Learning from a Gay Latter-day Saint: Interview with Ben Schilaty

 

https://youtu.be/jH63_b7Mi8k

Cali Black:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our special guest episode today. Kristen and I are beyond excited for our guest today. We have Ben Schilaty here, and he recently wrote a book called, A Walk in My Shoes, if you’re watching here, A Walk in My Shoes: Questions I’m Often Asked as a Gay Latter-day Saint.

Cali Black:

And I have kind of followed Ben’s story for a little bit, and when I saw this book, I’m like, “I have to read this.” And when I read it, I’m like, “Kristen, we have to have him on the podcast.”

Cali Black:

And I just have to make a comment about Kristen, you guys. She is feeling under the weather right now, so I will probably be doing most of this interview on my own. She will pop in, if she’s feeling up to it. But I do want to give her my condolences and hope she feels better.

Cali Black:

Anyway, without further ado, Ben, welcome, and thank you so much for being here. Would you mind introducing yourself a bit for those who aren’t familiar with you?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah, I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me. So I was born and raised in the Seattle area. My parents are converts of the church. I have three degrees from BYU, which I call my three degrees of glory.

Ben Schilaty:

I earned my PhD at the University of Arizona, in second language acquisition and teaching. So I used to be a Spanish teacher. I taught Spanish for 10 years. Then I became a therapist. I did that for a little bit. And now I work full time at BYU in the Honor Code office, and I also adjunct a couple classes.

Cali Black:

So Ben, I have been talking with a lot of my followers, and I know that there is a big confusion on to why you say that you can be a gay Latter-day Saint. For a lot of members, there’s kind of this dissonance of, “Wait, isn’t that against our religion? I don’t really understand that.” So I’d love for you to take a minute if you wouldn’t mind, and explain for you at least how these two titles work together in harmony?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah, that’s a great question. So I just want to start out by quoting something that President Ballard said at BYU back in 2017. He said this to BYU students. “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past, so that all members feel they have a spiritual home, where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”

Ben Schilaty:

So Elder Ballard is clear. We have LGBT brothers and sisters, I am one of them, and we need to be listening to and understanding our stories. And I also love his acknowledgement that we need to do better than we’ve done in the past. And that is for sure.

Ben Schilaty:

So there are a lot of people in the church who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, who are active, faithful and hold temple recommends, just like I do.

Ben Schilaty:

And there are also a lot of people who are part of the LGBTQ community and attend church, who might not be living church teachings fully, but they should be welcomed and understood just as anyone else.

Cali Black:

Yeah.

Kristen Walker Smith:

Can I pop in with a question real quick?

Cali Black:

Yeah.

Kristen Walker Smith:

I think most of us understand the LGB part of LGBTQ. Would you explain really quickly, what the T and the Q, the transgender and the queer, what are those about?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. So someone who identifies as transgender, is someone who was identified as one gender at birth, but identifies as a different gender than what they were assigned at birth.

Ben Schilaty:

So someone who was assigned male at birth, might later identify as female, or vice versa, or might identify as non-binary, they don’t feel like they have a gender or a gender.

Ben Schilaty:

And the Q stands for queer. And queer is just an umbrella term for anyone in the LGBTQ community. So anyone who isn’t heteronormative who… So queer just means not straight. And that can mean a wide variety of things.

Cali Black:

Yeah. Thanks for clarifying that. Ben, tell me if you agree or not, but that’s where some of the confusion comes from, is some people identify with these labels and are worthy temple recommend holders, and some people identify these labels and leave the church, and some people identify these labels, and they still are participants of the church, but make their own decisions as well.

Cali Black:

And I feel like that kind of leads to this confusion of, we feel like this one word, should have all of this meaning attached, and it doesn’t always have that meaning attached.

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. When I say the word gay, some people say, “Well, you shouldn’t call yourself gay, because that means that you are, “Acting on it.”” And honestly, I think the phrase, “Acting on it,” is problematic just to begin with.

Ben Schilaty:

So if you’re in the majority in society, if you identify as straight, it’s not something you usually have to think about or even disclose, because you’re just the default.

Ben Schilaty:

But I want you to imagine if you signed up for a cruise, and actually signed up for a gay cruise, how long would it take you to start telling people that you were straight. And so in this world where straight is the default, there’s a part of me that doesn’t fit that mold.

Ben Schilaty:

And so I use a term to help people understand me and my realities, and that term that I choose to use is gay. And for some people, the word gay means having sex with same sex partners. That is not what it means to me or to most people.

