Thursday, May 24, 2018

Church and Gay: Ever the Two Shall Mix?

Alum's journey to marry religion with sexual orientation 

Long before there was “Hug A Gay Mormon” or “Family Home Evening with A Gay Mormon” – two very public, personal outreach initiatives of Peter Moosman’s – there was a deeply closeted, increasingly depressed gay man trying to figure out where he fit in with his cherished faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The year 2015 brought at least some of the answers he desperately needed. He was 27.

“I spent my whole life denying it and trying to get rid of it,” Moosman says. “I didn’t ask for help – I didn’t want anybody to know.”

He now recalls how the “2015 Peter,” a person who had until that time considered ending his own life as he was still trying to “pray away the gay,” was a lot different than the “2018 Peter,” who is out not only as a gay man, but more precisely an active Mormon who is also gay. He lives in Salt Lake City and works for Salt Lake Community College as a coordinator with Student Life and Leadership. Life is better now, but new struggles have emerged.

Moosman, a 2011 SLCC alum, was raised in the predominantly Mormon Davis County, specifically North Salt Lake. He knew from a “young age” he was gay, but he also read in scriptures while growing up in the LDS Church that homosexuality was an “abomination.” He didn’t want to bring shame to his family. He didn’t want to give up his faith. So, he hid being gay.

Moosman thought he was “broken.” He tried to “fix” himself by dating, but only after serving an LDS mission in Louisville, Kentucky. “My mission was almost an escape from that,” he says. “I didn’t have to worry about dating or people asking if I’m in a relationship. It was a refuge from misery.”

But when he came home from his mission, he had to face it all again – to face trying not to be gay. He dated a female friend and told her up front that he was not attracted to women but that he understood his “path to salvation,” as his church taught, states that he needs to marry a woman. They gave it a shot. “I couldn’t even kiss her,” Moosman recalls. “We both realized there was no way we could make it work.” They remain friends to this day.

Moosman tried to “swear off love,” to look the other way when he noticed an attractive man. He slowly sank into a deeper depression. By Christmas, 2014, he wondered if it might be his last holiday – ever. “There has to be something that will end all of this,” he thought at the time.

Moosman’s metamorphosis started a few weeks later with the serendipitous gift from an SLCC colleague of two tickets to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to see the documentary, "Larry Kramer: In Love & Anger," in which filmmaker Jean Carlomusto focused her lens on the gay rights activist during the height of the AIDS epidemic. And then another movie, "The Normal Heart," came along when Moosman needed it most. Larry Kramer wrote the screenplay for that movie, starring Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Julia Roberts and Alfred Molina.

Just the simple act of renting "The Normal Heart" wasn’t easy for a closeted gay LDS man in a mostly Mormon community. Moosman picked out some “church” movies and some comedies to try hiding the fact that he was about to watch a movie about gay people. Living at home with his parents at the time in North Salt Lake, he went to his room, locked the door and turned the volume down low to watch the movie. Then something clicked, and over the course of two hours and 12 minutes, his depression lifted. “As I was watching, there was this overwhelming warmth, a peace,” he says. “I was in tears. I was a mess. At that moment I realized I don’t need to feel shame – I don’t need to hide. I felt like I had God’s stamp of approval.”

“It was an incredibly spiritual experience,” Moosman adds. “It was my first time seeing gay people as developed characters and not just comedic relief. They had emotion.” Before those movies, Moosman had only heard that coming out as gay meant mostly that you were “ruining” families and announcing your “lust” for members of the same sex. “I decided I needed to tell my parents,” he says.

Terrified, he worked up the courage to start with his mother. Moosman found a helpful pamphlet from the Family Acceptance Project, which helps LDS families support their LGBT children. He handed the pamphlet to his mom, told her his faith was “renewed” and that he was finally able to embrace who he is. He was on “Cloud 9,” relieved he had finally come out to someone. Later the same day, he told his father, who replied, “’How can I support you in this?’”

