Articles by/for Allies
Understanding and Helping Those Who Feel Homosexual Attraction
Suggestions for LDS Family and Friends
March 17, 1998
"A new commandment I give unto you,
That ye love one another;
as I have loved you,
that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know
that ye are my disciples,
if ye have love one to another."
As homosexuality becomes increasingly visible in our society, more and more Latter-day Saints are acknowledging homosexual attraction and "coming out" as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Such Latter-day Saints find themselves in a difficult position. On the one hand, they feel homosexual attraction as a powerful force in their lives, perhaps as an integral part of who they are. On the other hand, they are taught that homosexual behavior is a grievous sin and that homosexual attraction should be overcome. As a result, most same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints experience intense turmoil, which may lead them to engage in self-destructive behaviors. They may even come to loathe themselves to the point of committing suicide.
Latter-day Saints who learn that they have a same-sex attracted loved one--a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend--naturally want to help but may not know what to do. This booklet was written to help Latter-day Saints understand homosexual attraction, so that they can help loved ones avoid self-destructive behaviors. It also aims to heal some of the pain and division homosexuality occasions in our society, by promoting harmony within families.
Understanding Homosexual attraction
Homosexual attraction is not merely a matter of sexual appetite. Like heterosexual attraction, it involves emotional bonding and deep, personal investment in others' lives. Just as many people define themselves in terms of their heterosexuality (wife, husband, father, mother), so many same-sex attracted people regard their homosexuality as fundamental to their sense of who they are.
Homosexual attraction is not the same as sexual addiction (an obsessive-compulsive disorder which can afflict people of homosexual or heterosexual attraction alike). Nor is homosexual attraction the same as pedophilia (sexual attraction for children); most pedophiles are, in fact, heterosexual. Likewise, homosexual attraction should not be equated with gender confusion: same-sex attracted males are not necessarily effeminate, nor are same-sex attracted females necessarily masculine.
Some researchers maintain that the terms "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are misleading because they imply that people are either one or the other. These researchers see sexual attraction as a continuum, with individuals experiencing varying degrees of both homosexual and heterosexual attraction.
What causes homosexual attraction is a subject of fierce contention and may never be known. It is difficult for researchers to remain objective towards a subject as controversial and politically charged as homosexuality; the preconceptions they bring to their research influence how they interpret their data and what types of data they look for. People who favor acceptance of homosexuality tend to promote theories attributing it to biological causes (e.g., genetics). People who disapprove of homosexuality tend to promote theories attributing it to environmental influences (e.g., childhood development).
Helping LDS People Deal with Homosexual Attraction
There is increasing pressure in our society for people to condone homosexual behavior. Some Latter-day Saints are willing to do this as part of accepting their same-sex attracted loved ones. They may come to believe, for instance, that condemnations of homosexual behavior which appear in the scriptures reflect cultural biases rather than eternal truths. Some believe that additional revelation will one day lead to changes in the Church's position on homosexuality.
For most Latter-day Saints, though, accepting a same-sex attracted loved one is likely to be very complicated. They may wonder how to extend acceptance without compromising their own standards. By applying the following principles, Latter-day Saints can help loved ones find healthy, constructive ways to deal with homosexual attraction, regardless of their own feelings about homosexual behavior.
Follow Jesus Christ's Perfect Example
During his ministry, Jesus Christ demonstrated love and acceptance for those whom his society excluded and despised. He kept company with sinners and the unclean, in violation of social norms. He teaches his followers to develop more inclusive attitudes, especially towards those who experience rejection and ridicule. As President Howard W. Hunter explained, "In the gospel view, no man is alien. No one is to be denied" (Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 18; see also Mark 2:15-16; Luke 10:25-37; John 4:7-9; Acts 10:28).
Latter-day Saints can follow Christ's example by leaving their homes open to same-sex attracted loved ones, whether or not their loved ones are working to overcome the attraction. Disowning same-sex attracted loved ones will not make the attraction disappear, nor is it likely to deter them from acting on the attraction (if that is the course they have chosen). Rather, disowned loved ones may resort to self-destructive behaviors such as unhealthy relationships and substance abuse. Showing same-sex attracted loved ones they are cared for regardless of their actions will help them come to terms with their attraction in a healthier manner. (See John D. Carmack, "When Our Children Go Astray," Ensign, Feb. 1997, pp. 6-13.)
Including same-sex attracted loved ones in your life is not the same as condoning their behavior. You have, of course, the right to decide how much a loved one's homosexuality figures in your life. You may not, for example, feel comfortable discussing gay-related topics with your loved one, or inviting a loved one's partner to family gatherings.
