Yes, Let’s PLEASE Have a Serious Conversation About Suicide!  Questions for the Public Conversation

Note:  The following questions and thoughts are my own, Jacob Hess, and not necessarily representing the larger writing team, which is currently collaborating on various “maps” for this and other issues arising out of our own disagreements as a team. Erratum – Diane Oviatt was misquoted in an earlier version of this article.  A correction has been made, and I apologize for the oversight.  

Starting earlier this month, several in the LDS progressive community began circulating reports of 32 teen suicides that had taken place since the gay marriage policy clarification.

While the numbers were passed along second and third-hand, the underlying implication wasn’t left to anyone’s imagination: these deaths are clearly the Church’s fault…

This is not the first time such an accusation has been made, and it most certainly won’t be the last.  One person wrote that particular attitudes in the LDS Church were responsible for “killing another generation of beautiful Mormon youth.” Another mother recently stated that “there are graveyards full of young Latter-Day-Saints” who have tried to fit the LDS narrative.  She went on to talk about her own son’s attempt to do so, despite how he felt about his true nature, as “a lie that backed [my son] into a suicidal corner,” thanks to “the shame and self-loathing that his religious doctrine and culture imposed upon him all those years.”

These are deadly accusations about a deadly issue. If there was ever a question deserving careful scrutiny and thoughtful conversation, this is it.

And I’d seriously love to see that actually happen…

But instead of doing the hard work of listening across different perspectives, it’s turning out to be much easier to simply pass around insinuations of ‘the awful truth’ online in an outward rippling of outrage.

“This is unbelievable and the church continues to preach hate” responded one.  “I am so, so angry”…said another on Facebook.

And who wouldn’t be upset if this was all true? That the very church calling itself by the name of Christ was actually responsible for some of these deaths – with “blood on its hands” as some adamantly insist…

If that’s true, then we should all be marching.  But what if it’s not true? What if the responsibility for what is happening is much more complex and multi-faceted than can be distilled into another viral Facebook post?

And this leads to my first question for those involved in the conversation:  Are you open to pursuing the full truth on this question – even if you don’t like the answers?

That’s a sincere question I would pose to everyone in this conversation, including religious conservatives. Compared to the self-affirming echo-chamber within which more and more of our lives play out, I’m convinced the full truth about this (and any question) is going to take a very different kind of conversation – one where we allow our most precious convictions (mine included) to be challenged and scrutinized in the light of day. Are we open to that? (you and I both?)

If so, my next question is this:  In all the recent talk of suicides, why is so little attention being given to a medical literature that now includes nearly 13,000 research studies touching on risk factors for suicide?

As a depression researcher myself, I find it curious (and troubling) that this documented array of complexity is rarely mentioned by those raising concerns…

And so my question is simply: why not?

It’s worth realizing that by no research or academic standard would a simple causal factor be seen as responsible for any given suicide – even those that appear to have an obvious instigator (see below). That may be the one thing that everyone in the suicide literature actually agrees on:  taking a life is an inherently complex matter (even when it seems simple).

That’s probably one reason the excellent guidelines produced by the Trevor Project and collaborators, “Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations” discourage any kind of simplistic sharing when it comes to suicide, noting that “Some coverage…has oversimplified or sensationalized a number of the underlying issues, and in some cases may have created the potential for suicide contagion risk.”  They go on to say:

  • DON’T attribute a suicide death to experiences known or believed to have occurred shortly before the person died. The underlying causes of most suicide deaths are complex and not always immediately obvious. Making hasty assumptions about those causes, even when based on comments from family or friends or media reports, can result in statements that are later proven to be inaccurate. Don’t risk perpetuating false or misleading information by jumping to conclusions about the reasons for a particular suicide death. Also, directly attributing a suicide to bullying or another negative life event can increase contagion risk among vulnerable individuals who have similar experiences.
  • DON’T normalize suicide by presenting it as the logical consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBT people often experience.

Kudos to Caitlin Ryan, Kendall Wilcox and Jay Jacobsen for being vigilant about continuing to remind people of these considerations.

Despite these efforts, some seem more focused on getting ‘the truth’ to the world, rather than creating conditions of a productive conversation.[1]

In fairness, once again, I would probably be doing the same thing if I believed my progressive friends did about identity, sexuality, biology, choice, change, God, eternity – and suicide itself.

But I don’t.

