The life of an LGBTQ+ Latter-day Saint is much like the first line of the Everly Brothers’ popular song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
The song states, “The road is long with many a winding turn that leads to who knows where.”
Talk to author Richard Ostler, and he would say the same is true for his journey of listening, learning and loving the LGBTQ+ community.
Ostler, a former Young Single Adult bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said he is deeply committed to the church and to creating more understanding and support for LGBTQ+ members.
That commitment started as he met and counseled with gay men in his role as bishop.
“Listen, Learn and Love” is sort of a primer for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to learn about the LGBTQ+ community. The information and stories come directly from LDS members in the LGBTQ+ community and include their personal journeys as LDS members.
It was also born out of comments by President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing,” Ballard said at a Brigham Young University devotional. “Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”
Ostler writes in his introduction: “The purpose of this book is to help members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints implement President Ballard’s vision to more fully include our LGBTQ members, helping them feel hope and find belonging in our church and society as they walk a difficult and unique road. The book is supportive of the church, its leaders and its doctrine. The aim is to guide humble consideration of how we can ‘do better than we have done in the past’ to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of our LGBTQ members and utilize their gifts to strengthen our church.”
Steve Young, famous Brigham Young University and National Football League quarterback as well as a supporter of the LGBTQ community, wrote the book’s foreward.
“Richard has met with hundreds of LGBTQ Latter-day Saints to understand their perspectives,” Young said. “He has sat with them in their pain, heard and validated their stories, and been willing to learn from them. He sees their contributions to our church and society, and chooses to be a voice of support.”
Young said the book is a groundbreaking extension of the same goal as Ostler’s “Listen, Learn and Love” podcasts and organization.
“As he has put so much into the tender walk to bring others’ experiences to a wide audience,” Young said. “It is more than just a single story, but a compilation of hundreds of stories from LGBTQ Latter-day Saints and LDS parents of LGBTQ children.
“Reading stories changes hearts, builds more empathy and offers new insight to provide better encouragement. These stories take you on a journey to answer both simple and difficult questions,” Young added.
In the third, fourth and fifth chapters of the book, Ostler and others tackle the “false” statements about the LGBTQ+ community, what heterosexual members often think is wrong and what gay members should quit believing themselves.
Statements and beliefs questioned in the literature include “They choose to be LGBTQ,” “They are LGBTQ because they use pornography,” “Being LGBTQ is an addiction, like pornography, alcohol or illegal drugs,” or even “Heavenly Father did not intend for anyone to be LGBTQ; their sexual orientation is a mistake.”
Readers will have their eyes opened as they not only read real stories, but read the words of modern-day prophets and apostles as well as scripture references that help clarify and illuminate answers to many questions.
“What caused me to write the book was an impression I had,” Ostler said. “I realized what I had learned was solely from straight people.”
Ostler said what he has learned since he began his journey was that “we’re all equally children of God and that the church is better off with LGBTQ members.”
“It taught me a lot about the doctrines of Christ,” Ostler said. “Since they’ve (LGBTQ) been marginalized and have felt the pain, they are wired to help others. They have a harder road.”
Hundreds of LDS members in the LGBTQ+ community reached out with their stories to Ostler as did many LDS parents of children that are gay, bisexual and transgender.
“I’ve given hundreds of (priesthood) blessings to LGBTQ children,” Ostler said. “They are refined in premortal life in a different way.”
Ostler also said, and it is reflected in the ninth chapter of his book, that people shouldn’t worry where someone will be in the next life either.
Ostler said he is concerned that members are teaching that LGBTQ will be straight in the afterlife and that some have committed suicide to get there so they can be “normal.”
Ostler said he believes “this is the most complicated issue in the LDS Church right now.”
Even leaders in the hierarchy of the church have children, siblings and extended family in the LGBTQ community.
“Heavenly Father has given me this personal ministry,” Ostler said. “I’ve felt to step in this space.”
All proceeds from the book will go to a special foundation set up to honor and help families of those who have lost gay children to suicide.