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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 15 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 33
Questions, Questions: What do Gays and Mormons have in common?
Arts & Entertainment
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Questions, Questions: What do Gays and Mormons have in common?

by Doug Hamilton - SGN Contributing Writer

QUESTIONS OF THE HEART:
GAY MORMONS AND
THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY
TYEE YACHT CLUB
August 18 & 19


Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity will be playing in Seattle on August 18 and 19 at the Tyee Yacht Club. (You may want to avail yourself the optional post-show discussion.)

The one-person show featuring actor/writer Ben Abbot, revisits a particularly turbulent moment in recent history, the marriage equality battle in California in 2008 during the Proposition 8 campaign. Ben interviewed Gay and Lesbian Mormons living in California at that time, and fashioned the transcripts into what eventually became an award-winning play currently touring the United States.

Working with Director Mark Kamie, Ben Abbott reworked the original piece to include not only the portrayals of those he had interviewed, but Ben speaking for himself as well.

The play comes to Seattle via Theatre22 Company Manager, Chris Shea, who saw one of its original productions at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. Chris arranged for me to interview Ben Abbot by phone on Wednesday, August 13:

What was it like for you being in California during the Proposition 8 campaign?
It was miserable! It was terrible! I was not just in California, but I was the only active Mormon at the acting conservatory where I was. I went to church, and people had very strong feelings about what was going on. And then I went to school, and people had very strong opposite feelings about what was going on. It was hard, because I didn't feel like I was in a position to step in all the time and defend the other side that people were bashing. But I couldn't also sit by and say things that were mean or inaccurate about people who I love. So I was caught in a very, very uncomfortable position.

It is unusual to put yourself on the fence of a polarizing issue such as same-sex marriage. Did you get any criticism for taking a more neutral position during Prop 8?
It was perhaps a product of the fact that I've got really wonderful friends in both places; but people never put me on the spot. I have to say I will be thankful for the rest of my life to people I went to school with, because they'd be venting from frustration about what was going on, and a lot of it would be directed at the Mormon Church, just because of the very visual role that the Mormon Church took in that campaign. And they all knew that I was Mormon, and that came up in conversations.

But not once did anybody turn to me and say 'Ben, you're Mormon; what do you have to say for your church on all of this?' But I felt that would have been a reasonable question for somebody to ask had they had, but they didn't. So that was very lucky for me. I don't know if people knew where I was on anything. I didn't really say. At church, I'd get invited to go do some phonebanking for Proposition 8, and at school I'd get invited to these protest rally sit-ins against Proposition 8, and I just always told people I was busy.

Did this project change your views on spirituality and sexuality?
I'm not so sure that it changed my views on sexuality, so much as on community. What community is, and what the importance of community is. Even before I started doing the show, there was a feeling for me of being close to all my Gay friends, and also of being very Mormon, and loving my church and my fellow church members. The thing that the show did for me was to erase this boundary between the two things. People think, well there is the Mormon Church, and there is the Gay Community, and they are these two separate, disparate things -political rivals, even.

Doing the show, and focusing on people who are both things, and trying to navigate that. It just made me realize that for people within my church, it was just like, 'Look, this isn't some issue that is being introduced from the outside. These are all our kids. This is us. These are our brothers, our sisters, our kids. It is not an influence from someplace else. I may have thought that, intellectually beforehand. But probably, I didn't even think about it.

The process of doing the show tore down that wall of any kind of sense of 'us and them' from either side of that wall. It was like, 'No, this is all us.' These are issues that we as a community are facing. That for me was the biggest shift.

What do you think is the largest misunderstanding between the LGBTQ and Mormon communities?
A lot of members of the Mormon Church just simply don't understand what it means to be Gay. Don't understand Gay people. I think that there is this image that has been painted from not just the church, but also in a broader society. And I think that broader society has influenced Mormon's attitudes of Gay people as much as the Mormon Church has itself. But this picture is of this group of people from San Francisco or the coastal regions who act a certain way. Not understanding that they are talking about the person they go to church with, and sit next to everyday, and is closeted.

And on the other side, based on what people have said to me after the show, is the assumption that Mormons hate Gays. Are certain individuals bigoted? Sure. But the show took away that feeling of, 'Oh, if they are Mormon, then that means they must hate me.' And I heard that a lot, so that's encouraging. That's good.'

Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity will be playing on Monday & Tuesday, August 18 & 19 at the Tyee Yacht Club (3229 Fairview Ave. E., just south of the University Bridge) in Seattle. Cash bar and cocktail hour begins at 6:30 p.m., performance at 7:30 p.m., with optional post-show discussion following the 75-minute performance. Tickets: $22 general admission, $11 TPS/student/senior/LDS. 206-257-2203; www.theatre22.org; info@theatre22.org.

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