Are you open to exploring together other potential explanations for some of the numbers we’re seeing?[2]

In hopes of inviting a more productive conversation about these suicides, I list below four factors receiving virtually no attention in the current U.S. and Utah conversations about suicide (whether for teenagers or adults):

1. America’s depressogenic lifestyle. Researchers at Clark University and the University of Washington have argued that America’s average lifestyle is literally “giving birth” to despair – almost like a perfect “petri-dish” for depression. From a typical diet of low-nutrient, high-additive “food” and ongoing high-sugar drinks to regular habits of sleep deficiency and physical inactivity to an accelerating lifestyle that leaves precious little time for contemplation and mental/emotional rest…it’s hard not to agree with them! The brain can only take so many ‘insults’ before it gets pushed over the edge. Is it time for a public health approach to mental health, where we talk about the collective risk burden that is pushing so many of us (gay, straight, right, left, men, women, young, old) to the edge?

2. Digital and pornographic colonization of American life. Whether teen or adult, all Americans are now swimming in an environment unlike any before faced by previous generations. In addition to the sheer volume of digital stimulation (that everyone agrees is rewiring our brain), we’re living in a highly pornographic and sexualized environment. And this isn’t your “father’s porn”; a surprisingly high amount of porn that teens are consuming these days is violent, aggressive situations that depicts pleasure arising from acts that most humans (of any perspective) would consider degrading and objectifying. The darkness, despair and depression associated with compulsive digital consumption, to say nothing of compulsive pornography consumption – is increasingly acknowledged.

And yet, when depression or anxiety arise in our youth or adults, almost universally our cultural response is to somehow fight against the emotional pain itself in attempting to make it “go away” – often without serious (enough) consideration of many of the root risk factors that give rise to deeply painful moods.[3]

3. Personal and social upheaval. For many, religious communities provide a powerful set of protective factors against some of these very toxic patterns in the surrounding culture. But what happens to these protective structures when a teen comes to identify as LGBT? These protections can quickly melt away – and not simply because religious people suddenly become hostile.  The philosophical shift alone is profound.  Describing his own coming out experience, one person said:  “All [previous] teaching about my identity…was WRONG!  I had so many ideas of what I thought my life was going to be like, and who I was going to be, and how I was going to be that for the world and those people that I loved and had grown up with. And as I grew up and as I figured out more about myself and who I was, I began to realize that that person that I had been raised to be was not who I actually was” (FB-KA, italics mine).

What role do these kinds of wrenching shifts play in de-stabilizing individuals – especially young ones?  Other accounts describe the “dream for me ever since before I was born” laid aside (FB-RU) or walking away from everything one had been taught to value such as a mission, marriage, the Church itself:  “When that happened, the whole world sort of came crashing down” (FB-BE)

Another parent described what many individuals feel in the process: “I had to re-examine everything I had previously thought…It upended my notions of truth, happiness, obedience, loyalty, and in fact all that I held dear, including my perception of the character of God….All of my beliefs have been upended and rearranged.”

What impact does this kind of a profound upheaval have on mental health – this veritable ripping-away from one’s theological moorings?  However we might disagree about the necessity or wisdom of this upheaval (some might call it an inevitably painful, but necessary process), people from various perspectives might agree that this might represent a crucial risk factor for suicide (well confirmed by the medical literature as well).[4]

4. Seemingly Impossible Futures. Personal conflict is almost universal for teens growing up with same-sex attraction. When someone comes out and identifies as LGBT, some report a reduction in personal conflict moving forward. For others, however, this same move to identify as LGBT actually exacerbates the conflict further – to where it becomes profoundly paradoxical and even more impossible to reconcile – “a sharp, painful dilemma” one man called it, “with the contrast in teaching about the church” (FB-CH).

The implications for mental health and de-stabilization to the point of suicide are apparent in people’s own stories.  After coming to identify as gay, one man spoke of the challenge of having “two conflicting identities.”  He reflected, “I realized why people get depressed, and suicidal because you’re constantly trying to resolve something that’s irresolvable” (FB-TI). Another added, “It’s hard to even go day by day. Not knowing how you’re going to reconcile this about yourself, how you going to create a life that is happy in any way” (FB-H).

Whereas these kinds of feelings and conclusions are almost always interpreted as clear evidence of the harm of religious conservative teaching, it’s also reasonable to look at the profound conflict itself (between religious conservative and progressive views of sexuality) as centrally driving the pain and confusion.

