Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mixed Feelings

(I started writing this post a few weeks ago when the topic was more timely, but I have been spending much more time sleeping than being on my computer.  Sorry.)

As many of you probably know, the documentary that Scott and I interviewed for has been in the press lately and in fact there are those who believe that the church’s statement a few weeks ago at the SLC city council meeting was at least partially a preemptive effort to defend themselves with regards to some of the content in the documentary.

I blogged about our initial interviews last January, but I would now like to blog about the entire journey, the initial information we had about the documentary, the interview itself and our motivations and reasons for being involved, my feelings and anxiety regarding the release of the documentary, and my concern on the stance that the film-maker, Reed Cowan, is taking with everything. Scott and I have talked about this a lot, and I feel like I am finally ready to lay it all out on the table.

So, let’s go back to January 2009 when Scott received this email from a mailing list he is on.

(Forwarded from Duane Jennings, representing Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, Salt Lake Chapter)


Hello Utah GLBT community and hello GLBT supporters!


This is our mantra as we look to our upcoming visit to Utah to shoot our documentary on Proposition 8.

WHEN: Saturday, January 31, 9am-9pm


The intention of this film is to show the attitudes and teachings of the Mormon church relative to LGBT issues has not only impacted lives, but also public policy.

I give my word to do all I can to get this film in to every movie theatre in the world...but THE SUCCESS OF THIS FILM RESTS SQUARELY ON YOUR ABILITY TO BE BRAVE AND OFFER YOUR STORIES.

The power of this film depends on you and your story.

As mentioned before, I have received some amazing commitments from some of the most prolific voices on the issue where it pertains to Mormons and Mormonism who are booked for our film.


I want to hear from Mormons (gay and straight) who sat in church and felt the pinch of authority telling them to do something that was against their own beliefs about LGBT issues.

I want to hear from those who are former Mormons, who have been rejected by their faith community because of their sexuality.

I want to hear from those who have not only been victimized by the short sited mindsets that got Prop. 8 through--but also those who have triumphed over it all in the spirit of optimism that will eventually see Prop. 8 overturned.


What's your story? Let's tell it!

Reed Cowan
Documentary Film Maker & Emmy Award winning journalist
The email of course intrigued me. I was definitely hurting over Prop. 8. A lady in my ward was trying to save my soul on the subject in her Relief Society lessons, and it was ticking me off. My local leaders refused to understand. I was hurt from a talk from a high councilman in another ward and stake, comparing those who disagree with Prop 8 to “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

I had to tell my story. I had to tell the world what a wonderful man my gay husband is, and all of our sweet friends, some "married" in CA and raising children, incredible parents that want nothing more than the same freedoms "one man and one woman" have, to be sure that their "spouse" and children will be taken care of, and without the extra legal cost and worry that it won't be enough...

But I was nervous. I knew there could be consequences. I forwarded the email to a friend at school that is also LDS and struggling with the church’s political involvement, watching the pain it inflicted on her gay brother. She and I talked about it a lot. She decided to email Reed to find out more:

Hello Mr. Cowan, I am interested in participating in your documentary but I have a few questions before I consent to do so. I am LDS but I don't agree with prop 8. I would love a venue to express this in, however, I am not interested in being a part of something that is simply anti-LDS either. Will this documentary be neutral (factual) with what is presented or is it going to be anti-LDS? My other question is who will have access to it and will my words be taken out of context? I appreciate what you are doing for the gay/lesbian/bi/transgender community regardless of my decision of whether or not to participate. God bless you for doing this. May lives be saved and souls have peace.

…and he wrote back:


Thanks for your interest. And thanks for being a guardian of your thoughts and actually participating in the process before the process.

Here's the deal. There WILL be voices in the film that are angry, hurt & say they are wronged. Those voices will likely be heard louder by some than the voices who are for Prop. 8.

I'm not trying to be anti-LDS, but as a person raised in the LDS church and who went on a mission to become a mission leader, I can tell you that I know that it's easy in the church to be labeled "ANTI.

I'm sure...despite my best efforts to give ALL voices a chance to be heard, that the film will be called ANTI.
In the end, you may or may not feel the same way.

What I can tell you is this:
1. I've extended the invitation to interview to ALL people of ALL SIDES
2. I've extended the invitation to the LDS church.
3. I've extended the invitation to ACTIVE LDS people

And their voices, if they lend them...WILL be heard.

However, whenever you interview for a journalist, you run the risk of your words being taken out of context. All I can tell you is that I have a goal of NOT doing that.

I hope to see you Saturday. Thank you SO MUCH for your good heart regarding this issue. I really hope you come. I need the voices of BELIEVING, FAITHFUL LDS PEOPLE who have chosen LOVE and have chosen to NOT support 8.