Cali Black:

Awesome. Thank you for clarifying that. So going off of that, why did you feel like you wanted to share your story, your personal experience as a gay Latter-day Saint? Why did you feel prompted to write the book and share it so publicly?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. I first came out publicly, seven years ago, when I was 30. I came out on my blog, and that wasn’t something I ever planned on doing. I’m the only Ben Schilaty on the internet, so I’m really googleble.

Ben Schilaty:

And I worried that by putting that information out there, coming out publicly, I couldn’t take it back. I just felt so prompted to do it. And I remember having my coming out post, ready to post and sitting in my parents resting room over Christmas break, and just wondering if I should hit publish.

Ben Schilaty:

And I said, this really fervent prayer. You know that feeling you get when you’re supposed to bear your testimony, like a nervous, courageous sort of feeling. I got that feeling tensed. And I just knew I was supposed to do that, and so I posted it.

Ben Schilaty:

Ever since then, my life has changed for the better. Just me personally… The weight of having to hide who I was, and pretend to be something I wasn’t, has just totally gone. I am a better, happier person.

Ben Schilaty:

But also, I have found that my orientation is so tied to my understanding of the gospel and the things I’ve learned, that the main vehicle through which I share my testimony is by talking about my orientation.

Ben Schilaty:

And so part of the reason I think God wanted me to come out, was because I can use my experiences to build his kingdom. And so that’s when I first came out.

Ben Schilaty:

The reason I wrote the book is… I was blogging about being gay for a long time, but blogs have really short shelf lives. People care for a day or two, then they stop reading them, but a book lasts for a while.

Ben Schilaty:

And I just had some important principles I wanted to teach, and I saw a large gap in understanding. People kept asking me the same questions again, and again and again.

Ben Schilaty:

And so I thought, “Well, I’m just going to write a book that discusses the questions I often get asked. And then that way, people don’t always have to ask me personally, they can just read the book and get them themselves.”

Ben Schilaty:

Sorry, you asked me why I wrote the book. I have a couple of reasons. One of the reasons that was so important to me was, I’m active in the church, I work at BYU, I’m currently a high councilor in my stake.

Ben Schilaty:

I have a really easy story for people to understand and digest, because I’ve lived the Latter-day Saint norm. But a lot of people don’t. And almost everyone has an LGBTQ person in their life who has stepped away from the church.

Ben Schilaty:

And so I wanted to write my story, so that people could understand a little bit about what it was like for me to be gay in the church, and then reach out to their LGBTQ loved one, and ask them to tell their story, because that’s really what’s going to make the difference, when people get to know the people they already love, and already care about in their lives.

Kristen Walker Smith:

And I think that’s so powerful. And just as you were saying that, and as I read the book, and you experienced so much love and acceptance, when you came out. I love how you said it was so liberating for you to actually share all of you with people.

Kristen Walker Smith:

I know this is not on the same level, I either have obsessive compulsive disorder, and for me, there was so much shame in hiding it from people. And as soon as I shared it, it was very empowering, and people were very accepting.

Kristen Walker Smith:

So I can relate to that idea of sharing all of yourself feels great. But do you have any advice for someone who shares all of themselves, and they don’t get that great reception from people, who don’t have wonderful church leaders and friends like you did, and family that turn on them? What’s your advice for those people?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. I just want to say I have a lot of privilege in this area. I was dealt the easiest hand of cards. Everyone I came out to responded very positively and remarkably well.

Ben Schilaty:

When someone comes out to someone, or someone important, and that isn’t well received, you got to be with people who are going to have your back. So I have a lot of friends who are afraid to come out to their parents, and I would say, “After you talk to them, come talk to me. I will be with you.”

Ben Schilaty:

Just recently, this LGBTQ magazine in the U.S. wrote a really inaccurate and not kind article about me. It really hurts to just be so misrepresented.

Ben Schilaty:

And then later that day, I had a meeting with the staff I work with at BYU. They’re my co-workers, but they’re my friends. I told them what happened, they just rallied around me. I had felt attacked, but with them I felt protected.

Ben Schilaty:

And so when someone comes out, and that’s not well received, it can feel like an attack. And so I would say make sure you have people in your life who can be a protection to you, and who you know will be with you no matter what.

Ben Schilaty:

And before I came out, I was listening. I knew what people were saying about LGBTQ people, so I knew who I could trust and who I couldn’t. And so make sure you’ve got some people in your corner that you can trust, and then just give those people who aren’t always so kind and loving, give them grace, give them patience and give them time to grow.

Cali Black:

Yeah, I think that’s great advice. One thing you touched on a little bit earlier, and you mentioned in your book is that this book is not meant to be, here is how to be a gay Latter-day Saint and be perfect, and do exactly what Ben does. That’s not why…

Ben Schilaty:

Exactly.

