fractured to its very foundations. Words of hatred and fear that were once written along the surface were now nothing but scratch marks left by the impact of the hammer against the brick. I came to realize that it was the Lord swinging the hammer this whole time because He wanted this wall down just as much as I did.
As I pondered over the “Voices of Hope Project” videos, I tried to think what it was about them that gave them strength and hope. They had testimonies of the gospel, but I already had a testimony of the gospel and was living it the best I knew how. It must be something else. I came to the conclusion that each of the individuals or couples had people they could confide in; people that allowed them to be their true selves and not feel shame. I felt the Spirit directing me and I knew if I was going to progress any further, I was going to have to start talking with friends and family and allow them to help me on this journey. I was going to have to lower my defenses and trust them. I’m not a fan of the whole “shock” factor, so I decided to email and private message my closest family, friends, and local bishop. Saying I was nervous was an understatement, but I said a prayer, put my hand in the Lord’s, and together we tore down that wall with a click of a mouse. My family, friends, and bishop were all supportive; in fact, I was actually surprised at how supportive they were. My bishop reminded me that I was a loved and valued member of the ward and he would help give me any support I needed. Although I felt a great burden lifted, I also felt greatly exposed as that wall that had been protecting the most private parts of my life were now open to the scrutiny and judgement of others.
I had never felt so weak, so exposed, and so vulnerable as I was in that moment and the first few weeks following it. I later recalled the words of the Lord to his prophet Moroni:
And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness (Ether 12:26-28).
I went home that day feeling supported and loved despite my weakness. However, I didn’t want to have to re-face my vulnerability and weakness each time I had this conversation with someone, so I went home and thoughtfully posted some comments on my Facebook page, and the rest was history. Now, I wouldn’t recommend that everyone disclose such personal information this way. It is more important to have a supportive group of people than having everyone know but no one you can confide in. This is what felt right for me at this particular time and I would suggest people prayerfully consider what is best for them.
Hindsight is 20/20
My perspective on life has changed from persevering to one of having “joy in the journey” and I can only attribute it to the power of the Holy Ghost changing my heart. I no longer feel like the same person I was a year or two ago.
I’ve often thought, if I could turn back the clock and see the me of ten years ago, would I change my high school years or dating years or any other experiences? Honestly, I would not. This has been my journey. Every experience has been for my benefit and learning. Each personal Gethsemane I passed through was a refiner’s fire, purging me of imperfections and helping me to understand Christ and have more compassion for others. I now see a bigger picture. A picture more grand and glorious than anything I would have imagined on my own. If I was to give advice to another experiencing SSA, I can think of two things that have blessed me. One, you are not alone. I spent many years agonizing over my circumstances, believing in my heart that I was alone and that nobody else felt this way. It was one of Satan’s lies that brought about so much loneliness for many years. Secondly, trust. The people that you love are better and more understanding than you have ever given them credit for. Trust them, and let them help you.
I once thought that God wasn’t hearing my prayers, or just choosing not to answer them, but now I know that this was not the case. He heard my every plea, my every cry for comfort. He answered in ways that were so kind and loving. He gave me what I needed, not what I wanted, and he gave it to me when it was most beneficial for me. I just could not always see it at the time.
I’m a very independent person by nature. I don’t like relying on other people. What a humbling experience it is to have SSA, to come to the realization that this is not something you can overcome by sheer willpower. My way is not His way. I need the love and support of family and friends. I need their friendship and kind words and patience. But most importantly, I need Him—He who pulled me back into his fold. It was the Lord who taught me my worth when I felt I had none. It was He alone that could loosen the bricks and mortar behind that emotional prison I had created. It was through His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and unconditional love that I could be freed from the perceptions, ideas, sins, and shame that I thought once defined me. He has shown me that when I trust in Him and allow myself to become vulnerable, I am not weak, but am made strong through his atoning power. By trusting in Him, I am freed from the bonds and chains of everlasting misery.
I no longer see my same-sex attraction as my burden that must be borne throughout this life. But I see it now as my gift and blessing. For my life and my journey has been tailored for me. The Lord, in his infinite love and mercy, wants me to grow, learn, and have joy.
Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy (2 Nephi 2:25).
Looking back on my experiences through my young adult life, I see that the Lord was never far from me. He was constantly blessing me, but at those difficult times, I was blinded by frustration and couldn’t always see the bigger picture. I know that my Savior loves each of us and that each of us are on our own individual journeys that will lead us back to him. He is forever watching over and guiding us, and will always be with us. As the old hymn states:
He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
He lives to calm my troubled heart.
He lives all blessings to impart.
(I Know that My Redeemer Lives, #136 LDS Hymn Book)
This is my testimony.