You and your loved one will need to re-negotiate your relationship based on your respective comfort levels. Focus on your common ground, on the aspects of your relationship that are not impacted by your loved one's homosexuality. You and your loved one may decide that your relationship needs to undergo a major change (e.g., a divorce in the case of a same-sex attracted spouse), but a relationship that has enriched both your lives thus far is worth working to preserve in some form.
As you renegotiate relationships, it may be helpful to reflect on this counsel of Elder Marvin J. Ashton: "Love is not appropriately expressed in threats, accusations, expressions of disappointment, or retaliation. Real love takes time, patience, helping, and continuing performances" (Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 110).
Know the Various Options
There is no such thing as "the gay lifestyle," despite how commonly that phrase is used. Rather, same-sex attracted people pursue a variety of lifestyles, some of which are healthier than others.
Avoid making assumptions about the lifestyle your loved one has adopted; you will probably find that he or she is happy to answer questions directly if these are posed in a non-judgmental way. Especially, do not assume that a loved one who self-identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual is promiscuous or antagonistic towards the Church. There are several different ways same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints might choose to negotiate their relationship to LDS teaching and church activity:
• Closetedness. Obviously, it is impossible to know how many individuals remain "in the closet." Some closeted Latter-day Saints try to bargain with the Lord, striving especially hard to keep the commandments in hopes that the Lord will take the attraction away in return.
Closetedness can cause unhealthy guilt and stress. Acknowledging one's homosexual attraction may be difficult but is much better in the long run.
• Marriage. Some Latter-day Saints look to marriage as a "cure" for homosexual attraction. In the past, Church leaders recommended this option, but the First Presidency now counsels strenuously against it, since such marriages are likely to fail (see Gordon B. Hinckley, "Reverence and Morality," Ensign, May 1987, p. 47). For people whose attraction is genuinely bisexual, marriage may be a realistic option.
Same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints who come out after having married (and in many cases, after producing children) face very difficult decisions and may want to seek professional counseling. Independent networks such as Gamofites may also provide needed support.
• Suicide. Tragically, many same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints become convinced that suicide is the only solution to their dilemma. There are stories circulating in which General Authorities are supposed to have said that homosexuals are better off dead. Far too many people--youth especially--take these stories seriously.
• Reparative-type therapies. These therapies (including "conversion therapy" and "lifestyle change therapy") aim to help people overcome homosexual attraction or control homosexual behavior such that, ideally, they can lead heterosexual lives. Such therapies are available through LDS Social Services. An independent support group called Evergreen is also available for Latter-day Saints working to overcome same-sex attraction.
Some of those who have sought change through reparative-type therapies report success in overcoming homosexual attraction; others find therapy successful in the short-term, but not in the long run; others report that it was not at all successful and was actually a harmful experience.
• Celibacy and church activity. Celibacy is an option for same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints who do not believe in or are not interested in reparative-type therapies but who nevertheless wish to remain active, fully privileged members of the Church. In the October 1995 Ensign, Elder Dallin H. Oaks indicated that same-sex attracted persons are welcome in the Church provided that they abstain from sexual relations outside marriage. President Gordon B. Hinckley reiterated this position during an April 1997 media interview.
• Celibacy and church inactivity. Some same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints stop attending church because they feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or unfulfilled, but are not interested in becoming sexually active, even though they may claim a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity.
• Sexual activity and church inactivity. This heading actually covers a wide variety of lifestyles. There are varying degrees of homosexual activity, ranging from strictly monogamous sex after a wedding-like commitment ceremony, to primarily monogamous sex with or without a formal commitment, to selective sexual encounters as part of a dating process, to the promiscuous anonymous sex which many people mistakenly label "the gay lifestyle."
There are also various ways in which a same-sex attracted Latter-day Saint might become "inactive." Some simply stop attending church; some ask to have their names removed from the records; some are excommunicated against their will. Some sever their ties with the Church altogether; some stop attending church but still attend special events such as baby blessings or missionary farewells; some retain ties to their LDS roots by participating in gay/lesbian Mormon organizations such as Affirmation and Reconciliation. Some abandon all forms of religious or spiritual life; some join gay-friendly churches or explore alternative spiritualities; some retain LDS beliefs and standards (e.g., the Word of Wisdom).
• Sexual activity and church activity. Obviously, this lifestyle is difficult to maintain, since it almost always requires members to conceal their homosexual activity. A few local leaders, though, have exercised considerable discretion in deciding to what degree to curtail the privileges of members they knew to be engaging in homosexual behavior.
