My view: Sexual orientation is no one's fault, it is an opportunity
I want to first thank Janet Boynes (“My View: Christians need to be clear: Change is possible,” June 25, 2014) for her concern to further rally Christian congregations to increase their outreach and social support around same-sex attracted individuals/ lesbians, gays and bisexuals. It wasn't too long ago that my own church -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- publicly launched mormonsandgays.org and called upon Mormons to respond to individuals who experience same-sex attraction with greater "sensitivity" and "thoughtfulness," including those who chose to identify as lesbian or gay. "Let us be at the forefront in terms of love, compassion and outreach," said Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS church.
As a life-long member of the LDS Church, and as a mental health professional who also happens to be romantically and physically attracted to women, I take a very keen interest in the ongoing dialogue surrounding this issue. I came out publicly as gay in church just two years ago, with my husband John of 10 years and two daughters at my side. It is with that lens that I feel it's important to also point out and dispel aspects of Janet's article that differ with statements of LDS Church leaders and the American Psychological Association.
Janet's article promotes both the theory and practice of conversion therapies, sometimes referred to as reparative therapy. These theories of changing sexual orientation are rooted in ideas that either a childhood trauma or family dysfunction is the cause of an individual's experience of same-sex attraction. Both the APA and LDS Church leaders, however, tell a different story.
In 2007, an APA task force was brought together to conduct an extensive review on sexual orientation change efforts to further explore this very theory and its therapeutic outcomes. Their findings included that, “There are no empirical studies or peer reviewed research to support theories attributing same-sex sexual orientation to family dysfunction or trauma."
Moreover, LDS church leaders have also taught the following on this matter: "Some people have been abused during the early years of life or have engaged in sexual experimentation at a young age. If this has happened to you, please understand that abuse by others or youthful experiences should not create a present sense of guilt, unworthiness or rejection by God or His church. Innocent mischief early in life does not predispose a youth toward same-gender attraction as an adult." Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also said, "if you are a parent of one with same-gender attraction, don’t assume you are the reason for those feelings. No one, including the one struggling, should try to shoulder blame." And Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, "No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers."
Janet's article laments that the use of reparative therapies are gradually being limited in states across the country, particularly for youth. Many mental health professionals, including myself, see this trend as a positive shift due to the APA’s finding that, “An enduring change to an individual's sexual orientation as a result of [such therapies] was unlikely and some participants were harmed by the interventions."
LDS Church leaders do not endorse particular modes of therapy, including reparative therapy for same-sex attraction. LDS Family Services does not utilize reparative therapies either.
Does the growing shift away from largely ineffective and potentially harmful sexual orientation change efforts mark the end of therapeutic support for same-sex attracted individuals who want to live in congruence with their faith values?
Absolutely not. The APA has compiled recommendations for therapists that center on honoring the agency of individuals to determine for themselves their values, behavior and self-labeling connected to their sexual orientation. These evidence-based recommendations include offering unconditional positive regard and empathy, conducting thorough assessments of the sources and symptoms of distress, assisting individuals to overcome internalized shame and stigma and helping clients to connect with increased social support.
That last recommendation brings us to where Janet, the APA, LDS Church leaders and myself can all agree: "Belonging to a community of family, friends and believers allows us to help and be helped,” reads mormonsandgays.org. “We recognize in each other our common needs for intimacy and companionship and can discuss them without shame or rejection.... Reconciling same-sex attraction with a religious life can present an especially trying dilemma...But with faith, love and perspective it can be done."
I'm grateful for religious leaders and scientific inquiry that has helped me in my own process to understand myself. My sexual orientation isn't anyone's “fault,” or an outgrowth of something negative that happened, or a symptom that I'm damaged in some way. Through caring support, sound knowledge and the sweet confirmation of the spirit, I have come to understand deeply that this part of my life is a strength and blessing to me, as well as an opportunity to further my growth.
Laura Skaggs Dulin recently completed a master's degree in marriage and family therapy at San Diego State University and also holds a bachelor's degree in social work from BYU. She produced "The Forefront Talks," a 10-segment YouTube series on how to offer support regarding sexual orientation.
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