From that vantage point, both sides of the conflict might bear some responsibility – including both the old identity/life narrative and the new identity/life narrative.  For instance, a third individual spoke of messages he had been getting that “this is just who you are and you just need to be yourself and be gay” as contributing to his desire to kill himself – specifically “not knowing that there were other options.”

One progressive man’s recent essay reflects a striking example of the verbalized dichotomy that many LDS teens experiencing same-sex attraction certainly now hear all around them in progressive American culture:  “Today, the message to LGBT Mormon youth is clear, and it’s a bleak Sophie’s Choice: either resign yourself to life of celibacy, or be ejected from your church and family — for all time and eternity. Regardless of which option Mormon youth choose, they lose.”

I’m going to say it, dear author:  This is irresponsible talk…and for someone with your knowledge base, it also feels a bit dishonest (two options only…really?).

Rather than a personal critique, I say this for the same reason you’ve written what you have:  the welfare of these teens.  And I hope you realize that from one perspective, this kind of ‘damned if you do/damned if you don’t’ rhetoric may well be contributing to some of the very pain that these teenagers we all care about are facing.

Want to make a teen in the LDS Church despair? Convince them that who they are demands either acting in violation of their most sacred convictions or living a life not quite as enjoyable as “those who have lupus.” As one person said, “I figured if I couldn’t have the life I wanted, and the life I could have from what I read wasn’t conducive to the gospel…then my only option was to kill myself.” (VH-DEC)

Lack of options, hopelessness, no viable future = a deadly cocktail by any measure.  In a broader mental health context, I’ve described this as “learned hopelessness.”  Can we at least agree to leave possibility and options open (yes, more than two…yes, even options you and I might disagree with)?[5]

Think of the strength of our common ground right now:  the value and welfare of precious human beings…especially the children.

Perhaps the ONLY thing that could possibly get in the way of us finding together some real answers…is, well, a narrow, deformed conversation.

So what do you say:  How about a broader conversation about suicide – one that opens itself to various explanations, independent of whose biases they confirm?

This doesn’t mean you can’t believe the Church bears significantly responsibility, just as I will continue believe the same about the progressive activist community.  It means we’d actually come together to hear each other out – staying open to thoughtful, good-hearted people looking at the same numbers, the same stories and seeing something very different going on.[6]

Notes:

[1] (A conversation that could actually get to the bottom of this problem).  And yes, I have the same concern about my own tribe – religious conservatives who can be so eager to share the truth with neighbors, that they make precious little time to actually hear the story of their neighbors.

[2] No, Lisa, numbers never ‘tell the story’ alone…the truth is, all numbers require a story-teller. That being said, I found your piece this week quite powerful, generous and helpful.  (My only slight quibble being that my feeling is we need to have more discussion – rather than less – if we are to get to the bottom of this).

[3] In an earlier version of this article, I also attempted to summarize the conversation around anti-depressants and suicide risk (since anti-depressant narratives are a central research interest).  But I felt unsettled about attempting to do so in one paragraph – especially given the many ways brief commentary on such a sensitive topic could be misconstrued. Given the enormous complexity of that topic, I opted to remove it as something deserving of more independent and extensive exploration in the future.

[4] Even satisfied post-Mormons speak of ‘post-traumatic church syndrome’ – reflecting real mental health consequences associated with someone choosing to leave a faith or reexamine their entire world-view.

[5] In the mental health world, I’ve seen that sometimes the existence of possibility is the only thing people need to keep going.  To my mind, then, it would and could be a huge step forward if we all agreed to represent what others in the conversation actually thought about these crucial, life-and-death questions. That conversation may not be as “effective” for our various causes or campaigns – and it may feel uncomfortable to not simply have our various biases confirmed. But don’t these questions deserve the highest quality of conversation?  Isn’t that something we might agree on?

While we’re at it, maybe we can stop pretending that conservatives think gay people “choose to feel attracted” – and pretending this is the only way of thinking about choice? Can we also stop insinuating there is only one way of thinking about the body’s role in sexual orientation – and implying that anyone with questions are somehow automatically hateful and less compassionate?

