May 25, 2011 by John-Charles Duffy
The Courage Campaign, a progressive organization in California that’s been prominent in the anti-Prop 8 movement, has launched a “testimony video contest” in partnership with Dustin Lance Black, a former Mormon who is one of a handful of gay rights activists to whom the LDS Church has recently made symbolic friendly overtures. They’re asking people to submit homemade videos of themselves telling their personal stories, which Black will then review to find the “new face” of the marriage equality movement.
That particular public relations aim pretty much rigs the contest in favor of affluent professionals who are conventionally masculine and feminine (no gender transgressiveness or ambiguity, please!), since despite the horror it generates on the right, the LGBT movement has become quite conservative in its understanding of what counts as “respectability.” But that’s not the main point I wanted to make here.
What intrigued me about this initiative is the way that Black overtly invokes the LDS practice of bearing testimony. In a video promoting the initiative, he describes how growing up Mormon, he was encouraged to bear his testimony in front of the congregation, which, he explains, means “getting up in front of everybody you know and saying what it is you know to be true.”
One of the aspects of Mormonism that has always made me proud of the faith is this practice–this very democratic notion (at least in theory) that everyone is entitled to stand at the pulpit and declare the truth as they have come to understand it. When I first started speaking at rallies back in the run-up to the Iraq war, I was conscious that I was doing the same thing I had done back in my days as a missionary: publicly proclaiming the truth as I knew it. Whatever radical critique there is to be made of the LGBT movement today, it tickles me to see this Mormon ideal being placed in the service of progressive politics.