Mormon Family Values

Mormon Family Values

Facing the anguish of their gay son, the Hardys became accidental activists.


David and Carlie Hardy were the perfect Mormon couple building the perfect Mormon legacy in their mecca, Salt Lake City, Utah. It was 1995 and David, then 42, received simultaneous boosts in his professional and religious life: As an in-house attorney, he had taken a private startup company public so successfully that he was now able to open his own solo practice. At the same time, he had been called to serve as a bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose ministry is drawn from its membership. Carlie, 41, was fulfilling her religious destiny as well by giving birth to and then raising six children strictly within the LDS’s rules.

To affirm the family’s devotion to the church before David’s new hectic schedule began to keep him from home, the couple took a pilgrimage with their three eldest children. Mom and the kids retraced the footsteps of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem as described in the Scriptures, and then met Dad in France, the country where he as a young man had served the two-year proselytizing mission required of all devout Mormons, and more recently had spent countless days lobbying to bring the 1998 winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. The trip culminated in Austria, where Carlie had studied on an exchange program from Brigham Young University.

There, in a garden in the hills above Salzburg, the family’s bliss was shattered.

Judd, the Hardys’ 13-year-old son, confided to his father that he feared he was “same-sex attracted,” the LDS euphemism for homosexual. In Mormondom, homosexuality is literally unspeakable; there is no greater taboo in this institution, in which even relatively benign substances such as caffeine are forbidden. “My world just caved in,” David recalls. He told his son what he had been taught by the church–that same-sex attraction was infinitely “curable,” merely a phase.

Upon returning to Salt Lake, David drove straight to his church office. By this point in his life, he well understood that the church often preached to its members through speeches long ago delivered and transcribed into LDS-issued pamphlets–many of which are actual doctrine. He needed to find the instruction regarding same-sex attraction. At the office, he located a handful of pamphlets addressing the issue, all of which contained fire-and-brimstone language like “Homosexuality Is Sin: Next to the crime of murder comes the sin of sexual impurity.” David had read the pamphlets many years back, but rereading them while conjuring the image of his devout son, he became increasingly upset. He shoved the pamphlets deep into a drawer and focused on “curing” Judd.

That was seven years ago. Since then, David and Carlie Hardy have gone from being obedient, God-fearing church members to vocal, angry gay-rights activists who have willingly ostracized themselves from the only community they had ever known. In opening their house to outcast gay teens, and their mouths to the media, they have risked their relationships with their friends and relatives, and–if it is “God’s one true Church,” as LDS members believe–their eternal souls.

Publicly, the church loves the sinner but hates the sin. “People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians,” remarked LDS president Gordon B. Hinckley. “My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God.”

As former insiders, the Hardys contend that the church establishment is obsessed with good press and intent upon creating an image of a mainstream Christian religion–a goal it plans to pursue as the television networks cast their soft-focus lenses on Salt Lake City during the winter Olympics this February. The Hardys, meanwhile, are determined to let the world know what lies behind the church’s rhetorical niceties. David Hardy scoffs at Hinckley’s profession of tolerance. “We were forced to make a decision that no parent should be forced to make,” he says, “to abandon one’s child or one’s faith.”

David Eccles Hardy and Carlie Judd Hardy are Mormon Royalty, an LDS terme d’art indicating that they descend from important historical and modern lineage–Carlie’s great-grandfather, Heber J. Grant, served as prophet and president of the church during the early twentieth century, and both David and Carlie have ancestors who were original followers of LDS founder Joseph Smith.

The Hardys married in 1975, just after David completed his missionary service. He earned a law degree and began a steady rise in the corporate world of Utah’s burgeoning tech sector. Carlie oversaw their children’s immersion in the church–before-school Scripture study, Eagle Scouts, religious classes, community service, all in addition to the regular Sunday services. As with all faithful LDS members, they gave 10 percent of the family’s pretax income to the church. Mormon perfection.

Judd, the third child and oldest son, was a slight, fair-haired boy with noteworthy devotion to the church and its gospel. But he was different from other boys in his neighborhood. “Despite my hours coaching him, he was utterly uninterested in sports and ‘boy games,'” his dad remembers. Instead, Judd liked to play with his sisters’ dolls and to perform songs. David and Carlie secretly worried about their son’s effeminate mannerisms but tried to ignore their concerns. The idea of having a son with “same-sex attraction” was too shameful to consider. “A Mormon mother is told to have kids and stay home,” Carlie explains. “There is nothing left for a mother’s self-esteem. You are judged on how your family turns out.”