[6] Where each side could say “yes, that really does represent what I think.” To help support this conversation, our diverse team at Flirting with Curiosity is creating a collaborative “map” to help guide a productive conversation.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Jim Merrell January 30, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for this article! The Family Acceptance Project often referred to by Wendy and Mitch is an outgrowth of research that in my opinion is also a lie at worst and disingenuous at least. The research states that rejection by someone in a significant relationship causes this type of behavior in the LGBT community. Then they turn and point the finger at Families and the church. What about teachers, friends, coworkers, bosses, and heaven forbid the ever revolving door of sexual partners that research has show. Is so prevalent in the LGBT community. Of course these same sex relationships and the rejection that follows that are subtly being promoted by the Family Acceptance Project, Wendy and Mitch are just as deadly. (Using their terminology) and yet are conveniently swept under the rug.
    Last year, Wendy went on a social media frenzy declaring that there were 8 suicides per month in Utah and that it was the Silent Mormon Epidemic. Based on the numbers she quoted recently, nothing has changed. The sad fact is that the folks who track these number for a living find the total number of suicides are have or even a third of what she has quoted. Even if you can believe that all 10 of the total number of suicides in Utah were identified as LGBT, a statistical improbability rivaling last months billion dollar lottery, if two-three of those folks were family members of each of those lost, then her numbers would make sense. If it is attempted suicides that she is speaking of then there are ways to get those numbers and the system worked to thwart a number of those. Survivors can tell you what pushed them over the edge and that is potentially who she is speaking of.
    I don’t believe FAP, Wendy and Mitch have really considered that The church keeps good tabs on its people. Rather than trying to stick a proverbial finger in the eye of the church, it would do them a and the LGBT community a greater service to focus on what they can change. Since they are self declare ambassadors from the Gay Communityy, how about focusing on what the gay community can do about the loss of lives caused by the revolving door of gay partnerships. Why not raise money to fund counseling agencies devoted to and focused on gay youth that can go into schools and talk about the resources that are out there without disparaging families or the church.
    I recently read a book that was about a huge research project regarding the Youth of the church and I believe one of the outcomes of that study was the lowering of the missionary age. It stated that young women were significantly more sexually active in their teens than young men and that the young men’s sexual activity skyrocketed between the ages of 18 and 19. I think it also had an effect on our curriculum department and changed the focus from marriage heavy focus for young women to a doctrinal heavy focus. This internal research when the outcomes are unfavorable is far more convincing than the dissenting voices such as Mitch and Wendy who have continually been outspoken against the church. Perhaps the LGBT community can take a page from the church’s play book and look at all the data perhaps the data refers to by the Family Acceptance Project and focus on how they themselves can change. Then perhaps we are not left to wonder how many of the suicides in the coming weeks and months are not statistically significant outcomes of the very real factor of suicidal contagion that such rhetoric produces.

  • Reply R.B. Scott January 30, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks for this thoughtful analysis and report. I agree there is a desperate need to fully discuss these issues forthrightly, all cards on the table. In my mind, the candid, unvarnished conversations need to begin in church settings and they need to be undertaken without fear of recrimination of one form or another.

    I realize that you pointlessly singled out)Wendy Montgomery and Mitch Mayne, by name, because they have been vocal leaders of a balanced, welcoming, loving and inclusive approach to LGBT members of the church. Unfortunately, the “Sophie’s Choice” Mayne claims resulted from the new policy, and President Nelson’s re-certification a few weeks later, is a very real perception in the minds of LGBT members, many regulars like me and probably all antagonists. I look forward to the dialogue.

    However, it is not the hot political issue you imply (liberal v. conservative, enlightened v. unenlightened, progressive v. recidivist). How we will proceed cuts to the core of of our spiritual vitality, our willingness to fully live the gospel of Jesus Christ as he proclaimed it., for all the wrenching and daunting challenges it presents

    • Reply Jacob January 31, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      I agree it’s a very real (and sincere and genuine) perception, Scott. That’s why I see dialogue as the best venue for this (a place where we assume thoughtfulness and sincerity in our convictions). And I agree with you 100% about your final statement: “How we will proceed cuts to the core of of our spiritual vitality, our willingness to fully live the gospel of Jesus Christ as he proclaimed it., for all the wrenching and daunting challenges it presents.”

      Where perhaps we disagree is that this has very much become a political issue – a question of public discourse and public good. “Politics” for me is the crucial act of coming together as citizens to talk about our communities. Due to the public pressure leaders like Wendy and Mitch have put on the Church, it seems reasonable to respond to them publicly?

      • Reply RON SCOTT February 1, 2016 at 5:23 am

        Jacob – my first name is Ron, not Scott—your original post (and some of your responses to subscribers) read more like a personal taunt than a serious invitation to break bread and discuss things rationally. Politics makes the world go round. Pressure leads people and organizations to reexamine their practices and policies, as it did in 1978. As you would like people like Wendy and Mitch to respond openly because they have, according to you, put pressure on the church, does it follow that you would also encourage welcome an equally open and frank discussion about these matters with the First Presidency and President Nelson?