Understanding that Latter-day Saints have various (albeit not equally desirable) options for dealing with homosexual attraction can prevent you and your loved one from internalizing stereotypes. It can also help prevent drastic responses such as suicide or disownment.
You and your loved one may disagree about how best to deal with homosexual attraction. Respect your loved one's right to live as he or she chooses. It may be part of your loved one's mortal learning process to travel a different route in dealing with homosexual attraction than you might have preferred.
Respect Others' Agency
Be aware that people may deal with homosexual attraction in different ways at different points in their lives. For example, some same-sex attracted people feel the need to distance themselves from the Church during their coming out process, but then later find themselves drawn back towards their LDS roots.
Preaching to same-sex attracted loved ones is not constructive; they are already well aware of what the scriptures and the modern prophets teach about homosexuality. Pray that your loved one will be happy and will make wise decisions. Then trust God to watch over your loved one in whatever course he or she opts to pursue.
President Brigham Young taught: "Shall we deny the existence of that which we do not understand? If we do, we would want to keep an iron bedstead to measure every person according to our own measurements and dimensions; and if persons were too long we would cut them off, and if too short draw them out. But we should discard this principle, and our motto should be, we will let every one believe as he pleases and follow out the conclusions of his own mind. . ." (Journal of Discourses 14:131). President Young also taught: "We must discern and acknowledge that the providences of the Lord are over all the works of his hands--that when he produces intelligent beings, he watches over them for their good" (Journal of Discourses 7:237-238).
Overcome Fear and Ignorance
Fear and ignorance impede a constructive response to homosexual attraction. Fear of homosexuality--often called homophobia--is common in our society. Homophobia is not simply the conviction that homosexual behavior is wrong (since that is a question of faith). Rather, homophobia is manifest when people become uneasy or agitated in the presence of same-sex attracted people, shy away from intimacy with members of the same sex, or speak of homosexuals as subhuman or as a threat to society. In its extreme forms, homophobia leads to hatred and violence ("gay-bashing").
Homophobia is difficult to overcome because we learn it from our society at an early age. Keep in mind that same-sex attracted people are valued children of God, entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of how they live (see Matthew 7:12; John 8:1-11; 1 John 4:18; Mosiah 27: 3-4; D&C 18:10).
Many people know very little about homosexual attraction. Homophobia is partly the result of this ignorance. The more you learn about homosexuality, the less uncomfortable you will feel interacting with a same-sex attracted loved one and the more equipped you will be to help.
Publications on homosexuality are readily available. There are also various organizations dedicated to providing support and information for same-sex attracted people, their families, and friends. Some of these publications and organizations, created specifically for Latter-day Saints, are listed in the back of this booklet. Be aware that these represent a variety of attitudes towards homosexuality and of approaches for dealing with it (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21).
AIDS occasions special fear and ignorance. Information regarding AIDS can be obtained through local health centers and hotlines, or through the National AIDS Hotline. After you have informed yourself, you may deem it appropriate to discuss AIDS prevention with your loved one. Discussing the need for self-protection on the part of people who have chosen, or who are likely to choose, to be sexually active is not the same as condoning sexual activity (cf. D&C 131:6). People living with AIDS are especially in need of support and unconditional love.
Enlist Others' Help
Given what Latter-day Saints believe about eternal families and the law of chastity, the coming out of a loved one can be traumatic, especially if the loved one intends to abandon church activity or engage in homosexual behavior. It is natural for you to be shocked, angry, ashamed, or depressed.
It is vital that you seek whatever assistance you need to work through such feelings, as they threaten your well-being. In the words of Elder Marvin J. Ashton, "It is imperative that we do not allow ourselves to be destroyed by the conduct of others" (Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 20). Until you work through your own feelings, you cannot deal constructively with the fact of your loved one's homosexual attraction, nor will you be able to help your loved one.
Latter-day Saints naturally turn to Church leaders for assistance. Be careful, however, to respect your loved one's wishes regarding Church leaders' involvement in his or her personal life. Well-meaning though they be, Church leaders who attempt to give unsolicited help to members may cause them to become defensive and thus worsen the situation.
While Church policy prescribes that certain procedures follow certain choices, the threat of Church discipline should not be used to pressure your loved one into taking a certain course of action, not even in the name of love. Elder Richard G. Scott has counseled: "Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings" (Ensign, May 1988, p. 60).
Because of homophobia, other Church members may be unable to offer support to you or your loved one. This can leave you feeling isolated. Independent groups such as Family Fellowship may provide the support that, regrettably, is not always available within the Church.
