By Jim Smithson
This blog and accompanying handout were posted first on North Star’s blog on March 30, 2013. The blog, with a link to the handout, is now cross-posted on Circling the Wagons, No More Strangers, and Affirmation.
My son—my only son—is 26. He’s a returned missionary and a college graduate. He works in social services helping people who have been homeless. He loves weird movies, long bike rides, playing basketball, and getting mobbed by his niece and nephews. And he’s gay.
Since he came out to us a little over a year ago, my wife and I have gone through a crash course in all things Mormon and gay. We’ve learned a lot of new acronyms: SSA, SGA, LGBT, LGBTQ, and more. We’ve met a lot of wonderful people and made a lot of new friends. We’ve read and heard a lot of heart-wrenching and inspiring stories. We’ve become aware of the history and mission of several LDS-related organizations, blogs, communities, and firesides—and we’ve benefited from several of them. But we’ve also learned that some of those organizations don’t get along very well with each other—which brings me to my first point.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised by the tensions we’ve seen and heard between groups. After all, we’re talking about a bunch of bright, passionate people trying their best to understand and deal with a complex and difficult issue. And so debates rage: Can someone who is gay be an active member of the Church? Can our wards welcome and involve gay members? What options are really available for those who are gay or have same-sex attraction? Is a mixed-orientation marriage a good idea? Is lifelong celibacy the only option? Can a same-sex relationship work? These and other challenging questions certainly deserve to be discussed vigorously—though hopefully amicably—perhaps for some time to come. But in the meantime, we all need to recognize and “own” a particular, immediate and frightful challenge—which brings me to my second, and main, point.
Early in our crash course, my wife and I became aware of the alarming number of suicides among gay/SSA youth. No one knows the rate exactly, but several studies show it’s much higher than it is for “straight” kids. And we can probably all agree that even ONE suicide is too many, especially if it’s a kid in our family, ward or neighborhood. But that’s the terrible reality. And it demands that we all put our other differences aside so we can work together to protect our gay kids. Sure, we can continue to discuss and disagree about the future prospects and options for our kids. But unless we all come together NOW, too many of them will be gone before they ever get a chance to live those future prospects and options.
But what can we do? As parents, family members, teachers, neighbors, friends, and church members, what can we really do? The answer is, as it is so often in Jesus’ teachings, to show love and compassion. We all need to love and support our children—our Heavenly Father’s children—not reject them or cast them off because they are gay or have same-sex attraction. As a step in that direction, I am attaching to this post a one-sheet (front and back) “handout” of information on preventing suicide and other high risk behavior of our gay/SSA youth. It’s brief. It’s in a format that is easy to download, copy, and share. It uses LDS-friendly language. Some previous efforts by LDS and other authors to raise the difficult issue of gay/SSA suicides have gotten shot down in the crossfire between different organizations, or met with suspicion, and sometimes dismissed, because they have used the “wrong” terms or language. I hope this handout can play a role in helping us put our differences and suspicions aside, at least on this issue.
This kind of information needs to get into the hands of as many friends, family members, teachers, and leaders as possible, some of whom do not yet know they need it. And that’s where we all come in. We are the ones who are most aware of the challenges facing our gay/SSA youth. We are the ones who understand, sometimes from difficult personal experiences, the risks these kids are facing. So we are the ones who have the responsibility to reach out to others to make them aware.
Fortunately for me and my wife, our son is older and more settled, so we don’t have to worry constantly about his safety. And fortunately for our son, he has a lot of supportive family and friends, both gay and straight, both inside and outside the Church. But a lot of kids are still young and, right now, some of them are probably feeling very alone and confused, hanging on by their fingertips. So let’s put aside our differences and get this and other reliable information (some sources are listed on the handout) into the hands of the people who need it. Discuss it with your neighbors and with your kids. Print the handout and give a copy to your bishop and maybe send one to the friends who moved last year. But do it NOW. Please.
Jim Smithson lives in Salt Lake City. He worked for over 20 years in social science research, until he retired for health reasons. He and his wife, Merrie, are the parents of 3 and the grandparents of 4. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.