Richard Ostler and a panel of LGBTQ BYU-Idaho students spoke about embracing LGBTQ Latter-day Saints at the Romance Theater on April 30.
Their remarks concluded the I’ll Walk With You Rexburg meetings with previous speakers Ben Schilaty and Becky Mackintosh.
According to the I’ll Walk With You Rexburg Instagram page, the goal of these meetings was to help “the Rexburg community to build love and understanding for our LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters and friends.”
Ostler is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, author, and host of a podcast on embracing LGBTQ members. He opened his speech by recounting his first experience with a gay Latter-day Saint during his service as a young single adult bishop.
“It was the first time I listened to a gay person tell me about being gay,” Ostler said. “Everything I picked up about gay people was from straight people. Some of that was accurate, and some wasn’t. The Spirit invited me to a hard drive reset, where I wiped my hard drive clean of everything I’ve heard about this group.”
Ostler began his journey to better understand LGBTQ Latter-day Saints with a mindset of rescuing these LGBTQ people. Over time, however, that mindset shifted.
“They helped rescue me because of their contributions to help me see Christ in a better way, to learn empathy, compassion; to learn how people are walking on the margins and what we can do better to support people,” Ostler said. “We need our LGBTQ people in our families, in our congregations and in school settings. They have incredible insights into the doctrine of Christ — the ministry of Christ — to help us become a better people.”
On his podcast, Listen Learn and Love, Ostler interviews LGBTQ Latter-day Saints from all walks of life.
“I always invite people to follow church teachings,” Ostler said. “If someone feels their path is same-sex marriage, I will say I’ll walk with you. Not everybody needs to feel the same way about how you walk. Invite people to follow God’s teachings. Always do that, but don’t prescribe.”
Ostler closed his remarks by recognizing not everyone would agree with his ideas, beliefs and actions in relations with LGBTQ Latter-day Saints.
“You can be a loving wonderful Latter-day Saint and not feel the same about this space as everybody else feels,” Ostler says.
The meeting continued with a panel of Ostler and three LGBTQ students attending BYU-I. The following is a Q&A from that panel.
Q: How do you feel about labels?
Marcel Robinson, a student studying political science: I was talking to a professor who asked, “Why all the labels, we’re all children of God?” We’re all multifaceted individuals. I’m a black man. I’m gay. I’m Jamaican. Labels help us to find communities that help us to feel comfortable with ourselves. Labels can be life-saving as well.
Q: What’s one thing you wish people understood about being an LGBTQ student at BYU-Idaho?
Hunter Howell, a junior studying biomedical science: I think the biggest thing would be realizing that we are all individual people. Just because I’m LGBTQ doesn’t mean I don’t have a testimony or don’t have faith. It doesn’t mean that I do have faith and doesn’t mean that I do have a testimony. I think we need to realize that being LGBTQ is just one aspect of my life.
Maddy Maldonado, a student studying civil engineering: Understand that my gayness doesn’t negate my testimony.
Q: What special gifts do you have as a member of the LGBTQ community?
Maldonado: We’re just able to empathize and sympathize more with those who are closeted and those who are out. I believe it’s a little bit easier to sympathize with other non-LGBTQ topics such as sexual assault. It’s easier to empathize with people because of that. We understand what it’s like to kind of hide something like that. We understand what it’s like to feel that pain and have to continue day after day.
Q: If there was a button you could press to make you straight, would you press it?
Robinson: If you asked me 10 years ago, I would, but my reasoning behind that would not have been for myself. It would have been to make other people more comfortable with me. Now, I wouldn’t.
Howell: I’ve been through a lot of hard stuff because of my sexuality, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world because of the person that it has made me. It’s made me a lot more caring, a lot more kind, a lot more understanding. The friendships that it has given me — I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Ostler closed by sharing his thoughts with those who have struggled with embracing LGBTQ Latter-day Saints.
“If you’re regretful for something you’ve said, be kind to yourself tonight,” Ostler said. “Extend grace to yourself. We’re all just trying to do better. When we know better, we do better.”