Today, we’re going to eavesdrop on a conversation between two strangers... It’s part of a new StoryCorps initiative called One Small Step that brings together people on opposite sides of the political divide.
Last year in Salt Lake City, Karl Jennings and Rebecca Peterson sat down together for One Small Step…
Karl: Being gay, coming to terms with that was a really difficult thing for me because the church was very virulently anti-gay. I heard people talk from the pulpit that they’d rather their children were killed than to be gay. So there was a lot of internalized self-hatred and my spiritual crisis came to a head where, you know, I had reached a point where I thought, I need to not be gay or I’m going to kill myself.
Rebecca: How did you deal with that discord with your...family structure? How have you bridged that gap?
Karl: Well, I don’t think it’s really been bridged. Um...I’m the only professed atheist in my household. And my family’s kind of broken up.
Rebecca: I’m sorry.
Karl: I’m over it. [Laughs] But thank you. Um...
Rebecca: But it’s hard. I mean, that’s a lot of hard. And I ask that question because...when my brother came out, having been raised in the LDS church, there was a big rift. But one of the things our families found is that our love transcends what we have in this place of difficulty. So I hope that, in time, maybe you could have experiences like that with your family as well.
Karl: I don’t want to give off the wrong impression. My family is what it is. Of course there are issues and rifts, but I guess they’re not easily distilled.
Rebecca: Yeah. One of the things that's been really beautiful for me with my brother specifically has been watching his faith grow again. That’s what we can do for each other. And we don’t have to get stuck on a label. We can just acknowledge and love each other, for where we are. For who we are.
Karl: I...I appreciate that sentiment. But one of the things that’s very triggering for a lot of people who struggle with their sexuality in terms of religion is this idea of acceptance because something’s going to be healed in you. I’ve been very happy with my life, I have a lot of joy, my husband of two years married – fifteen years together – we have a wonderful life together as is. We don’t need someone wishing that this burden would be taken from us. And I’m not putting all this on you. It’s things that I’ve heard from well-meaning religious individuals.
Rebecca: I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I had...I had, uh...tried to express my love in a way that you felt like there were strings attached...because there aren’t. You get to be who you are. I hope that someday you could see me in action...because I back up my words with action.
Rebecca: I love God and I love my family. And if I saw you on the street and you needed help, I would help you. And to me, that’s love.
Karl: And ironically, I agree with you 100%. I feel the same way. But that doesn’t come from any Christian ideal for me.
Rebecca: That’s okay.
Karl: I think it’s interesting that I think we’re probably very much in the same place, but from different sources.
Rebecca: I love it.
Strangers Rebecca Peterson and Karl Jennings learning about one another as part of StoryCorps’ One Small Step Initiative, which seeks to remind people across the political and cultural divide of our shared humanity. Their interview will be archived, along with hundreds of thousands of others, at the Library of Congress.
Utah Public Radio is one of six public radio stations across the nation chosen by StoryCorps to curate these One Small Step conversations. If you are interested in participating in a conversation like this, just click here and fill out our questionnaire.
This segment has been co-produced by StoryCorps' Mia Warren and UPR's Dani Hayes, and facilitated by Camila Kerwin.