June 20th, 2012 by admin
Currently the president of Brigham Young University’s Understanding Same Gender Attraction club, Bridey Jensen has spent her college years coming to terms with the fact that she is gay. Although she’s suffered through years of struggle and depression, Bridey now feels more confident and loved by God than she ever has before.
Growing up, how did you come to terms with your sexuality within the context of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
I was born into the Church–both my parents and grandparents are members, and I have Mormon pioneer ancestors. I didn’t start understanding what I was feeling until I was about fourteen or fifteen years old. When I was thirteen, we had a missionary fireside for the youth. We asked the missionaries about some of the issues that nonmembers have with the Church. Somebody asked, “I have a friend who is a homosexual. What does the Church say in regards to that? Where in the scriptures can I send them?” I think the missionary was kind of joking in his response, but he didn’t answer with very much tact. He said, “Just tell them that they’re an abomination because that’s what the scriptures say.” I left the fireside that night thinking that that was the Church’s stance on homosexuality.
Growing up, I felt that I really stood out. The group of girls in my Young Women’s class were really into boys. They would do the weirdest things all of the time for boys. I understood that girls were supposed to like guys, but I didn’t get it. I went to my mom and told her that I wasn’t like these girls, and I didn’t understand why. It frustrated me because I felt like I didn’t fit in. My mom told me that I would like boys one day. So, I thought that one day it would be okay. In high school I started to have romantic feelings for women. I had a hyperawareness of women–more so than any of my friends. I wondered what it would be like to kiss certain women, and I would think, “She’s really beautiful.” Then I would think, “I’m not supposed to be thinking that!” I can’t describe how much I hated that I felt that way. I tried to hide it. I didn’t have the words to describe what I felt. At one point I was the Young Women’s Laurel class president, and all of the moms would come up to me and tell me how much they loved me. I would always thank them while thinking, “You wouldn’t be saying that if you knew what I was.”
I thought the only place I would be accepted was what I understood at the time to be the “gay scene” or “gay lifestyle,” which I thought consisted of bars, drinking, drugs, and promiscuity. Because of this, I thought, “I can’t be gay. I’m not like that. I don’t want that kind of life.” It really scared me. By the time I was seventeen years old, I still hadn’t told a single person about my sexuality. I was terrified to even pray about it. During my senior year in high school, I started to push away from the Church; I thought that would be easier on myself and on my family. I kept attending church, but internally I disconnected myself from spiritual things. I would go to church but I didn’t want to be there. When my friends would go out and party, I would go with them. My parents didn’t know what was going on inside of me. We fought almost every night, and I would just scream, “You don’t understand!”
The first person I came out to was my best friend in high school. I told her that I was sexually attracted to women. She told me to stop. She started asking me a lot of questions and concluded that I had homosexual feelings because I had a weak testimony of the Church.
What was your experience like when you started college at Brigham Young University (BYU)?
I came to BYU feeling really scared that I would be found out. I decided I wouldn’t go to church and wouldn’t talk to people. Nobody would know me there. I mentally prepared myself to be alone and friendless. I thought I could go through life like that, and nobody would hate me because of my sexuality.
As a freshman, I had one of the bubbliest roommates. One day she found me crying before church started–I didn’t want to go. She asked me what was wrong, and I told her, “I think I’m gay. I don’t always feel like going to church, and that’s really hard for me. I don’t know what to do.” She said, “I love you. I don’t know what to do, but I love you.” She suggested I go talk to the bishop. When I went to talk to the bishop, I told him I was scared and that I thought I might be gay. I told him I was afraid that I would be kicked out of BYU. My bishop said, “That’s not true. If you haven’t acted on it in any way, then you’re fine. You’re just like anybody else here at BYU who hasn’t acted on their feelings.” That was the first time that I realized I could still be a good Mormon and have this trial in my life.
I hit a lot of roadblocks throughout the rest of my time at BYU. I kept trying to go to church but I would get really discouraged when I didn’t feel the Spirit or when I realized I didn’t have a strong testimony about something. A year or so after I talked with my bishop, I got so depressed I could barely get out of bed. I hated myself. I would pray, “God, please take this away from me. Please change me. If I read my scriptures every day, if I pray every day, if I fast every day, if I go to the temple as much as I can…what will it take for You to take this away?”
