“I was ecstatic — it was a huge change,” said Kole Pei, a transgender man who is a member of the Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints, referring the church’s recent policy change allowing children of LGBTQ parents to be baptized members of the church.
Pei was one of five participants in a panel held at Weber State University Wednesday night called “Rainbow to Heaven.” The panel explored the experiences of people who identify as LGBTQ and are current or former participants in the Latter-day Saint faith.
The event had been in the works for the past two months, well before the church’s policy change. Two Weber State students — April Skeem and Brooke Cowley — planned the panel discussion as a project for their senior course on macro policy in social work.
Pei said he came out twice, once as a lesbian and later as a transgender man.
“Coming out as Kole, it was harder,” Pei said.
“Everything’s in steps,” Pei continued, discussing the policy change later in the panel discussion. “Being transgender is something that it will take time for people to learn about ... with this policy, I’m so sorry the church doesn’t really address the transgender community. Honestly right now, what I’m focused on is the change in general.
“I’m happy for my friends that these policy changes do affect, and I guess you could say I’m just hopeful that in the future that something will happen ... and the fact that it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t affect my relationship with God because he validates me every day.”
Pei is a practicing member of the church who chose to stay, he said, because when he almost left, the most love and support he received was from friends and relatives who are currently members of the church — some were part of the LGBTQ community, and others were not.
That’s not to say the road was easy. He struggled in his relationship with his mother. At one point, his mother asked him, “Just give me a chance.” Pei said he had been hard on others because he assumed they wouldn’t accept him.
Carson Tueller, another member of the panel, also faced difficulties with his mother, who was sitting in the audience.
“My dad was really loving,” Tueller said. “I specifically went through hell with my mom, especially with the policy ... that really put a wall up between us because I really put conditions on how my mom loved me.”
Eventually, Tueller said, he sat down with his mom and told her, “I’m just going to love you no matter what.”
Telling her this “freed her up to love me in the way she needed to love me,” Tueller said. “That was the year she came to Pride with me.”
Conversations between mothers and their LGBTQ children ran throughout the panel.
One other panelist, Jen Bastian, talked about when her son came out to her. She cringed looking back on asking him if he thought it was “just a phase” and if he was interested in counseling.
Bastian praised a mother in the audience who asked how to best support her 19-year-old daughter, who had come out five months before and was sitting beside her.
LGBTQ members of the panel said that eventually they look forward to full participation in the church.
“I feel like if there is going to be an end goal, the policies would have to change,” said Nathan Winterton, a gay man who left the church after experiencing gay conversion therapy and a suicide attempt.
“In my opinion, (this) is not so far fetched just because the church has done it with other things in the past,” Winterton continued. “They’ve done it with race. They’ve done it with priesthood ... and I feel like my end goal would be, if I had to join the church again, that me and my hunk of man can get sealed in the temple because that’s equality ... that is what I will always hope for.”