Cali Black:

… you wrote it, but really to inspire us to listen to other people’s stories. So I’m just curious, I know you have a great podcast, I was just listening to an episode this morning, where you with Charlie Bird, called, Questions from the Closet, you talk about…

Cali Black:

You talk to a lot of guests. You just learn their stories. There’s not an agenda where you’re trying to make a clear point, it’s just sharing people’s stories. So what have you learned from listening to other people’s stories?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. I have just learned to love people where they are. A story I share in the book that isn’t even about being gay, when I was in high school, my older brother was dating someone that my sister and I didn’t like, and we were worried one day they were going to come home engaged.

Ben Schilaty:

And my sister asked my dad what we should do if they came home, and said they were getting married. And my dad said, “We will cheer for them, and they will be happy. They’re going to do what they want to do, whether we like it or not, but we get to choose how much we will be in their lives.”

Ben Schilaty:

And so, one thing that I’ve learned is, it doesn’t really matter what opinion I have about someone’s life. It doesn’t matter what advice I give them. Ultimately, they’re going to do what they want to do, whether I like it or not.

Ben Schilaty:

And so I just want to look for the good in people’s lives, and cheer on all the good that’s happening with them. Everyone that we interact with is a beloved spirit, son, or daughter or child of heavenly parents.

Ben Schilaty:

And it is such a gift to get to know another soul, and to connect with another spirit. And so even if someone’s life is radically different from mine, I just want to see what goodness they have, what I can learn from them, and how they can be a blessing in my life, because everyone that we interact with can be a blessing in our lives if we let them.

Cali Black:

That’s powerful. Thank you. So you lived in Tucson for a bit. I’m an Arizona girl, not Tucson, but…

Ben Schilaty:

Tucson is the best city in the world by the way.

Cali Black:

Okay, we’ll agree to disagree on that one. I did go to the BYU game when they had that there, and that was a good one for BYU. Anyways, one thing I loved that you talked about in your book is you were in Tucson, that’s when you came out and had a lot of those growing experiences.

Cali Black:

But you started the Ally Nights, where you had support from church leaders, you had support from ward members, from family members who maybe had not been as supportive of their kids beforehand. I was just wondering, could you tell us a bit about that, and what you’ve learned about the importance of bringing people together?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. That’s a great question. Tucson is Zion to me. It was the first place that I was able to be myself, and where people just love me how I was. Came out in a ward setting.

Ben Schilaty:

I was in a singles ward. It was not something I was expecting to do, but I just felt so prompted to do it. And it was while I was teaching an Elders Quorum lesson. And when I sat down, I just felt so relieved.

Ben Schilaty:

And a bishopric member told me later, that he saw that experience, saw me sit down, and saw this weight come off of me. Being able to be open in my congregation was just such a gift.

Ben Schilaty:

Then shortly after that, I moved to a family ward, because I graduated without honors from the singles war because I didn’t get married. That ward just enveloped me too.

Ben Schilaty:

I asked the bishop if I could come out in the first talk I was asked to give, which was just shortly after I moved in, and he said, “I don’t see why that would be a problem.”

Ben Schilaty:

So I came out in my talk, and it wasn’t just to come out, but it was I was telling a story about a gospel principle that was related to me being gay. And after the meeting, there was a receiving line of half a dozen people who just welcomed me in the ward, said they wanted to get to know me, and just hugged me.

Ben Schilaty:

These strangers who I didn’t even know, just invited me into their families immediately, and it was just so wonderful. And so I started a support group for LGBTQ Latter-day Saint while I was in Tucson, and the group quickly grew to a couple dozen people, and those people became my family.

Ben Schilaty:

And some people experienced some fairly homophobic things at church. Some really terrible things were said. And my friend Paul said, “Well, we’ve got to do something about this. What are we going to do to stop these homophobic things?”

Ben Schilaty:

He said, “Well, can I just share my story at your house on Sunday?” And I said, “Sure.” So we invited eight people over, we all sat in a circle, and he shared his story about being a bisexual Latter-day Saint for 20 minutes.

Ben Schilaty:

And then he let people ask him questions for another 40 minutes. And then we went around the circle, and everyone shared a takeaway from the night. It was beautiful. And a lot of the takeaways had nothing to do with what he said, but what the Spirit had taught them.

Ben Schilaty:

And so we said, “That was awesome. Can we do it again next week?” So we did the exact same thing. And after that he said, “You know Ben, you should tell your story too.”

Ben Schilaty:

So we invited a different group of people over, he’d talk for 10 minutes, I’d talk for 10 minutes, and then we let people ask us questions, and then we went around the room and we did takeaways.

