Youth Frequently Asked Questions
What is sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation is one of the four components of sexuality and is
distinguished by an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional
attraction to individuals of a particular gender. The three other components
of sexuality are biological sex, gender identity (the psychological
sense of being male or female) and social sex role (adherence to cultural
norms for feminine and masculine behavior). Three sexual orientations
are commonly recognized: homosexual, attraction to individuals of one's
own gender; heterosexual, attraction to individuals of the other gender;
or bisexual, attractions to members of either gender. Persons with a
homosexual orientation are sometimes referred to as gay (both men and
women) or lesbian (women only).
Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it
refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express
their sexual orientation in their behaviors.
Homosexual orientation is not limited to a particular type of person.
Gay men and lesbians are of all ages, cultural backgrounds, races,
religions and nationalities. They work in all occupations and live
in all parts of the country.
What causes a person to have
a particular sexual orientation?
How a particular sexual orientation develops in any individual is
not well understood by scientists. Various theories have proposed
differing sources for sexual orientation, including genetic or inborn
hormonal factors and life experiences during early childhood. However,
many scientists share the view that sexual orientation is shaped for
most people at an early age through complex interactions of biological,
psychological and social factors.
Is homosexuality a mental illness
or emotional problem?
No. Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals
agree that homosexuality is not an illness, mental disorder or emotional
problem. Much objective scientific research over the past 35 years
shows us that homosexual orientation, in and of itself, is not associated
with emotional or social problems.
Homosexuality was thought to be a mental illness in the past because
mental health professionals and society had biased information about
homosexuality since most studies only involved lesbians and gay men
in therapy. When researchers examined data about gay people who were
not in therapy, the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness was
found to be untrue.
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association confirmed the importance
of the new research by removing the term "homosexuality" from the
official manual that lists all mental and emotional disorders. In
1975 the American Psychological Association passed a resolution supporting
this action. Both associations urge all mental health professionals
to help dispel the stigma of mental illness that some people still
associate with homosexual orientation. Since the original declassification
of homosexuality as a mental disorder, this decision has subsequently
been reaffirmed by additional research findings and both associations.
Can therapy change sexual orientation?
No. Even though homosexual orientation is not a mental illness and
there is no scientific reason to attempt conversion of lesbians or
gays to heterosexual orientation, some individuals may seek to change
their own sexual orientation or that of another individual (for example,
parents seeking therapy for their child). Some therapists who undertake
this kind of therapy report that they have changed their clients'
sexual orientation (from homosexual to heterosexual) in treatment.
Close scrutiny of their reports indicates several factors that cast
doubt: many of the claims come from organizations with an ideological
perspective on sexual orientation, rather than from mental health
researchers; the treatments and their outcomes are poorly documented;
and the length of time that clients are followed up after the treatment
is too short.
In 1990 the American Psychological Association stated that scientific
evidence does not show that conversion therapy works and that it can
do more harm than good. Changing one's sexual orientation is not simply
a matter of changing one's sexual behavior. It would require altering
one's emotional, romantic and sexual feelings and restructuring one's
self-concept and social identity. Although some mental health providers
do attempt sexual orientation conversion, others question the ethics
of trying to alter through therapy a trait that is not a disorder
and that is extremely important to an individual's identity.
Not all gays and lesbians who seek therapy want to change their
sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians may seek counseling for any
of the same reasons as anyone else. In addition, they may seek psychological
help to "come out" or to deal with prejudice, discrimination and violence.
I think I'm gay. Should I get involved
Evergreen International is an organization for gay Mormons who want
to be celibate or heterosexually married. Evergreen claims that individuals
can diminish same-sex attraction, and they want to "help" you to do
Some people who have participated in Evergreen but who have since
left say that Evergreen was a positive experience in the sense that
it gave them a place where they could first begin to talk about sexual
orientation and come to terms with their gayness. Other gay Mormons
are convinced that Evergreen is dangerous because it offers false
hope and false teachings about sexual orientation. Some gay Mormons
even believe Evergreen to be hypocritical and deceptive.
