Kate Kendell was born in Utah. She was born into a family that belongs to the LDS Church. And she was born gay. She herself left the Church at an early age, but never in any official capacity. She didn’t mind being associated with it, she just didn’t practice the faith anymore. That changed in late 2015.
Kendell came out to her deeply religious mother at the age of 21. Fearing for the worst, she was relieved to find her mother’s loving touch as she grabbed her hand, telling her all that matters is that she is happy. In the years that followed, Kendell remained in Utah, graduating law school at the University of Utah in 1988. Her mother would say with regret how difficult it was to be gay in Mormon culture, but never wavered in her devotion to her Church or in her love for her daughter. “God gave me you, and He gave me my faith. These are great blessings; I love both. He must have a plan.”
By 1996, Kate Kendell was the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). The organization’s work has been in the middle of the national debate on LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and justice. She and her spouse, Sandy, were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor when in 2008, California legalized same-sex marriage. If her mother had still been alive, she knows she would have been crying tears of pure joy.
Growing up, and even as she became a professional, Kendell didn’t put much thought into the fact she was still “on the books” as being a member of the LDS Church; an entity that had spent exorbitant amounts of money to combat equal rights for same-sex couples. She saw the very conservative religion was coming around to becoming more accepting to the LGBTQ community. During the Utah Legislative Session in early 2015, Church leaders and LGBTQ advocates came together to pass an antidiscrimination/religious freedoms bill, SB 296. Kendell even had an LDS church leader approach her, apologizing for the Church’s involvement in supporting California’s Proposition 8. She knew it was becoming the Church her mother envisioned.
Her disregard for remaining a member of the LDS Church changed in November of 2015, however. Policy changes to “Handbook 1,” a guide for Church leadership, took hard-line stances against same-sex couples and their children. The new changes would prohibit children of same-sex couples from baptism, name blessing, and mission calls unless approved by the faith’s top leaders, or unless they disavowed their parents after they turned 18. This came as a shock to Kendell and Mormons world-wide after what seemed like the Church’s softening on LGBTQ issues. “I can’t help but think how crushing this news is to everyone who had begun to believe that they could both love their church and love themselves or their LGBT family.” In the wake of this proclamation, Kendell sent a letter to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints asking for the removal of her name from Church records.
The LGBTQ community, and Kendell herself, have received an outpouring of support from people, Mormon and non, since the changes. A text from her devout LDS sister summed up the sentiment of thousands of faithful Mormons, “I’ve been very sad all day since I heard of the Church’s pronouncement on the children of same-sex marriages. I feel like we are going backward when I thought we were moving forward.”
Knowing there is a strong commitment for equality from within the Church keeps her hopeful for the future. Her mother taught her the power of love and acceptance as the path to vanquishing fear and intolerance. Kendell knows the fight continues.
Jane and Tami Marquardt are proud supporters of the NCLR. To learn more or to donate, please visit www.nclrights.org.