It’s Different, This Time

I needed to jot down some of my feelings, like many of you on- and offline. I’m not a writer, so this may be awkward and reader-unfriendly.

Several events of my life have colored my expectations for gay people in the Church. I have known I was gay since I knew about sex, and when I was a teenager I was sent to behavioral therapists to try and change my orientation, without success. Even then, I understood that it was simply a preference, liking “green” curtains instead of “blue” ones. My last therapist at BYU told me I needed to repent, and then it would change. Repent, of what? I had exactly zero experiences, sexually. I stopped the therapy, and never went back.

My mission was aborted when I matter-of-factly mentioned that I was gay. BYU would not let me return without a period of adjustment, because I was gay.

I dated women, even though I was very awkward, socially, and I’m told they liked me on dates because I was the perfect gentleman, hands-off. I did finally meet a girl I truly loved, and we became engaged, and for more than a year I didn’t know how it would play out, because I knew the marriage would not happen. I wasn’t going to put a woman through that. Fortunately, she met someone else and we broke off our engagement. She has had a beautiful life in the church.

Through all of this, I continued to attend church. Why? Because this is my tribe, my people, this is the truth on earth, and I loved to feel the breath of the Spirit whispering in my ear. Truth is slippery, though; certainly I rationalized that it was OK to be gay and LDS, knowing that there would be discord in future. I kept my preference to myself, not in the closet, per se, but personal. Anyone who befriended me for more than a half an hour would know I was gay.

After college, I lived for a couple of years at home with my parents in New Jersey, and I attended my home ward. I was given a number of callings (like membership clerk), but became increasingly critical. A key event happened in 1983: my father told me I should take one of their cars, and drive into Manhattan to go to church. I agreed to try this, thinking that I might just use the car and the day to take a holiday from religion (see a movie, or something).

The first time I showed up in church in Manhattan, I was introduced to Bill Cottam, a new Bishop. He knew my sister Peggy, and he knew somehow that I played piano. He said they needed a Primary pianist that very day, so I did that. After church, he called me to the job. So much for church holiday! Every Sunday for a whole year, I drove into Manhattan to go to church, playing the piano for the children.

My father had known that I might respond better to the wards in Manhattan, because of their diversity, and he was right to send me there.

Though I had never played the organ before, in October, 1985, I was called to be the ward organist, because there really wasn’t anyone else to do it (at the time). I had to teach myself to play the organ, and it was several years before I was actually comfortable. Being the ward organist, though, gets you to church, every week, and on time. I like routine, and this helped me.

In 1986, Bishop Cottam called me into his office to ask a favor. There was to be a funeral for a young man who had died of AIDS, would I be interested in playing the organ for it? I said yes, but why the hush-hush? He said, because he was gay and you’re gay… pause, pause, how did you know? I said, and he said, “Power of Discernment.” We had a good laugh. The young man who had died was a return missionary, with a lover, and they had recently been reactivated, only to have their lives cut short. They both died within several months of each other. Bishop Cottam had dressed the LDS brother in his temple clothes for the casket.

I said “So now it’s in the open. I’m gay, and I’m trying to find a companion. If you feel it’s inappropriate for me to hold callings in the ward, like being the organist and sitting on the stand every week, I’ll comply with your wishes. I don’t want to shake someone else’s spiritual experience, and I don’t want to break eternal rules.”

And he said “You were given a gift from God, and you are giving it back to us. You are providing a great service, and what is Christianity if not that?” We had a kneeling prayer together.

And that was that. I had found my calling. I had found my ward, my truth, my future.

I have played the organ every week for 30 years. I have led the choir for 3 different periods. I have taught Priesthood, Sunday School, given talks; played for baptisms, weddings, and funerals; composed over 30 vocal pieces for Sacrament Meeting; run the Stake Christmas Concert, and conducted a concert of LDS forces at Carnegie Hall. I have played the organ for church functions at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden. Though there has been some discord, I have never been away from the Church for more than a short burst.

It’s different, this time.

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24 Responses to It’s Different, This Time

  1. dfletcher says:

    P.S. George Reddick is my partner. We have been together for 13 years. We haven’t married, yet.

  2. LadyKerri says:

    God bless you, my precious brother. Your story inspires me to hope that the good people of the Church (like your amazing bishop) will simply continue being good people in the Church, and perhaps simply resist this new,very horrid, policy.

    I wish you joy with Mr. Red ick, now dormer.
    Love from a sister in California.

    • B. Holman says:

      So wonderful to know that there actually LDS bishops out there who really do lead as Christ would. Love to you & your partner, Brother!

  3. LadyKerri says:

    Sorry, zapped by spell-check. Mr. Reddick

  4. A student at Columbia says:

    We overlapped in the ward of Bishop Cottam.

    From my close experience with him, and it was quite close, he was one of the finest men I have known. I can say that without qualification.

    A student at Columbia

  5. Christine says:

    I was in that ward as well. I have missed your organ playing ever since and daydream about you just showing up in my ward one day and having to substitute:) Wishing you joy and God’s blessings.

