Or, The Experiences of Being LGBT and Mormon.
The stories, trials, and tragedies of LGBT Mormons need to be told. If we, as a people, are to understand, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those in need of comfort. In sum, if we are to possess the pure love of Christ, we must know them. Empathy requires vulnerability. We must open our hearts, and feel some of the pain they have felt. Only by doing this, can we be enabled to see them how God sees them, and hence, act towards them, as He would act towards them. Christ descended below all things, in part, so that He could have an experiential knowledge “so that at He may know according to the flesh how to succor his people.” Alma 7:12
This week news broke about an increase in suicides among LGBT Mormon youth in the wake of the handbook policy change last November. Wendy Montgomery, an active temple-recommend holding, co-founder of Mama Dragons, a Mormon LGBT parent support group, reported 32 suicides, including 26 from Utah. The average annual youth suicide rate in Utah is 37. The leading cause of death for Utah youth, in general, is suicide. For the nation as a whole, it falls as third. The Utah Department of Health confirmed 10 cases of suicides for the age group, 2 undetermined and 11 caused by accident. The official statistics may under report the true number, as it is difficult to distinguish between accident and suicide, especially because of the strong social stigmas against both suicide and being LGBT. On top of this, official health statistics always have a margin of error.
I accept the possibility that due to misreporting, or emotional grief, some of the numbers reported to the Montgomerys may not equal actual suicide deaths. The Salt Lake Tribune has a nice discussion of how to interpret the numbers. The problem ultimately boils down to the difficulty of accurately measuring it. As a social scientist, I recognize that people data is always messy, especially for suicide data. Given the data cautions, the Montgomery report is still shocking. Thomas Montgomery, Wendy’s husband said they “never solicited any information…relatives of suicide victims began reaching out in grief.”
Two things are certain. First, any suicide where LGBTQ related depression is involved for one of our Mormon youth is unacceptable. Two, the amount of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are on the rise.
The BYU USGA highlighted the suicide attempts of four students. Alex Young said, “I felt like that could never be me, that I had failed my Heavenly Father and my family, and that it would be better if I just ended my life rather than eke out a miserable, lonely existence.”
Carol Lynn Pearson, the lyricist behind the primary song I’ll Walk with You, has been a leader in compassion and dialogue. Her first book, “Goodbye, I love you.” Tells her experience of faith, love, and the death of her gay husband from AIDS. The recent, “No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones” documents anecdotes of the tragic stories of gay and lesbian latter-day saints. Elder Marlin K. Jenson wept when he read her books.
One of the first detailed stories I read documents one gay mormon’s struggle to make religious devotion work. It covers his relationship with bishops, stake presidents, and a letter exchange with Elder Packer that ultimately was used against him in Elder Packer’s 1993 CES talk where he defined, “Feminists, Homosexuals, and Intellectuals” as the three dangers of the church.
Laura Skaggs Dulin (M.S. Marriage & Family Therapy) in an open letter to the saints: “When a Gay Person Shows Up at Church” described the life choices facing gay Mormons “1) If a gay/ssa Mormon marries a person of the opposite sex, we are statistically at least twice as likely as our peers to divorce. 2) If a gay/ssa Mormon marries someone of the same sex, we are now officially identified in LDS policy as an apostate of The Church of Jesus Christ and all that comes with it. 3) If we remain single and celibate, the largest study of LGBT/Same sex attracted Mormons found that on average, we have the same life quality scores as someone with the chronic autoimmune disease, lupus. So summarizing that all together we get: Divorce, Apostate, Lupus — That is what gay/ssa Mormons are presently up against and obviously it’s discouraging to say the least.”
She also discusses ways for us to be more understanding and empathetic.
Finally, a brief anecdote from an acquantence.
“When I was 20, I attempted suicide. I was saved by my own incompetence as the medications I took had expired without my realizing it and were therefore less potent. By the time I decided to go to a hospital it was too late for me to be treated. All they could do was monitor my condition. I faced dying a slow, agonizing death over a week or two as my liver shut down and toxins built up in my blood. Luckily, since the medication was expired and my body was so proactive about removing the toxins in other ways (barf city), I am okay. I had a lot of reasons for doing what I did, but my sexuality and my feeling like there was no hope for me was one of them. I went to a bleeping arts high school. I had gay friends and I knew supportive adults. I still felt like there was no way out. Why can’t we understand that we give these kids no way out? Why do we keep letting them die?”
Update 7.2016: This month, CNN highlighted a Mormon young adult who committed suicide. His family gave CNN the young man’s internet history, profile, and communications to help paint a more full picture of what the final days are like.
I think the mother is right, in that it was the loneliness and isolation that was at the root of her son’s death. I ask where that isolation came from? Why did he not feel it in his church and community? What can we do, as members to help others feel included, loved, needed, important, and accepted. How can we better say they are not alone?
“This information was never solicited. There were no surveys or research. No one thought to collect this information as a tool to attack the LDS Church. As early as November, relatives of suicide victims began reaching out in grief to various Mama Dragons. At first it was one. Then it was two. And then it was five. And then it was a dozen. And then it was so many that the question was finally raised, “How many has it been?” So they just started gathering all the names together.
So this information is self-reported by grieving family members. Verifying this information is also complicate by multiple factors:
1) Most reports were from immediate family but often not the parents.
2) Many times the parents were not aware of or in denial of the sexual orientation of their children. And it is a common Mormon belief that people aren’t gay in heaven so their child is no longer gay.
3) Because of shame, other families will hide that their child was LGBT.
4) These are self-reported by people reaching out in grief for support, so we are not hiring investigators to verify.
5) There are many circumstances in which accidents or drug overdoses of legal or illegal drugs are not reported as suicides.”
From his facebook page post dated January 31 at 4:58pm