I decided I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I obviously couldn’t stand in the middle of Brigham Square and shout, “I’m gay, and I’m lonely and suicidal! Someone talk to me!” I searched everywhere on the internet; I don’t think I did my homework for three or four weeks. I found a group called Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA) on an obscure blog post. That post led me to several links until I found USGA again on BYU’s 100-hour board. Someone had written on the board, saying, “I’m a lesbian but I’ve also been a member of the Church my whole life. I don’t want to be alone. Is there a place for me here at BYU?” My friend Brandon, who was the president of USGA at the time, responded, “We just started this group and it meets at this time and on this day and in this place. You should come!” I read this and thought, “I’m not alone.” I went to the USGA meeting, and there were about twelve people there. It was a breakthrough moment for me. I didn’t even talk the entire first meeting. I just sat there and listened. The members of the group were saying things that I had felt; I thought I was the only one who had felt those things. It was amazing to not feel alone anymore. Afterwards, I ran home and said to my roommate, “I found them!” I just sat there and cried because I wasn’t alone anymore.
Eventually, Brandon and I started talking to sociology classes on campus about being gay and Mormon at BYU. The first time was absolutely terrifying. Afterwards everyone was very accepting. A girl from my freshman dorm was there and said, “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.” We ended up visiting six or seven classes every semester.
Can you tell me more about your involvement with USGA?
USGA was started by Brandon and a small group of his friends, and I am now the acting president. The club is for BYU students but it’s not sponsored by BYU. We have our meetings on campus and the administration is okay with that. The club is available for students who want to talk about being gay and Mormon. We wish more straight students would come as it’s not just a support group. We say, “If you have questions, come ask us. If you have relatives that are dealing with this, come talk to us. Use us as a resource.” We try to talk about the issues we don’t understand. We always bring in some sort of spiritual component. I think what makes us different is the fact that we all want to stay in the Church and believe that God needs to be with us, God needs to lead us. One day we talked about revelation and faith, and it turned into a testimony meeting. People talked about the moment they realized that things were going to be okay. Many had stopped asking God, “Please make me straight,” and instead asked, “God, what do you want me to do?” They felt peace. In one way or another they had a confirmation that God is okay with them exactly the way they are.
How do people generally react when they find out you’re attracted to women?
I don’t expect a lot of people to feel perfectly fine about my homosexuality. I don’t expect people to be okay with it immediately. Everyone has to go through their own process. Generally, though, people have exceeded my expectations. I did have trouble with some roommates at BYU. I was featured in a book called Gay Mormons? by Brent Kirby that goes a little bit more into my personal life. Before I moved in, my roommates Googled my name and read my section of the book. One of my roommates kind of flipped out. She wouldn’t come home if I was there. She tried to move out. She reported me to the landlord, BYU Housing, and the Honor Code Office. None of the roommates liked it when my friends came over and openly talked about homosexuality. I felt depressed and considered suicide. I always feared that people would hate me or hate this part of me that I didn’t even ask for. I thought, “The only way my roommates will stop hating me is if I stop being gay. But I’ve tried that before, and it doesn’t work. The only way to stop being gay is to kill myself.” In my mind, that was a legitimate path. It was horrible.
You are so confident now! How have you arrived at a place in your life where you don’t let that kind of negativity affect you?
Getting involved in USGA really helped me. Seeing how much I was making a difference in other people’s lives helped me get my energy back. Some things had to change inside of me. I don’t feel afraid of telling people now. I’m okay with who I am, and I’m okay with how I feel. It’s this newfound freedom. That’s taken me the better part of a decade to figure out. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t imagine feeling any other way, as if some part of me would be gone. Going through this has shaped me so much. I can’t imagine it being different. I still struggle with some things: I still feel like I don’t have a place at church. I don’t know how I fit in there. I know I want a family; I don’t how to explain that. I’m 23 years old so I don’t think I need to explain everything right now.
What would you like to see change in regards to how we as Mormons approach homosexuality?
I love the Church. I love the gospel, and I love what it represents. I love Christ and the fact that we have someone to follow. When I go to church I don’t always see that. I often don’t feel like there’s a place for me. I don’t feel that being gay should be a shameful thing. I would love to see a change in the way people talk about homosexuality in the Church, including the way people treat it and the way they act. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing for someone to say, “I’m dealing with this in my life. I’m dealing with the fact that I’m gay, and I don’t know how that fits in with the plan that the Church has.” It’s a struggle feeling like you don’t have a space in the Church or in God’s plan because of who you are internally. That is a lonely, lonely place to be. I’m trying to change this culture of shame in part through USGA. Let’s get over our judgments and realize that we’re here to go through hard things so that we can become like our Heavenly Father, and we’re here together so that we can help each other through those hard things. We are all children of God, and we should embrace and support each other no matter what.
At A Glance
Bridey Colleen Jensen
Interview by Krisanne Hastings. Photos used with permission.