Before getting involved with Evergreen, be aware of the following
misconceptions taught by Evergreen:
Misconception #1. You are not gay--you are just "struggling" with
Fact: Many gay and lesbian individuals attest that sexual orientation
is a fundamental part of who they are. Like heterosexual attraction,
homosexual attraction 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 gay and lesbian people regard their homosexuality as fundamental
to their sense of who they are.
Misconception #2: Evergreen will help "cure" you of homosexuality.
Fact: Homosexuality is not something that needs to be "cured" in the
first place. 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
Misconception #3: Homosexuality will make you unhappy.
Fact: Accepting yourself for who you are will make you much happier
than living in denial. Gay and lesbian people can live happy and productive
lives. They can enjoy monogamous, long-term relationships and start
their own families. In many countries they can marry or become legal
partners and can even adopt children.
Misconception #4: Evergreen will help you "heal" spiritually.
Fact: Evergreen wants you to believe that by repressing your sexual
orientation you will be pleasing our Heavenly Father. However, scores
of gays and lesbians attest that by accepting their homosexuality
they became happier people, grew spiritually, and drew closer to God.
I think I'm gay. Should I go on a mission?
Many gay or lesbian Mormons--gay men especially--have served missions.
Many say that their mission was an important positive experience in
their lives. Others look back on their mission as a very negative
Here are some things to consider as you grapple with this decision:
As a missionary, you will be with a same-sex companion twenty-four
hours a day. It's not uncommon to hear gay returned missionaries joke
about being attracted to their companions, but in fact that kind of
sexual tension can be highly stressful. A mission is a time of intense
same-sex bonding; it's also a time when you will be susceptible to
feeling lonely or down. How will you cope with the temptations that
situation will create?
The Church, for its part, does not want gay missionaries: individuals
who have confessed to homosexual acts are supposed to wait three years
before they can be cleared for missionary service (individuals who
have confessed to heterosexual acts only have to wait one year). Therefore,
to serve a mission as a gay or lesbian person, you will have to be
closeted. How will being closeted affect your spiritual or emotional
Missionary service is meant to prepare you for adulthood as a Latter-day
Saint. This includes a lifetime of church activity, not to mention
temple marriage and raising a family. If you have accepted that you
are gay or lesbian--and if one of your goals is a same-sex partnership--then
you're setting yourself up for a life path very different from the
one that a mission is meant to set you up for. What do you see as
the benefits of serving a mission, given your life goals as a gay
or lesbian person? If you decide to serve a mission despite the serious
challenges that mission life presents for a gay or lesbian person,
you need to be absolutely clear about why you're doing this.
What do I do after I've told my parents I'm
gay and I'm starting to feel scared?
It's only human to feel scared or nervous in the face of a new situation.
Let's be candid, this is a very challenging time, BUT you are not
An important thing is to find loving and supportive adults and friends
that you feel safe talking to.
Secondly, your Heavenly Parents love you unconditionally, questioning
and all. You will NOT go to hell for questioning your sexuality. This
is not church doctrine. Never forget that your Heavenly Parents are
there for you, even in your most confused times. Talk to them, openly
and candidly about your feelings and concerns. Don't be hard on yourself
or judge yourself for feeling miserable. There are safe and loving
ways to deal with the situations you are facing.
TALK WITH THOSE WHO CARE
The important thing for you at this point is to find some adults that
you can talk to without feeling scared or confused. You are not alone.
Many teenagers and young adults are questioning their sexual orientation
and don't yet have a firm answer. Sometimes people go well into their
20's and 30's before they really understand this part of themselves.
The important thing is that you are asking, and wanting to talk.
Things to keep in mind when looking for someone to talk to include:
If they are not giving you these things, then they probably can't hear
you, try someone else.
- Do you feel safe talking to them? You deserve to be heard by someone
who treats you with respect—someone who is sensitive, and nonjudgmental.
- Are they good listeners? People you talk to should do a lot of
listening at first. People may want to give you advice, and this
may or may not be helpful, but in any case, remember YOU GET TO
DECIDE if it is useful for you. You are not obligated to use it.
- Are they trustworthy with confidentiality? Be clear in advance
that you want things kept private. Professional counselors are required
to maintain confidentiality, unless you are in clear and present
- Are they free of hidden agendas? No one should be trying to coerce
you, convert you, cure you, come on to you sexually, or take control
of your life in any way. Understanding and good listening should
come with NO strings attached. The only thing they should require
in return is mutual respect.