After that, he spent the rest of 2015 coming out to everyone at a time when same-sex marriage had become legal in Utah. It was a time when people, particularly within his own church and community, had been exposed to more public conversations about homosexuality, discussions based more in facts rather than hyperbole and falsehoods. Friends distanced themselves from him. He was called a “lost cause” and someone who had gone off the “deep end.” One day he logged on to his LDS Church membership account and discovered that his ward had been changed. It marked a pivotal point in his “faith crisis.”

Moosman searched for a way he could have conversations with Mormons, to tell them queer people exist in Mormonism and “that it’s okay.” He found a YouTube video of a Muslim man who set up with a sign in a public space and told people that, if they trusted him, they could give him a hug. “I was touched by that idea,” he says. And Hug a Gay Mormon was born.

In April, 2016 Moosman brought a big poster board with the words “Hug a Gay Mormon” to General Conference, right in the middle of where thousands would be entering and exiting the LDS Conference Center for sessions designed to bolster their faith. He also used the poster to alert people to a social media hashtag he created with the same words. He was scared, uncertain how he would be received.

“It was phenomenal,” Moosman recalls. Strangers young and old hugged him, some whispering in his ear things like, “Here’s a hug from a bisexual Mormon” or “Here’s a hug from someone with a gay son.” A young female who told Moosman she is pan sexual wanted to know how to tell her bishop. People took photos with him. The hashtag became a way for people to reach out and “message” him in private. Moosman uses Google Translate to speak with people from around the world including, most recently, a lesbian from Taiwan who needed help finding the right words to talk about who she is.

“People ask me how to make it work between faith and sexuality,” he says. “’I can’t be gay and Mormon. How do you make that work?’” they ask.

Moosman is still figuring it out. He’d like to marry a man someday, but he knows that would mean excommunication from the church. He likes the sense of “community” the church offers. He likes the familiarity of his faith and the comfort it brings. His family is LDS, and he doesn’t want to risk losing that common bond he shares with them. And certain aspects emphasized by his religion, like serving others and doing good works, very much appeals to him.

Moosman with cast members from the musical The Book of Mormon

So, in looking for answers along the journey of making it work between his faith and sexual orientation, Moosman heads out for each General Conference with his sign. He keeps the conversation going amid all of the hugs.

In 2017 he also started something called Family Home Evening with a Gay Mormon. For that he gets a permit from Salt Lake City, sets up on Main Street near the sky bridge of the LDS Church-owned City Creek Center mall and invites people to sit on his couch or chairs and talk about being Mormon and gay. It’s a disarming approach that has attracted scores of passersby to stop and chat. When the musical "The Book of Mormon" was in town, cast members sat down and wanted to learn more. “I can officially say that I’ve had Joseph Smith over for Family Home Evening on my couch,” Moosman smiles.

The couch and chairs will be back on Main Street this summer. And Moosman will be back later this year with his sign for another General Conference. He would love it if eventually he felt the LDS Church could be a “safe place” for gay people. If he is someday excommunicated, he is already armored with the idea the church doesn’t have to be “the end all to be all” of spirituality. For now, he will continue going to church services. And he will keep the conversation going.

“This is not about me as much as it is a jumping off point so that people can have conversations,” he says. “I want people to see that there are queer Mormons and that they have to face that.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

PACE Graduates Celebrated

PACE student Brenda Garcia (right) and her mother.

Seniors from East, Highland and West high schools were celebrated for their successful completion of the program PACE (Partnerships for Accessing College Education). The four-year program, which starts for eligible students their freshman year, was created through a partnership with local high schools, businesses and Salt Lake Community College.

PACE graduates

PACE students who finish the program can receive a two-year scholarship to SLCC, though one of the seniors at the celebration, for example, will be attending Harvard instead. PACE students receive ongoing advisor support and advocacy to ensure their success. They also have help building a strong academic foundation by requiring them to take college-level classes while in high school. Upon completion of the program, students can also be considered for the Access U program, which guarantees transfer from SLCC to the University of Utah.