Seeking Professional Assistance
You or your loved one may decide to seek professional counseling. Be aware that the majority of mental health professionals (as represented by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers) have concluded that homosexuality is not a mental illness or disorder and that there is no credible evidence a person's sexual orientation can change.
Even so, a sizable minority of professionals continue to describe homosexuality as an illness or deficiency and claim that many people have diminished their homosexual attraction through therapy. The most vocal defenders of this view have been evangelical Christians, who are also a major source of anti-Mormon propaganda.
Church policy states, "Members should not use medical or health practices that are ethically or legally questionable" (General Handbook of Instructions, 1989, p. 11-5). The Church cautions members against practitioners who use testimonials to support their claims, who argue against established practices, or who claim to be persecuted by scientific or medical associations (see Missionary Health Manual, 1988, p. 17).
Be discerning as you examine the claims of professionals, even those claiming affiliation with Church-sponsored institutions such as LDS Social Services, who promote therapies about which their own professional associations have raised scientific and ethical concerns. Be aware, too, that many same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints feel hostile towards LDS Social Services for its past use of electroshock therapy.
Church Discipline and Homosexuality
Even if they are relatively inactive at the time, Latter-day Saints can find being disfellowshipped or excommunicated a painful experience, because it means being divorced from a community in which they have been deeply invested. Church discipline can be especially painful if leaders are motivated more by homophobia or moral indignation than by concern for your loved one's spiritual needs.
Same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints can avoid much bitterness and despair if they understand that while Church discipline affects their access to priesthood ordinances, it does not preclude their maintaining a personal relationship with God. Although certain privileges, such as taking the sacrament or attending the temple, are extended conditionally, the right to communicate with God is extended unconditionally: "every one that asketh, receiveth" (3 Nephi 14:7-8; see also James 1:5; D&C 19:38-39). Separation from the blessings of Church membership does not mean separation from God's love and direction (Psalm 145:8-9, 18; Romans 8:38-39; Alma 32:9-10).
Fostering Healthy Personal Development
The fundamentals for healthy personal development are the same for all people, whatever their sexual attraction. We all need to accept ourselves and to maintain nurturing relationships. We need to accept our feelings--even those that make us uncomfortable--as realities to be dealt with in a manner that will foster both our own well-being and the well-being of those who are close to us. We need to strike a balance between our physical, emotional, social, intellectual, professional, and spiritual needs. We need a values system to guide our choices and to give us integrity. We need to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
The scriptures teach that the purpose of this life is to achieve joy (2 Ne. 2:25). They also teach that Christ has promised to lead us "whithersoever [he] will" (D&C 38:33; see also Isaiah 55:8; 1 Corinthians 7:7). President Howard W. Hunter taught, "At various times in our lives, probably at repeated times in our lives, we do have to acknowledge that God knows what we do not know and sees what we do not see" (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 60). Only God knows the particular path by which each of us can achieve joy in our particular circumstances. Through study, counsel, reflection, meditation, and prayer, each person can gradually discern the path God has prepared for them.
Homosexual attraction does not doom people to unhappy lives. Even when they choose not to follow the course they have been taught leads to greatest happiness, same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints can still find healthy, fruitful ways to live.
In any case, though, dealing with homosexual attraction is difficult. Same-sex attracted individuals will experience insecurity, frustration, and depression. They may question their self-worth. By cultivating Christ-like attributes such as patience and empathy, family and friends can maintain supportive ties with same-sex attracted loved ones, thus helping them to achieve stability, well-being, and happiness.
Oliver Arden, "My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me? Meditations of a Gay Mormon on the 22nd Psalm," Sunstone, Aug. 1995, pp. 44-55.
Erin Eldridge, Born That Way? (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994).
Antonio A. Feliz, Out of the Bishop's Closet: A Call to Heal Ourselves, Each Other, and Our World (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1992).
Dallin H. Oaks, "Same-Gender Attraction," Ensign, Oct. 1995, pp. 7-14.
Carol Lynn Pearson, Goodbye, I Love You (New York: Random House, 1986).
H. Wayne Schow, Remembering Brad: On the Loss of a Son to AIDS (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995).
Ron Schow, Wayne Schow, & Marybeth Raynes, eds., Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-Sex Orientation (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991).
Affirmation (support for gay and lesbian Mormons)
P.O. Box 46022
Los Angeles, CA 90046-0022
Family Fellowship (support for LDS families and friends)
Gamofites (support for gay Mormon fathers)
P.O. Box 2363
Salt Lake City, UT 84110
National AIDS Hotline
Reconciliation (spiritual discussion for gay and lesbian Mormons)