LDS Church Leaders Call Trend 'Heartbreaking,' Say They 'Mourn with Families'
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Thirty-two young LGBT Mormons reportedly have taken their own lives since early November — when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new devastatingly anti-gay policy labeling people in same-sex marriages "apostates" and barring their children from being baptized.
All of the victims were between the ages of 14 and 20, with an average age of 17. Twenty-seven were male, three were female and two were transgender, and all but six of the suicides occurred in Utah.
Those figures are based on a report from Mama Dragons, a support group for the Mormon parents of LGBT children that we first told you about last May. Wendy Montgomery, co-founder of Mama Dragons, announced recently during a conference of Affirmation, another Mormon LGBT support group, that the families of the 32 victims had contacted her directly about the death of a child or sibling.
The Deseret News, a Salt Lake City-based daily newspaper owned by the Mormon church, reported the shocking figure Wednesday after obtaining the following statement from senior LDS leaders.
"Every soul is precious to God and to the church and the loss of life to suicide is heartbreaking," an LDS church spokesman, Dale Jones, said. "Those who are attracted to others of the same sex face particular challenges and pressures in this regard, both inside and outside the church. We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope. Each congregation should welcome everyone. Leaders and members are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reach out in an active, caring way to all, especially to youth who feel estranged or isolated. The church has repeatedly stated that those who feel same-sex attraction and yet choose to live the commandments of God can live fulfilling lives as worthy members of the church. We want all to enjoy the blessings and safety offered by embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ and living the principles of His gospel."
The 15 million-member LDS church teaches that acting on feelings of "same-sex attraction" is a sin, and excommunicates gay and lesbian members who decline to remain celibate. The church fought vigorously against the legalization of same-sex marriage, bankrolling the campaign in support of California's Proposition 8 in 2008.
In the ensuing years, however, the church appeared to soften its anti-gay tone and left decisions about the issue in the hands of local leaders. As a result, some "wards," or congregations, in progressive areas became welcoming of LGBT people. Last year, the church even supported a bill banning anti-LGBT discrimination in Utah, although the measure contained significant religious exemptions.
But in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality, the church took a major step backward. In the policy released Nov. 5, the church relegated same-sex couples to the same status as those in polygamous marriages, labeling them "apostates," a term for those who've renounced their faith. The policy also bars the children of same-sex parents from becoming full members of the church until they turn 18, disavow their parents' relationship, and leave the household.
The new policy prompted thousands to leave the church in protest. Then, earlier this month, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M. Nelson, declared that the policy was a revelation from God to LDS President Thomas S. Monson, which elevated it to the status of church doctrine. Nelson is next in line to become church president, and his wife later said that LGBT people could "repent" and have their "sexual feelings be in harmony" with God's law.
Even before the new policy was announced, Utah had the fourth-highest rate of suicide in the nation, and suicide was the No. 1 cause of death for children ages 10-17. Sadly, the families of LGBT Mormons who commit suicide typically don't publicize it because they want to avoid the associated shame from fellow church members.
Nationally, LGB youth are four times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide, according to the Trevor Project. LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to attempt suicide as those who report no or low levels of family rejection. And one quarter of young transgender people "report having made a suicide attempt."