It’s Different This Time

D Fletcher is a musician, actor, and friend. Cross-posted from his personal blog.

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.

Comments

  1. YES. This must be shouted from the rooftops.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. There has been a shift. Devastating in so many ways.

  3. Thanks, D.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you, D. Although we have never met, all my friends love you, so I love you, too.

  5. So sorry, D. Thank you for writing this.

  6. D. I’ve never met you, but the time I heard you play I was absolutely transported to a place where the melodies of Mormon hymns made my heart soar with love about our wonderful peculiar universe expanding religion.

    So now I’m crying.

  7. I’m in tears.

  8. Seriously, thank you for writing this.

  9. Really interesting and moving; thanks for the very personal experience.

  10. D. Thanks for your life of service. I mourn with you and pray for you and all who are impacted by the policy. It was a great blessing in my life to be sacrament meeting chorister with you at the organ for a short time in the mid 1980’s in Manhattan. I will never forget walking into the chapel one Sunday and finally figuring out that the prelude music was variations on a theme to “Some Enchanted Evening.” My prayers are for all at this deeply challenging time.

  11. Thanks for putting a human face on this problem.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story. It was hopeful, endearing and triumphant right up to the last line. That marvelous story brings the last line into even sharper focus. If you’re still in contact with that wise, loving bishop please tell him I love him and that he inspires me. If he were still a bishop I wonder if he would among those considering resigning from the callings. Be well, friend. I love you.

  13. Thank you for sharing this.

  14. jesselund86 says:

    This put me in tears too. There are lots of things to love about that ward, but hearing you play the organ has been, without question, my favorite part.

  15. I don’t know if anyone else has made this connection yet, but the PR nightmare for the church is about to get worse.

    BYU plays football at Missouri this week. Do I need to connect the dots?

    On the one hand you have a football team that has just taken a firm, public stand against discrimination and bigotry. On the other, you have a team from a school owned by a church that has a checkered past when it comes to its treatment of members of the African race and now has decided to target the children of same-sex couples.

  16. Heidi Naylor says:

    Brother Fletcher, I’m heartbroken at last week’s news, and my prayer is that the policy will change. God bless you for sharing your story, which is inspiring to me as a person who has loved the faith for decades. I hope I don’t overreach in saying please, please choose to stay. We need you.

  17. The Manhattan Stake is a special refuge. I treasure every chance I get to attend services there. I’m so grateful that these safe spaces exist, and so heartbroken that that they are being undermined in this way. Godspeed, Brother Fletcher.

  18. Thank you, D, for all you are and all you share with so many. I recently watched the youtube video of Fauniel Gleason Purcell singing your exquisite arrangement of “Weepin’ Mary.” The music is piercing and perfect, her voice is phenomenal and the message is the prayer I’ve been humming for months now. It seems all the more poignant and powerful today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmRDKytIL8k

  19. If the church function in Radio City Music Hall you are referring to was a Bi-Regional Conference in 1992 or so, I sang in that choir as a 14-year-old who couldn’t get baptized because my father wouldn’t consent. I remember the conference as a really wonderful thing, and participating in the music was a source of great joy. Thank you for your contribution to that.

    Its a wondrous thing for the Church to connect people across geography and time.

  20. All the love in the world to you, D. Deepest thanks are due for your sharing your story with us. It enriches us collectively and individually.

  21. Much love to you. My prayers are with you. Like Heidi, I don’t want to overreach because I have no context from which to understand your position, but if I can say it, please stay. I’m so sorry.

  22. This post meant so much to me….

  23. D, you bring the spirit to every meeting you play in. My only complaint is I’ll sometimes get choked up during a rest hymn or closing hymn, and get all congested right before I have to go teach a gospel doctrine lesson.

    Also, on a more serious note, the idea of a handbook policy impacting your place in our ward family is unfathomable to me. Utterly.

  24. Thank you, D, for sharing your story, and for providing the soundtrack to all those Manhattan 1 meetings.

  25. I was in Manhattan for work a few weeks ago and went to the Manhattan First Ward. They had the most incredible organist. I saw him as I was leaving and told him how much I appreciated his beautiful playing. I don’t know if that was you, or another brother who shares your gift.

    Either way, this post is also a gift, even if it is primarily one of pain instead of beauty. Still, thank you for sharing it.

  26. I realized that I started my “break” From church about a year ago, with my bishop’s blessing. I think he was glad to have me and my feminist bent out of his ward, and journalism research was a reason he could get behind.