Ben Schilaty:

And then as more people joined the group, we’d rotate who would do it. We started calling these nights, Ally Nights, because we’re teaching people how to be LGBTQ+ allies.

Ben Schilaty:

And we did dozens and dozens of these all over the city. Bishops hosted them, my stake president came to one, and hundreds of people came to hear our stories, and it was just so beautiful.

Ben Schilaty:

A bishop of one of the singles wards invited us over to his house, hosted an Ally Night, he invited a bunch of ward members over there, 30 people. One of the women who was there who I’d never met before said this, and I just want to read this quote from my book.

Ben Schilaty:

I’d never met her before, and almost everyone in the support group I started was YSA age. And so she said this, “I want to thank you two for being so open and honest tonight. I want you to know that I’m going to be an LGBTQ ally, and I will support you no matter which path you choose.”

Ben Schilaty:

“I know many of you don’t have families in town, and I will be your Tucson mom, if you need one. Call me anytime, day or night, and I will be there for you. The doors to my home are always open to you, and you are part of my family now.”

Ben Schilaty:

And so it was just beautiful as we shared our hearts and our stories, people just opened up their hearts to us. There are literally dozens of places I could stay in Tucson if I needed a place to stay, because people just loved us that much.

Kristen Walker Smith:

And Ben, as I finished the book, the main takeaway for me was like, “I want to be an ally. I want so bad to be an ally.” But I live in an area where I don’t think that people feel very safe to be open about their sexuality.

Kristen Walker Smith:

And so, I don’t know of anyone who is in the LGBTQ community. I’ve even asked bishops like, “Hey, is there anyone that need support?” And there’s just not a lot of openness around it where I am. How can you be an ally, when no one around you is telling their stories?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. So my friend Diana is the hero of the book. I end the book talking about her. She was one of my closest friends in Tucson, we’re still incredibly close. She knew nothing about the LGBTQ experience when I came out to her, and she honestly wasn’t prepared for it.

Ben Schilaty:

And so when I came out, she was pretty shocked. But then she wanted to learn. She heard my story, she listened to my story, and then I went to this conference in Mesa, Arizona, for LGBTQ members of the church, and I just told her I was going to go.

Ben Schilaty:

It’s a two hour drive from Tucson, and she said, “I want to go. Can I go with you?” That was such an incredibly kind thing for her to say that she would come with me to this place where I knew no one, and she was going to be there with me.

Ben Schilaty:

When I started the support group, she was one of the founding members, one of our designated allies who came and helped. She was there the whole journey. And after I moved away from Tucson, she was still in her singles ward.

Ben Schilaty:

In Relief Society, they asked everyone to stand up, say their name and introduce themselves, and share something interesting about themselves. She stood up and said, “My name is Diana, and I’m an LGBTQ ally. And if anyone wants to talk, I’m always willing to listen.”

Ben Schilaty:

And so sometimes it just takes people starting the conversation. I think having Fifth Sunday lessons, firesides, that’s helpful. I think we should do those things.

Ben Schilaty:

But the most important thing is just organically talking about LGBTQ people. Just bringing them up in everyday conversations, because that’s how we know that we belong. When it’s not some big thing or some big event, but just people are gay and they belong.

Ben Schilaty:

And that just means so much to me. I think Elder Holland really model this in General Conference back in April 2017. It was that talk about how there’s room for everyone in God’s choir. And he said, “There’s room for the single, there’s room for the married, there’s room for large families, and the childless.”

Ben Schilaty:

And then he said, “And there’s room for people with different sexual orientations.” We can do that kind of stuff all the time. Just talk about LGBTQ people in kind, loving and organic ways.

Ben Schilaty:

If the conversation isn’t starting in your area, maybe you’re the one to start the conversation. Read the book in a book club, or something. I don’t know. But there’s a lot that you can do to start a conversation that hasn’t started yet.

Cali Black:

Those are great, solid pieces of advice. Thank you Ben. In your story, you talked a lot about agency. That’s been something that’s been on my heart a lot recently, about how God has given us so much power. I can’t imagine how scary that is for him to be like, “Here’s a trillion different choices you can make and how you can live your life. Hope you find a good path.”

Cali Black:

And obviously he gives us more direction than that, but still we have so much agency, and you talked a lot about, you chose to stay in the church, you chose to come out to certain friends, you chose what relationships you would or wouldn’t have, and how they would go forward. I’m just curious, what are some of your thoughts about agency, and how it’s played a role in your life?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. One of the things I’ve learned is that I’m not a perfect person, and I’m not going to be perfect, and I’m going to use my agency unwisely, and I’m going to use it wrong, and that’s the whole point of mortality.

