I don’t want to use triggering or sensational language at a time like we are currently facing within the LDS community. So I use the term crisis, because it is so.
The LDS community lost three LGBT youth members and one LGBT young adult member to death by suicide just this week. There was also one other suicide death of a minor. All occurring within the state of Utah.
Some reality we have to face regarding statistics:
According to the CDC and the Utah State Health department, Utah’s overall health of children dropped from 7th to 27th in the nation just this past year, with LGBT suicide among teens being a huge contributing factor. The state of Utah alone has more than doubled the suicides for the same age group and time period. Utah also has well more than double the number of suicides of the national average for 14-20yr olds.
Youth suicides have doubled in Utah since 2008, the year the LDS church fought vigorously for Proposition 8 in California.
At the beginning of February, the number of LGBT LDS kids who’d committed suicide since the November 5 exclusion policy was 36, averaging to about 3 per week.
And to quote Kate Kelly, “facts are not anti-Mormon.”
Death by suicide is complicated and usually includes a variety of factors. However, that does not absolve our church culture and community from the psychological harm it has had and continues to have on LGBTQ+ members and their families.
Dr. Daniel Parkinson, a psychiatrist and long-time advocate for LGBTQ+ LDS members, states: “We can’t blame a particular suicide on any one issue. However, when a person is carrying a number of burdens, and the burden becomes too great to carry, we should certainly focus on any one of those that we can lighten….especially if it contributes over and over to loss of life and loss of happiness. Being an LGBTQ Mormon is a burden that leads to loss of life. It doesn’t have to be. Let’s take away that risk factor and get to work on the others and start saving the lives of our teens.”
And it is a burden to have exclusionary policies as we have recently seen become increasingly rigid and harmful. We cannot pretend that the rhetoric we currently hear at church around these issues is not having an impact on the mental health of LGBTQ members. We are not inclusive – it’s that simple. Talking of love and protection, when we literally bar children with LGBTQ+ married parents from baptismal waters and excommunicate those who would express love and companionship according to their sexual orientation, is downright offensive, inaccurate and emotionally abusive. It just is. If we are going to stand by these policies – then we need to accept that they are exclusionary and cause harm. And that we are okay with that. Because we believe God is okay with that. That’s what it boils down to. And I am not okay with that.
And as I say that, I’m hoping we can stay away from polarized ground – either the church is all good or it is all bad – because then we are more likely to be paralyzed from pivotal action and dialogue that needs to take place. If it’s all good, we cannot disagree with our leaders and use the gifts of personal discernment and revelation. If it’s all bad, we cannot recognize our many assets and work from within where so many (youth in particular) need these conflicts to be shifted and resolved. We cannot look at the facts listed above and be effective if we fall prey to the classic divisive process of labeling others as either “faithful” or “apostate.” There are many of us who are faithful members and cannot stand by harmful policies that go against the spiritual confirmations of countless LGBTQ+ members, parents, and allies that know these current stances are not of Christ. There are many of us who have stopped believing in the truth claims of the gospel and still spend countless hours of service within our church community to be allies and help those in need. I can be faithful and know that it is unacceptable that these exclusionary policies are being presented as doctrine to our children (see Elder Nelson’s quote in current youth manual). We can hold two realities at the same time. It does not need to be either/or. Either/or scenarios inappropriately simplify complicated problems, shut down conversations, and don’t validate real lived experience.
I will end with the following:
If you have a loved one who is young and LGBT living in Utah or connected to social media groups where they might be hearing about these deaths, please reach out to them. Check in on how these news might be affecting them. Be direct in asking about their safety. Offer love and support. Share resources they can access 24/7. All of these things can be done without threatening any religious beliefs.
Family Acceptance Project – LDS Booklet (should be in the hands of every bishop and stake president with extras to hand out to those in need)
Mormon Spectrum for resources
SAMHSA for resources
And please remember, as you might consider making comments on this thread, we are in a time of mourning. And young, impressionable minds read and hear what we say. Most of us don’t know when there might be someone among us who is LGBTQ+. Let’s please be mindful of the way we choose to express ourselves. I usually allow for most comments to stand – even bigoted ones – as a witness of where our community stands. But if I feel your comment would hurt a young reader, I will delete them at this particularly sensitive time.
I will be welcoming some guest posts in the following few days from LDS members who also see the need for a change. Lives depend on us being able to hold on to our faith, while simultaneously rooting out abusive practices.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.