Volunteer quits Young Life over ban on gay leaders

SNOHOMISH — A woman here is standing up for what she believes is right.

Pam Elliott, a volunteer leader for Young Life Snohomish, is leaving the evangelical Christian ministry after being asked to remove a photo from her Facebook page. It showed rainbow-colored flowers that she and friends had made out of tissue paper to show support for gay rights.

Terry Swenson, a spokesman for Young Life, says that Elliott, who is married to a man, did not violate the group’s written policies. But leaders are discouraged from publicly expressing opinions about political and social issues.

Because people see Elliott as a representative of Young Life, her posting of the pride flowers was “unwise” and made for a “complicated” situation, Swenson said in an interview.

Elliott decided to leave the organization after more closely examining Young Life’s policies regarding homosexuality.

Young Life accepts middle and high school students regardless of sexual orientation, but the standards are different for leaders.

Only those who are heterosexual are allowed to serve the international faith-based nonprofit as leaders. That applies to young people and adults alike.

Elliott said she wasn’t aware of the policy when she agreed to mentor ninth-grade girls at Snohomish High School a year ago. Had she read the paperwork more carefully, she said, she wouldn’t have signed it.

“I love Young Life,” Elliott said. “But I want this policy to be daylighted.”

Elliott is also part of another local group that her friend, Joan Robinett Wilson, started, called the Society of Lucky Mothers, which supports people of all sexual orientations. Wilson’s son, Drake, 17, posted a YouTube video last summer announcing he is gay.

“If we talk about it more, it helps educate people,” Robinett Wilson said. “It’s hard to hate someone once you know their story.”

The mothers group made the tissue-paper flowers to carry as they march in support of equality in Seattle’s Pride Parade on June 28 and in Snohomish’s Kla Ha Ya Days parade on July 18.

After Elliott posted a photo of their handiwork on Facebook, Dan Hartsoch, a Young Life Snohomish leader, told her she needed to take it down if she wanted to continue mentoring the girls.

“I cried and cried and cried,” Elliott said. “It just didn’t feel right.”

She took a closer look at the paperwork she had signed when she started volunteering.

Young Life staff and volunteers are only to engage in sexual activity within a heterosexual marriage. Anything else is considered sexual misconduct, according to the group’s policy.

“When I read it, I was disgusted,” Elliott said. “Basically, it says homosexuality is not part of God’s creation plan.”

Although she loved leading her group of girls, Elliott decided staying with the organization meant supporting a discriminatory policy. And she couldn’t do that to Wilson’s son, Drake.

“I’m not an activist, I just support kids,” Elliott said. “In Snohomish, we support each other’s kids like they’re our own.”

Drake Wilson is a deacon at First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish. However, he wouldn’t be accepted as a peer leader in Young Life because he is gay.

Robinett Wilson and Elliott wish Young Life would make its policy more inclusive.

Swenson said doesn’t mean to be hurtful. “We’re trying to be true to who we are in a way that is respectful and loving,” he said.

Elliott believes Young Life is a great group. She tears up when she talks about no longer mentoring her girls.

But on this issue, she said, she must lead by example.

“I showed my girls if you believe in something, you can stand up for it,” Elliott said. “I don’t take this lightly. When I go to Heaven, this won’t be a problem. God wants me to love everybody.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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