Ben Schilaty:

That’s why Heavenly Father loved us so much that He sent His son, so that we could have those learning experiences when we made mistakes that we shouldn’t have made. And then as we use our agency in ways that don’t reflect God’s will, that’s how we really learn and grow, and can take advantage daily of the gift of repentance.

Ben Schilaty:

But the most powerful gift of agency I received was from my parents. And I remember when I was 30, just unloading on them. I’d come out to them when I was 23, but we didn’t really talk about it much, and then when I was 30, it felt like I just couldn’t hold on anymore.

Ben Schilaty:

When we talk about the Iron Rod, and all the images of the Iron Rod, the Iron Rods is at waist level. You even hold on to it easily. For me, it felt like the Iron Rod was 10 feet in the air, and I was just clinging to it. My arms were sore, and my hands hurt, and I just felt I just couldn’t hold on anymore.

Ben Schilaty:

It just was physically impossible to stay in the church. And I just explained all this to my parents. And as I did that, my mom said, “You know Ben, we’re not just on your side, we’re with you on 100%. If you need to leave the church and marry a man, you and he will always be part of our family.”

Ben Schilaty:

My parents, they honored my agency so explicitly, and so clearly and so lovingly. They told me that there was nothing I could do that would take them outside of the family.

Ben Schilaty:

I have a quote in the book from David O. McKay, who said that, “The greatest gift God has given us next to life itself, is the power to direct that life.” I think of my parents who gave me life, and then made sure that I had the freedom to live the life that I want to live.

Ben Schilaty:

And by having that freedom… I was at my parents house for a couple of weeks when we had that conversation. And I just spent tons of time just praying and pondering to try and figure out what it was that I was supposed to do.

Ben Schilaty:

And as I pointed my life to Christ, I felt him point me to his church, and I felt compelled to move forward in the church. And during that time, one of the most miraculous things I realized was, as I was reading in Matthew 26, just trying to figure out what to do with my life.

Ben Schilaty:

That’s where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he prays. He says, “Oh, my Father, if thou be willing to let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.”

Ben Schilaty:

And then something that I had never noticed before, is he gave that prayer two more times. Three times he said, “God, I don’t want to do this, but I want to do your will.” And it occurred to me it’s a very Christ like thing, to not want to do something hard and painful.

Ben Schilaty:

But to be like Christ, we need to do the Father’s will and do that thing anyway. And so that’s what I’ve learned about agency. Agency is all about honoring the choices people are going to make, even if we don’t agree with them, acknowledging that some of those choices are really tough and painful, and then really seeking to do God’s will, and then when we don’t, repenting.

Cali Black:

I love that. Well, Ben, your parents sound amazing from reading your book.

Ben Schilaty:

Oh, they are. They’re amazing.

Cali Black:

I fully believe it. Do you have any advice? There are lots of parents who listen to this podcast. If they have a child who comes out to them, or maybe it’s their child’s friend or someone in a youth group at church, what would be your advice on how to react or approach that conversation in order to produce the most loving result?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. Honestly, the things that have mattered most to me aren’t things that people have told me, but things I have said to myself. And so I think the most important thing is to create an environment in which someone can talk openly, and then the Spirit can teach them.

Ben Schilaty:

And so, when my mom said that I could leave the church, and I’d always be part of the family, that was an incredibly kind thing to say, but I didn’t immediately say, “Oh, I’m going to stay in the church.”

Ben Schilaty:

It was over the next weeks as I prayed and pondered and read the scriptures, and had conversations with my family, then that’s when I decided that I was going to stay, and I said the things I needed to say.

Ben Schilaty:

So if a child or a loved one comes out to you, I would say the most important thing is to say, “Thank you. Thank you for trusting me with this information. Thank you for letting me into this part of your heart.”

Ben Schilaty:

I’d go ahead and even say, “I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with this on your own. I’m sorry that it’s been hard, and I’m here with you on your journey, no matter where it leads.”

Ben Schilaty:

And then I would ask what I would call a grand tour question. Like, “What is it like to be gay? What is it like to be a lesbian and be in a church? What does it mean to you to be transgender?” And then let them talk and then listen, and then ask follow up questions.

Ben Schilaty:

Just really let them dig into their experience. And as you listen and as they talk, they’re most likely going to figure out on their own what it is that they need to do.

Ben Schilaty:

I think the most important thing is to help people figure out through The Holy Ghost specific and personalized direction on their path, because none of us know where our paths are going to lead, but God does.

