Friday, August 31, 2012

When the Organization Speaks

Cross-posted, with some alterations, at The Exponent.

I am part of an organization that has recently made decisions that are discriminatory towards LGBTQ people, decisions I would not personally make, but are being made by people higher up than me. Also, in the past, this organization has taken stances alienating mothers who work outside the home, and even continues to perpetuate such stances, even if it's not as often or as blatant as before. These things taint the label of the organization, and affect how I define myself, and what assumptions people make about me when they discover my affiliations.

Strike that. I am a part of 2 organizations that do this. I am both a Mormon and an LLL leader.

LLL is short for "La Leche League," and is a non-religious breastfeeding support organization that was created in 1956. It is now an international organization and is well-known in the breastfeeding community for the research it has supported and literature it has produced that has helped breastfeeding rates world-wide. While big and far-reaching, its main purpose is mother-to-mother support and all LLL leaders are volunteers. Some leaders lead support meetings, others take phone calls or emails to answer questions and give support, still others will take time from their dayand go do home visits, helping latch a baby or otherwise support breastfeeding moms.

And as with many large organizations, both LLL and the LDS has a history of discrimination.

In the 1970s and 80s, while LDS Church Presidents Kimball and Benson were asking mothers to come home, LLL would disallow a woman to become a leader if she had a job, even if she was home with a Tupperware business. While we Mormons haven't heard a "Mother Come Home" talk in a couple of decades, the effects are still around in places like the YW manuals. And while LLL does now allow working mothers to become leaders, some women are still denied leadership if their childcare arrangements don't allow enough access between mother and baby.

And just as LGBTQ issues have become a hot topic in the LDS Church, LLL is facing similar criticism. Last week, Trevor, a transgendered man who has birthed and nursed his son, asked LLL Canada if he could undergo the application process to become a La Leche League leader.

LLL Canada responded that they would not allow Trevor to pursue leadership. As of writing this blog post, LLL International, headquartered in Schaumberg, Illinois, has not made a statement, though they have stated that there will be one forthcoming.

I spent some time last week reading the reactions of bloggers and breastfeeders I respect and the subsequent comments. I understood, but was still dismayed at the comments of people saying they wouldn't refer parents to LLL in the future. I tried very hard not to take it personally on behalf of myself and my co-leaders who volunteer their time and energy to reach people who don't have money for lactation consultant or who can't wait 9 days for an appointment with an IBCLC. I look at the people on the ground level and think, "These people want to help everyone despite the politics of the larger organization, please be understanding of that!"

And it was then that I realized I was having a very Mormon experience. I was asking myself the same questions many of my fellow Mormons ask every day: What do you do when you are part of an organization but don't agree with all the politics that comes out? Is it worth it to stay and change from within? Would it be better for your integrity and mental sanity to leave? What if your friends and family are there?

I love the Church and have a testimony of the gospel and feel like it's where I belong. I insist on belonging despite being told by others I don't.

I also really love LLL. It's one of the few ways I can volunteer while I have small children at home. I particularly love home visits because I get to really be with the families and help in a physical and emotional way. I give support over the phone and email, but it's not the same as helping a baby latch on for the first time in days or weeks. I fill in the gap where families can't afford lactation consultants.

It is not only the LDS Church that comes with mixed PR. I think a lot of us are affiliated with organizations that are struggling to deal with new ideas and ethical issues: from businesses to PTA and scouts, sports teams and the stores and brands we shop. How are you balancing these sorts of issues? I know I often boycott and letter-write. But also, I sometimes stick around and hope for change.


  1. I've been reading your blog since I started mine, so about 5 years now. Interestingly enough, I've never thought, "Why is Heather a Mormon? She should leave the Church." I've always just found it very cool that you think for yourself and have strong convictions about what you believe is right and fair and just. I don't think you should or have to leave the religion that speaks to you and that is a huge part of your life because you do not agree with everything the Church says or does. I do not think you need to leave LLL just because you don't agree with everything they say or do. Particularly with LLL....there is so much value to the help you are providing moms. Just wanted to comment here because I really enjoyed this post.

  2. I just found your blog (your modesty and breastfeeding post was on pinterest) and I just need to say THANK YOU and AMEN! Your blog is just what I needed today. I'm a more liberal woman/mother in the church and I'm often distressed by how different I am from my fellow church members. I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself that my different ideas on modesty, gender roles, LGBTQ rights etc are ok and fit in the gospel. I'm so grateful to know that there's someone else out there that thinks similar things and feels comfortable in that role. And I'm really grateful for what you said in this post "I love the Church and have a testimony of the gospel and feel like it's where I belong. I insist on belonging despite being told by others I don't." Just last week in the temple I decided that even though I have doubts sometimes about my place in the church, I shouldn't leave it (like one of my very close friends recently has... :( ) but that it's my job in this life to help the church from the inside by loving and treating everyone equally. I'm so glad to know that someone else thinks it is worthwhile too :) So in conclusion: thank you for putting your thoughts out there--they really helped me. And you are awesome!


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