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?
Please read his excellent article in its entirety here.
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?
Nathan–thank you. It is good for us to be aware of each other’s pain. We should also be clear that our objective is to assuage pain and provide hope. Many people are in pain but it is not a lost cause. I would hate for anyone in pain to read this and feel worse. There is hope. You are important and loved. Together we can learn and grow and heal.
Jon thank you for this reminder. This is not a lost cause and there is much hope to be found. I still remember my English literature professor at BYU teaching us that as Dante and Virgil enter the gates of Hell the inscription they pass under that says “Abandon hope, all ye who enter” was written by the father of all lies and therefore not the truth. Christ is the author of hope and the finisher of our faith. There is always hope and to be told otherwise is not of Christ.
I hope my previous blog posts of “Keep Going” and “The House I am Helping to Build” help convey this hope and growth.
It is empowering to stand and say “You are hurting me.”
I certainly do not want anyone in pain to feel worse by reading this. If you are in pain, I offer my sincerest empathy and hope to convey my deepest belief that you are important and very much loved. You are not alone. Life is beautiful and you are needed.
Love this ^^
I loved the article. I am so sorry for the Church’s stand on all this. I almost lost my Temple Recommend over this, because I feel so strongly about the unfairness of this. My ward wisely put me in Nursery – I am too outspoken. I will continue to speak out/ stand against this injustice. I actually only know only 1 member of the LGBT community who is a member, but for as long as I can remember, this has tugged at my heart & my faith. Love to you all.
I am the mother of an LDS LGBTQ daughter and I do appreciate most of the information in this article but I have to say that there are a few things missing or slightly inaccurate. Your last point of “unspeakable spiritual violence” through excommunication is simply not true. Once a sealing ordinance is performed on behalf of an individual, it cannot be voided no matter the status of the individual who initiated that ordinance in the future. There are precautions and procedures the church will ensure are done to limit suffering by our youth but I’ve never witnessed more loving acts of understanding by men who are obviously portraying and extending what they can of the love that their Father in Heaven has for them.
The other vital element that is missing from this article is the simple fact that there are untold blessings that come from obedience. Blessings that have the capacity to swallow up the suffering and make things bearable. The Lord makes promises that are largely dismissed and underrated and we can’t dictate to anyone, LGBTQ or otherwise, how to trust and build their own personal testimonies.
I think the bottom line comes down to loving them unconditionally, and yes, there will be people who resist that first and greatest commandment and it’s heartbreaking at the best of times because you can’t control the way everybody thinks or the opinions they might have, but your example leaves a living legacy that does more for your cause than you’re prepared for. So be careful what fingers you point and what actions you allow your frustrations to dictate because I’ve learned by experience that in an effort to gift someone with more rights than they seemingly enjoy, you inadvertently belittle the rights of someone else. You can’t go wrong if all of your intentions and actions are compelled with the love and understanding that Heavenly Father has asked us to have for one another, even those who don’t share or embrace your opinion.
I will have to investigate this assertion a bit further. Having been in a mixed orientation marriage and therefore having children born in the covenant I was informed by my church leaders that if I were to marry a man I would be excommunicated and in doing so it would void my ordinances and sealings. My children would still enjoy the blessing of “sealing” but I would not remain sealed to them effectively removing me from them for eternity. This seems a spiritually violent act to take my children from me after this life for legally and lawfully marrying again. Maybe my priesthood leaders are telling me incorrectly?
Shelene, thank you for sharing your response. I follow most of your comment but I get a little lost toward the end. Would you mind explaining a couple things you wrote:
“your example leaves a living legacy that does more for your cause than you’re prepared for”
“in an effort to gift someone with more rights than they seemingly enjoy, you inadvertently belittle the rights of someone else”
And as Shelene may or may not still be around, anyone else who follows better than I, could you explain what you understand from those excerpts?
Great article. Spiritual violence and abuse is the most accurate way to describe the approach of the LDS Church towards our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.
That modern people consider it a perk does not mean that love in marriage (like love between other family members) is predicated on sexual attraction. Mixed-orientation marriages (which are all of them, in a sense, as no two people’s attraction schema can really be identical) are possible, with every connected blessing, to every member of the Church willing to forgo physical relations outside of the procreative unit.
