Her church attempted to silence this brave 12-year-old.
For gay people, coming out can be one of the hardest times in their lives. It typically involves all their friends and family and basically every person they come into contact with for the rest of their life, making their sexuality a central part of them even if it’s just one aspect of who they are. Since coming out can be so daunting, many people wait until they are adults to do so, but one brave 12-year-old, Savannah, came out at a young age.
Savannah had just turned 12 when she came out to her parents on June 22, 2016, though her announcement wasn’t too much of a shock to those that knew her. Her own mother, Heather, said she had suspicions for quite some time and had even left the Mormon church they belonged to the previous year because of leaked documents revealing the true beliefs of the Mormon church and homosexuality, which hit close to home even before Savannah came out.
“I looked at her and said, ‘OK, I love you. And I’ll support you no matter what you do,'” said Heather of the moment Savannah approached her and Josh, Savannah’s father.
The parents took it in stride and Savannah eventually came out to all her friends and family, most of which were more than happy that Savannah could be honest and herself with them. It wasn’t until January of 2017 that she felt the desire to make her private life more public as a way to reach out to others.
“I had a feeling like I should come out to the church,” Savannah shyly told CNN. “I came out to all of my family and I just wanted to do something more.”
Her parents were, understandably, apprehensive about Savannah’s decision; they knew what the Mormon church believed, which is that you are “allowed” to be gay if you belong to the church, but you are not allowed to act on those attractions nor get married. This belief in itself posed a threat to Savannah’s confidence in herself, but Heather and Josh knew that they had to let her make that decision to come out on her own.
“We came to the conclusion it wasn’t our place; we couldn’t silence her,” said Heather. “It would be giving her a bigger message that she wasn’t allowed to speak or there was something wrong with her.”
Once they had a talk with her about how to prepare for the best and worst at church, Savannah set to work writing a speech. The Mormon church holds testimony meetings, where members can stand and give a speech about their beliefs and feelings during a worship service. Savannah knew there would be a meeting on Fast Sunday, so she wrote several drafts before finalizing her speech in preparation.
When the big day arrived, Savannah invited some of her friends as allies, and one of them wound up recording the speech as a “keepsake” to memorialize the moment. As Savannah nervously stood at the podium, she began to deliver her simple but heartfelt speech.
“I believe I was made the way I am, all parts of me, by my heavenly parents. They did not mess up when they gave me brown eyes or that I was born bald. They did not mess up when they gave me freckles or when they made me to be gay,” Savannah said, too nervous to see people’s reactions that she continued to look down at her speech.
“God loves me just this way, because I believe that he loves all his creations…. I hope some day to go on dates, go to school dances, to hold hands, and to go off to college. I hope to find a partner and have a great job. I hope to get married and have a family. I know these dreams and wishes are good and right. I know I can have all these things as a lesbian and be happy. I want to love myself and not be ashamed for being me.”
It’s at this point, however, that Savannah’s microphone cuts out. Savannah notices immediately and, because she thought it was a mistake, she leaned over to the one church leader next to the podium and started to say something to him. Instead, he quietly told her to go sit down rather than determine what the problem was so she could continue her speech.
Though it’s unclear exactly what caused the mic to cut out, it’s pretty evident that it was done on purpose in order to stop Savannah from delivering the entirety of her speech. The church leaders and Judd Law, the bishop, never answered the repeated questions that CNN sent them about what happened to the mic. Savannah was fairly distraught afterwards, expressing mixed emotions because she was happy to have come out, but upset that she hadn’t been able to finish her speech.
A church leader made a short speech after Savannah to say that God loves all his children, but Law afterwards said that the church is in disagreement with the released video footage of the entire incident. Since it was unauthorized, he accused the family of using it for political purposes, but Heather disagreed with this statement.
“She has more courage than I’ve ever seen in anybody,” Heather said. “To be able to share something so personal with everybody. That made my heart soar as a parent.”
“This incident has created some tender emotions, first and foremost for a brave young girl,” said Law in his emailed statement to CNN. “As a congregation, we continue to reach out, and do all that we can to make sure she knows that we love her and her family.”
Watch the video below to see a portion of Savannah’s speech.