Ben Schilaty:

And so that’s what I would say. Just get people talking and keep the conversation going. I would, after someone comes out, bring it up again a week later, like, “Thank you so much for telling me, was there anything else you wanted to say that you didn’t get to say?” And just keep an ongoing conversation.

Ben Schilaty:

And also be prepared for some tough things, because when someone comes out to you, they’ve been thinking about this for years, and you’re just starting to think about it.

Ben Schilaty:

And so they’ve progressed and gone through a lot of stages that you haven’t gone through. And it might be a painful process for you to go through similar stages that they went through, as well.

Cali Black:

Yeah. I feel like that takes the pressure off of like, “Oh, I have to say the right thing.” Instead, it’s just approaching it with the mindset of, “Let’s make sure they know they’re loved and that I appreciate them, and then let them do most of the talking.” Because coming out doesn’t even just mean one thing, it opens up the door to their whole story.

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. I just want to add something to that, because people are so often worried about saying the wrong thing, and that often leads to inaction and a lack of conversation.

Ben Schilaty:

Like, “Well, I don’t want to say the wrong thing, so we’re just not going to have the conversation.” And a lot of families end up with what I call, a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Like, “We know you’re gay, we’re just not going to talk about it.” That is so hard on so many families.

Ben Schilaty:

Well, after I had this conversation with my parents, where I was really considering leaving the church, I had a similar conversation with one of my brothers, and I told him I’d recently kissed a guy.

Ben Schilaty:

This was his response. He said, “Sorry to make light of this, but yuck. I mean, if that works, you great, but I just don’t get it.” Now, that is such a rude thing to say. To react with disgust when someone tells you about their love life.

Ben Schilaty:

But you know what, that night I wrote in my journal, I wrote, I love my family, and I’m so glad I was able to be open with them. Because my brother, did he say the wrong thing? Yes. But he said an honest thing.

Ben Schilaty:

And it was couched in a conversation in which he’d already demonstrated that he was willing to be with me on my journey, wherever it led. So if we say something that might not be the best thing, if we say it out of sincere love and kindness, it’s just going to help move the conversation forward.

Kristen Walker Smith:

That is such a… When I read that story I was like, “Oh, goodness.” Brothers are just so wonderful. I do have a question that… I hadn’t planned on asking this, but this is something that has actually come up repeatedly, I’ve been telling people about this book. And I’m like, “You’ve got to buy it.” My sister is buying it for all of her kids, because she’s like, “They don’t understand this well enough.”

Ben Schilaty:

You’re so kind.

Kristen Walker Smith:

No, it’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Cali Black:

We’ll get our commission check later.

Kristen Walker Smith:

But one of the questions that keeps coming up from people that I talked to about this book, is how is this fair? How is it fair that God has created you the way you are, and then asks you to live a life in direct opposition to the life you naturally want to live? How is it fair that God is asking this of so many of his children? And I just wondered if you had thoughts on that?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. I do have a couple thoughts. So there is a beautiful story in Acts chapter 10, where… I’ll just summarize really quickly, but it’s where Cornelius is Gentiles, sees an angel, and the angel tells him to go find Peter.

Ben Schilaty:

So he sends these men to go find Peter. And while the men are going to find Peter, Peter has this vision of these unclean animals in a sheet, and God says, “Go kill and eat,” and then Peter is like, “I can’t eat these unclean animals.”

Ben Schilaty:

Then God says, “What I have made, clean, call thou not unclean.” And Peter’s like, “What does this mean?” And then Cornelius men show up, and then they take him to Cornelius.

Ben Schilaty:

And he’s like, “Oh, this is what it means. Gentiles can now join the church, and they’ve received the Holy Ghost and it’s beautiful.” So that happens, and then it Acts chapter 15, all these Gentiles are joining the church, and they’re not sure what to do with them.

Ben Schilaty:

Like, “What do we do with all these Gentiles?” And so they have this argument at this big council in Jerusalem. These churches are arguing like, “Do the new Gentiles have to live the law of Moses? Do we have to circumcise these men? What do we do?”

Ben Schilaty:

And finally, in the midst of all this arguing, Peter stands up, and he says, “Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke on our brethren, that neither we nor our fathers could bear?” I just love that acknowledgement by the prophet who said, “Why are we asking these people to live the law of Moses when we couldn’t do it?”

Ben Schilaty:

So I think it’s very important when we talk to our friends and our loved ones, so often people tell me, “Ben, I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” And then my response when people say that is like, “Well, why are you expecting me to do it?”

Ben Schilaty:

So we need to be careful to not ask people to do things that we ourselves wouldn’t do. But what is God asking me to do? I think that’s what’s important. Like, “What is God asking me of my life?”

