Two articles were released this week that deal with the growing and alarming number of suicide rates in Utah. One is written by Daniel Parkinson, a Mormon psychiatrist who identifies as gay and has done much advocacy work around LGBT+ issues.
The second is written by Thomas Montgomery, a Mormon father of a gay son and husband to Wendy Montgomery who is a primary founder of the Mama Dragons.
I will be conducting an interview with both of these gentlemen for the podcast Mormon Mental Health in the coming week or two.
I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to Bob Rees present at an LGBT+ support meeting this past weekend in Arizona. I agreed with him full heartedly that if we were losing this number of people to a virus or a serial killer or anything of the sort… we would be up in arms about getting resources to stop the trend. Unfortunately, I often hear many excuses and marginalizing statements in response to some of the information we find in these articles. And it’s especially concerning when those come from active members of our church. Such comments usually include some of the following themes: 1) we cannot change our beliefs due to the whims of the world, 2) doctrine never changes, 3) it is impossible to know why people take their own lives and therefore unfair to blame the church, 4) the church came out with the policy to protect the children from confusing messages at home, 5) if the church isn’t working for you, why don’t people just leave it?, and 6) you must not have a testimony since you take an ally position to LGBT+ concerns.
A Facebook feed where I shared this article today is an unfortunate example of this type of pushback — to which I respond to in more feisty ways than I would usually use professionally. And I do not apologize for my tone. Often severe tone is needed when severity of consequences are such as these. I know too many people who have lost loved ones to this travesty which our church is having a significant negative impact on. And I know too many people who have survived to tell me that the church played a significant part in their suicidal ideation and history.
Some examples of the responses I and other commenters make to shut down very hurtful rhetoric which I allow to stand on my wall only because it witnesses the harmful space where many people stand:
From commenter: Natasha and many others stay to try and save lives because LGBT children continue to be born to LDS households and that will continue. So walking away condemns another generation of LGBT LDS children to isolation, damaging doctrine and largely bigoted Mormon culture.
From me: You have zero idea what I believe or do not believe. I take very few stances against the church and they all pretty much have to do with sexuality – which is a hot mess in most religious cultures.
From commenter: An article full of data and the lived experience of real people and health providers is summarily dismissed as an assault on the LDS Church.
From me: We never said that this issue was singular. But that we believe it is significant and should be treated as so and should be studied and looked into. And should be treated as a crisis we want to get to the bottom of. Using wide brush dismissals as you are doing helps no one. And we do have through the family acceptance project great research on how rejection/acceptance does affect suicidality and mental health for LGBT+ folks. This isn’t rocket science.
From me: Actually adulteres are active in church all the time. I work with them and their bishops often. And although they are usually disciplined, most are not excommunicated. And their children are allowed to be baptized and enjoy normal developmental rituals like all of their friends. The November policy excludes children of homosexual members who are married from getting baptized, getting the priesthood or going on missions until they are 18 and have disavowed their parent’s choices. We require this of no other type of “sin of the parent” including murderers.
From me: I’m very uncomfortable with the direction my church has taken on this topic. I’m very uncomfortable that I hear more about family values (code for LGBT issues) at church than decreasing poverty. And no – I won’t let bullies like you tell me to leave if I don’t like it. I’m a Mormon. Deal with it.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org and runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She 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 over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.