The first, last, and only real point of all this energy spent not feeding the poor but loosening minds about gender is that people are designed to reproduce sexually. The human reproductive union, marriage, cannot be fulfilled in other ways than combining two genders. To forever circle around this central fact without addressing it can only result in perpetual confusion and social conflict between those who will see the truth and those who will not see it. If the LDS Church fell into apostasy and embraced homosexuality, what then? Then you must move to the next target, and the next, until all are subjugated and their children re-educated into acceptance of the new religion of dyssexuality; then you must erect institutions of control to silence all future dissenters — and yet there will continually arise new dissenters, since people are innately rational beings, and, until the fundamental truth is altered, somebody somewhere will always notice and preach it.
And that’s just a best-case scenario for your side (pity that you need to insert “sides” into Zion that have driven so many people away from what could have helped them, but here you are nevertheless, insisting on a unique, exclusive “core identity” based on… what? On SEXUAL ATTRACTION. You find the main point of your lives to be sexual attraction. Consider how extreme that is, how diminishing to every other element of human experience. Imagine removing all parts of your life experience unconnected with such attraction — all other actions and thoughts and experiences and relationships — and then living out that empty husk of a life. Would it not be hellish and zombielike?).
On the other hand, a worst-case scenario may be war or other convulsive oppression that someday eradicates the institutions of you who follow this new religion, leaving you, instead, as the sporadic and persecuted dissenters, a situation you think sometimes really existed in the past, a creed of blame providing many with semi-conscious justification for revenge.
In between these are a middle-ground of co-existence, a happy or at least tolerably functional social ‘marriage’ where the two religions of creative sexuality and dyssexuality may persuade but do not force each other to change — or self-segregation, communities amicably parting ways.
In which direction are you moving on this scale of civil strife? Are others still entering your political and intellectual retreats and pressuring you to give up your views, so you are seeking tolerant equilibrium by pleading for the sympathetic assent of religion? Or are you doing that to others, and you, though rightfully free to disassociate from the religion you hate, are yourself trying to destroy the safe ground of all objectors?
Well, it seems obvious to most of us what your goal is. Imagine I smoke, and of ten houses on my street, five will not let me inside (even the one occupied by my own family members), or, if they do like me and want me in, still forbid my expression of “core identity” so as to not stink up the place and make them cough and so on. Then imagine that, rather than freely enter the other five houses, I write post after on-line post accusing the non-smoking five homeowners of horrible inhumanity, of driving me to depression and suicidalism, and I threaten myself with harm, in an effort to get all the houses to allow smoking.
What does it look like? It looks like whoever took me off the mentally unwell list made a big mistake.
So would you prefer that gay people cannot marry a partner of their choice?
Let me not circle around this central fact for you: gay marriage and gay people do not hamper the reproduction numbers. There have always been gay people on the planet and the population has still been exponentially growing over the centuries.
What kind of science are you referencing that places smoking in the same category as sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation (not attraction) is part of your core identify. You are spouting off nonsensical theories and opinions. You are catastrophising social progress as if is some conspiracy to move from target to target.
Becoming a Zion people involves the ninety and nine seeking out the one. This is love at it’s finest.
The same old comment that the LGBTQ same sex attraction is actually only based on sex (unless I misinterpreted the authors intent. My relationship with my now husband is built on much more than sex and unless it’s being suggested that all other relationships are based on sex also it shows both a lack of understanding of the LGBTQ person and the reason we care about being accepted in the LDS Church. The smoking argument went way beyond my comprehension but I’m guessing it was about sin comparison! My husband and I have four children who after the “apostasy” clarification resigned from the church, a very sad day for the ex wfie! There doesn’t have to be acceptance in the temple or holding of church assignments! The continued memos, clarifications and pretend caring from church leaders need to stop! I don’t blame the LDS Church for all of these suicides, we don’t know the victims thinking but I have no doubt a share of their issue are religion oriented!
The leaders of the Church definitely have blood on their hands as those who spew hate from the pulpit indeed drive fear and hate into the hearts of LDS LGBTQI youth. If there was purity in the heart of the message, instead of hate, suicide would be lessened to some degree.
