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At 13 I protested gay rights as a Mormon, at 23 I’m gay and free

At 13 I protested gay rights as a Mormon, at 23 I’m gay and free

This ex-Mormon is now free to be who she is meant to be

Many people have been brought up with the idea being gay is ‘evil’, and LGBTI Mormon people are no exception.

Some, brainwashed by their families and church, even protest against their very own rights.

Sarah, a 23-year-old from California and now living in Salt Lake City, was one of those who fought against same-sex marriage.

At 13, she rallied with other teens against marriage equality in California. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints famously bankrolled a lot of funding for Prop 8, the law that banned marriage equality in the state.

But now, 10 years later, she is free, she’s gay and she’s happy.

Protesting against gay rights as a Mormon

Back then, Sarah remembers feeling like a ‘young soldier fighting for a righteous cause’.

‘At the time, I didn’t believe that being “gay” was real. I thought everyone was born straight by default, and Satan lured certain people into believing they weren’t,’ she tells Gay Star News.

‘Because homosexuality was labeled as a “temptation”, I assumed that everybody else must have had these same “temptations” as me, and they were successful in warding them off.

‘I was told homosexuality was evil, deviant, sickening, and perverted. The church taught us that same-sex marriage was an attack on God’s intended family unit because it was destroying the “natural” order of things. They called it a “war on family”.’

Sarah was born into the church, into a large Mormon family. She describes herself as being an ‘extremely devout’ teen.

But even then, she had feelings for women when she was young.

‘I had this funny feeling whenever I saw Ellen DeGeneres on television,’ she said.

‘Cuddling with boyfriends was a chore, and I hated kissing them. In high school, one of my female friends kissed me on the cheek and I couldn’t stop replaying it in my mind for weeks.

‘I thought there was something wrong with me, but didn’t dare tell a soul.’

‘I thought this was just a cruel test God inflicted on me…’

Like many young Mormons, Sarah became a missionary. It was during this time she realized she could feel things for a woman she would never feel for a man.

She said: ‘It was simultaneously the most beautiful and most horrible thing that had ever happened to me. It should have been a moment of celebration, instead I was sick with horror.

‘I thought this was just a cruel test God inflicted on me to see if I could overcome it. “I’m not gay, I told myself, “I can be with a man and have an eternal family. Satan is putting these thoughts in my head.”

Sarah thought she was being punished. But she wasn’t, she was just realizing who she is.

After her mission, she rushed into a heterosexual Mormon marriage. She hoped, believed God would provide the ‘missing pieces’.

After about a year, Sarah stumbled onto a diary extract. It was by Fanny Alger, the Mormon church founder Joseph Smith’s first plural wife out of his dozens of polygamous unions. He had married her when she was 16.  In the diary, Alger compared herself to a ‘fettered bird’ pining for freedom.

‘It hit me all at once,’ Sarah said. ‘I was that bird.’

Discovering repressed sexuality

More research led to criticisms of the Mormon church, and Sarah said she felt the ‘rug was swept from under’ her feet.

Her ex-husband filed divorce papers immediately, and she stopped attending church.

When she decided to start dating again, years of internalized homophobia stopped her from dating women.

But then she watched Carol, the 2015 film starring Cate Blanchett, on Netflix.

‘All the beautiful feelings I had thought were lost to me came back again,’ Sarah said. ‘I had an epiphany, and tearfully called up some close friends to confide, “So, I think I’m gay.’

Sarah decided to change her Tinder preference to women, and matched with a beautiful girl named Abby.

The two hit it off instantly, having a date at a movie theater and eating frozen yogurt. The two talked so long and so late they turned the lights out on them.

‘That first kiss was fireworks,’ she remembers. ‘That was everything I had been missing. We’ve been inseparable since then.’

Life can change enormously in a single decade

Looking back at the picture of her campaigning against marriage equality brings back mixed emotions.

‘I can hardly recognize the person in that picture,’ she said. ‘I’m sad for all the people I hurt through years of homophobic and selfishness.’

She adds: ‘I’m sad for all the difficult lessons I hadn’t yet learned. I wish I could tell myself that everything would be OK in the end.’

But, most of all, Sarah recognizes the growth in those two pictures.

‘My life has completely changed from what it used to be. It’s a night and day difference,’ she says.

‘I’ve found so much freedom, autonomy, and happiness. When thinking about my old life, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, all I know is that I’m so grateful it’s over with, and I’ve learned to be a much better person since then.

‘I stumbled across these old pictures of myself campaigning and had to laugh at the irony of it all.

‘Putting them side by side reminded me of how enormously life can change in a single decade.’

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