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Why the Trevor Project Is Grateful for the Mormon Church's Evolution

Mormon TKTKTK

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is far from perfect on LGBTQ issues, writes Casey Pick, but change is happening.

Last Thursday morning, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reversed a 2015 policy that automatically labeled all Mormons in same-sex marriages apostates, cutting them off from the church and prohibiting their children from being baptized, a necessary rite for salvation within the church. While the new policy still considers same-sex marriages a "serious transgression" and doesn't erase the years of pain that LGBTQ Mormons experienced under the old rule, it's an important move from a major conservative institution that will hopefully prevent further harm to young LGBTQ Mormons and help keep families together.

It is difficult to overstate how much harm was done to LGBTQ members of the LDS Church, and their families, when this policy was imposed. For a tight-knit community that places tremendous importance on family, being forced to choose between membership in the church and their immediate family was nothing short of traumatizing. Organizations like Affirmation, a group that offers support and community to LGBTQ Mormons, responded to the pain in their community by implementing suicide prevention trainings. Anecdotally, we know that after the 2015 policy was announced, lives were lost. While suicide is always complicated and cannot be attributed to any one cause, feelings of isolation and loss of spiritual community can be contributing factors.

This change means that children of same-sex parents in the church, which has about 16 million followers around the world, can now be baptized without seeking special permission, so long as the parents recognize that their children will still be taught Mormon doctrine. While far from perfect, it's a welcome policy change that wouldn't have been possible without extensive dialogue between LGBTQ members of the church who were willing to share their stories and leadership within the institution being willing to listen. The fruits of this dialogue have come not a moment too soon.

As the senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, the world's largest organization dedicated to serving LGBTQ youth in crisis, I am keenly aware of the issue of suicidality in Utah. From 2011 to 2015, the state saw a 141 percent increase in suicides among youth ages 10-17, compared to an increase of 23.5 percent nationally.

We also know that feeling ostracized from one's faith community because of sexuality can be a life or death issue, and this policy reversal will help reduce the feelings of exclusion and isolation that can be so harmful to LGBTQ people. Still, it's important to recognize the diversity of reactions from LDS LGBTQ folks, many of whom were pleasantly surprised and welcomed the shift, and many of whom received the statement with a certain measure of pain and anger. "Too little, too late," some say, and we ought to honor those feelings.

There are also those who raise the concern that LGBTQ children and families are still in an institution that will expose them to harmful messages. They're right, and we know how deeply impactful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric can be within religious institutions and beyond. LGBTQ youth are already dealing with high rates of bullying and stress related to peer rejection. It's important that young people are given access to environments where they are accepted for who they are and not exposed to harmful rhetoric. Still, if there's one thing that LGBTQ people and the most conservative members of the LDS Church should be able to agree on, it is that life is complicated, and we do the best we can with what we are given.

There are reasons to be hopeful for the future of the LDS church, which has come a long way to reform its public image on LGBTQ issues since supporting California's antigay Proposition 8 in 2008, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In 2015, the church supported passage of a law in Utah prohibiting sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in housing and employment, and their lack of opposition helped pave the way for passage of an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law in the state this session. The church was also part of a recently introduced conversion therapy bill in Utah that seeks to prohibit the dangerous and discredited practice on minors -- a policy initiative supported by The Trevor Project's 50 Bills 50 States campaign to end the practice nationwide.

Ideally, this change is part of a broader conversation that will continue until the church isn't merely tolerating the existence of LGBTQ families, but loving and accepting them with their whole heart. We know that when LGBTQ young people are affirmed, they are better able to access a higher quality of life.

There's a long way to go in that aim, but ultimately, what we're grateful for today is an end to explicit exclusion. We are grateful for a step in the right direction that could improve the quality of life of young people. What many LGBTQ Mormons are hearing is that they are now able to sit down at the table and be a part of the family, albeit an imperfect family. That's something a lot of LGBTQ folks can no doubt relate to.

CASEY PICK (she/her), Esq., is Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project.

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