Wendy Montgomery, 37, is a lifelong Mormon and former antigay activist who participated in the church’s campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008. She lives with her family in socially conservative Bakersfield, California.
“I remember hearing things growing up like AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality and that being gay was a choice, it was wrong, it was a deviant lifestyle,” Montgomery said this week on NPR’s Tell Me More.
For many years she believed this lie as an unquestionable truth, until the day she found out her 13-year-old son, Jordan, was gay. Montgomery said she learned about Jordan’s sexuality after reading his journal.
“He was in eighth grade and he started becoming really depressed,” she explained. “He didn’t want to talk to us about it. And he had recently started keeping a journal. So I really felt strongly to go read his journal.”
“He only had a couple entries in it,” Montgomery continued. “And in one of the entries he had made a comment that said that he had noticed a boy in his class and he noticed what beautiful eyes this boy had.”
After realizing her son was gay, Montgomery felt a rush of conflicting emotions, which she said she had to work through.
“One of the first thoughts I had when I learned that Jordan was gay was everything that I thought a gay person was, he was none of those things,” she explained. “So I had to immediately let go of all of these — what I thought a gay person was — and unlearn all of these old stereotypes and relearn what it meant to be gay.”
But “unlearning” gay stereotypes wasn’t the only challenge Montgomery faced. There was also the issue of her church.
“If I had to make a choice between my son and my church, it would be my son,” she said. “There was no question. The part I struggled with was I didn’t want to have to choose. I didn’t want to have to give my church up. I wanted to make it work in the context of my faith, and that was where it became hard.”
Montgomery says she is still trying to find that balance. She and her family still continue going to church, though they’ve had to change wards.
“We had been in that ward for about 10 years. We changed a few months ago because it was getting really hard. There had been a lot of really, really hateful things that were happening so we’re trying to go to a different ward. And it’s making things really difficult for Jordan.”
She also said people will often come up to her and apologize for the fact that Jordan is gay.
“Some people come up and they apologize to me like: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, that must be awful.’ And I think: Are you kidding? You know, what you look at as a burden has become one of my biggest blessings. I am a better person for having a gay son. Blinders that I didn’t even know I was wearing have been taken off. I love people more. I judge people less. My religion didn’t teach me how to love, my son did.”
Despite everything, Montgomery says she still has “hope” that things will get better between her family and their church. A new website, mormonsandgays.org, aims to start an open and accepting dialog about the LGBT community within the Mormon church.
“For the first time ever, the Mormon church has come out and said we recognize this is not a choice,” Montgomery explained. “I know this is common knowledge to many, but this is a big deal at least in our church. And that is still something that we run into, that people look at my son and say he’s choosing this. And when they realize that this is not a choice, then they stop treating him like this dirty sinner, and they will start treating him with compassion and empathy.”
“If we just love God and love everyone else and we save the judging of each other for God, that’s it,” she added. “We just love. And it becomes a lot easier and a lot clearer to see things.”