Richard Ostler served three years as the bishop of a Mormon congregation for young single adults.
His Magna congregation was primarily heterosexual men and women, but there were a handful of lesbians and gays among the flock. That demographic breakdown was hardly unique, but it marked a turning point for the father of six.
“My whole life, straight people have told me how to feel about LGBTQ people and I wondered how much homophobia was inside of me because I let them define that,” he said Wednesday. “I decided to wipe my hard drive clean.”
As a bishop, Ostler spent time listening, not judging, the LGBTQ members under his wing. ”To hear their stories firsthand,” he said, “changed me.”
When his church assignment neared its end in 2016, Ostler wanted to continue offering support. That’s why he formed Listen, Learn & Love, a Mormon LGBTQ support organization.
The group is not affiliated with the Mormon church, but its website is a clearinghouse of resources for members. Parents, families, LGBTQ individuals and lay leaders can get information about organizations, therapists, crisis services, articles, books and Facebook groups. It also includes stories, blogs and podcasts.
Earlier this year, Ostler began offering free, 90-minute seminars on “How You Can Be a Good Mormon and Support, Love and Accept LGBTQ People.”
The next event is June 5 at 7 p.m. at the SCERA Center for the Arts, 745 State St., Orem. Register at eventbrite.com and search “Richard Ostler.“ Or go to the link at http://www.listenlearnandlove.org/events.
Listen, Learn & Love is one of several grass-roots groups — including Mormons Building Bridges and Affirmation — seeking to enhance ties between the LGBTQ and LDS communities.
Ostler said many Mormons want to love and accept the LGBTQ community, without feeling as if they have crossed the line of church teachings.
It’s an achievable goal.
After all, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that being gay is not a sin, only acting on same-sex attraction is.
While the Utah-based faith views Mormons in same-sex unions as “apostates” and denies their children baptism until they turn 18, it has generally sounded a more conciliatory tone toward LGBTQ members in recent years.
“Even if they are outside the teachings of the church,” Ostler said of LGBTQ individuals, “they are not outside the circle of humanity.”
Ostler points to comments by top LDS leaders about striving for a balance of “love and law” in accepting gay members, even while upholding marriage between one man and one woman.
Mormons have many questions about how to behave with LBGTQ people, from “Should we attend a gay wedding?” to “Can I like a post on Instagram?”
The answer on both counts, of course, is yes. While that may seem obvious to many Latter-day Saints, Ostler said, such questions pose real dilemmas for others.
“We talk about some of the things you can do — and should do — as a fellow human being.”