This is the first essay in a series on parenting gay teens. This introduction is really about a dream, and a vision of how life will look for gay teens once equality is finally achieved in our Mormon communities.
Good parenting involves correcting the deficiencies that we find in our communities, our schools, and our church programs, when they fail to meet the needs of our children. By describing an ideal world, we can compare our real situations to this ideal, and we can compensate within our families for the deficiencies we find in our communities.
In a better world LGBT people will grow up in communities where they receive affirming messages from early childhood. They will be presented with stories and television shows that portray families in all their diversity. They will see their gay and lesbian aunts and uncles happily settled in committed relationships that are affirmed by their extended families. They will receive messages at church that God loves all children and wants to see them all thrive and exercise their talents and express their love as God created them. They will hear messages from the pulpit that discourage people from judging those who are different. They will attend schools that strictly forbid bullying of all kinds, and will be educated about diversity and the need to be conscientious about the use of labels that can offend. ‘That’s so gay’ and ‘that’s so retarded’ will be eliminated from vocabularies because schools and parents will teach children how to show respect at all times toward all people. Parents won’t have to worry about their children receiving negative messages in their communities because they will know that their fellow ward members are teaching their children to respect and love others. An effeminate boy and a masculine girl will be embraced non-judgmentally by their families and their communities.
In a better world LGBT teens will pass through those confusing early teen years feeling supported as they explore and discover what their feelings are. They will feel their first attractions and infatuations, and will be able to talk about this with their parents and their closest friends. There will be people like them represented in the movies and TV shows they see, and there will be LGBT role models and celebrities for them to identify with. They will be able to safely internalize the messages that they find in popular culture that apply to them. They will start to develop dreams for the future that take into account their sexual orientation.
At church they will receive lessons about chastity that will apply to them. They will be encouraged by their families and youth leaders to value their chastity and save their sexuality for a future same-sex marriage. They will never receive messages that they are lesser, or that their dreams are evil. In fact they will be reminded that God has a mission for them, and that he created them this way with that mission in mind.
These young teens will start telling his peers about their orientations, and the news will be received nonchalantly by them. Their youth programs will be flexible and in each activity they will be allowed to participate with whichever gender they are the most comfortable. They will learn appropriate boundaries as they engage in horseplay with their same-sex peers, who will be aware but not disturbed by their diverse sexual orientations. There will be flirtations and teasings, just like there are between young men and women of that age, and these interactions will help them understand the importance of respecting everyone’s boundaries. It will even help the straight young men understand better how to interact maturely with young women as they also are learning correct boundaries as they interact with their LGBT peers of both sexes.
Later Teen Years
As teens get older they will struggle with their parents, who will provide them limits around dating and other normal restrictions. Young LGBT people will be treated like their straight siblings. They won’t be allowed to date before 16, and after 16 group dating will be encouraged. Parents will continue to encourage abstinence until marriage, but will do it without shaming or rejection. They will expect obedience to the word of wisdom, and will encourage spiritual development and preparation for future stable relationships.
Some of these teens will make mistakes. Some of them will start using alcohol, or rebelling in other ways. Some of them will start having sexual relationships. Their parents will struggle to try to help them through this without rejecting them or throwing them out. Ostracism will not exist here. These parents will set limits as they need to and will not abandon their Mormon values and ideals, as they lovingly reach out to their children, and try to guide them toward healthier behaviors. They will put a huge priority on staying alive. They will be vigilant to make sure that their teen children understand safe sex practices, and understand the specific dangers of different substances (drugs and alcohol). These teens will feel loved and protected, even in their rebellion. As they push against their limits, they will avoid the most dangerous behaviors that would have the most devastating consequences.
Meanwhile, the church will provide these young LGBT people a chance to meet other LGBT youth with similar values. There will be activities including dances that give them a chance to meet each other in a venue that is drug and alcohol free. They will be surrounded by other LGBT Mormon youth who are committed to abstinence until marriage and who are committed to obeying the word of wisdom. They will be able to date each other, and learn about relationships in a healthy way, including perspectives on infatuation, heartbreak, unrequited love, and all these elements of adolescence that prepare everybody for adult relationships. They will learn how to start expressing sexuality innocently, by holding hands and even kissing, but also learning to control their passions just as their straight siblings do in their teen dating experiences.
These teens will also see a life path ahead of them that can include adherence to Mormonism. They will see in their Mormon communities same-sex couples who are true to their vows of monogamy, and who are esteemed by their communities. They will see these LGBT adults holding callings in the church at every level, and seeing their particular contributions applauded. They will see the option of a mission experience that is flexible enough to take into account their reality. Most of them will look forward to a very regular mission experience knowing that they will have companions who are comfortable affiliating closely with LGBT people. They will also see that there are accommodations for those young adults who don’t fit into the standard mission format for any reason, and those people are still allowed to serve missions that are adapted to them and their abilities, with no stigma attached.
Zion Will be Built on Love and Equality
Basically they will have everything that their heterosexual siblings have, and their orientation will be neither celebrated nor demeaned, but will simply be affirmed as an essential characteristic that God has granted them as a way to travel the path of life in the company of a beloved companion. This all sounds like a wild dream, and it is beyond what most Mormons can even imagine. But meanwhile in North America and Western Europe, there are more and more communities that resemble this model. And everybody in these communities wins. These communities also have the benefit of less gender discrimination and racism. They have the benefit of understanding morality in terms of healthy lives and relationships, and not in terms of shame and exclusivity. In these communities that have eliminated homophobia, LGBT people thrive, and studies show that they have educational and mental health outcomes that are equal to their heterosexual peers.
I believe the day is coming when we will see this Zion in our Mormon communities.
Our next installment in this series will discuss the challenges of parenting LGBT children while we are waiting for this better world. We will also anticipate installments from some amazing parents of LGBT teens.