Adam Bair, current South Dakotan and former Idahoan, shared their journey of coming out in a deeply religious community in hopes to inspire LGBTQ+ people to live confidently in who they are.
My family has been members of the Mormon Church as long as the Mormon Church has existed. My ancestors were baptized into the church by Joseph Smith himself. Needless to say, the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) was an immense influence in my youth. It is considered a “high demand religion” - meaning it is a religion that requires members to be constantly participating in religious activities. Daily prayer, daily scripture study, weekly three-hour church services, weekly youth groups, and monthly fasting were all parts of my upbringing. Family vacations were not spent going to Disneyland or to national parks, but were rather spent visiting church historical sights in Utah and Illinois, cementing the importance of Mormon theology into my mind as the only way to be happy in my mortal life.
So even though I knew I was gay at the age of 12, coming out in Idaho, a state that is predominantly Mormon, a religious group uniquely hostile to LGBTQ+ people - was not something to take lightly. To me, coming out seemed like a detrimental life-changing event that would forever change my life for the worst.
In 2010, I graduated from a class of about 300 students in Idaho Falls. After that, I followed a pretty traditional, dare I say expected, route of a typical person from my community. After high school I was expected to first: spend two years as a missionary for the Mormon Church; second: attend a church owned university; third: Get married, make lots of little Mormon babies, and raise them to be devout Mormons. It's the Mormon Circle of Life. I served my mission in Santiago, Chile. I loved my experiences as a missionary, many of which I will forever stay with me.
I did, however, know that I was different from my peers. I knew that I was gay, and was excruciatingly aware that I couldn’t live freely without damaging repercussions. I first had relationships with men in college, and found myself overwhelmed with guilt - so much that I spoke with our bishop, which left me feeling even worse.
The bishop asked me questions about how “seriously I had sinned.” I had to retell any intimate experience that I have ever had with another man - everything from holding hands to sexual relations. It was embarrassing, humiliating, and an overall dehumanizing experience. The bishop suggested that I “work on this” and that being gay was by “cross to bear.”
Once the bishop and others in my college found out about the details of my relationships, I had to leave BYU-Idaho, derailing my education to this day. Being kicked out of college forced me to come out to my parents, which robbed me of own ability to do so on my own time. In time, my parents and relatives came around to who I really am, but don’t seem to be completely comfortable yet.
After leaving BYU-Idaho, I moved to Sioux Falls to live with my father. Moving out of a Mormon community gave me the ability to live more authentically. After several months of personal turmoil I finally realized that I could not be happy if I wasn’t being myself. I came out of the closet when I was 23 years old, and it was the best decision that I have ever made. Being able to live myself authentically is more liberating than anything I have ever experienced.
I learned a lot about God during all those years spent in the pews of the Mormon Church. I truly believe that God has an individual relationship with all of us. The God I know doesn’t love me any less for being gay than he would if I were heterosexual. His love is unconditional, and anybody who tells you otherwise does not have your best interest in mind.
There is still a struggle within the Mormon Church on the subject of the LGBTQ+ community. The church has doubled down on its opposition to gay marriage and acceptance of LGBTQ+ members. As a result, suicides of LGBTQ+ members of the church have skyrocketed in recent years. If there is anybody out there who is at this breaking point, let me make myself clear: No religion is more important than your own life. There is a community waiting for you on the outside of that very dark closet. Even if your worst fears come true and you find yourself without a home or family. We are here for you. Our arms are open and we are ready to love you.
Friends are the family you choose and they will love you for exactly who you are.