Op-ed: A Way Out of Danger for Mormon Youth
I am not your typical gay man. Nor am I your typical Mormon. For the past nine months, I have served as the executive secretary in the bishopric (the religious leadership) of my home ward in San Francisco as my authentic self — an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint.
For years, I’d been writing about my experiences as an openly gay Mormon and accepted this calling in a way that honors both my orientation and my faith. As with all callings in the Mormon faith, mine is both a duty and a privilege. It provides me with an opportunity — and a responsibility — to be of service to both the Mormon and the LGBTQ communities, and to help those around me better integrate deep and often conflicted parts of their lives.
Over the course of the past nine months, thousands of LGBTQ Mormons and their families have reached out to me offering their support and, in many cases, to ask for mine. I have, because of the position in which I have been placed, become the repository of stories of deeply wounded women, men, and youth who struggle greatly to understand how LGBTQ Mormons fit inside our faith.
I’ve been quite open about my own turbulent past growing up as a gay Mormon. As a youth, I tried and failed to kill myself. My life was given back to me. But many are not so fortunate. While no formal statistics of gay Mormon youth suicide exists, most estimate it to be between four and nine times the national average.
For each of us — of Mormon faith or none at all — every LGBTQ youth lost is a loss we feel personally, whether we recognize it or not. Among those we’ve lost are potential leaders who could have contributed to make the world a better place. We may have lost the next Nobel laureate. We may have lost the scientist who would have discovered a cure for cancer, or the skilled orator who could have brokered peace between troubled nations.
But now there is hope that this can change. On Friday, the Family Acceptance Project will release an LDS version of its evidence-based family education booklet that enable
s families and communities to support LGBT youth in a way that reduces their risk for substance abuse, diminishes their risk for STDs including HIV, and dramatically reduces suicide and depression risk.
When I met with Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, and saw these materials, 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 Christ-like love. Ryan left me by myself in the conference room when we neared the close of our meeting. What she never saw — and what I’ve never shared before today — is how intensely I cried in those moments I was alone.
I mourned for my mom, who wanted so much to do the right thing and keep me safe and yet, without the resources to understand and support me, instead told me it would have been better for her if I had been born dead than gay.
I mourned for my dad, who also loved me but lacked the tools to deal with his gay son and instead told me I should change, that I had bitterly failed him, and then withheld his love and companionship from me for the bulk of my life.
I mourned for my 16-year-old self, trapped inside a cycle of isolation and despair, with nowhere to turn. I mourned for the years I spent trapped inside self-loathing and depression, and I grieved the many subsequent bad decisions I made that exacerbated my pain and low self-esteem. And I wondered how my life would have been remarkably different if I, my parents, my teachers, and my ecclesiastical leaders had access to research that demonstrated unequivocally how to keep LGBT youth safe.
But I also felt gratitude. More than anything, I was deeply grateful this kind of research was finally available — and for what this means not only for Mormons, but also for the LGBTQ community as a whole. We don’t have to wonder how to keep our gay youth from killing themselves anymore. Our solution is here.
This is not marketing based on focus groups. It is not speculation. It is not opinion — even ecclesiastical opinion. This is science. For LGBTQ Mormons and their families, this is a lifeline of hope that has not existed before. Gone are the days when Mormon parents — many armed with good intentions but alarmingly little data — felt compelled to choose between their children and their faith. Family relationships are a cornerstone to our faith, and we’re taught, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” The Family Acceptance Project materials eliminate the illusion of that horrible Sophie’s Choice.
MITCH MAYNE is an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint and serves in his home ward as the executive secretary in the bishopric in San Francisco. He works in corporate communication for a Fortune 100 firm.