My consultant for this film: Carol Lynn Pearson has wisely encouraged me to "Not leave people in a dark alley..." In other words, to showcase GOOD, KIND and FORWARD THINKING Mormons who see beyond the mountains...people like you.

I hope you can be a part of this.


Her dad, a temple worker, gave her this advice: I thought your inquiry was very good and that Reed tried to give an honest answer. As he pointed out, there are certain risks and dangers in a volatile, highly emotional and sensitive issue such as this, even with the best of intentions on both sides. I believe your heart is right and I hope things go well for you in whatever you decide and do. May God bless.

So, after much prayer and pondering and thinking and feeling, we decided to do it. We were nervous, but the Spirit was strong and calming. It was liberating to watch others share their stories, knowing they were there amongst friends, and watching their burdens lift with hope in knowing that others in the room loved them for who they are, felt their pain, all of us hoping and praying that people who eventually watch this film could feel what we were feeling at that moment, and that it would make a huge difference of peace and comfort in the lives of many, many gay Mormons and their supportive and friends and families.

Then, last spring, Reed released footage of Buttars to the media. Of course I have no use for Senator Buttars, his opinions, his political activity over the years, etc., and I guess it is his own fault for saying such horrible things on camera for Reed’s documentary, but it somehow felt wrong for Reed to do what he did the way he did it, and it started to make me nervous about who this Reed Cowan really is and what kind of tone his documentary really will have.

After being asked by my local leaders regarding the documentary and when it will be out and how it will make the church look, I became even more nervous. I knew that a ton of people had interviewed for the film, and that he would not be able to include everyone. So I emailed Reed, and he let me know that while Scott, our daughter and my friend at school had NOT made the final cut of the film, I had, but he didn't believe that anything I said would be enough to get me in trouble with the church.

Within a few weeks of receiving this message from Reed, he had of course launched a web site and a blog for the documentary.  The blog posts started to concern me a little bit as Reed appeared to use the blog to lash out with his feelings about the church and his own LDS family.  Scathing posts would appear, then disappear, as though he regretted posting it. But then one of them brought me some hope and comfort again. (I was just going to post a piece of it, with a link to the original, but he has removed this particular post as well.)

Rain (October 24, 2009)
It's raining where I am today.  It has been all night.  Fall is setting in.  The end of things tired and used up.  The beginning of a new season.  My sons are having lunch with their dad in the kitchen.  The smell of coffee is wafting through the house.  Outside it is raining.  Inside our family's world, it is calm.

I suppose that's how the week has been too for us, metaphorically speaking.
While going about the lives of a normal American family...paying bills, dropping kids off at school, attending to our work...the storm of this film continues to swell in the outside world.

And as with any storm, there has been tremendous damage.  And tremendous good.

"Mr. Cowan, thank you for making this film.  It gives me courage."

"Mr. Cowan, my church's incursion in to politics and the messages they sent out as they worked against gay policies caused me to go home that afternoon and attempt suicide.  Thank you for showing the consequences of their actions and their words."

These are the thoughts of people who have shared with me what the pending release of this film has meant.  And I am humbled by their candor and their desire for change.

And I have received hate mail.

Mean spirits in the mix.  People who do not know me.  People who do not know the stirrings of my heart.  People who assume much before ever seeing the finished piece of film that will come in early 2010.

In their fear, their anger and in their sense of protection for what they hold sacred, they have lashed out.

Our film is not a hit-piece.  Our film is not motivated by a desire to hurt or destroy the church that is accused of encroaching beyond the dictates of separation of church and state.

Really, it is not.

In fact, our narrator Dustin Lance Black has made his participation in this film contingent on a respectful tone throughout.  And NY Times best-selling author Carol Lynn Pearson (also a Mormon) has insisted the same.

I agree with them.

Truth can hurt.  But it also sets us free to venture in to new expressions of the faith traditions we all hold dear.

This film is an opportunity to see the failings of people who thought they were doing the right thing, and experienced the scrutiny that came from making the mistakes that are alleged.

Many of you have asked me how my family situation is.

Like many LGBT people embroiled in family situations where family culture and religious culture creates conflict, it's a shambles this morning.

Nasty e mails.  Angry diatribes.  You know the drill.

But one of the youngest members of our family sent me the following and I'll share it with you now:

"I just watched the trailer for your up coming documentary. And i must say i am very excited. I cant wait to see the whole thing. But i am also very reserved, im certain that your movie will cause a great reaction in this state that seems so solitary... It is my hope that your powerful message will spark a change for the better in many hearts. Thats what this state needs is an eye opening, but with such a delicate subject... i worry about how it will affect relations in this family. I have seen first hand how people cling to this belief that the Mormon church is omnipotent.... Just this morning i fought two boys who were bashing my gay uncles they know nothing about... I do not doubt that they are good people at heart, and i hope there will come a great awakening when people will realize that all these things that make us a diverse species should not be feared and hated... but celebrated... Until that day, i will make you a promise that no matter how bad things get know that i love you and that i will always consider you my uncle and part of my family. You have helped me learn more about myself in the short time i have known you, then i ever would have imagined... Once again I love you. And i pray for you and your beautiful family every night. Peace and Safety."