- Are they positive, encouraging and affirming? You should leave
a conversation feeling positive and good. You should leave feeling
that something worthwhile was accomplished. They should reassure
you that many young people like you are struggling with the same
issues and that you can find inner peace.
RESOURCES THAT MAY HELP
Where can you find someone to talk to who can provide you with the
good listening skills I mentioned above?
Think about others in your family you can talk to. An older sister,
aunt, cousin or uncle perhaps?
What about at church? Your bishop, young adult director or MIA teacher
may be good advocates.
Another good place is your school, where a teacher, counselor or
youth group leader may be able to listen and help. Many schools across
the country are starting youth after school programs for youth who
are questioning their sexuality. (See website addresses in the Youth
Section of Affirmation's web site.)
Many young people or their parents also seek out a professional
counselor to help them talk things out and work together. They too
should meet the above "listening" criteria.
There is a group called Family Fellowship that is run by Mormon
parents who have a gay/questioning family member. Here are a couple
of examples of correspondence from them:
to Parent: I Felt I Was Alone
Family Fellowship is a GREAT resource for your parents. They have
a newsletter and monthly meetings in the Utah area. Visit their website
Another group of parents and family members is PFLAG (Parents and
Friends of Lesbians and Gays). They have a lot of information and
great resources for parents who have a child that is questioning their
sexual orientation. They are a national organization and there may
be a chapter in your area. Many young people and their parents attend
PFLAG meetings and find a lot of positive support. Go to their web
site at: http://www.pflag.org.
You will also find helpful documents on Affirmation's "Especially
for Youth" web site pages, especially those from LDS parents writing
to their children. Your parents may also be scared and feeling alone
with no one to talk to. Their actions and words may reflect a genuine
but misinformed idea of what your sexual feelings mean. You may be
able to be a support to them as much as they are to you when together
you seek answers.
Finally, you will always be welcome at Affirmation meetings and
conferences, where you can meet hundreds of gays and lesbians who
are Mormon or ex-Mormon. These people have already gone through what
you are now facing and may be able to help by sharing their experience
with you. They will also be in a good position to listen and understand
because, once again, they have already "been there." Affirmation has
been a life saver for many Mormon youth who found relief from the
pressures and outright hate coming from those who should be our greatest
supporters. Simply by being together we can find peace.
Is it more or less acceptable to love, honor and follow Heavenly
Father but still act on lesbian feelings? I'm so confused! I used
to know so much about the church but never looked up anything like
this. I want to be a active Mormon but I don't want to deny myself
the happiness I've felt in my relationships with women/girls.
Letter to a young friend:
I'd like to share some personal experiences with you that I hope
can shed some light on your very important questions. Know that I
really understand your confusion, and there are no clear answers.
One of the most important things that I have come to realize and
remember (from my Church teachings of my youth) is that our Heavenly
Father has promised each of us the gift of personal revelation in
addition to the teachings of the Church and our prophet. And for me
that has meant that my Heavenly Parents love me and only want my happiness.
I have also come to a quiet understanding, for myself that, the
question of same sex orientation in the Church is something that will
take a while to resolve, and may not be resolved in my own lifetime.
And its just not in our Church but in the world in general. Remember
back when the Church did not accept Blacks into the priesthood? and
now they do? Although some may not agree with me, I see our situation
in much the same way.
And for now, some of these things just may have to be resolved,
FOR NOW, between you and your Heavenly Parents who love you very much.
I know this may sound confusing and it places quite a heavy burden
on us especially because we live in a society and church where
there are very few places for LDS gays to go to celebrate their faith
and spirituality. That makes it especially more difficult.
As I hope you discover, through Affirmation, and by hearing stories
of others, there is no "right" solution that works for everyone. Many
people have stayed in the Church and have remained faithful to the
current church teachings of celibacy except in lawful marriage, some
have married, others, have divorced, and still others have remained
single. Others, have left the church, and yes, many have either chosen
to be excommunicated or it has been brought upon them. Many are living
single, many are in long term partnerships, many are dating, often
seeking out and partnering with others who are also LDS.