Ben Schilaty:

I don’t want to pretend to know what anyone else in their life should do, but there have been a number of times where I was ready to just leave the church, because I thought it just didn’t have place for me. The culture and doctrine didn’t have room for a gay Latter-day Saint like me, but I just felt called and compelled to stay again and again and again.

Ben Schilaty:

There’s this line from Preach My Gospel that says, “All that is unfair about life will be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” And so, is what’s being asked of us unfair? 100%. It is unfair.

Ben Schilaty:

And so I think that there’s a problem that can happen. Two problems. We can say, “Well, this is unfair, therefore, it’s wrong, and I’m just going to throw the whole restoration away.” People do that and that happens. The other thing is, “Well, everything will be made right, so I’m not going to worry about it.” I think both of those answers are not the correct answer.

Ben Schilaty:

I think the correct answer is, “Well, if this is unfair, what are we going to do? How can we be the hands of God? What is he calling us to do to make things right now?”

Ben Schilaty:

I don’t know what that’s going to look like in everyone’s life, but I think the principle is, we can trust that God will make unfair things fair, and what is our role in making that happen?

Cali Black:

Ben, I know you didn’t ask to become a poster boy for it, but I just picture you as someone who’s helping to make life easier for so many youth, especially of our youth that are LGBTQ that are able to look at you not as, here’s exactly what I want to be, but just as someone who’s willing to speak up and to advocate, and then is inspiring other straight people to become bigger allies and to speak up. What a difference you are making in making it hopefully a little easier to bear, when we all come together for that.

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. And Cali, that’s really kind. I just want to acknowledge, I stand on the shoulders of giants. So many people did things. They laid some pavers behind me, that I was able to walk.

Ben Schilaty:

I hope I’m just laying the next couple stones and the next couple of bricks, so that people can walk a little farther than I made it. I’m able to do things, because so many people did things before me, and I just want to help people along the way.

Ben Schilaty:

When I started my podcast, Questions from the Closet with Charlie Bird, my ideal idea… Not ideal, but my target audience is a 21 year old, who just got home from his mission, who is attending BYU, who is worrying about his sexual orientation, doesn’t know what to do.

Ben Schilaty:

I work at BYU, and I meet these kids. Then they come to my office and talk to me, and they just tell me how much my sharing my stories, help them to share theirs.

Ben Schilaty:

Perhaps it’s not appropriate for an administrator to hug a student, but I was like, “Give me a hug. Thank you for sharing this.” We’re all in this together to quote High School Musical.

Cali Black:

Of course.

Ben Schilaty:

I don’t want anyone to look at me as an example, and to try and live my life, but I hope that my sharing my story just encourages and helps people to have the courage to share their own.

Cali Black:

Yeah. And I see that already, just taking that next step. Ben, as we’re kind of finishing up, there’s this big question that I feel so many people are like, “Yes, I’m loving and kind, and I want to love everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation is.”

Cali Black:

But as you mentioned earlier, there have been homophobic things that are said in church, whether overtly or covertly, but sometimes it can be really hard for people to know, how do I show love, when what they’re doing is not in line with my religious beliefs?

Cali Black:

I feel like there’s just this barrier between this ideal of loving everyone, and then we get down to the nitty gritty, and so many people are like, “Wait, but I don’t know how to for that. This makes me a little uncomfortable.”

Cali Black:

I don’t know if I’m explaining the difference here. But how can you suggest that we become more welcoming, even if we feel that uncomfortableness along the way?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. That’s a good question. Let me tell you about my relatives, my aunt and uncle. So my parents are both converts of the church. Their siblings and most my relatives aren’t members of the church.

Ben Schilaty:

My aunt and uncle think it’s stupid that I’m a Latter-day Saint. They think I should just live my life and stop being part of this phony church. They think it’s just ridiculous.

Ben Schilaty:

But you know what, when I went on a mission, they came to my farewell. And then they wrote me every week. And then when my siblings got married in the temple, they stood outside the temple, and were there for pictures.

Ben Schilaty:

Then when I wrote my book, my aunt said, “Do you want me to buy a copy?” And she read it. My life makes no sense to my aunt and uncle, and yet they are going to support me in every part of it.

Ben Schilaty:

And so if I’m supported that way, what does that look like to support an LGBTQ person that I love? If my beliefs are abhorrent to my aunt, and yet she supports me in them, if someone has beliefs that I don’t agree with, or they go against my deeply held beliefs, how am I going to love them?

Ben Schilaty:

So if I have a friend who has decided to leave the church, I want to hear their story. If I have a friend who’s going to be marring a same sex partner, and they want me to be part of that day, I want to be part of that day too. I want to celebrate that with them.

