Gay Mormon says article on "choosing" heterosexuality is irresponsible and dangerous

Helping Our Children Choose HeterosexualityA guest post by Mitch Mayne

Earlier this week, Meridian Magazine (an LDS publication) posted an article by JeaNette Goates Smith titled, “Helping Our Children Choose Heterosexuality.”

As the headline would lead you to suspect, Smith laments the handicaps of those who are LGBT and shares her opinion on what parents can do to help ensure their children are heterosexual.

Mormonism is already awash in a stew of misinformation about what it means to be LGBT. One of the biggest gaps is that, as an institution, we lack formal education based on scientific research that helps parents keep LGBT youth safe.

At the same time, we have made strides in the right direction, with efforts like the Mormons and Gays website. While imperfect, the site broaches the conversation and clearly states that LGBT individuals “ . . . do not choose to have such attractions”—a point Smith must have missed before writing her article.

Smith’s article has been removed—presumably the result of outcries from frustrated readers. (You can still access a copy here, along with a response.) At the same time, I still fear for the damage this kind of entrenched and uninformed thinking can cause our Mormon LGBT youth. What I found most disturbing about Smith’s article—beyond the scientific inaccuracies and misrepresentation of the Church’s stated position on the notion of choice—is that her opinion appears veiled in a thick layer of Mormon “niceness.”

Those of us who are LGBT or have LGBT family members are usually well versed in this kind of “niceness.” We’ve heard it before, from well-meaning leaders, fellow Mormons, and even family members. And almost always—as with Smith’s article—it rings hollow.

Of course, it’s good to be nice, and being nice is a long-held Mormon value. But when it comes to the topic of keeping our Mormon LGBT youth safe, there’s something more important than the appearance of niceness: being informed, and practicing Christ’s message of unconditional love.

Because when we peel back all the layers of niceness, what is often revealed is the unpleasant underbelly of rejection. Smith’s article is no exception. Beneath the superficial courtesy and flowery words lies the message that LGBT children must change who they are in order to be worthy of love and inclusion.

That’s an irresponsible message at its best, and a dangerous one at its worst. Evidence-based research done by the Family Acceptance Project tells us that attempting to change a child’s orientation is one of the leading rejecting parental behaviors that put youth at risk for negative physical and mental health outcomes. In fact, research shows that children who experience high levels of rejection are:

  • More than 8 times as likely to attempt suicide
  • Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
  • More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs
  • More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and STIs
Mitch Mayne

Mitch Mayne

As an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint, I’ve encountered thousands of stories of deeply wounded women, men, and youth who struggle greatly to understand how LGBTQ Mormons fit inside our faith. While no formal statistics of gay Mormon youth suicide exists, those of us who work with youth and families directly know that the risk—and the loss—is high.

Articles on how to parent LGBT youth must begin to include rigorous science and cease to rely upon folklore belief, distorted anecdotes, and disproven opinion. The Family Acceptance Project produced an LDS version of their evidence-based, family education booklet that enables families and communities to support LGBT youth in a way that reduces the risks outlined above. You can download it here at no cost.

When I first met with Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, and saw her work, I was amazed at how skillfully she and her team had blended the compelling science of her research with the best parts of the Mormon faith -- the parts that carry with them true compassion and Christlike love.

Dr. Ryan left me by myself in the conference room when we neared the close of our meeting. What she didn’t see is how intensely I cried in those moments I was alone.

The Family Acceptance Project work is not marketing based on focus groups. It is not speculation. It is not ecclesiastical opinion—or opinion veiled in a thick layer of Mormon niceness. It is science. For LGBT Mormons and their families, it is a lifeline of hope that cuts through the dark abyss of misinformation that keeps us locked in dangerous thinking.

It is, I’m quite certain, a gift from our Savior—an answer to many prayers.

So instead of heeding Smith’s advice and wondering how we can change our children, let’s wonder how we can change ourselves—and our culture. Let’s focus less on enshrining rejection beneath a dense layer of niceness, and more on becoming informed about what science tells us when it comes to keeping LGBT youth safe and close to the family.

We don’t have to change our doctrine to do that. But we do have to live it.


OTHER RNS POSTS BY MITCH MAYNE:


Mitch Mayne is an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint (Mormon), and recently served as the executive secretary in the bishopric (ecclesiastical leadership) of the LDS Church in San Francisco. Mitch is a national voice on Mormon LGBT issues. A special emphasis of Mitch’s work is improving the health, mental health, and well being of Mormon LGBT youth and young people in the context of their faith.