  6. s says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’ve attended your ward (I’m Kate Cowley’s mom). One time, you played my favorite hymn, All Creatures of our God and King. I think it may have been postlude- I just remember how much the music and they way you played it touched me. It was joyful.
    Please know that you have family- our family, to stand with you whenever you might need us. You and your partner are so welcome to stay with us if you ever visit Seattle.

  7. Daniel Ferguson says:

    D, you’ve been one of my great heroes for 25 years, and I look forward to another 25 years of association with one of the most reasoned, temperate, diplomatic Latter-day Saints I know.

  8. Jennifer Thomas says:

    Loren Thomas’s mom here. I know you must know how many of us are mourning the loss of everything we hoped was going to be different, soon, eventually, sooner or later, inevitably. Your service at the organ has blessed my life every time I’ve been in your ward. I hope you find comfort in knowing that your sorrow and disbelief is shared by many, including our entire family. We are searching for the way forward.

  9. LM says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. Sending you love.

  10. I can’t imagine that my experience has been anywhere near as painful as yours here, but I just wanted to say that it’s different for a lot of us this time, too.

  11. dfletcher says:

    Some people have asked for clarity on the meaning of It’s Different, This Time

    This time, I’m labeled an apostate, and I won’t be able to participate in the church as a gay man. This time is different, because of the mandatory new policy which affects me directly.

  12. Lynn mahan says:

    I’m sure you must realize how sucky your church seems to us non Mormons. Yuk!!! The seething judgment! Will zillions of non sheep leave? One certainly hopes. The hatred! Oh my dear.

    • dfletcher says:

      I’m sure it must seem that way, particularly today. But that’s not it at all! It’s a really beautiful, uplifting, rewarding experience, week after week.

      • michelle says:

        That was one of the most Christlike responses I have seen through this whole thing. I have to say, I am a member and while I was confused by the handbook update initially, I have come to my own resolutions and understanding. To me, it doesn’t come from a place of malice and that is enough for me. Your article is the very first thing from the other side of the argument that has actually made me pause. You are an exceptional person. Please don’t lose your faith and kindness. There is so much bitterness out there. Again, I appreciate your response to that comment. Those simple, kind words inspired me.

  13. Kate says:

    This brought tears to my eyes and is heartbreaking.
    As a member of the church, I see you, I hear you, and I love you. I can’t understand what you’re going through but I just wanted to show my support for you. All my love.

  14. Schnaftipufti says:

    Why is it different this time?

  15. Marty Farnsworth says:

    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Thanks for your great service to your local ward!
    It does seem different this time.

  16. Mary H says:

    Thank you for sharing. I couldn’t finish without tears. Much love to you.

  17. CC says:

    I continue to be baffled by “organized religion” … why is your musical ability a “gift from God” while your sexual orientation is an abomination? You were born with both of them … how is one God given and the other a sin you must fight against? I’m really asking … I just can’t wrap my head around it.

  18. LC says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. You are truly gifted and talented. I always enjoyed hearing you play.

  19. Heather M says:

    Though we didn’t know each other well, I had the distinct privilege of having my soul fed with your beautiful music and testimonies for the 3+ years we lived in the ward. Those years were some of the hardest of my life so far- I experienced devastating postpartum depression with my first (and subsequently only child) which morphed into chronic anxiety and depression, followed by a crisis of faith and divine worth due to how it affected my feelings about my role as a mother, and toward the end of my time in NYC, I was diagnosed with cancer and went through surgery and radiation treatment with a 3 year old, a husband in a grueling grad school program, and my family on the other side of the country. These were years I desperately needed inspiration and uplifting nourishment for my spirit, and that ward and your beautiful music provided it for me time and again, every week. I still sit in sacrament meetings and think of the heartfelt impromptu testimonies you would often share about a piece of music before playing it for us and find myself wishing more members were so connected to the powerful spirit of music, and talented enough to be the vessels through which it can so perfectly testify of Christ. I have never before nor since been so inspired on a weekly basis at church, and I have always attributed much of the spirit of those meetings, much of the loving culture of that ward, to your devotion, your testimony, and your willingness to share it with others. D, you are far more Saint than I can ever hope to be. To say I am sorry for the hurt and pain you are feeling right now is woefully inadequate, but I am. And I am mourning with you.

  20. Hal Gaisford says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Our friends the Klarers have enjoyed your music and service in the Manhattan Ward. You know you are surrounded by family and friends who love and support you. Seems like your bishop Cottam was inspired with a true gift of discernment and generosity of spirit. We need more leaders and members of your and his ilk. God Bless

  21. Jake D. says:

    Thanks for your very personal story. The church I remember was one of community, support, and love. Even though I had intellectually left the church I remained proud of my heritage.

    I resigned the from the church this weekend because I can’t bear the tarnish of affiliation any longer. I can’t allow for the implied approval my silence offers.

    This time it’s different for me.

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