So when Judd came out to David in Austria in 1995, and David shared the information with Carlie, they did what they had always done–they turned to the church. They enrolled Judd in a stint of reparative therapy (which purports to counsel people in “overcoming” their homosexuality). They remained stoic as they read the research attributing homosexual tendencies to an overbearing mother and emotionally unavailable father.

One of the pamphlets they found advises church leaders on how to act if a member confesses same-sex attraction. It reads, “God has promised to help those who earnestly strive to live his commandments,” and it says members should be reassured that for those who repent enough, “heterosexual feelings emerge.” This pamphlet is only available to leadership. An average member receives more explicit instruction, like that in the text of a speech given by a former president and prophet: “Satan tells his victims that it is a natural way of life; that it is normal; that perverts are a different kind of people born ‘that way’ and that they cannot change. This is a base lie…. it were better that such a man were never born.” The Hardys were most disturbed by the writings of Boyd K. Packer, an apostle second in line for the church presidency whose public words constitute doctrine. In one oft-cited speech, Packer endorsed violence as a response to a perceived homosexual advance. “You must protect yourself,” he preached.

The more Carlie and David turned to the church for help, the more its practices frustrated them. They were outraged to learn that church funds were being diverted to support movements in Hawaii and Alaska aimed at keeping same-sex marriage illegal. Meanwhile, their young son was asking his parents to disconnect their cable and Internet service so that he would not be tempted by any alluring images of men. He was fasting and praying so that he could live within the boundaries of the church, yet doctrine labeled him a servant of the Devil.

In early 1999 David was reaching his breaking point and asked to be released early from his role as bishop. Soon after, Carlie attended an annual interview with the family’s local ecclesiastical authority, D. Miles Holman. (Citing clerical requirements of confidentiality, Holman declined to comment.) Carlie told Holman that total loyalty to the church’s principles was increasingly difficult for her and that she was uncertain she could encourage a lifetime of celibacy for Judd. “I don’t think it would be healthy for my son for me to suggest that he never have any intimacy,” she recalls telling him. According to Carlie, Holman told her there was only one solution: Judd had to remain celibate for his life, and she and David should keep his “problem” a secret. “He said, ‘Hey, isn’t this homosexual issue easy?'”

Carlie walked out to her car and turned on her mobile phone. It rang immediately. One of her children said, “Mom, where have you been? We just had to take Judd to the hospital.” After sitting through an LDS lesson on Sodom and Gomorrah, Judd had gone home and slashed his wrists.

The suicide attempt, says Judd, now a sophomore studying theater at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, “wasn’t [done] out of despair as much as it was [done] almost out of duty. It felt to me as if I was in this loop that I couldn’t end. The church wanted me to change, and I couldn’t get past that. And I couldn’t change, and I couldn’t get past that…. It was a quick resolution before doing the damage of falling into a life of sin. I believed too strongly in the church and the church’s values, and I placed those above my own life.”

Whatever it represented for Judd, for David and Carlie the attempt signaled that they could no longer rely on guidance from the church. “We were faithful members,” Carlie says, “and then we ran into this situation and no one was there for us.” They told Judd there was nothing wrong with him, that he was not going to have to choose between affection or damnation, and they yanked him out of church activities.

Although they experienced massive spiritual and emotional turmoil, they still could not fathom formally separating from the LDS–“anathema,” David describes it–so they continued to take Judd’s three younger brothers to church. One day in early 1999 James Hardy asked his mom to call a family meeting. Carlie remembers that her son said, “I don’t understand, you keep saying that Judd doesn’t have to go to church because he’s gay and that’s an extenuating circumstance. But don’t you think the fact that I have an older brother I honor, respect and look up to, and this is a church that doesn’t have a place for him–isn’t that an extenuating circumstance?” He said, “It is for me and I won’t be going back.” That was the watershed moment, Carlie says. “All of a sudden David and I looked at each other and said, “You know what? We’re not going either. If this is an organization that will not support this amazing individual who is our son, Judd Eccles Hardy, then we will not be going either.”