    Yesterday was the final day of the hearing that research started for, and I have spent much of the last week considering resigning my membership. I have found moments of transcendence in other church congregations, and moment of peaceful insight into the temple.

    I wish I could say that there is an obvious answer to the questions that are raised by this change, but the only one that comes to me, is that I cannot go back now. Whether I resign my membership or not, I have not been missed by my ward during the year I was gone. No home or visiting teacher has contacted me. The only contacts have been from families who know I am involved in the Gender Sexuality Alliance, and who have anot LGBTQIA student, who needs help. I have sat up many nights over the last year, (and had many lunch and coffee dates) listening to the tears and heartache of young people who feel abandoned by the LDS church. I have taken them to GSA meetings. I have arranged for them meet with Trans mentors, and with happily married gay couples. I am a bridge that is needed, but not by my ward, and not by the institutional church. This is different in so many ways.

  27. Sacrament in Manhattan is one in a million because of your talent. Thank you for everything!

  28. Carter Mackley says:

    D, it gives me a lot of joy to learn that you have been playing the organ in church all of these years. You certainly blessed my life when I was in the Manhattan First Ward (85 to 88). We need you. We love you. It pains me to know that someone who wants to be numbered with the Church would be excluded. The social changes that have taken place in the last few years have been striking and unprecedented. Stay in our face, and give us more time to work this out.

  29. I cried as I read about that good bishop dressing the young man in his temple clothes for burial. I want to see more of that kind of compassion and charity in my LDS experience. But sadly, I am so ashamed of my church, torn apart trying to make sense of this un-Christian “policy” that contradicts our “doctrine.” Exhausted from trying to silo eternal gospel truth from man-made church error, or cultural bias from institutional policy. I am so tired. May God help us all and strengthen you, D. I am sorry that this time is different for us both.

  30. As a long-time member of the Manhattan stake, I want to thank you for your service to our community. My family and I have benefitted from you sharing your gift with us at innumerable events over the years. You have enriched our worship experience and touched our souls. You will be deeply missed. Wishing you love and peace on your journey ahead. And I hope our paths cross again. I understand if you don’t feel comfortable under the new circumstances to participate in the church as you have in the recent past. But I hope you know that MANY of us would be thrilled to see you again. Godspeed, my dear brother.

  31. Among all the stories illustrating the ill effects of this policy change, this one has me reaching critical mass to speak up. I don’t see how we can respond in this way, not only to this brother’s lifetime of service, but to his lifetime of devotion despite fielding regular but unpredictable bigotry for his efforts. And do this to thousands of others who have waged similar struggles over their lifetimes.

    This is a vindictive, destructive policy; it does not interpret our doctrine correctly, and it makes us into a bad people. Before this, I had modest hopes for us; for our future as disciples. But now, even though this is *only* policy and will likely change, the damage has been done and it’s terrible like an earthquake. I don’t want to belong to those who execute these earthquakes.

    I know exactly what he means when he says “It’s different, this time.”

  32. Thank you D. for your lifetime of service and generosity. And for being so patient with everything, and with all of us. 100 years (and dozens of handbook editions) from now, your beautiful compositions will still be performed at Mormon services around the world. You are truly a rare genius and a treasure for the ages.

    If anyone reading this is unfamiliar with D.’s music, start by listening to this recording of “Weepin’ Mary”. (The people making the recording rather embarrassingly did not credit D. as the composer, which D. noted in the comments.)

    This is the perfect song for anybody who is struggling with doubts and pain right now. That is precisely what the song is about. But if you’re not crying by the end, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

  33. Thank you for opening your heart up to us. I’m a better person for having read your post.

  34. Thanks for sharing your story. Thank you for blessing the body of Christ with your talents for all of these years. I’m trying hard to have some hope that our community can eventually come out of this catastrophe of a policy with a healthier, more realistic view of our leaders and institution, and with more genuine compassion and love for all. There is not much to support that hope at the moment.

  35. Well we don’t have to agree with this policy and I say we don’t have to stand for it! I think the membership should “gird up their loins” and make their distaste for this policy known. There was once a man who preached that following the presiding priesthood authority even if they were wrong was plain stupid. He even compared it to slavery. Who was the man that preached such things? You got it. Joseph Smith Jr. Don’t believe it? You can look it up yourself. It’s all on-line at BYU. Here it is:
    “We have heard men that hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything that they were told to do by those who preside over them (even) if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent human beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When the Elders of Isarael will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong.themselves.”
    —Joseph Smith Jr., Millennial Star, Vol. 14, Num.38, pp.594

  36. Marie, Joseph Smith did not say those words. It is from an editorial in the Millennial Star, but the editor at the time (1852) was Samuel W. Richards. Joseph Smith had been dead for years before this was written.