But for each person, this has been a personal decision, and here
at Affirmation, we respect each person's journey as unique. No one
has a right to judge another's actions.
It is a matter, like so many others have done before you, that you
must do for yourself, through careful soul-searching, through prayer,
meditation, and careful thought, that only you can decide.
Peace, harmony, a love of yourself, of your family, of those you
may date, of your friends, of those around you, and love of your Heavenly
Parents, should be your guiding principle. If you are doing something,
feeling something, that also isn't congruent with these other important
principles, maybe it should be something that you should reconsider.
If you are in a situation for example, where you feel a loathing
for yourself, or hate or feel loathing towards someone/something else,
it may not be the right place for you to be, or the right thing for
you to do at that time.
I can personally testify to this in my own life. What I know is
that God loves me, and wants only my happiness. BUT, it is for ME
to work out. I've been in some pretty bad situations in my life, not
unlike some of of your own history, bad relationships, etc., but when
I finally began to realize the above principles, my life began to
turn around. I also came across Affirmation, and realized that there
was a global network of people who come from an LDS background who
share/d my same struggles, and JOYS. And, I began seeing my world
in a completely different way.
Many of the people I had associated, with, dated, (yes, women and
several men), were not good for me. I often felt sad, empty, and used.
I also realized I was partying too much, only demeaning myself to
feeling anything, and only bringing more misery in my life. I WAS
NOT LIVING ACCORDING TO MY OWN STANDARDS, and deep inside I knew it.
Something had to give, and thought I was going to totally go off the
Beginning about 6 years ago, I began a process of some heavy soul-searching
that resulted from a long period of being physically ill. And I realized
I was going about things all the wrong way. I hated myself, and everyone
And, as I began to take stalk of my life, I began to talk to God,
as I had in my youth. I mean really really talk. Leaving nothing out...
Slowly I began to realize they talked back, and many, many quiet
understandings became apparent to me. Over the years, my life has
changed so much. They gave me the strength to make some major changes
in my life, change my circle of friends, and at that time, I also
learned of Affirmation, and of Family Fellowship and have been actively
involved with both groups ever since.
Now as I seek truth, and love from my Heavenly parents, I see now
the kinds of people who are good for me. I also began to realize that
the most important activities that bring peace and contentment into
my life, involve service. I believe in reaching out to others, especially
young people such as yourself, and I believe God has had a purpose
for me and others who, like me, are also reaching out those who could
use a little support.
This has also enabled me to keep all of me together, my emotional,
spiritual, and intimate sides. It has truly been a wonderful experience.
Anyway, this is what is working for me but it may not be the path
for you. For you see, each individual needs to choose for him/herself
the best way to peace and happiness under the guidance of our Heavenly
There are many, many good things about our LDS Heritage. Ironically,
the reason Affirmation exists, that you found our Youth Services and
that you and I are just talking to each other, is because of our LDS
value system that places a high regard on fellowship and service to
others. This is a great example of some wonderful things that our
upbringing has given us. We have such a strong desire to help others,
to be of service, and to fellowship - just as we are doing right now
writing each other. These are some of the "true principles" of the
Church and Christ-like living. These are the absolutely cool things
that we have been raised to believe and live by....
Sadly there are also not so good things. Our congregations are made
up of people, and people are human, subject to frailties and prejudices
like anyone else. For the most part, people aren't ready for change
yet. However, I've met so many wonderful LDS families and church leaders
who have completely accepted their gay sons, sisters, brothers, fathers,
mothers, and congregation members. The tremendous outpouring of support
that Family Fellowship has offered LDS gays and lesbians stands as
a true testament to the principles of Christ-like love. Things are
slow, but things are changing.
I do believe that it is up to us, you, me, and others you will also
be in contact with, to be the pioneers, to "get our own acts" together
and live our lives as good people, regardless of what others think.
And over time, as people realize, we're here, and not going away,
that we are decent people too, they will change. We deserve this.
And YOU deserve this much.
You sound like a very special person. I can't begin to tell you
how in awe I've been at the young people I have been in touch with,
like yourself. I have learned so much about myself and about the world
as seen through your eyes.
I do hope some of what I wrote today can help you begin to put the
pieces together for your own life. I admire your contacting Affirmation.