It was October 2000, the eve of the church’s semiannual General Conference, for which clergy and members from around the world descend upon their religious capital to reaffirm the authority of the church leadership. David Hardy stood nervously in his office, a nineteenth-century carriage house just eight blocks from LDS headquarters. He and Carlie had invited the local print, television and radio media for a press conference unlike any other held in Salt Lake City in recent memory. They were going to speak out publicly to decry church policy. “I was scared witless,” says David. “I don’t think a former bishop has ever done anything like that before.”

The Hardys had also invited more than a handful of their peers, members of Family Fellowship, a support group for current and former Mormon parents of gay children. But except for the four lapsed Mormons who attended, the Hardys stood alone. (Since LDS members believe God literally speaks through the church’s prophet and president, dissent, or support of dissenters, is tantamount to heresy.)

“We are here today as members of the LDS church and parents of gay children,” David began. He had already dispersed to the various reporters copies of the pamphlets that, he asserted, promote violence against homosexuals. He pointed out that the church had reissued literature condoning violence as a response to homosexuals at the same time that Russell Hendersen, an LDS member, was being tried for the murder of Matthew Shepard (the church has since excommunicated Hendersen). David asked that Packer or a church spokesman avow or reject the language in the pamphlets–the only existing church literature directly addressing homosexuality.

After David finished his remarks, he and Carlie answered a few questions before the swell of reporters walked to the LDS administrative building in pursuit of a church response. (A spokesman issued a statement later that evening: “These are individuals who are children of God. We love them; we respect them. This church is a church of inclusion, not exclusion, and we welcome them and want them to be a part of the church.”)

The Hardys’ public criticism of the church has caused rifts between them and relatives, friends and colleagues–and has created tension for their eldest daughter, who remains active in the church. But even as their community banishes them, they continue in their quest to compel the media and, they hope, the church to acknowledge the struggles associated with being a homosexual in a community of Saints.

They do so in several ways. First, they fund diverse cultural fare in otherwise archconservative Utah. Last year they financed local stage productions of The Laramie Project, which focuses on the aftermath of Shepard’s murder (a film adaptation debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival), and Confessions of a Mormon Boy, a one-man show detailing actor/writer Steven Fales’s journey from marriage and fatherhood to reparative therapy and excommunication. (Confessions opens Off Broadway next fall.) They also open their home for three hours on the first Sunday of each month to young Mormon men and women struggling to confront their homosexuality–and any heterosexuals wanting to show support. Carlie is also planning a series of mountain retreats for those dealing with issues involving homosexuality in themselves or in their families.

Along the way, they have achieved a certain visibility in the press. Last Easter the Salt Lake Tribune published an Op-Ed piece by David; that same month, the CBS affiliate ran an interview with Carlie after she and David spoke at a candlelight vigil remembering the “Mormon Gay Suicides.” In August they landed significant mention in a Newsweek article on gays and the Boy Scouts. Their squeaky-clean image has helped. “If there were a propaganda center in the church, this is the family they would choose,” says Doug Wortham, a board member of Unity Utah, a gay and lesbian political action committee. “It’s a pretty rare story to find a family like this,” he says.

As for the Hardys’ most vocal goal, an official endorsement or condemnation of the pamphlets, they’ve just recently succeeded: Harold Brown, the church’s official spokesman on homosexuality, said of the pamphlets to The Nation, “I wouldn’t even want to suggest that they were outdated or not in use.” However, he says, “If you [take] the whole context of what has been written in the church, I think you’ll find it’s a voice of love and concern for people…. What we teach are the standards of morality that we believe will lead to happiness.” (Boyd K. Packer was not available for comment.)

Brown says no amount of press attention or activism is going to influence God to change the rules regarding homosexuality–as when He outlawed polygamy in 1890 or gave equal rights to blacks in 1978. “Being black is not a sin,” he explains. “Being immoral is.”

The Hardys do not appear deterred. Their work fighting for the acceptance of gays is, in a sense, their new ministry; clearly it has helped fill the void created by their exit from the church. Judd is proud of his parents’ commitment. “They’ve stopped talking about Christianity and charity and religion,” he notes, “and they’ve started practicing it.” At the same time, their activism irks him because he wants to be known by the world for what he does with his life, not for what happened to him in the past.

Honoring Judd’s wishes, his parents ask his permission before speaking to the press. Usually, Judd rolls his eyes and then obliges them. Despite the unusual circumstances, there is something familiar about this dynamic–he is a regular kid, annoyed and embarrassed by his parents.

To Carlie and David, that is a blessing.

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