After Coming Out, Gay Mormon Finds Support At Home
Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
Jamison Manwaring came out to extended family and his church community last spring in a YouTube video. More than 20,000 people have watched it since.
Coming out wasn't easy, because Manwaring is a Mormon. According to the church, having homosexual feelings is not a sin, but acting upon them is.
When NPR's Rachel Martin spoke to Manwaring for a Sunday Conversation in March, his immediate family had known he was gay for several years. Now Manwaring, a resident of Salt Lake City, is finding a measure of support within his own church, but he speculates that he might not feel as welcome further out in the suburbs or in smaller Utah towns.
"I live right in the city," he says. "I need my church community, and so I'm glad I can be fully gay, fully out at church."
A federal court in Utah ruled Friday that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Gay couples inundated the Salt Lake City County Clerk's office, seeking marriage licenses.
Manwaring says if he had seen images such as those in the news Friday — of gay Utah couples marrying in the lobby and hallways — when he was younger, it would have helped him feel less alone. But he doesn't think changing the law will completely solve the problem for others.
"The bigger issue for me was not knowing anybody who was gay who was happy, healthy, ambitious and looked up to by the community," he told NPR's Rachel Martin. "That's something that changes by the culture, not by law. I think that this change helps with that, but I hope that the hearts of people change with it."
His parents have given him lots of love, even if they haven't fully supported his gay lifestyle, Manwaring says. But his siblings have been very supportive. His brother Jonathan and his wife Rachel, who have become advocates for gay Mormons since Manwaring came out, also spoke to NPR from their home in Tempe, Ariz.
Jonathan on learning that Jamison was gay
It was definitely a shock and definitely changed my worldview in a lot of ways. I guess I never conceptualized the lonely paths people walk. ... Now I feel like just being able to do that has just opened my mind and my ability to reach out to others.
What Rachel tells her five young children about their uncle
I was so grateful, when Jamison came out, that we could be so open with our children. They have a gay uncle, and that doesn't change anything. We grew up with this idea of just this deviant lifestyle, and just kind of unknown. For my kids, gay is not scary. It's not strange, it's not gross: It's very normal.
Jamison's hopes for a long-term relationship
The idea of living by myself for the rest of my life is very depressing, and I do want a long-term committed relationship, with a man, and to have a family with him. That is outside of what the church would want me to do and what they say to do, but that is what is best for me so that I can live a full, fulfilling life.
What Jonathan wants for his brother
I would want him to experience being able to share his gifts, his talents, his love with somebody else and to have a family. I would want that for him, for his happiness. I think our church community would be better off if we would allow our church members who are homosexual to stay with us.
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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
JAMISON MANWARING: You're not thinking about, well, what are you going to say when somebody asks what you were doing over the weekend or who you're spending time with; you're able to just say it. And thinking about kind of going back in the closet would be something I can't even imagine because of how different it is being out.
MARTIN: That is Jamison Manwaring, one of our very first Sunday Conversations. As the New Year approaches, we wondered how things had been going him since the last time we spoke, shortly after he came out in a YouTube video that was seen by more than 20,000 people.
We also talked with one of his brothers, Jonathan, and Jonathan's wife, Rachel, about how they navigated the changes in their lives since Jamison came out. And that's where we begin this week's follow-up Sunday Conversation.
JONATHAN MANWARING: It was definitely a shock and it definitely kind of changed my world view in a lot of ways. I guess I never conceptualized the past, maybe the lonely past that people might walk, without feeling that they could share parts of their life that either they were scared to share or didn't feel safe sharing. And now I feel like just being able to do that, I think, has just opened my mind and my ability to reach out to others.
RACHEL MANWARING: It was really hard for me to hear him talk about his childhood and feeling like he didn't fit in or feeling like he had this secret. And I remember shortly after he had come out to us - and I don't really know the timeline. All of their brothers and sisters had gone into together and put all the home videos on DVD, and we were watching him. And there was this one clip of Jamison and they were at a hotel and he was jumping in the pool and coming up to the camera and yelling in the camera, and just a free-spirited little boy. And the thought crossed my mind that in a few years, he was going to come to some realizations that were going to be hard.
