This week we lost five young adults to suicide. Four were LDS. Four were LGBT. No words can adequately express the sorrow and grief for such loss.
Once isolated by the miles, social media allows our geographically diverse community a gathering place to process, mourn and bear one another’s burdens. Amid our collective support, one simple but profound observation emerged: “Suicide is complex and layered. Always. It is never possible to point to a specific reason.”
Yesterday the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah officials admit they are unsure why the youth suicide rate has nearly tripled since 2007.
We may not be able to officially pin point specific reasons, but we are familiar with the wounds.
Earlier this year the Church issued this statement in response to LGBT suicide: “We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope… Each congregation should welcome everyone. Leaders and members are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reach out in an active, caring way to all, especially to youth who feel estranged or isolated.”
Despite this call in January to welcome everyone, we are still being wounded. Wounded on a daily basis. And in our most vulnerable population, the LDS LGBT youth, this wounding can be fatal.
For those who desire to mourn with the LDS LGBT community… those who welcome, reach for, and care for LGBT youth and adults… it is critical to be aware of the five wounds of the LDS LGBT.
1. Identity Denial
We are told there are no homosexuals in the church. Our core identity of L, G, B, T, Q, I, or A is likened to temptation, choice, and addiction. We are told that instead of an identity we have a condition called same sex attraction.
Much has been written and many programs have been implemented to overcome same sex attraction. All are failures. All deny dignity. All teach you are broken and all keep you broken.
This is in great contrast to how the church teaches youth how to overcome opposite sex attraction.
Overcoming opposite sex attraction is the underpinning of the YW/YM program. It involves learning how to properly date, how to love yourself and respect those you are attracted to. The ultimate end goal of overcoming opposite sex attraction is eternal marriage and maintaining fidelity with your spouse.
Overcoming same sex attraction has no such pathway. Instead of a beautiful escort through your teenage years into marriage, you are led to the dungeon of celibacy.
If you are denied your identity, you can be treated as a condition. Eliminating identity denies you of your human dignity.
Marriage is the highest of goals for the LDS. It stands central to the doctrine of the plan of salvation, regardless if it is currently being defined as polygamous or monogamous. Youth are taught to look towards marriage. Heterosexuals who live together are counseled to marry as part of the repentance process. Marriage is seen as a cure for the delinquency of young men.
Interestingly the United States Government also recognizes that “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were… marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”
Sounds like Church and State should be on the same page here. However, LGBT stripped of an identity are now targeted as less than worthy of marriage.
No other group in the church is expected to remain celibate for life, yet the LGBT are led to this pasture continually. Yes, the responsibility of the Church is to teach chastity. We all accept that as members. That is what churches do. We understand that repentance of fornication lies in the hope that you will one day be married in a relationship where you can use your sexual prowess in the bounds that the Lord has set. However, when the promise and beauty of human love is removed, LGBT youth are left with a life of consistent distress… they are left without hope. David Gushee, distinguished professor of Christian ethics, writes:
Is the consistent, acute, totally predictable psychological distress caused to these young adults by your understanding of God’s moral rules a relevant consideration for your teaching and pastoring?
In light of this suffering and what is now known about human sexuality, do you still believe that this is what the God you are trying to serve really requires?
Might it be that some aspects of your understanding of sexual ethics are revisable rather than the eternal will of God?
Wendy Montgomery, now a tireless LGBT ally, recalls a time before her awakening as an advocate:
My involvement in actively working to take away the rights of others in 2008 still leaves me filled with shame. I will forever regret my part in Prop 8, and I know I still have much to atone for. Because of our actions, my son (and many others) believed that his parents and his church hated gay people.
Wendy’s son was not out during this time. He came home from school every day only to walk past a Prop 8 sign staked in his family’s yard.
I remember how I felt while still in the closet as the Church organized its 2008 efforts in Arizona to support Prop 102, a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Prominent members were invited to meet with the Stake President and asked to support substantial sums of money to support the amendment. My Stake Presidency alone donated a combined $25,000 in support of the same sex marriage ban.
Members of my ward and stake were personally invited by church leaders to volunteer at call centers. A letter was read over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, 5th Sunday lessons were given, and entire ward councils were spent furthering the work of banning same sex marriage in Arizona.
I did not feel safe and unfortunately it was this non-supportive environment that greeted me as I came out of the closet.
Public advocacy in the LDS church always involves the members. This means it involves the wards and stakes where LDS LGBT (in the closet and out) come to find safety and support while meeting their spiritual needs.
At that moment when public advocacy is woven into the fabric of worship, we create LGBT refugees.
Concerning refugees in general, Elder Kearon observes:
This moment does not define the refugees, but our response will help define us.
What is written and what is preached from the pulpit (as well as what is spoken in our own homes) concerning the LGBT are a thousand cuts, none of which are fatal but over time and repetition add up to a slow and painful demise.
Miracle of Forgiveness, To Young Men Only, “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone”, “There are no homosexual members of the church”, Disciples of Jesus Christ-Defenders of Marriage, counterfeit and alternative lifestyles, tolerance trap… just to name a few that readily come to mind.
Why do we let harmful words stand unchallenged? Especially ones spoken in our quorums and classes? Not all LGBT youth are out and hearing these words unchallenged creates loneliness and isolation. Bigoted, intolerant, and excluding words remove support and create an atmosphere of rejection. To be an ally you do not need to march in a Pride parade or hoist a rainbow flag at your house (in fact most allies don’t do this) but a gentle correction during a Sunday School lesson can prove to be a lifesaving event.
Words create culture. Culture creates policy. Policy emboldens discrimination.
5. The Policy
This final wound pierces straight to the heart. It combines all other wounds into a living instrument that harms LGBT families. It denies otherwise worthy eight year old children of same sex married couples the ordinance of baptism. Married same sex couples are branded apostates and must endure a church court threatening excommunication for being legally married.
For those with children from a previous mixed orientation marriage, excommunication unseals the children from their parent because they legally married their same sex partner. In this act of unspeakable spiritual violence, the children are forcibly removed from the parent for eternity.
At 18 years of age the policy dictates that the children of legally married same sex couples must denounce their parent’s marriage and meet with a general authority to determine worthiness for baptism or to serve a mission.
It is a spiritually devoid policy that removes all hope from our LDS LGBT youth and forces them to conform or leave. They are denied to marry according to their orientation even though they respect marriage so deeply “that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”
The policy strips the LDS LGBT of the dignity afforded their heterosexual peers. It attempts to control the LDS LGBT through fear and threat. And every Sunday our LGBT youth walk under a policy inscription admonishing them to abandon hope.
Recognizing the five wounds of the LDS LGBT allows for effective aid and comfort because you know where we are hurting. It gives a framework to understand what support is needed in our homes and congregations.
If you are still unsure where to begin, start with the Family Education LDS booklet from the Family acceptance Project. This booklet has been designated as a “Best Practice” resource for suicide prevention for LGBT people by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention. You can download it here.
This week as we remember these precious souls who are gone too soon, we may not understand all the reasons for their passing, but as a community of saints are we mourning those who we are wounding?