        • Reply R.B. Scott February 2, 2016 at 1:05 am

          It’s been 24 hours Jacob,. I can only assume that you really aren’t interested in a serious discussion. Oh well.

  • Reply Cammie v January 30, 2016 at 10:52 pm

    Your lunch request is misdirected. It should be with the GAs about why they lack any data of their own to counter offer. Why they have not been tracking it for decades, sharing it and having everyone work on it. Even if the number is zero in a given year where is the evidence of the leaders even trying to collect true own data. If they were they could easily set the record straight. Why are others in a position where they have to report it at all? Because the church is not doing it themselves. Want to pass blame then argue about numbers and who has the best. Want to solve problems and save lives? Get the Bishops sps and ga’s tracking and reporting their own stats and narratives. So is it about blame or lives? Where Is the church top leadership admitting to their own even tiniest responsibility or influence in https://zomarah.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/thomas-s-monson-a-seer-a-revelator-a-translator-and-a-prophet/this. Even 1% or .0%. No. They and too many membets deny and role or responsibility. Dissemble. Say everyone contributes to suicude. Even if true one straw added on all the rest still helps break the camel’s back. Is it about blame or fixing. If fixing, where are the church’s actions? Why are others having to police them at all to begin with?

    • Reply Jacob January 31, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      My impression is they are doing everything they know how right now, Cammie. It likely won’t ever be ‘enough’ according to HRC or Mamma Dragon standards – but that’s not the same thing as saying they are not doing anything. It’s easy for people on both sides to cast aspersions at leaders that get very personal (how many freaking times have I had to counter this same thing about Obama within my own community – https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jacob-z-hess/american-politics-beyond-angels-and-demons). Where I’d love to get, Cammie – is to acknowledge real, substantive, vociferous disagreements (even life and death ones) with political or religious leaders or with each other – and do so without all the personal accusation baggage (aka, since you disagree with me, you’re clearly the Devil or Godless or a hater or a heathen, etc).

      THEN (and arguably only then), will we actually be able to have the conversations we want and need to have…then, maybe we’ll be able to see the nuance. For instance, do you really they they’re collecting NO DATA? They’ve got a research department – and surely they are tracking this. The choice to not get in a numbers battle with Wendy is quite another story.

      Understanding the *full* truth is worth any price…and as you know, I think it will take a different conversation that allows all sides to be heard.

  • Reply John Cooper January 31, 2016 at 6:04 am

    I am over 70 years old and I have spent half my life in the Mormon Church and half in the gay community, all of it gay and all of it with the Mormon Church on my doorstep. In my opinion, this is not an issue of the LGBT community vs. the members of the Mormon Church. It is an issue of the GA’s vs. the Mormon children who are just finding out the word “gay” actually applies to them. I would like answers to the same questions Cammie v asks. If there can be no dialog with the GA’s what is the point? In my experience the GA’s only respond when they see the members and the world moving on and leaving them behind. This has happened when those of us who have survived, have made ourselves and our experiences known to our families and our friends. We have been working all our lives to do that. Do you expect to be able to do more, or are you just looking for ways to stand in our way? Do we agree that the goal is to save lives? Or do you just want to save souls, like the Spanish Inquisition, what ever the cost?
    I live in Salt lake City, so I can meet you here if you want. I am retired so my schedule is flexible.

    • Reply Jacob January 31, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      I’d love to meet, John. Let’s do it! With your experience, I’m sure there are important things I could learn from you. I’ll e-mail you separately when I’m back in town. Certainly saving lives is huge common ground.

      Definitely not ‘looking for ways to stand in our way’ – but it’s true, as you’ve already seen, that I think the conversation we’re having can be much more than it is. (But isn’t that true of all conversations we’re having right now in America? Might we actually share some common ground on that too?)

  • Reply Doug January 31, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Laughable article. Anecdotal evidence is not really evidence, now is it? This one person says this and this other person says that. Really? Sounds like you’ve already made up your mind so no real conversation is needed. The Church’s history of handling the LGBTQIA community has been abusive and quite literally soul destroying. Why not research into that in detail before writing a joke of a one sided article.

    • Reply Jacob January 31, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      I don’t mind you disagreeing, Doug…even to the point of laughing! (My progressive friends and I laugh a lot when we talk about our different views). But of course, we’d agree this is more than a laughing matter – with deadly consequences for lives we’d also agree as precious.