And the thought of a child feeling that way, it just broke my heart. And I couldn't wrap my mind around anything other than just to love him and to try to make him feel all that love and all that acceptance that he should have felt his whole life.
MARTIN: Did the two of you have to field questions from other people, other family members or friends, extended family, cousins, that were hard, that maybe you didn't have answers for?
MANWARING: You know, we have five young kids and the question I get often is, what do you tell your kids?
MANWARING: And that's one of the things that I was so grateful when Jamison came out, that we could be so open with our children. You know, they have a gay uncle, and that doesn't change anything. And we grew up with this idea of just this deviant lifestyle and just kind of unknown.
MANWARING: And for my kids, gay is not scary. It's not strange. It's not gross. It's very normal.
MARTIN: Jamison just last week, a federal judge overturned Utah's same-sex marriage ban. And all over TV, there were images of marriages taking place in Salt Lake. Do you think that would've changed things for you, Jamison, when you were young if you had seen images of that, if you have perceived homosexuality differently, if you knew that there was a way to live and be in relation with another person that was accepted?
MANWARING: I think it would've helped. I think the bigger issue for me was not knowing anybody who was gay who was happy, healthy, ambitious and looked up to by the community. And that's something that changes by the culture, not by law. I think that this change helps with that. But I hope that the hearts of people change with it.
MARTIN: Jamison, when you and I first spoke about this, you said that you'd gotten on the whole really supportive response from your family, but it was still really hard for your parents. How has this settled with them?
MANWARING: They have definitely changed in some ways that are important for me. And the main thing that I think we've come to understand is that they may not change completely in how they view gay relationships or how they view what they really want for me in my life. I know they would still love it if I could find a woman and have a family.
MANWARING: I've gotten a lot of support from my siblings and I've gotten a lot of love from my parents. And I think that for me that's good enough.
MARTIN: It is common within religious communities to view homosexuality as a condition; something you can get over if you work at it, and to harbor hopes that people who identify as gay, especially gay men, could just get married, have kids and work at a heterosexual life. Is that something that you have been encouraged to do?
MANWARING: Thankfully, the church leaders that I have had experience with have learned that that really doesn't work for everybody. There's a few other people in the ward who are also gay and everyone knows, and I feel a great amount of support there. A few miles away, in some of the more suburb areas of Utah or towns of Utah, I don't think that would be possible; I live right in the city. But I believe for me, I need my church community. And so I'm glad I can be fully gay, fully out at church.
MARTIN: Is there still a belief that this is a lifestyle you're choosing and it is a sin?
MANWARING: Do the degree that you choose to get in a long-term relationship, they believe that's a choice. So essentially, to have the feeling isn't a sin. But once you decide to have a relationship, then you are, you know, taking that choice upon yourself.
MARTIN: So how does that affect your long-term plans? Do you want a long-term relationship?
MANWARING: I found for me the idea of living by myself for the rest of my life is very depressing.
MANWARING: And I do want a long-term committed relationship with a man and to have a family with him. So that is outside of what the church would want me to do and what they say to do. But that is what would be the best for me so that I can live a full, fulfilling life.
MARTIN: Rachel and Jonathan, I imagine you've thought about that, that Jamison would want a relationship, would even perhaps want a marriage with a man. That's something that you're OK with?
MANWARING: For me, yeah. Absolutely, I'm OK with it. The thought of him being alone is kind of devastating to me. So, of course, I would want that.
MANWARING: And I would too.
MANWARING: I would want him to experience being able to share his gifts, his talents, his love with somebody else and to have a family. I would want that for him, for his happiness. And I think our church community, we would be better off if we would allow our church members who are homosexual to stay with us, to feel like there's a safe place, to feel like this is a place where you can raise a family, where you can grow as a person. And we benefit by having him and others in our presence.
MARTIN: That was Jonathan Manwaring, along with his wife Rachel and his brother, Jamison.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.