Alanna Farnsworth had no one to talk to when her son told her he was gay.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Farnsworth wanted to discuss this new development with other LDS parents of children who had come out as gay.
She gained renewed hope Saturday while listening to Emily Pearson discuss her experiences and own ideas about staying true to yourself despite sexual identity.
Pearson's mother, Carolyn Pearson, is the author of "Goodbye, I Love You," which tells the story of her marriage to a gay Mormon man.
"I was on the whole church bandwagon about homosexuals," said Farnsworth, a Vermont woman who visited Salt Lake City on Saturday for the Affirmation Conference, an annual series of forums and lectures for gay and lesbian Mormons.
"I didn't believe it was right," she said. "But suddenly, my son, who's my most spiritual child, shares with me that he's gay. I know his heart. I went looking for as many stories about gay LDS men as possible."
Many LDS and former LDS men and women shared their experiences growing up in the church and their struggles to accept the church's position of denouncing same-sex marriage while being true to their own beliefs.
Pearson described herself as "very Mormon" growing up, which made for a difficult reconciliation since her gay father died from AIDS, and her ex-husband later identified himself as gay.
"You're taught that anything outside the structure of Mormonism isn't right," Pearson said. "The idea of a God that makes you jump through hoops, that says you're not supposed to be gay, is just wrong. The truth is, not only does God not care, but he loves each and every one of us."
Pearson left the LDS Church awhile ago after what she called an epiphany in which she "gripped her desk at work," realizing that people have to follow what's in their heart, not what those around them tell them to do.
Pearson's advice that gay and lesbian Mormons have to be "Mormon on their own terms" struck a chord with several listeners.
Willy Star Marshall, a gay man who traveled from Big Water in Kane County for the conference, said he's thought about returning to the church. But just as Pearson advised, Marshall said he would want it to be on his own terms.
"I do know some people who've done that, but it's a hard idea after so many years," he said. "Orthodox Mormons would disagree, but you really do have to be Mormon on your own terms. The things you're not comfortable with, you have to let them go."
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