During the celebration at SLCC's South City Campus, several students shared stories of challenge and triumph, diminished expectations from adults and society and hearing they are too poor or the wrong skin color to succeed in college. They talked candidly about what it's like to be labeled "undocumented" and proudly lauded parents who took risks and made sacrifices for their children to have more opportunities and a better life than from where they came. SLCC President Dr. Deneece G. Huftalin and Dr. Roderic Land, special assistant to the president, took part in the celebration, praising students for their perseverance and achievements, cheering them on as they head off to college.

PACE staff Janeth Marroquin (l-r), Monica Gomez Rogerson, Sendys Estevez and Mario Organista

To qualify for PACE, students must have a 2.5 GPA or higher and be either a first-generation college student, an underrepresented student in higher education or demonstrate a financial need. Once accepted into the program, students are required to maintain a 90 percent on-time attendance, keep at least a 2.5 GPA and maintain letter grades of C- or above in all core classes. Students are also required to job shadow or take part in Summer Career Exploration, as well as take four years of progressively advanced math, one AP, IB or concurrent enrollment general education class and graduate from high school in eight consecutive semesters.

Monday, May 21, 2018

College Creates, Fills Director of Strategic Communications Position

Salt Lake Community College hired Erika Shubin to fill its newly-created position of director of strategic communications and public relations.

Erika Shubin

Shubin brings over two decades of experience in public relations, event planning and grant stewardship to the college. She joins the college after a ten-year role as the public relations and marketing manager at Utah Transit Authority. Prior to her time at UTA, she worked at two local advertising agencies and served as the co-manager of a team of staff writers for the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee in 2001 and 2002.

SLCC added Shubin’s position to the Institutional Advancement division to lead and coordinate a multitude of communications and PR initiatives designed to support the college’s strategic plan. In her role she will be responsible for coordinating the integration of traditional and digital communications with public relations efforts, as well as taking the lead on communications for a comprehensive campaign leading up to the celebration of SLCC’s 75th anniversary in 2023.

Meet Our Faculty: Dean Huber

Dean Huber

Associate Professor
School of Applied Technology and Technical Services
English as a Second Language

What he teaches:
ESL 1010, Advanced II, Listening and Speaking; ESL 1020, Advanced II, Reading and Writing

Number of years teaching at SLCC:

Undergraduate degree:
University of Utah ‘77

University of Utah ‘81

Why working at SLCC matters: 
I have the best students in the world! It is the community. That was the reason I came here originally. SLCC was the only community college. I’ve just seen it grow all these years. There’s really support for refugees and non-native speakers. That’s what it is – it’s inclusiveness. I love it.

Greatest professional challenge:
Finding ways to better prepare my students for college success. In my classes we do a lot of listening and note taking. I’m really trying to prepare students for college study and to lay out those protocols for them. I’m also trying to inform the college community here as well about who are these students: why they are here; what benefits they bring to the College. It’s important because it’s a little bit of the mirror of the world. It reflects where we’re going in terms of globalization. We are going to have to have these connections to other parts of the world if we’re ultimately going to be successful.

Greatest professional accomplishment: 
Teaching Excellence Awards, College Service and TESOL Presentation
But really my greatest accomplishment is my career here. I came here kind of a newbie, and I’ve grown so enormously here. I’ve really become a real person. I’ve grown as a teacher. I’ve really learned what’s important in teaching. I’ve attempted to serve the college.

Advice for students or others: 
Make learning fun. I think we learn better if there’s an emotional connection. We could learn a lot from pain, but I think we’re reluctant to experience pain – fun is more enjoyable. I learned very early that I learned best when it was fun.

Future plans:
Leave the ESL program in better condition than when I first started at SLCC
I’m retiring in two more years. I came into the program very early, when program was young – it was pretty basic.

My significant other, Margie Lundberg, have been together for 21 years.

Gardening, biking, cross-country skiing and hiking