New booklet targets LDS families of homosexual youth

Published: Friday, June 15 2012 5:25 p.m. MDT

In what is being referred to as "the first research-based educational resource to help Mormon families support their LGBT children," the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has published a 26-page pamphlet called, "Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children."

Co-authored by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, and Dr. Robert Rees, an educator and former LDS bishop, the pamphlet is intended to "prevent serious negative outcomes like suicide, HIV and homelessness and to promote well-being" among LGBT youth while "helping families balance deeply held values and beliefs with love for their LGBT children," Ryan said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not a partner in the project.

"While the church has not commented on the Family Acceptance Project or the booklet, 'Supportive Families, Healthy Children,' we have repeatedly expressed the importance of treating all of God's children with love and respect," said LDS Church spokesperson Michael Purdy.

"As a church, our doctrinal position is clear: Any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman," Purdy continued. "However, that should never, ever be used as a justification for unkindness. We expect each Latter-day Saint family and individual to reflect Christ's second great commandment: to love one another."

And that, according to Ryan, is what the Family Acceptance Project pamphlet is all about.

"Many parents and families think they have to choose between a gay child and their deeply held beliefs – a choice no parent should ever have to make," said Ryan, a clinical social worker specializing in LGBT physical and mental health issues. "We wrote this booklet to show Mormon families what our compelling research has found: How families react to the LGBT children really matters."

Rees, who teaches Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., said he believes the pamphlet will "save lives, keep families together and give church leaders a resource for helping families support their LGBT sons, daughters and other family members."

"This booklet," he added, "marks the dawning of a brighter day for Latter-day Saint families and congregations."

Specifically designed to speak the language of Mormonism, the booklet includes numerous quotes from LDS-oriented books, resources like "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" and the "Family Home Evening Resource Book" and statements from LDS leaders including President David O. McKay, President Ezra Taft Benson, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. Most of the quotes from church leaders focus on the importance of familial love and support. A few, including quotes from Elder Oaks, speak specifically to same-gender attraction issues.

"All should understand that persons (and their family members) struggling with the burden of same-sex attraction are in special need of the love and encouragement that is a clear responsibility of church members, who have signified by covenant their willingness 'to bear one another's burdens' (Mosiah 18: 8) and so 'fulfill the law of Christ' (Galations 6: 2)," Elder Oaks is quoted as saying.

Mitch Mayne, an openly gay Latter-day Saint who serves as a ward executive secretary in San Francisco, sees the booklet as a blending of "the compelling science of (Ryan's) research with the best parts of the Mormon faith – the parts that carry with them true compassion and Christ-like love."

"This is a lifeline of hope that has not existed before," Mayne said. "Gone are the days when Mormon parents – many armed with good intentions but alarmingly little data – felt compelled to choose between their children and their faith. Family relationships are a cornerstone to our faith, and we're taught, 'No other success can compensate for failure in the home.' The Family Acceptance Project materials eliminate the illusion of that horrible 'Sophie's Choice.' "

Ty Mansfield, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a PhD candidate in the field, agreed that "Dr. Ryan's research is an invaluable contribution to helping Latter-day Saints better understand the serious mental health concerns that can stem from family rejection." He also indicated that if it can help "LDS parents understand the effects of rejecting or shaming responses to their children's reported feelings and concerns, we'll be better off for it."

But he expressed concern that the way the pamphlet is framed "is unhelpful and may even do subtle harm."

"The pamphlet's assumption of a predetermined and rubber-stamped 'LGBT' identity is problematic," said Mansfield, an active Latter-day Saint who has written about his own experience with same-gender attraction, and how he has found resolution through his LDS faith.

While he emphatically states "parents are wise to create an open and empathetic space for children to sort through feelings that arise," as the pamphlet suggests, "those who take their religion seriously also understand the sacred responsibility of nurturing values and identities that are more in harmony with the deeply held spiritual beliefs from which they arise – and they'll continue to look for guidance primarily from church leaders as opposed to 'LGBT' research institutes to help them in that regard."

Laurie Campbell, a mental health counselor who has volunteered for more than 20 years with Latter-day Saints who are trying to resolve unwanted same sex attractions, also expressed concern with "the labeling of children as L, G, B or T."

"What about those LDS youth who are attracted to the same gender yet do not want to identify as gay and hope there might be an opposite-sex relationship for them later in life?" she asked. "To label them as 'gay' or 'lesbian' can be harmful … They may have a deep, spiritual sense that their attractions do not define them, but are confused by what the world has to say.

"If LDS parents depart from gospel truths and rush to define attractions as being a permanent 'orientation' when that is not necessarily the case, it can worsen the child's distress and confusion," said Campbell who, like Mansfield, experienced same-gender attraction in her youth.

Campbell and Mansfield both agree with the pamphlet's underlying theme encouraging loving outreach to children experiencing same-sex attraction.

"A child has his or her agency and can choose to identify as LGBT," Campbell said. "A parent cannot and should not try to take away a child's agency or belittle or diminish how a child feels. But a faithful LDS parent can always remain true to the doctrine of the church while loving the child, regardless of how he or she feels or tends to identify – or not identify, as the case may be."

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