      Given all that, my assumption is that we’re better off putting what each of us really see on the table…and being transparent about the different explanations we have for what is happening (moving from one-sided, to multi-sided conversation). You may disagree on the validity of what I’m raising – and that doesn’t bother me. It’s having the conversation what I’m after (yes, very much a ‘real conversation’). And real conversation, to my mind, does not require us to agree on the ‘validity’ of the others’ views (or experience) as much as (really) hearing each other out…even and especially when these differences run deep. My intention here was simply to represent my own view. I’d be interested in hearing more about your deeper thoughts about what I’m raising.

  • Reply JBA January 31, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. I really appreciate your research and perspective.

    A thought I had about the whole “my life came crashing down” point you made. I think every person, and every member of the Church will have that type of experience at least once in their life. An experience, or experiences, that shake them to the core, that make them question everything. I know I had this happened in my late 20s, and I found myself going thru a years long crisis of faith. (It was not due to my sexual orientation, however, it was something else, but just as serious). I remember being at certain cross-roads and having to actively choose to continue on with the LDS Church — the Church I was born and raised in. So, these kind of watershed experiences are not unique to LGBT individuals. To assert or assume such, is ridiculous.

    I do believe that relying on the Lord will get you thru any trial, however, perhaps we need to start doing better as a faith community about taking about the ups and downs and eventual catastrophes of life. If I could rewind my life, I would beg my YW teachers, and my Institute teachers and YSA advisors to talk about the hard things, to prepare us for the big trials of life, that everything will not be rosy, but that the Lord will “provide a ram” as he did with Abraham for the person to survive the trial. I would say, “Your life will probably not go according to your plans, and that’s ok. Ask the Lord what the plan is and then trust that He knows best for you.”

    I would also like to say that this choice about being celibate and miserable, or being true to “who you are” that is often presented by Wendy Montgomery, Mitch Mayne and their fellows is doing more harm than good to individuals, but to their families as well. I have a gay sibling, who has bought into their lines of rhetoric and I feel like this sibling has short changed themselves. I married later in my life, and I was expected to stay chaste by the standards of the Church, and it was hard at times, however, I didn’t think that I was losing “my true self” or being untrue to who I was by choosing to live the standards of the Church. It’s not an either/or choice. And the sorrow I feel at watching my sibling suffer under these false assumptions is very painful and has divided our family sharply.

    Again thank you for this article. I really hope that Wendy, Mitch and their friends will consider what you’ve said. I know I have.

  • Reply About that claim of suicides by LDS teens with same-sex attraction | The Millennial Star January 31, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    […] But third, the people involved ignore the obvious reality that suicide is a complex psychological problem that simply cannot be attributed to one cause in a person’s life. It might be instructive to read this post. […]

  • Reply Tammy Maxwell February 1, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    This article definitely leaves a disgusting taste in my mouth. Are we saying that because all the suicides being quoted cannot be proven, then even one is okay? My son was very suicidal when he first came out. . I do very much appreciate the fact that the church is responding to this issue. To say that it can’t be proven… please take a moment and pretend you are a teenager, you’ve been raised in the gospel, discover you have the same, exact same, feelings for a person of the same sex as all of your friends have for the opposite sex. If your friends knew, they would shun you, if your parents knew…how would they react? The church you belong to and have a strong testimony of has said over and over the feelings you are having are evil. But just wait until the next life…all will be well. Death seems to be the best option.
    Here is a copy of the essay my son wrote. This issue is REAL.
    A gay Mormon teen (age 16) writes an essay for English class
    by Guest • October 11, 2014 • 64 Comments

    by Kayden Maxwell

    Hero Journey

    There is an indescribable feeling when you grow up expecting your life to follow a very defined path, and everyone around you follows the same formula for a happy life, but one day you wake up and realize you don’t fit into the plan. And everything you know falls apart.

    I spent the earliest years of my life learning exactly how to live it. My future, along with everyone else’s future, was all planned out:
    get baptized,
    attend school,
    receive the priesthood,
    attend church and scouting activities,
    serve a mission,
    come home,
    go to college,
    find a beautiful woman and marry her as fast as possible,
    have children,
    and dedicate the rest of life to them.

    It’s a wonderful life plan, really. And I was fine with it.

    But I knew I was different somehow. I could never understand why or how, but I simply wasn’t the same as those around me. I was always surrounded by my wonderful female friends. Near all of my friends were girls.