  37. D, I’m so sorry for the pain this past week has caused you. For the twenty-seven years my family has lived here in New York City, you have been one of the brightest parts of our Church worship and experience — even though we haven’t been in the same ward for nearly two decades. You are almost synonymous with Mormon music in New York. And I hope and pray that remains true for the rest of my life.

    I, too, benefited from the discernment of Bishop Bill Cottam. Why he thought to trust a geeky newcomer to NYC over a dozen nearly-perfect law students who arrived at the same time I have no idea. But what I do think that your and my experience shows is that local leaders must have flexibility to mold Church policy to the needs of members, even if that does result in “local leader roulette.”

    I do know that there ARE local leaders here in New York City who care about you and who will help and support you. I hope and pray that is enough.

  38. Well Steve, thanks for the clarification. Whoever said it spoke a great truth.

  39. Beautiful, heartbreaking. Thank you

  40. D, your talent brings the spirit unlike any organist I have ever heard. I enjoyed hearing you play during my time in Manhattan. This post brought me to tears and I feel heartbroken that a policy like this is making things different for you. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s important.

  41. Your words fill my soul. Thank you.

  42. D. Fletcher 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.

  43. D, thank you so much for adding your story here. Gay church members exist and have loved this gospel and contributed so much. It’s important to hear these stories and to add a face to this problem. It’s different this time. Hopefully, it’s a turning point. It can be.

  44. Awesome blog my friend. Not hard to read at all!

  45. Molly Bennion says:

    Thank you for sharing your heartbreaking story. Stories like yours and the protests of all who mourn must find their way into every crevice of Mormonism.

  46. If you’re not a writer you should be. That was beautifully written, if sad.

  47. “How many [homosexuals] want to be part of The Church, the gospel, the culture?” Or “How many LGBT parents want to have their kids be a part of The Church, the gospel, the culture?”

    I have been asked these (arguably dismissive) questions by Latter-day Saints, Mormons, MoNoMos, and NeverMos more times than I can count this week. My answer has been this: How many would there have to be to constitute enough?

    I’m so grateful to you D Fletcher, whoever you are, for having shared your story. I’m adding it to my feed now.

  48. Morris Thurston says:

    I am sad beyond words.

  49. D. Fletcher (and MikeInWeHo), I have appreciated so much your comments over the years that add a perspective I would otherwise not have on issues such as this. It has allowed me to put a name (if not a face) to complex issues, and broadened my understanding in so many ways. I have sat in SS classes where these issues have come up in an uncharitable fashion and thought about you playing the organ out in NY and how that would add to the spirit of the conversation if those making comments could just hear your music, or I’ve thought “what would MikeInWeHo say?” that would add context to this discussion and change the tone.

    Like you said in your post, this this is an awkward attempt to get across what what I want to say, so I’ll just say “thank you” and hope that says it all.

  50. Yes, it is different this time, D., for you at least. But there is another “tribe” of gays and lesbians with a rich history and community too, which has made the loss of the church okay for me. But, also, this may be the beginning of a new chapter of spiritual awareness, as it was for me once I left.

  51. Sunny Larson says:

    In the early ’90s my husband and I lived in Manhattan for a short time. D. Fletcher probably has no idea who I am, but I know who he is. I will never forget his playing (I think it was his arrangement) of “The Spirit of God” accompanied by the choir and congregation. It was as though angels were singing and St. Peter was pounding away on the heavenly organ. I don’t know if I have ever felt the Spirit more strongly in my life. I was transported by that sublime music and my husband and I both had tears in our eyes as we sang our hearts out. D. Fletcher opened the windows of heaven with his music. I’m so sorry for your pain and so grateful for the joy you share.

  52. morganmoore says:

    D- some of my most spiritual experiences in this ward have been directly related to you and the incredible spirit you bring to every meeting. Strangers come to our ward and sob and can’t get through singing the hymns (myself included). I can’t wrap my brain around all the recent changes in the church right now but I hope you know how much you are loved by our entire congregation and no one is labeling you as anything but completely amazing and wonderful. Xoxo

  53. Aaron Brown says:

    Thank you, D. I visited Manhattan a few weeks back. I wonder if that was you playing the organ. I didn’t think to introduce myself. I wish I had.

