On a Tuesday afternoon in May, I went to the southwest corner of campus to meet Maddy Purves, the Faces of USGA photographer. I don't love having my picture taken and I was a bit nervous, but she kept me talking and laughing the whole time. She took hundreds of pictures in an attempt to catch me making a normal face, which was no small task, and she managed to get sixty good shots. I spent the next few weeks fine-tuning what I wanted my three posts to say, which pictures to use, and in what order I wanted to present them. I finally sent them to her with the caveat that they might be too long and I was afraid people wouldn't want to read them. She told me, "This is as much for you as it is for your audience. Say what you want to say above all else."
The posts were shared in early September and they got quite a bit of attention - more than the page typically gets and certainly more than I was expecting. Who knows why they found traction. Maybe because it was the first post after summer hiatus, maybe the Love Loud fest had just put everyone in a gay-friendly mood, maybe something about my comments struck a chord with people, maybe some combination of these. Whatever the reason, people were commenting on my posts and even discussing them in several subreddits. Plenty of comments were hurtful, some people seemed to miss the point altogether, but most people were kind and loving. Even if it was on a larger scale than I anticipated, I expected the kinds of responses I got.
A month later, I was sitting in the Provo library when I got a phone call from a friend telling me that LDS Living had written an article about my posts. I was stunned. It was a little unsettling to learn that I'd been written about to such a large audience and that I'd been dubbed "Mormon girl." But once the initial shock subsided, my primary feeling was one of gratitude. I couldn't believe that such a mainstream-LDS media outlet thought my story was worth sharing. I was excited that my queer BYU community was getting some of the representation we have so desperately needed.
The very next day, I went to Facebook to search for the article. Instead, I found that a separate piece had been written about me by a UK-based newspaper called Pink News. My feelings of uneasiness returned. Another article detailing intimate aspects of my identity had been published with no attempt made to ask my permission, seek my input, or even learn my name. It is the policy of Faces of USGA to keep the names of their participants private, but I would gladly have provided my name for another article if anyone asked. I felt like I lost control of my narrative. I no longer had a say in who knew my story or how it was told. My original posts were all about talking directly to queer people rather than about them. So, when my posts were shared in this way, I felt like my point was missed.
To LDS Living, I want to say thank you for using your platform to give my community a voice. Thank you for telling my story, especially in light of the backlash from some of your audience. Thank you for preserving my whole message rather than picking my words apart to fit someone else's narrative. Thank you for representing me accurately when so many of my peers have not been afforded the same right. Thank you for opening up a dialogue that I believe will make our LDS community a safer space for everyone. I hope we're not done sharing queer stories; I'm just one of many.
As we move forward in this conversation, I hope you'll take something into consideration: we need to let queer people have a say in when, how, and to whom they are represented. Visibility is important but it comes at a price that not everyone is willing or able to pay. In the wake of this article, thousands of comments have been directed at me, many telling me to keep quiet, others telling me to repent, some telling me to burn in hell. Fortunately, I've reached a point in my journey where I'm secure in my identity and I have a supportive network of family and friends who have helped me deal with the backlash. However, I personally know that there are other people on the Faces of USGA page whose safety would have been compromised had their stories been shared the way mine was. People who are still on their journey toward self-acceptance. People whose families would not have approved of that level of publicity. People whose mental health could have been jeopardized. To protect these people, we need to let them have control over their narratives and include them in the broadcasting of their stories. We need to ensure that queer people are safe before we put them on display.
The last thing I want to do is discourage the sharing of LGBTQ stories. We desperately need representation, we need more open dialogue, and we cannot do it alone. Although I can't be entirely sure why LDS Living decided to write an article about me, I believe their goal was to partner with us in starting a public conversation. If so, it was a courageous display of solidarity and it was vitally important. We welcome it. Thank you for listening to us and thank you for amplifying our voices. I hope that as we continue in this effort together, we can be equal partners in the telling of our stories.
~Sammi Taylor (“Mormon Girl”)
For the LDS Living article, click here
For the PinkNews article, click here