I think one of the problems here is a misunderstanding of marriage and its purpose(s). God’s purpose for marriage is for the coming together of the two genders, uniting their different personalities and attributes for the mutual benefit of each and for the benefit of their children. Social research has proven time and again that children do best in a two parent, opposite sex married household. That may not jive with the narrative that the LGBT community is pushing, yet it is a fact. One of the principal reasons for marriage in the LDS perspective is to procreate; to bring others of our Father’s children here to earth, and to provide them with the protection and benefit of marriage between the two people who created them. While not all marriages stay intact, and not all couples are able to reproduce, marriage and children is the ideal. The basic unit of the Church and Heaven is the family and that is why everything in the Church revolves around the family.
I know I state the obvious when I remind you that two men or two women, no matter how much they love each other or how hard they try, cannot, of themselves, reproduce. That is a biological fact. No man-made law about marriage can change that fact. God instituted marriage between a man and a woman. Until recently, societies backed up God’s institution of marriage with laws that protected the institution because they recognized the benefit of marriage to families and society. It is man that has changed what God instituted by changing the definition of marriage. While it may be “legal and lawful” now to wed someone of the same sex, it does not mean that God agrees and gives His blessing. Man’s laws and God’s laws are not always the same. Just because it’s legal does not make it moral. (Think slavery).
God has many powers, one of which He shares with us: the power to create life. Do we really understand how awesome that power is? In today’s world of free sex, births out of wedlock and abortion, I think not. Brigham Young put it very well: “Imagine that, if you will,…all of us…carrying daily, hourly, minute to minute, virtually every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, the power and the chemistry and the eternally tramsmitted seeds of life to grant someone her second estate, someone else his next level of development in the divine plan of salvation…I submit that we will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when we are expressing that particular power. Of all the titles He has chosen for Himself, Father is the one He declares, and creation is His watchword-especially human creation, creation in His image….His glory–and His grief–is in his children…You and I-who can make neither mountain not moonlight, not one raindrop or a single rose-have this greater gift in an absolutely unlimited way. And the only control placed on us is self-control—self-control born of respect for the divine sacramental power it is.” To use this sacramental power in any other way than what it is intended for is to mock God. Irreverence for and abuse of sexual procreative powers-whether that irreverence or abuse is homosexual or heterosexual-is placing creation above the Creator, which is idolatry.
Any time we go against God’s laws and get called on it, we are going to feel wounded. It is because we have wounded our conscience and the Spirit. Instead of blaming others for having wounded us, maybe we need to examine ourselves for why it hurts.
Nathan, you claim that LGBT youth are the only group in this Church that is expected to remain celibate for life. This is not true. God and the Church expects any person in this Church who is not or never has been married to remain celibate for life. Satan would have us believe that we cannot live happy, fulfilled lives unless we experience sex. This is not true. Many in the Church never marry, through no fault of their own, yet they manage to remain celibate, faithful and contributing members of the Church. They believe in the promise of God that they will experience every blessing denied them in this life if they remain faithful. we have many examples of people, mostly women, who have done just that; Eliza R Snow and Sheri Dew to name just a couple. They and others have contributed enormously to the Gospel all while not being married and we are all grateful for their contributions.
In your example Sherri Dew and Eliza R. Snow both are practicing abstinence not celibacy. Both could marry if the right man/situation presented itself and stay within the good graces of the church. Who didn’t secretly think that Sherri Dew could have made a great wife to Gordon B. Hinckley after his first wife died?
Also, in the church there is a sexist disconnect between men who never marry and women who never marry. Women like Eliza and Sheri are praised for their contributions and faithfulness. Men who never marry cannot be Bishops, in fact… Go to any priesthood session and you will hear messages that unmarried men are a menace to society and get out there and date and get married so the sisters of our church don’t have to practice lifelong abstinence.
Celibacy is the vow to never marry, like what Catholic priests take. If a Catholic priest marries he loses his profession and is excommunicated. Both Eliza and Sheri took no vow, nor are they forced by the church to remain celebate their entire life.
As a church we expect our youth both LGBT and straight to abstain from sexual relations until marriage.
Because LGBT are denied marriage celibacy is forced upon us if we wish to remain in complete good standing within the church. Abstinent heterosexuals who marry according to their orientation remain in good standing. Abstinate homosexual members who marry according to their orientation are apostate.
By removing the choice to marry… Ever… This forced LGBT celibacy is creating a caste of nuns and priests in our church.
For a wonderful look on abstinence vs celibacy please read this excellent piece by Thomas Montgomery.