The Deseret News published a lengthy article today, LDS Church Leaders Mourn Reported Deaths in Mormon LGBT Community, addressing the number of reported suicides among LDS LGBT youth since the policy announcement of last November.* Much of what was stated was very useful information: the interplay between depression/despair and environmental factors (i.e. family/community rejection, bullying, etc.) which play a role in suicidal ideation and attempts, the status of suicide data collection, links to resources that families and individuals can find useful (specifically the Family Acceptance Project), warning signs to look for, and practical suggestions for friends and family to be supportive of their LGBT loved ones.
What was most frustrating to read was the glaring double bind messages coming directly from the spokesperson chosen to represent the leaders of our Church.
Taken from the wikipedia definition: A double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation.
Let’s take a look at some of the double binds found in the quote from the Church spokesperson:
“Those who are attracted to others of the same sex face particular challenges and pressures in this regard, both inside and outside the church.”
Yes – exactly. LDS LGBT folks face very particular challenges and pressures, mostly that of bigotry and discrimination. These challenges and pressures don’t just come out of nowhere. We impose them – by our cultural and historical bias. And as a church we don’t just impose them as part of personal opinion – but instead position them as doctrine. This is what I call “playing the God trump card.” And any time someone lays down the trump card representing the God they believe in – conversation ends. You can’t beat it – no matter how hard you try, how smart you are, how logical your argument, etc. So, we acknowledge pressures and challenges exist – yet we take no responsibility for being the source for those very pressures and challenges. And blaming God for our own biases is an easy way for us to wash our hands of the responsibility of what is really happening here.
“Each congregation should welcome everyone.”
Yes – exactly. Yet, we have made it very clear that those exhibiting certain behaviors, especially those having to do with the choice to commit oneself in a same-sex marriage, will be met with disciplinary consequences within our church structure. And these disciplinary councils most often lead to the exact opposite effect of LGBT folks feeling welcome. The very meaning of excommunication relays the message of exclusion from the community’s membership, rituals and even fellowship. Because let’s be honest – we do not have a great track record of feeling comfortable around those who might “lead us astray.” Therefore, those who are disciplined, albeit still allowed to attend church and engage in a repentance process that does not resonate with choices they need to make for their mental health, are usually not reporting feeling welcomed.
“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.”
Yes – exactly. And yet the bishop’s handbook now makes it very clear that youth who come from a family system with an LGBT parent who is same-sex married or otherwise committed are going to be treated differently – especially if they have a close, committed relationship with that parent, live with that parent and/or don’t want to actively condemn their parent’s choices. To the point that they will also be excluded from church membership, rituals and fellowship. And if they, themselves are LGBT – they understand the implications of what this means for their future within the Mormon community. So, I think feeling estranged or isolated is actually a quite normal response to the system we have set up. How could we expect any LGBT youth to feel comfortable in our current LGBT-hostile environment? And just saying “we love you – we are sad you are hurting,” does not keep us from being an LGBT-hostile environment.
“The church has repeatedly stated that those who feel same-sex attraction and yet choose to live the commandments of God can live fulfilling lives as worthy members of the church.”
Yes – exactly. This is why we are LGBT-hostile. We have made it very clear that personal worth and community acceptance are conditional to behavioral choices. And that others get to decide for you how “fulfilling” will be defined. For example, I still don’t understand how anyone can believe that religiously pressured celibacy would be a fulfilling lifestyle for anyone. In fact there is data refuting this. People who try to change their sexual orientation or live in ways that suppress their orientation have higher levels of emotional distress, relational distress, illness, etc. It is in this type of positioning where we cross the line into emotional abuse.
“We want all to enjoy the blessings and safety offered by embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ and living the principles of His gospel.”
Yes – exactly. I believe we all want this. Yet, we differ in how this is defined. And when enjoying the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and living its principles is made conditional on behavioral choices that our Church (made up of imperfect people, even if well intentioned) gets to define, personal authority is undermined and safety is not offered.
These are the double binds that hurt us. They hurt us all. Because within them we face impossible, unsolvable, painful dilemmas.
I hope we all continue to wrestle and struggle with what is happening within our church at this historical time within the LDS community. It is through this process of dialogue, respectful challenge, and group awareness that progress will hopefully be made. And we can look forward to a time when our Church truly embraces all of God’s children in the beautiful principles the Gospel has to offer. May we work towards that combined goal is my prayer.
*Wendy Montgomery is a personal friend of mine and I have spoken with her regarding these reports. She has had one-on-one contact with each family reported that has lost an LDS LGBT member to suicide. Imagine what that would entail. The courage that she and her husband have exemplified as they have learned how to advocate not only for their gay son, but for so many other individuals and families is honorable. The time and energy they have spent grieving with and supporting others is a poignant example of what it looks like to live our baptismal covenants and “bear each others burdens.” I will have little patience allowing negative comments on my blog that attack this kind, gracious sister.
With permission to publish from Thomas Montgomery:
“Many people are alarmed by the number of suicide deaths of LGBT Mormon youth reported over the past 3 months. This also raises a very important question related to verifying this information. So, it is important to look at the genesis of this information.
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.
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.
So unless these parents and family members want to come forward, this information is not going to be shared to the public. It would be highly inappropriate for us to share information unofficially collected from grieving family members seeking support.”
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 InfoPodcasts, 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.