As we welcome a Prophet and his Counselors to their new leadership roles, I feel it important to bring awareness to the reality that for many LGBT+ members in the Mormon community, this change in leadership may accelerate fear and negative sentiment. Although all in the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency bear responsibility for the direction our church takes, we know that theirs is a process of seniority.
Two of the three in the first presidency are senior apostles that have played significant roles in the stances the church has taken over the past few decades in regards to homosexuality. Aggressive political movements against gay marriage in various states of the US, increased rhetoric of “religious freedom” with its direct results giving the church and other organizations (i.e. Hobby Lobby) rights to discriminate due to religious beliefs, and propelling the November 5th policy changes that require disciplinary action for those engaging in same-sex marriage and/or sexual relationships… as well as prohibit their children from being able to participate in the ordinances of membership (i.e. baptism, priesthood ordination, etc.) are just some examples.
With the statistics already so dire for LGBT+ youth and adults in regards to mental health concerns, family rejection, and suicide, I cannot say welcome… without in the same sentence strongly encouraging that these matters be weighed much more seriously than we have seen in the past few years. Specifically the rise we are seeing in teen suicide within our walls since some of these changes in our church have taken place.
The following is a statement put forward by Affirmation; an organization that seeks to build understanding and support between the church, LGBT+ members and their families. Like Affirmation, there are many organizations willing to sit at the table with church leaders to help bring eduction, strategies and solutions that are backed by best practices in the fields of social science, mental health and medicine. The Family Acceptance Project, the Department of Health and Human Services, Utah Pride Center, the Mormon Mental Health Association, Certified Sex Therapists & Educators from AASECT and many more would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with church leaders if the invitation was extended.
I have permission to share this statement in its totality.
Affirmation LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends exists to extend outreach and support to LGBTQ people in their unique individual journeys all over the world. Today, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints undergoes changes in leadership, we recognize the significance that this holds for many, including those within our community. As the newly elected President of Affirmation, I wish President Nelson and his counselors an increase in wisdom and strength, and we in Affirmation extend a hand of collaboration to help meet the diverse needs of the members of the LDS church, including people of color, women and LGBTQ people.Since the November 2015 LDS Handbook policy change that labels individuals in same-sex marriages as apostate and denies church membership to children of same-sex couples, our community has experienced a particularly acute increase in trauma, loss, and grief. Due to these actions and statements, many of our members are experiencing this transition of leadership with great apprehension and even fear.
For the last five years, Affirmation has been engaged in dialogue with members of LDS church public affairs, and we seek to continue to foster that open dialogue with them and with those in leadership who will meet us in fellowship. We are appreciative of the dialogue and friendships we have had in the past and look forward to those conversations continuing to move into the immediate future.
We are grateful to the new First Presidency for extending their love to all of God’s children in response to a reporter’s question about the place of LGBT people in the church. We wish to express that as LGBTQ individuals, we experience love most fully when our agency is honored, when our stories are heard and believed, and when the language we use to identify ourselves is used and respected. We also experience love when our happiness and wellbeing, as we define it, is regarded equally as sacred and valuable within our associated communities.
To the members of Affirmation, we love you and are ever with you during this change of leadership and all that lies ahead. We are inspired by your strength and have seen your remarkable resilience in the face of overwhelming barriers and hardship. We are on this journey together and invite you to seek and offer support in our online groups, face-to-face meetings, and conferences coming up around the world this year.
Carson J. Tueller, President
Affirmation Board of Directors
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, is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.