Rand Irons looks ready for a black name tag and matching conservative grey suit. But you won’t see him walking door to door with Mormon Church pamphlets in hand, nor will he get his chance to travel the world in the name of his faith spreading the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Irons, 22, a student at University of Richmond who is gay and Mormon, has found his own message — a message of hope for those who love both their Mormon faith and those of the same gender.
“[I] didn’t really conceive of myself as gay until sophomore summer of college,” says Irons, as he sips a cream soda in the front window of a local coffee house. The early-fall sun bounces off his straight red hair as he opens up about his formative years.
In high school, he chose not to date for religion reasons, so he hadn’t really had a chance to explore his sexuality.
Obviously, and again because of his faith, there was no sex, so it gave him a space to avoid the subject altogether.
But after finally having two girlfriends in college, he came to the tough realization about who he is. He is gay.
“It was difficult for me, because of my religion. honestly; because of my faith and what I thought about homosexuality.”
Irons says he grew up being taught a pretty specific message. The Mormon faith, until recent departures from some groups within the church, has held fast in its opposition to LGBT people, even until recently promoting ex-gay therapy.
“Sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married,” states Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of LDS Church, President of Utah’s Brigham Young University (BYU), professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court.
That’s pretty high up there in Mormon hierarchy – he’s the fifth most senior apostle among the ranks of the LDS Church.
But back to Irons’ youth.
“It wasn’t really talked about… I didn’t know what gay people were until I was in high school,” he says. “It was assumed marriage is between a man and a woman and that’s it… [there was] no room for any other option.”
Irons remembered one time, back when Prop 8 was passed outlawing gay marriage in California. He and his family were attending temple and a group of protesters were set up out front opposing the LDS’s stance against same-sex marriage.
His dad made a mean comment about same-sex marriage “not being right.”
Luckily, when Irons (and his twin brother) both came out as gay, his folks and the rest of his family accepted him.
“It’s not something they really had dealt with,” he says. “But now they are very strong advocates.”
Soon after he and his brother came out…