My young friend, you are very brave and I'm proud that you contacted
us and have allowed us to be of service to you.
I am scared. I am more attracted to guys than girls, but it's because
I was always told I was gay since I was a kid--I don't know. I am
20 years old and I want to go on a mission--I really don't know. I
am very confused and frustrated.
Your confusion and frustration is more common than you may be aware.
Affirmation is full of people just like you, who are currently (or
have at one time) facing the same issues. It is hard to know from
your brief description above, but it sounds like you may have tendencies
that other children identified as being gay. Don't let cultural choices
about how men and women "should" behave keep you from loving yourself.
Just be youthe best you that you can.
Growing up in a culture and church that does not offer any kind
of support or education about people like us leaves us wondering if
our feelings are real or if and when we might someday wake up and
feel the sexual urges that "everyone else" feels for the opposite
sex. Having gone through this, and having a few years now to reflect
back, your Affirmation friends will tell you that the attraction you
have (whether for the same or opposite sex) is the one you will have
for the rest of your life. By your age you already know who you are
attracted to. And your feelings are shared by about 10% of the human
population. Now you simply have to work out what all this means. Are
you the pervert that your church and family tells you you are? Gays
and lesbians too often internalize these kinds of thoughts and let
them eat us up inside.
It's hard to know better, when, as a child you have no other source
for truth that the carefully controlled society of Mormonism. But
this you must do, and Affirmation is a great place to start.
First, realize that a large part of your society does not understand
you. That they often suspect your motives. Some even hate you just
for being you. For some, your sexuality is a threat to their power
relationship with women. You are an example of how men can love women
without dominating them. For this, they would wish you harm. False
and harmful messages about homosexuality are also a part of our religious
teachings. Some would have us believe that this prejudice is inspired
by God. This is a lie. All of these harmful, hate-inspired attitudes
are from a source other than God. You do not have to accept these
beliefs and teachings.
Learn this instead: You are the person that God intended you to
be. God created your mind, soul and body, and this includes your sexual
feelings. Your attraction for the same sex is not a mistake, not a
defect. You are worthy of love, praise and companionship. Your righteous
desires are supported by God. God will be your companion always, even
when your misguided religious community tells you that you are unworthy.
Through the Spirit you can learn for yourself the truth about who
you are, and what God would have of you. You can know that you are
on the right track by feeling the companionship of the Holy Spirit
on your journey through life.
Don't waste your time praying for something you may not need: for
God to "cure" you. Instead pray for guidance about what God would have
of you. If this means being the best gay person you can, then so be
it. This realization will give you the courage to love and accept
yourself. It will also open your eyes to a whole new world of truths
and potentials for good.
How can you be gay/lesbian and be a
member of the church when it says in the Proclamation on the Family
that "The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman
is essential to His eternal plan"?
Like many things we read from the church leaders, the Proclamation
on the Family must be read with open eyes. The fact is, no one knows
for sure what the next life will bring. The assumption that our male/female
partnerships are modeled after God's relationship is just that, an
assumption. That's not to say that it can't be correct. But if it
is, it does not represent the total plan that God has in store for
us, since God is responsible for creating sexual diversity in the
world. We have yet many things to discover, some of which may come
as a surprise to the know-it-alls in the church.
As gays and lesbians, we know from experience with church leaders
that they are hardly in a position to be giving counsel on sexual
issues. Their shameful teachings and actions over the years reveals
their willingness to remain ignorant and cover up truth when it comes
to homosexuality. There are too many victims and examples to deny
this reality. The best that can be said is that the Proclamation on
the Family addresses only that portion of the human family that is
heterosexual, while ignoring the peculiar circumstances of those who
are different because they are gay or lesbian.
This would not be first time in Christian history that such limited
vision has ruled the day. Even in the New Testament period, it took
a special direct revelation to the apostle Peter for him to understand
that the gospel message was for all people, not just Jews. Up till
that point, he was absolutely certain that Gentiles had no place in
the gospel and thus he directed his message only to fellow Jews. Just
as we now know that he was wrong, church leaders who have a similarly
narrow vision of human sexuality will also one day have to revise
their views and recognize that the many mansions in God's kingdom
include room for non-heterosexuals too.
The Proclamation on the Family
Separating the Church and the Gospel