    “I’m a ladies’ man,” I simply assumed.

    And that was how elementary school went.

    Come middle school, I realized that I didn’t develop any feelings for any of these friends. I felt connected with all of them through deep friendship and it meant the world to me. My thoughts became confused as I tried to convince myself to like any of these girls in more than a best-friend kind of way.

    Maybe this was a crush, but wait that guy over there sure makes my stomach burn.

    I love to be around her, but I sure wish I had the nerve to talk to that guy over there.

    She’s beautiful, but wait, why are my eyes stuck on him and why do they refuse to peel away?

    I wouldn’t accept this.

    This was not me.

    I shoved all of the unwanted feelings into a hidden safe in my brain and I locked them there, convinced that with time they would disappear and I would never have to address them.

    It was just a phase.

    Only a phase.

    I’d get over it.

    I’d change my thinking. “Oh yes, she’s gorgeous. And I love that she’s my friend. Yes, I must love her. This is a crush.”

    And it worked. I got myself a girlfriend. We became extremely close and I loved being around her. But in my head it was just a great friendship, yet I told her it was much more than that to me.

    She tried to kiss me once, and I turned my head in alarm. I was uncomfortable and completely shocked by my own response. The vault in my mind shook violently, demanding to be noticed and addressed. I tried to shut it up but soon the energy used to hide the feelings only became energy feeding the feelings, making them more noticeable, more intimidating, more powerful, as I tried desperately to conceal them back into the dark safe.

    I knew then.

    My heart sunk to my stomach, my entire world went into panic mode. I couldn’t keep up in school. I couldn’t look my parents in the eye. I became like a turtle in a shell, completely hidden, avoiding the world completely, not trusting anyone.

    No one could know.

    I was disgusted with myself, and I wanted nothing more than to get over it.

    No one could know.

    I prayed night after night that God would remove this horrible aspect of my life.
    My pillow was always wet with tears as I pleaded with the Master of the Universe to just please fix the mistake He made on me.

    No one could know. No one could know.

    I would not let these feelings exist.

    I stopped eating. I didn’t have time for food, I was consumed with terror for my soul.
    I tried to starve it out of me. I tried to pray it out of me. I tried to sleep it away. But it was all useless. This was me.

    No one could know.

    Mom caught on fast to my mood changes. She knew I was upset. She’d question and I’d
    deny that anything was wrong at all. But she knew me better than to believe me.
    One night, after questioning me deeply concerning my recent moods and appetite loss, she finally asked me.

    “Are you attracted to guys?”

    She said it lovingly and with concern, but the words shook my entire being; they ripped open the vault inside where my feelings were hidden and they shot to surface, overwhelming me in panic and fear for the future. I nodded through tears and finally met her eyes. We knew we had a mountain ahead, but in that moment, we knew we had each other to climb it with.

    We talked to Bishop. My options were clear. I could marry a woman or I could be single my entire life. But not to worry, in the afterlife I would be perfected, he told me. I would be attracted to girls like I’m supposed to and I could have a family there. The perfect plan for my life that I had learned since birth no longer applied to me.

    I didn’t fit.

    Despite the unwavering support from my parents, my soul became draped in darkness.
    The world became Hell to me, with the flames of self-loathing furiously burning everywhere. I was left so uninformed. I needed answers and no one had any. I was left only with “God works in mysterious ways” to comfort me and explain why my world
    was falling apart while others didn’t even know the taste of doubt. I felt almost ignored, given up on. We tried and tried but not even the bishop had the answers I needed. I was left always questioning, and never knowing.

    Who was I?

    Why would God send me so broken?

    Didn’t He love me enough to want me to be happy too?

    What would happen if others knew?

    What made me this way?

    Could this ever be removed from me?

    How could I say I don’t support gay marriage when in truth that is the most excitement and support I felt about anything?

    Was I still a good person?

    What about children?

    I felt that I would be a good dad, and now I would never get the chance unless I married someone I wasn’t attracted to. How would a wife feel if her own husband was not attracted to her? He would say she looks gorgeous and she would say she believed him, but deep down would be the constant doubt. The vile, viscous voice always whispering to her the fact that she could not fight, saying “He’s gay. He doesn’t mean it. He doesn’t think you’re beautiful.”

    And she would try to make it stop, to force it to die and to let her believe her husband’s words and believe that she had beauty and that he saw it but the fact would always be there. What kind of compliment is “I love your personality,” when nothing more can ever be said.

