Jen Rollins is a Utah native and currently lives with her husband, Josh, in Riverton. They will be celebrating their 26th anniversary this year. They have five awesome kids who have made life adventurous and rich. Jen currently serves as the activities committee chair and Josh serves as gospel doctrine instructor.
I was asked by Leading Saints to share some of our family’s story. Our LGBTQ journey began while my husband, Josh, was serving as Bishop. This article is a look at several years of pain, dissonance, the paradox of having queer kids who had been striving valiantly to stay true and obedient. It evolves to where our family is currently.
My intent is to create a picture around the pain and dissonance that engulfed us the first two to three years of our five year journey in hopes to open hearts and minds to the path many saints and families are experiencing.
Opening the Box
Josh put most of his pain, confusion, and dissonance in a box on a shelf while he served. He continued to try and silence these feelings after he was released, to hold onto his foundation, his “certainty”. Little by little, however, that box started moving toward the edge of the shelf. Then the shelf came loose, causing the box to fall and crash open. He decided it was time to give it a voice in a Church setting.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving 2023, Josh gave a talk in Sacrament meeting on The Holy Ghost and personal revelation. The excerpt below is from that talk. It is a peek into his (our) wrestle. The surrender to be patient and wait for further light and knowledge as to how our family fits into the Plan of Happiness.
“Our house displays many family portraits. The first, taken nearly 26 years ago, with my wife and I standing outside of the Mount Timpanogos temple on our wedding day. The second, taken nearly 24 years ago, of us with our first child. From there our family portrait expanded to four, then five. We thought our family was complete, but a few years later, we became six and seven. We were raising our family in the light of the Gospel with all of the doctrine, teachings and programs the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had for young families. Everything seemed so certain, so sure.
Our last family portrait was taken over five years ago, which seems like a lifetime ago. In this picture, we all had big smiles with the Mount Timpanogos Temple behind us. Our firstborn was preparing to leave on a mission, our second was serving in her Young Women presidency, our third was serving as deacons quorum president, our fourth was memorizing all of the Articles of Faith preparing to graduate Primary, and our youngest had recently been baptized. My wife was serving in Young Women and I was coming up on my three-year mark as bishop. Everything was going as planned and seemed so perfect.
Now, five years later, I can see the pain behind some of the smiles.
You see, three of my kids are part of the LGBTQ community and they had been hiding a part of themselves. They eventually gained the courage to step into the light and stop hiding. Our family no longer fits the “church mold.” Some Sundays are very hard and it’s difficult to translate how we still fit in.
It’s as though that family picture was porcelain, and it dropped and shattered. Along with my dreams of eternity and what I had envisioned for my family.
My heart also shattered.
Countless times, alone by my bedside or in the quiet of the night, I have dropped to my knees. Pleading with Father, I cry out…”How do I put it back together? How can I fix this? As I try to gather the broken pieces.”
And it took time…, many times… but in the quiet, I heard this:
“There is nothing for you to fix. They were mine long before they were yours. I have them in my hands; you can trust me. I need you to just love them.”
As I have leaned into those whisperings, I have found the Spirit working within me. I have found a gentleness, meekness, kindness, long-suffering, and love deeper than I had before.
I am still walking in the dark, but I trust who I am walking with.
Though this is hard, I am grateful. I am a better man, husband, and father for it. And while it is a struggle, I have also received revelation that this, here at church, is where I need to be.”
A Catalyst of Peace
Why is our story (a minor glimpse into it anyway) pertinent to the Leading Saints audience? Simply, the sharing of stories fosters understanding, evokes compassion and empathy, promotes unity, creates healing and can be a catalyst of peace. Isn’t that the primary goal of what we, as members and leaders of Christ’s restored church, are striving to create?
I could spend my time here sharing quotes, posting statistics, listing do’s and don’ts of how to lead and minister to LGBTQ members—all of which would fall vastly short of the complexities surrounding this particular paradox.
There are numerous publications that provide a wealth of information for those who are seeking to gain greater understanding, become more effective in their leadership roles and to simply love better. Rather, I choose to share a little more of my story.
My Soul is Hurting
Journal entry July 25, 2020, 2:19 a.m.:
“Fifth night in a row of insomnia. What is filling my mind and body with such restlessness? Why do I absorb and internalize the pain of others so deeply? As my beautiful daughter lay tossing and turning with angst racking her soul, this mamma carries some of that weight, as she is a piece of me. My DNA. My soul…is hurting!
Jessica has always been such a ray of light. From the day she was born, there was just something different and very special about her. At such an early age, she has consistently been a helper, a peacemaker, an advocate, a grounding force. She loves God and her Savior and has been steadfast in her faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She returned from her mission three months ahead of schedule. She wanted nothing more than to serve her full 18 months, but the debilitating anxiety and depression made it impossible.