    Aaron B

  54. D Fletcher, your music and gifts bring me hope and help me feel closer to Jesus. You have helped me when the Church felt like a stumbling block on my path to seeking God. Please know that you are cherished, appreciated, and loved by other members. And that so so many of us feel deeply this is wrong, not of God, and a hurtful terrible mistake. Thank you for your music, your service, your voice.

  55. kevin gollaher says:

    Thank you, D. I enjoyed your well focused writing even though you said that you are “not a writer.” It seems you have spoken for many.

  56. D., you made us (Manahi and me) cry, twice over. We love you. We love our church. We love all our friends and family, gay, straight and in between. It has been a bad week.

  57. Branden Berns says:

    D – we left New York nearly a year ago and most weeks while sitting in sacrament meeting I think to myself, “I wish D were here to play.” Of the spiritual experiences that I have had over the last several years, singing Onward Christian Soldiers to your accompaniment on a number of separate occasions are genuinely among the most memorable and moving. It’s a favorite hymn of mine and when you play it, I can feel your spirit and testimony speaking through the notes. Know that throughout my life, whenever I hear that hymn, I will always be reminded of you and powerful Spirit that you brought into the Lincoln Square building chapel and into my heart.
    Warm regards, BCB

  58. D – You made the meeting most weeks, and we will forever be grateful for the sacrifices that you have made to stay in the church. I hope that can continue to be true or else there will certainly be an unfillable hole left behind.

  59. Diane Stewart says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. The Church is so much better with you, and the members are better for their association with you. When we attended the Manhattan Ward and enjoyed your talents of playing the organ or piano, and your musical arrangements, we felt supremely blessed each Sunday! The new “policy” is supremely flawed and such an injustice, not to mention hurtful. I have no explanation or defense. But, I must express my gratitude for your patience with such a difficult situation….and your wonderful spirit of kindness and sharing.

  60. I don’t know if anyone else has made this connection yet, but the PR nightmare for the church is about to get worse.

    BYU plays football at Missouri this week. Do I need to connect the dots?

    On the one hand you have a football team that has just taken a firm, public stand against discrimination and bigotry. On the other, you have a team from a school owned by a church that has a checkered past when it comes to its treatment of members of the African race and now has decided to target the children of same-sex couples.

    Wait, you thought a football team would have an issue with how other people are treating homosexuals?

  61. Bryan, I didn’t think Missouri’s football team would care that much; rather, I thought this is something the media would pick up on. But, unless I missed something, I apparently was mistaken since I saw nothing in the press that spotlighted the issue in the context of this game.

  62. Clark Goble says:

    Bryan, the football team nearly didn’t play us due to a “walkout” by the football team over racial issues on campus. (Missouri’s campus not BYU) Also scheduling games may simply become much harder if students or administration start pressuring the athletic directors on the issue.

  63. I was just pointing out that the fact that football players care about racial bigotry does not mean they care about homosexual bigotry. Last I heard, the acceptance of homosexual marriage among Blacks was not that high and something like 69% of the Mizzou team is black. Add the fact that these are football players who have a history of homophobia in general. I didn’t see much of a chance of the team raising a issue with the football game.

  64. Edit:
    “Add the fact that these are football players who have a history of homophobia in general.”

    What I should have said was the football players in general have a history of homophobia. I know nothing about these individual football players and their views, just that they a members of a larger group of football players who have a historical stereotype of homophobia.

  65. Clark Goble says:

    Bryan I just raised it to note that in the future as they becomes normative (and change is happening faster than any prior social change I can recall) we can expect football teams to start doing similar things on gay/gender issues.

  66. Good point, Clark. BYU sports ran into serious scheduling issues with other schools in the 1970s before the church lifted the priesthood ban. It wouldn’t be surprising if they begin to experience similar problems with respect to gay marriage and gender issues.

  67. The University of Missouri had one the the first publicly gay football players in major college football. Michael Sam came out in 2013 to his teammates (he graduated in 2014) and he reported that his teammates were supportive (as was the university). Just saying.

  68. Robert Bennett says:

    Thank you!

  69. Eve of Destruction says:

    FarSide, it’s kind of a niche outlet, but outsports.com is covering BYU’s stance. There’s also a change.org petition circulating via social media, asking the NCAA to get involved. Looks like it hit 4,000 signatures last week.

  70. D. Fletcher says:

    My current bishop, who is a saint, told me today he plans to do nothing, until told otherwise. I’ll continue to be active in my ward.

    I’ve been re-published on the Affirmation website:
    http://affirmation.org/its-different-this-time/

  71. morganmoore says:

    I’m so glad we still get to see you every week D! Also I hope you know how much you are loved!