LDS Church leaders mourn reported deaths in Mormon LGBT community
SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church responded Thursday to an unverified report about suicide deaths among Mormon LGBT people.
"We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope," senior church leaders said through a spokesman.
Wendy Montgomery, a co-founder of the Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon mothers with gay children, reported last week that she had been told 32 young LGBT Mormons have died by suicide since early November.
The individual families who told Montgomery about their losses requested privacy. The Deseret News has not been able to verify this number independently.
Given the tragedy of suicide and the alarm the report has raised in the LDS LGBT community, the Deseret News asked experts for insight and solutions. They explained exactly how parents, friends and religious congregations can help prevent suicides by thinking carefully about what they say and do and by welcoming, accepting and supporting LGBT people.
Each emphasized that those who may be contemplating suicide can find help from many people and places, and that families can learn to see the warning signs.
The timing of Montgomery’s report has raised concerns in the LDS LGBT community that church leaders’ Nov. 5 announcement of new policies regarding same-sex couples and their families could have contributed to increased anxiety for some. Experts say it’s impossible to pinpoint the causes of any suicide because research shows there is never a single reason.
Last week in Los Angeles during a conference for Affirmation, a Mormon LGBT support group, Montgomery, who is well-known in that community, reported that 32 families had contacted her directly about the deaths of a child or sibling. She said most were men (27), but three were female and two were transgender. The average age was 17. All were between the ages of 14 and 20. Montgomery said 26 deaths took place in Utah, four in Idaho and one each in Arizona and the New England area. Utah health department officials have been able to confirm 10 suicides in that age range in Utah since the start of November.
Keys for helping
Regardless, teenagers need support, even absent sexuality issues, and families and church congregations can be critically valuable environments, experts said. Research shows religious affiliation generally lowers suicide risks, though it also is normal for believing LGBT youth to struggle to square their realization of same-sex attraction with their religious beliefs. Supportive messages are crucial. The possibility of self-harming behavior more than doubles each time an LGBT youth is hurt physically or verbally.
Parents and families can provide healthy, constructive relationships and environments by expressing affection when they learn a child is gay or transgender, by supporting the child even if the news is uncomfortable and by being willing to talk about it.
For example, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once was asked how he would respond if his 17-year-old son said he was gay. "You’re my son," Elder Oaks said. "You will always be my son, and I'll always be there to help you."
Parents, families and friends also should expect a good adult future for the child, a specialist said, and continue to include LGBT youth in family activities. They also should be the child’s advocate if he or she is mistreated, require other family members to show respect and help their faith community welcome and include LGBT teens.
The suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-TALK is available 24/7 as a resource for those in crisis and for those who may be worried about someone else.
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