There are many reasons people suffer with mental health issues, for Jessica it began in eighth grade. When it appeared to get worse in the weeks and days leading up to her mission, my mother’s instinct told me she was struggling with same-sex attraction.
From the age of five, there were signs and indications that this was part of her identity. I asked her twice about it within two months of her leaving, she gave compelling arguments, adamantly denying that was true. Yet, my heart told me differently. After only six weeks in the mission field, she confessed that my intuition was correct. She was hit with the reality that her sexual orientation was not going to be prayed, obeyed, served, or bargained away.
She decided to stay on her mission. Fighting the battle, digging in deeper, praying for solace as the dichotomy of her conflicting desires continued to rage in her mind, heart, and spirit. Then Covid hit with the consequent lock downs and restrictions. After four months of near isolation, she couldn’t lose herself in the work or in service. She spiraled downward as her thoughts about her future loomed.
Her mission was coming to an end, and she would have to face her sexuality. But how? The racing thoughts of how to live authentically but also fulfill her desires to have an eternal family and reach exaltation consumed her. And they were consuming me.
Although she came out to me a few days over a year ago, the anxiety-ridden worry and pain was immense right then as she prepared to live out loud. To come out of the shadows. To embrace her authenticity. To let go of plans and even some people who were likely to abandon her in her darkest, yet possibly most-liberating hour.
I was eager for her to live authentically and support her in the way she might choose to move forward. I was eager for her to meet others like her. There was an entire community waiting to embrace her. I had met some of the most beautiful souls in the last couple of years as my mind, heart and life have been opened and blessed.
Our LGBTQ journey began nearly five years ago when, at the time, our 13-year-old son, Aidan, confessed his attraction to men, a couple of weeks prior to his older sister coming out to us privately through email.
My son has his own struggles and pain. He suffered many dark moments as he confronted his sexuality and the isolation it can create.
He has been cut off and rejected by many of his peers. He has lost his brotherhood with the young men in our ward. That alone has caused and continues to cause immense pain and is creating some rebellion. Combined with the pain of relentless teaching and preaching that he is a sinner. That he is not qualified for the celestial kingdom. That unless he forsakes his desires for a relationship with a man, that he will ruin our eternal family and sabotage any chance of his own. He must live a celibate life, void of the intimacy, love, connection, and fulfillment that only straight people have the right to possess.
The pain, and even trauma, these incessant messages cause is tragic. It is only natural that my son, and so many like him, turn away from the Church, and even God. He was desperately seeking peace—a place where he belonged without all the guilt and shame that had tormented him for years.
Aidan deserves so much more than that. He is an incredible young man, with so many gifts to offer this world. He is sensitive, selfless, generous, helpful, humorous, gifted, a natural-born leader, and beautiful son of God. We were working hard to get him to a place where he would see these gifts and the positive difference he makes more than the self-loathing that tended to dominate his thoughts back then.
So, how do we, as a family, move forward? How do we navigate our faith and our activity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? My husband, when he was serving as Bishop, had a uniquely challenging task.
I could write for hours on the complexity of our circumstances, but I will save that for another time. What I will say is that we are holding on. We love the gospel, we love the Church (but hate the pain it can inflict), we love our children, we love God and trust that He is at the helm. He will guide and direct us as we put our faith in Him.
I love all five of my children with every fiber of my being. They are all unique and beautiful in their own way. I am blessed to be a mother to each one of them. But it is my queer children who have taught me to love like the Savior does.
Among all of the blessings that come with having queer children, learning to love and see others the way Jesus does is the greatest.
I KNOW that He loves my children.
I KNOW that my Heavenly Parents love their children.
I KNOW that there is a special and specific plan for them and that we will all be together, fulfilling our own measure of creation.
Despite what we think we know about the eternities, and what others think they know, our mortal minds cannot possibly even begin to comprehend God and heaven. Revelation is ongoing and our story continues to be written.
Present Day Insights
Jessica (she/her) is now Jace (he/him). After suffering severe gender dysphoria for nearly two decades, Jace embraced the reality of being transgender and began gender affirming care November 2022. Our trans journey is a whole other chapter.
Our second child, Chelsea, has come out as bi-sexual. Our three queer children are no longer affiliated with the Church.
Our story continues to be written.
Our faith continues to evolve and transform, yet so many of the same feelings from my journal entry three and half years ago remain.
We’ve had some wonderful experiences with ward members and leaders who minister with love. Who listen and seek to follow the Holy Spirit and Christ’s example. I hope those reading will strive to do the same.