Ben Schilaty:

I just want to cheer on all the good that is happening in everyone’s life. Loving and including people as a principle, I don’t know what that’s going to look like in everyone’s life.

Ben Schilaty:

And if you’re feeling uncomfortable about including someone in your life, that disagrees or lives a life different than what you believe, I think that’s something that you should go to the Lord and prayer about, and really figure out, “Well, okay, there’s this principle of loving everyone. How do I put that principle into practice?”

Ben Schilaty:

So I’m hesitant to tell people exactly what to do, because that’s an individual thing. But you know there’s this phrase that I don’t really like called, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” And I heard someone rephrase that as, “Love the sinner, invite them to dinner.”

Ben Schilaty:

Because that’s what Jesus did. He literally had dinner with sinners. And I think that we can do the same thing. Not to plug my podcast too much, but we have an episode about this called, How can I be an LGBTQ ally and support church teachings?

Ben Schilaty:

I don’t know what the episode number, but you can find it. We interviewed Ally Isom, and she’s amazing. So pray, find out how God wants you to love the people in your life, and you’ll know what to do.

Kristen Walker Smith:

Ben, I think one of the most powerful things I came away with from your book, was the power of just listening, and not stepping in and trying to fix anyone’s problems or change anyone. You don’t really have to take action.

Kristen Walker Smith:

I think the biggest action that I understood from your book, the biggest action we can take is just listening to people and letting them be who they are, and loving them, no matter what your thoughts or beliefs are.

Kristen Walker Smith:

I think that is such a beautiful part of your book, and for anyone who’s considering… He didn’t pay me to say this, but anyone who’s considering buying the book, if you have a gay person in your life, or someone in the LGBTQ community, he says specifically, “This isn’t hand it to them, and this is how they should live their life.”

Kristen Walker Smith:

But there are so many lessons in there that I think everyone, whether you’re straight, whether you’re LGBTQ, can learn about listening and allowing people to use their agency. And that is such a powerful lesson for absolutely everyone. So I loved it. And five stars, five stars, everyone buy it.

Ben Schilaty:

Thank you. What would a paid endorsement look like if that was an unpaid one? My goodness.

Kristen Walker Smith:

We can work on that Ben.

Cali Black:

For reals. All right. Well, Ben, is there anything else that you want to share about your story in particular, or advice to anyone who’s listening?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. I just want to say, when I wrote my book, I’ve tried really hard not to write a gay book. I mean, it’s a story about me, and my life as a gay Latter-day Saint, but I really tried to teach principles.

Ben Schilaty:

And the best feedback I’ve gotten from people is, “I am dealing with this, or this, or this is going on my life, and I found principles in your book that really helped me.” So I just really hope that I can teach principles.

Ben Schilaty:

It’s been an honor to hear how much people are learning from my life and experiences, and I hope to learn from other people, the lives and experiences of those around me as well too.

Cali Black:

Yeah, for sure. And yeah, to your point, when I was looking at all the questions that you’re going to answer, I’m like, “Whoa, this is a very…” Yes. The question, set it up I was like, “Oh, we’re diving into everything about his gay life.”

Cali Black:

But as I read the book, I realized exactly what you’re saying, I had all of these spiritual connections where I’m learning about, “Oh, agency and the power of gathering people together.”

Cali Black:

All right, Ben, we’re at the end here. We always like to end our interviews with going back to President Nelson’s big thing. How do you #HearHim in your life?

Ben Schilaty:

Yeah. That’s such a beautiful question. There are lots of ways that I hear God, through music, through kindness, just through people in their words. But I am a very extroverted person. I am always with people.

Ben Schilaty:

And the one time every day, where I take time, slow down and be by myself, is when I write in my journal. And when I write in my journal and reflect on my day, I try to write about two things every day.

Ben Schilaty:

I try to write about some spiritual experience I had, like how I saw God’s hand in my life that day, and then something funny that happened. And then when I reread my journals, I’m entertained and uplifted.

Ben Schilaty:

But when I take time to just slow down and think about my day, I see the hand of the Lord in my life all the time. And so it’s through making a daily record of my life that I have seen God’s hand work in my life, and that’s one of the ways that I most often hear him.

Cali Black:

I love it. Thank you for sharing that. All right, thank you so much, everyone for listening and again to Ben Schilaty, for being our guest today and sharing a little bit about his life, his experiences, his thoughts.

Cali Black:

And just as a plug again, his book, A Walk in My Shoes, is available wherever you can buy books or does sell a book, and we highly recommend it. Thank you so much for being here Ben. And for everyone else, thanks for listening and coming closer to Christ with us a few minutes at a time.

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