Bless him.  May we all follow our young.  They are not poisoned by hatred and ignorance that leads to discrimination.


I was touched.  This was the Reed I met in January, with a vision of hope and bringing peace. I have no idea why he would have removed this post.

But then Maine politics happened, and the National Organization of Marriage was involved in the campaign, and Reed began to lash out again.

Then, as mentioned, the church spoke at a SLC city council meeting, a huge step in the right direction, but Reed was nothing but critical. His next few blog posts disgusted and upset me.

Mormons endorse not leaving the gays to rot
 8:TMP Press Release

A friend of ours who also filmed for the documentary and who is very involved in policitics (but is also very young) contacted Reed and recommended that reacting this way was not going to accomplish anything.  Reed apparently told him that he is too young to understand what will actually make a difference in this situation.

So as Scott and I discussed my feelings and questions about Reed, his heart, and his intentions, Scott told me that he believes Reed did have the best of intentions from the beginning; that he was not putting on a show for us when we interviewed, but that he did intend for the documentary to really contain facts and accurately reflect on both sides of the issue. But somehow in the process of creating the documentary, of listening to hours and hours of heartbreaking interviews, of delving into church policies and politics, he has become bitter, and has lost judgement on what really is going to make a difference.

I have not seen the documentary.  I do not know if I will be glad that my voice can be heard as truth is revealed and peace is pursued, or if I will be embarressed to be associated with it, sad to see my beloved Prophet, President Monson, and other church leaders, demeaned and harrased.  My feelings are mixed as I anticipate the release of the film.  But I know without a doubt that when I interviewed, it felt like I was doing the right thing.  So I can only cling to that and hope for the best.  Because I do agree with Reed that this story needs to be told, and that there are people out there that need to know just how much the church's involvement in Proposition 8 destroyed (and continues to destroy) lives and families, the very thing they claim to be trying to protect.

Meanwhile, as I continue to wait to hear from my Stake President regarding his verdict on my temple recommend, I worry that this documentary is factoring into his decision, and I want him to know that my heart truly is in the right place.

Only time will tell...


Pieces of Me said...

Its tough to be where you are at and struggling with issues and feelings. I understand why you have some reservations with the release of the documentary. My thoughts and prayers will be with you.

David Baker-@DB389 said...

I agree with your mixed feelings Sarah and wonder what will become of the boy who is too young to understand when things are being said that will hurt rather than help. :)

lanabanana said...

Great post, Sarah. Strong feelings on all sides. I always wish for levelheadedness and respectful dialog in situations like this, but emotions run high. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


AmbiguouS One said...

If you felt the Holy Ghost telling you to participate, to interview, that it was the right thing to do, then all you've got to do is trust that advice.

I know that that is easier said than done, especially coming from someone who didn't interview for the documentary.

But I've experienced similar situations where I thought I was doing the right thing and then I had second thoughts...

But you've got to remember the feeling that the Holy Ghost gave you. :)

Sarah said...

Pieces and Alanna, thank you as usual for your understanding and support. Like I said, I wrote most of this a couple of weeks ago, and fortunately (I guess), other things in my life are distracting me from it and I have not worried about it as much recently. I suppose one of my reasons for posting it is that my temple recommend is still weighing on my mind, and I wondered if the documentary was something keeping my SP from getting back to me sooner, and I thought maybe if I posted these thoughts and ideas, maybe it could help him make a decision sooner than later.

David, I hope and pray that the young man will make a difference trying things his own way. I believe he will. :) Miss you. Hope you are well!

Sarah said...

Drew, I completely agree, and I am clinging to that very idea. Thanks for the reminder. Don't be a stranger. :)

Beck said...

My prayers are with you and with what is best for you. The Lord knows the intentions of your heart.

Sarah said...

Thanks, Beck. As your comment has resonated in my head the last couple of days, I have been grateful to realize that my life is in God's hands, that He knows me and my heart, and that all is well.

Appreciate your sound words of wisdom, as usual. Hope you are well.

Jenz said...

oh my gosh. i didn't know you had started up this blog again. I'm catching up.

I know this is weighing heavy on your heart. I didn't realize the documentary you participated in was the same as the Prop 8 one. I didn't know if I was going to watch it or not, but now I have support of you.