Alone in the fold: Many LDS gays struggle to cling to faith despite their yearnings
At a recent BYU Women's Conference workshop on same-sex attraction, presenter David Pruden, who serves as executive director of Evergreen International an LDS-based program that helps clients with same-sex attraction told the audience that LDS therapists estimate from 2 to 4 percent of LDS membership, or about 400,000 people, experience same-gender attraction.
The causes of homosexuality "aren't known," says Lee Beckstead, a local psychologist who recently studied the outcome of various forms of therapy among gay Latter-day Saints. Just as church members populate a diverse political spectrum, the beliefs and ideas about how to treat homosexuality among Latter-day Saints also vary widely.
A broad spectrum of opinion exists within the psychotherapeutic community including LDS practitioners on what is most helpful for those dealing with same-sex attraction.
"We don't know what causes heterosexuality, so we don't know what causes homosexuality. We have theories developed when clinicians asked clients about their past, and we're learning about family relationships," Beckstead said. "But I think it all depends on people's beliefs about what causes sexual orientation."
Cause underlies "reparative therapy," designed to teach men to be more masculine and women to be more feminine.
Within the LDS Church, he said, conversion or "reparative" therapists believe once they know the cause of homosexuality, they can find the cure. Based on assumptions about the cause, including "a deficit in someone's gender identity," the view maintains that people are all "basically heterosexual, and 'because my father didn't love me enough' " there was a disconnection or inferiority that developed in relationships with other men. Thus, it seeks to help men develop healthy heterosexual relationships with the goal of having them become heterosexual, he said.
The opposite clinical approach, called gay-affirmative therapy, also creates a challenge for LDS clients committed to living in accordance with the dictates of their faith, which eschews sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage and teaches that families will be "together forever." Such therapy supports and encourages a gay lifestyle.
Yet many LDS clients want to change the attraction rather than simply follow it, and opposing views on how to deal with the attraction complicate treatment for them, Beckstead said. "Just because you have same-sex attraction doesn't mean you have to be in a gay relationship."
Beckstead has concluded that "neither conversion therapies nor typical gay-affirmative therapies have met the needs of all conflicted clients" and that therapists need to explore new ways to meet their needs.
"God is a huge topic: Can God love them despite their attraction or because of the attraction? It's about approval from God and society and really needing that, while in the wider culture, it's more a focus on societal approval: I can't be gay because parents will hate me, my spouse will leave me, or it doesn't fit in with being black or being Chinese."
Now that his book has been published, Mansfield says he prefers to live outside Utah. "Here I just felt like it would be too much a part of my life. My whole life isn't this issue."
Though he works for a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., Mansfield says he's decided to pursue a degree in personal and family therapy, whether he actually ends up doing counseling or not. He learned while in therapy himself "how to understand my feelings and better respond to them. I can control my feelings rather than letting them control me."
He said he would never suggest marriage as a way of trying to banish same-sex attraction.
"I know some individuals who feel they have overcome the attraction, have married, and it's not a problem for them anymore. . . . I know many more who have the type of life they want married with a family. They still experience the attraction, but that's all they see it as."
Though he understands his own dynamics, he says he's not sure if his attractions will ever leave him entirely. He has only a smile and a polite "no" for fellow Latter-day Saints who try to line him up with women, and no definitive answer for those who ask if he'll ever marry.Some he knows have left the church and are living a homosexual lifestyle. When they ask why he doesn't just give in, he answers, "I feel I'm being true to my eternal self."