    I knew marriage was out of the option, I could never inflict that upon someone.

    I was doomed to live an entire lifetime alone.

    But I was told that it would all be over after this life. And soon the conclusion set in that my best hope was to end my life by my own hand. I had nothing to look forward to. I didn’t have a happy life plan like all the kids around me. All I had to hold on to was the hope that my burden of liking guys would be gone after I died.

    There were examples of people before me escaping the task by ending life short. Mom feared that I would be one of them. She watched me close, but the depression was everywhere.

    I didn’t like myself.

    I felt horribly ugly inside.

    I would go to church and be offended because there was talk of evil gay marriage. I sat quietly while my friends that I’d grown up with would accuse gays of being selfish, immoral, manipulative, and many other things that I felt I was not. The more I went to church, the sadder I felt. The less I liked myself. The more I hated my religion. For a while, I was convinced that the only way I would ever make it to a long life was if I left church completely.

    That was my plan.

    As time went on, we reached out to a number of different gay adults who had figured their lives out. They each taught me many things and helped me to love myself again. They taught me my value and my worth.

    It was a long process of maturing and learning, but I became comfortable with this aspect of myself. Once I had accepted it within me, the self esteem issues melted away. I came to terms with my religion. I realized I could never leave the church.

    I am a Mormon; being gay will not change that.

    I am gay; being a Mormon will not change that.

    I am not some mistake that God made, he knows me and he wants me to be happy.

    So I don’t fit so perfectly into the Mormon dream plan. But my future turned from lonely and sad to hopeful and bright as I realized that being myself was more important than anything.

    As I found peace within myself, I found that I had developed an overwhelming sense of love for everyone around me. Sometimes young people go through hard things too. Not everyone waits until adulthood to have life-changing and faith-shaking trials. How could I think bad things of someone I don’t know at all? I was not likable at my lowest point, but I still needed love.

    Once I came to peace with my religion and my sexuality, I knew there was work to do. Room is still not being made in the church for gay members. They are expected to leave or to conform and act straight.

    And this is the cause for depression.

    For self-esteem issues.

    This is why people feel the only hope for them is if life ends.

    And to me that is not ok.

    I know I am only one person facing a Goliath-sized issue, but a message of love will always find ways to spread itself.

    I need only start it.

    So, in order to be an example to others in need, I came out. Initially I was afraid others would not be understanding and would not accept me, but I did it anyway because I knew there are people who need a friend and need the kind of example that I can be. And people reacted better than I ever could have hoped they would.

    Now I am confident, happy, and loving. My task is to be here for people who need a friend like I did, and to change the way things are in the Mormon church, spreading love instead of judgments and rejection. I overcame the loneliness and self-hate, and I am obligated to help others do so too.

  • Reply Gina February 1, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    From childhood to adulthood, gay members internalize EVERYTHING they hear in church about being gay: it’s a choice, it’s the same thing as bestiality and pedophilia, God hates them, it’s better to be dead than gay, they must stay alone to be accepted by God and their church community. This misinformation shapes their self-worth. They are bullied spiritually.

    If the church would just say, “We don’t believe in gay marriage and won’t perform the ceremony, but we still value you as a child of God and welcome you and respect your rights as a citizen of these United States. Please join us and sing hymns with us,” then we would have healthier families and peace amongst neighbors and community.

    This new policy squashed any bit of hope that a gay child or future child would ever be wanted or loved in a church they loved. It’s destructive. It’s divisive.

    There’s only so much spiritual abuse a tender soul can take.

    I know Wendy. Her heart and soul is for wanting to do the right thing. I trust her and her integrity.

    I know the Church and members would rather pretend this problem didn’t exist– minimize it. I’m proud of those brave enough to speak up. And get people at least talking about it.

  • Reply Ann February 1, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Interesting article Jacob. It made me think and re-examine some of my beliefs.
    I’m not sure I agree that calling Wendy and Mitch out publicly is the way to do it. Even if they have been very vocal about the problems they see within the church. But I do think there might be more to it than what they would have us believe. It’s easy to get caught up and jump on the bandwagon of outrage over these numbers. What good, faithful person wouldn’t? Recognizing truth, especially with the absence of supporting information is very difficult. I think the truth might actually be somewhere between what the progressives are spouting and what the religious conservatives claim. Although, I personally know a lot of people hurting because of the recent policy change.
    By the way, we share a mutual friend in Kendall.