Steven Wilson is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He joined the LDS Church about 13 years ago and has served in various church callings, including as an ordinance worker in the Oakland California Temple.
Wilson is also gay, and he has AIDS.
"The gospel has stretched my soul in ways I never would have thought it could, or never wanted it to," he says during the second part of his two-part interview with Steve Densley Jr. on FAIR Examination, the award-winning podcast from the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR).
FAIR is an independent research organization that embraces and supports LDS Church teachings and practices, but is not officially affiliated with the church.
Wilson's story comprises the first two elements of a seven-part FAIR Examination series of podcast interviews with Latter-day Saints who have been closely involved in same-gender attraction issues, either as parents, spouses or as those who experience same-gender attraction themselves.
The FAIR podcast can be heard at www.fairblog.org.
"What we typically see in the media leads us to believe that the only options for someone in the LDS Church who experiences same-gender attraction is to leave the church and engage in homosexual activity; to remain in the church, miserable and celibate; or to commit suicide," Densley said. "Steven Wilson goes against that stereotype. Before he joined the church he lived in homosexual relationships, developed addictions, contracted AIDS and became severely depressed. Since he joined the church 13 years ago, he says he is happier, he has overcome his addictions (which he attributes to the LDS Church's 12-step addiction recovery program) and he no longer is tempted by same-gender attraction."
"The atonement of Jesus Christ can and does change people," Wilson says during the second part of his podcast interview. He references a Book of Mormon scripture, Mosiah 7:33, that says that if people will "turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage."
"I'm far from perfect — the Lord knows that," Wilson says. "I just know that I'm much happier now than I was when I was fighting all of my inner demons."
And while Wilson still has AIDS and "is under no illusion that a commitment to the gospel will remove all trials and hardships from this life," Densley said, the AIDS-related dementia that Wilson was previously experiencing has dissipated.
"I'm grateful for all this," Wilson says. "If I didn't have this disease, I wouldn't have learned the things I've learned. I wouldn't know that God lives, that Jesus suffered for my sins, that God speaks to living prophets.
"When you realize that everyone is a brother or a sister, you can't help but be changed."
Although Wilson's story is unusual, Densley said that one of the things he has learned while working on this series is that it isn't unique.
"We often hear that it is impossible to change one's sexual orientation," Densley said. "I was surprised to find that many people report that they have.
"At the same time," he continued, "it is also clear that not everyone who wants to change does, despite their best efforts. What I have learned, though, is that there are many in the church who continue to experience same sex attraction, and yet are fully active, temple-worthy and happy members of the church."
In the podcast and on the FAIR blog page, Densley cites "information from LDS Family Social Services" suggesting "in the average LDS ward there are 4-5 members who experience same sex attraction, most of whom are married with children."
One such person is Samantha, an active, temple-married mother of two who has lived with same sex attraction since her early teens. In her podcast interview, she talks about what it was like coming of age while feeling same sex attraction, and how family and ward members can help lift the burden of someone who is wrestling with these issues.
"The church is not hostile toward people with same gender attraction," Densley said. "It simply teaches that sexual relations should only be shared between a man and woman who are married to each other. This law of chastity applies to homosexual and heterosexual people alike. Single members of the church are expected to abstain from sex regardless of their sexual orientation. And married people are expected to remain faithful to their spouses, even if they feel strong temptations toward people to whom they are not married.
"The mere fact that we are tempted," Densley adds, "does not mean that we have no choice but to submit."
Additional installments of the FAIR Examination series on homosexuality among Latter-day Saints will focus on the others who have been able to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation, as well as the varying perspective of parents with children who are involved in homosexual relationships, wives whose spouses struggle with same sex attraction and therapists who work with clients who deal with SSA feelings.