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She was told to sit down during her speech.
When 12-year old Savannah came out as a lesbian to her ward of the Mormon church, her parents were beyond supportive. The church, however, had a different response.
During a faith and testimony meeting in May—in which faithful followers gather together and express their devotion to the gospel—Savannah stressed that she believes in God and feels God made her gay.
“I believe I was made the way I am, all parts of me, by my heavenly parents,” Savannah told the gathering near Salt Lake City, Utah. “They did not mess up when they gave me freckles or when they made me to be gay. God loves me just this way, because I believe that he loves all his creations.”
Savannah also expressed that her sexuality “is not a fad,” saying that God wants people to “treat each other with kindness.” She also talked about her dreams for the future, how she wishes to go on dates with other girls and eventually raise a family.
“I know I’m not a horrible sinner for being who I am. I believe God would tell me if I was wrong,” she told the gathering. “I believe that if God is there, He knows I am perfect, just the way I am, and would never ask me to live my life alone or with someone I am not attracted to.”
Midway through her testimony, however, a man leading the gathering told her to sit down. Savannah abruptly ended her testimony and ran to her mother, crying off-stage.
“We both walked out of the hall, and I held her face in my hands and told her over and over that she is perfect and good, that there is nothing wrong with who she is, that she is brave and beautiful,” her mother, Heather, said, according to the Independent. “I was angry that they chose to hurt her for whatever reason they had.”
Savannah’s testimony sheds light on the ongoing battle for LGBTQ acceptance within the Mormon church, as well as Christian denominations across the U.S. While many parishes remain hostile against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender churchgoers, young activists are challenging church norms, pressing clergy and parishioners to respond to LGBTQ rights.
Heather was reluctant to let Savannah perform her testimony at first because she feared Savannah would face backlash. But she later allowed her to do so, realizing that it would only silence Savannah’s voice.
“She had worked so hard at perfecting it so that it would portray exactly how she felt. We decided to let her do it because we thought it would be more harmful to silence her or give her reason to feel she is wrong in any way,” she said.
Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.