By Marsha Aizumi
Last month, Aiden and I were asked to speak to about 40 Mormon Church leaders. Aiden said that he was “supernervous.” I was nervous, too, but I felt like this was an opportunity to reach people who could become allies.
The reason we were so nervous is because the Mormon Church was said to be the reason Proposition 8, the California proposition that outlawed gay marriage, passed. They raised $5 million a few weeks before the election. And according to a New York Times article, “The money allowed the drive to intensify a sharp-elbowed advertising campaign, and support for the measure was catapulted ahead; it ultimately won with 52 percent of the vote.”
You can see why we thought we might be walking into an intense situation. But times change, and people can change, too. I think I am proof of that. I used to think that being LGBTQ was a choice. Now, I know it isn’t. Plus, Aiden and I have to seize opportunities that will give us a chance to change hearts and minds. So, we accepted their invitation a bit uneasy, but hopeful that this event could make a difference to not only the LGBTQ community, but also the Mormon community as well.
I posted some things on Facebook about this speaking engagement, which got a huge response. Some people messaged me to “be careful,” and others were cautiously supportive, saying things like:
“Thanks for having this important dialogue between the LGBTQ community and the Mormon Church. I wish you and Aiden good luck and am praying for you.”
“Good luck. I hope you can open their hearts.”
Driving over to the event, Aiden shared that he actually reached out to a friend who was a Mormon to see what she thought.
She told Aiden that she left the Mormon Church because of their teachings. … Not a good sign.
However, the person who invited us is the president of a Mormon Stake. A stake is a group of wards or congregations in a specific geographical area. His stake is located in the Long Beach, Calif., area and consists of seven wards.
Emerson and his wife, Darci, are genuinely loving and kind people. If we hadn’t known they were Mormon, we would have accepted their invitation without hesitancy. That is when I realized that I was making a judgment about them because of their religion.
It reminded me how my parents were classified “the enemy” during World War II just because they were Japanese, even though they were Americans. So, when I walked into the church to speak, I decided that no matter what, I was going to bring an open heart and not worry about what was going to happen.
Emerson and Darci were there to greet us. They had a beautiful lei for Aiden and an elegant floral arrangement for me that I could take home. Fancy cupcakes were arranged on another table. Everything had the touch of warmth and welcome.
As Aiden and I went through our presentation, I saw tears run down the faces of many, especially when I talked about our rejection from the church. Of course, when Aiden spoke, there were many moments of laughter. His delivery is relaxed, humble and lighter than mine. We complement each other well.
After our presentation, hands were raised, as people wanted to ask questions. All the questions were for Aiden. People wanted to understand his thoughts and what he hoped for. Everyone was respectful and compassionate.
The final person to raise his or her hand did not ask a question, but shared an impression. She said based on all that Aiden had gone through, she was so impressed that there was not a shred of bitterness or anger. Instead, what she felt was a confident, kind and humble human being.
As I watched this interaction happen between her and Aiden, I felt so much gratitude that Aiden did not choose to be angry and bitter, but he chose to find all the things to be grateful for — and that is what created the person he is today.
To close out the evening, Emerson presented Aiden with a bracelet that had the letters “CTR,” which stood for “choose the right.” Choosing the right seemed so appropriate, since Aiden had chosen to do things that were right and just, in spite of all the discrimination and rejection that he had faced.
For the longest time, Aiden had worn a bracelet that had the letters “WWJD,” which stood for “What Would Jesus So.” When he was rejected by the church, he never wore the bracelet again.
Emerson said that when he heard the story about the “WWJD” bracelet, he wanted to give Aiden something that would replace that negative experience. It was a beautiful gesture filled with grace and compassion.
Ironically, some of the awareness that I walked away with from that evening came from Brené Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness,” which was recommended by Darci. In Brené’s book, she says, “People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.”
Aiden and I moved in, and it has changed our feelings about the Mormon Church.
I no longer judge all Mormons to be homophobic. And I hope the Mormon leaders who met us that night have changed their feelings about what it means to be transgender.
Emerson talks about a spirit that surrounds us and our work together. I feel it, too. I think it is love.
“Small things done with great love will change the world.”
— Mother Teresa
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and the author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”