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LGBT Mormons Try to Bridge Divide through Music

Hundreds of Mormons in Utah participated in gay pride parades across the country this summer.  Now some LGBT Mormons and their supporters have formed a choir in Salt Lake City.  Organizers say they are not pushing a political agenda.  They say they simply want to create a space where all are welcome to sing in praise of God.  But the choir has not been completely welcomed by some Mormon communities. 

On a Wednesday evening at a historic LDS Church in downtown Salt Lake City, about 20 people gather to sing.

Bryan Horn is musical director of this new choir – which is comprised of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight members of all ages and varying levels of musical abilities. 

“The primary purpose is to create a space where everybody is loved and everybody is welcome, where we can meet together and not discuss politics, not discuss doctrine, not discuss the pros and cons of homosexuality or same sex marriage, but to simply come together and as Mormon Christians and non-Mormon Christians to worship Jesus Christ and proclaim our testimonies of Jesus Chris,” Horn told KUER.

Horn resigned from the church after coming out as gay, but said he is Mormon in his heart.

“Getting involved with this choir is my way of still being active Church when I can’t officially be active in church, so I found a way around it, let’s just say,” he said.

Ross Owen is singing bass in the choir.  Owen said was once a devout Mormon, but was excommunicated from the LDS Church years ago when he came out as gay.

“I almost feel like I’ve been mourning giving up that foundation that was there for me for the first 20 years of my life.  So now I’m searching for that spirituality and how to get that spirituality back in my life,” said Owen.

Bradley Bruff is a tenor in the choir from a younger generation. He’s studying film composition at BYU.  He identifies as gay and Mormon, and though he hasn’t been excommunicated, he said it’s hard to straddle both worlds.

“It’s hard especially when you grow up and you are trying to come to terms with your sexuality while being a religious person.  You feel like both of those communities are telling you, you can’t be both.  The Mormon community is saying you can’t be gay.  The gay community is saying you can’t be Mormon.  You feel like you’re being pulled in two directions,” said Bruff.

18-year-old Grayson Moore is also singing tenor, but moves over to join the sopranos when they need help. Moore identifies as female to male transgender, but said people at Church have been surprisingly accepting, and Moore holds a Temple recommend.

“Most people who grow up in the Church, when they transition, they just say I’m not allowed to be LDS any more.  I want to show people that you don’t have to walk away, that just because it can be hard to be LDS and transgender, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it,” said Moore.

Piano accompanist Catherine Jeppsen is an adjunct faculty member at BYU.  She teaches gender studies, and said she has met many young people who are suffering.  Jeppsen says as a straight Mormon, she wants to show LGBT people that they are welcome. 

“I just really feel for people who don’t feel accepted in the one place they should feel accepted. I want to do everything I can to show them that there are people in the Mormon Church who do love and accept them and want them to feel welcome,” said Jeppsen.

Rexene Pitcher is another straight member of the choir, but she has an adult son who is gay.  Pitcher said her son is no longer part of the Church, that he did not find acceptance. 

“I’m really happy to see people of the Mormon Church coming out and saying we love you just the way you are today, being willing to show it,” said Pitcher as she teared up, “I think it’s high time, and I think it’s our first and greatest thing we should be doing as followers of Christ is showing love.”

After rehearsal, Grayson Moore remarked on the way it feels to sing in a choir like this.. 

“I love the spirit here,” said Morre, “It’s just acceptance and love; it’s a great feeling…”

But Moore is interrupted by someone explaining that we must leave.

After leaving, the choir was told not to return.  Musical Director Bryan Horn said he was told that the church did not want a reporter there recording.  Branch President Kevin Timm declined to discuss the matter, and referred KUER to church spokesperson Scott Trotter. Trotter said leaders from the four wards who meet in that space ultimately felt it best for all involved to have the choir find another practice venue.  Trotter said he felt badly and provided a written apology to the Choir, and said the Church wishes them all the best. 

The Choir has since found rehearsal space at another LDS meeting house in Sugarhouse and at Christ United Methodist Church.  Officials from the LDS Church declined to do an interview about the choir, but Church spokesman Dales Jones gave this short statement. 

“Music in many varieties can have a positive influence in our communities. We have a longstanding musical history and recognize there is always room for voices who can both entertain and glorify God.”

The choir is planning a concert for World AIDS Day on December 1st, and plans to start its first official season in January. 

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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