Last night I was conversing with an individual who had asked me about my experience of being diagnosed as intersex (Gonadal Dysgenesis / Adrenogenital Syndrome). She also asked me about Dan Reynolds (Imagine Dragons) and the work that he is doing to bring awareness to the LDS LGBT epidemic of youth suicides, and general intersectionality. As I was explaining some of the oddities I faced in my physical development, I realized that I was no longer talking about myself, I was sharing my testimony of what it means to be, to serve, and to love the queer community.
Suicide is a growing concern for numerous reasons beyond that of an LGBTQ status or identity. My focus is exclusively on queer research within religious denominations, so I can only speak to that. I have lost numerous queer Mormon friends to suicide over the past 20 years. Religiosity is a known mitigator of suicidality. However, for youth who acknowledge a queer identity or orientation, religiosity is positively correlated with suicidality (as religiosity increases, suicidality increases, mediated by queer status). What’s fascinating in this research is that the dogma surrounding LGBTQ individuals in their respective religions is irrelevant. It’s the variables of social support, group cohesion, and inclusivity which are comprised in religiosity which predict the increased suicidality. It should be noted, many of these studies are conducted with youth who have survived a suicide attempt, with data collection occurring in clinical recovery settings. This isn’t just people talking or theorizing. It’s people that chose to die, and miraculously survived, telling us exactly why they decided to leave this realm.
This Is What I Wrote, My Testimony
I am completely in love with the upcoming generation. They seem to have an ingrained sense of simply loving people for who they are, and where they’re at. I think my daughter is built this way. I’m scared of her losing that. She’s received recurring messages of the “othering” that we as Mormons have historically excelled at. We do this all the time… Mormon Prom, no school dances, let’s play on our own sports teams, keep Mormon friends, let’s go to our own schools, let’s trick-or-treat in our churches, let’s go to girls camp with other Mormons, and so on. Each of these are fine when viewed individually. It’s the underlying theme which sends an implicit message to our kids, “the world is dark, don’t go there.” And then we wonder why Mormon youth endure disproportionately high depression and anxiety rates. I believe the world is beautiful! The very special light emanating from our youth will help it shine even brighter, serving as beacons guiding it towards that which is good… Get Out There! It’s not a suggestion, it’s a calling. Don’t let our traditions of distancing ourselves from others become a bushel to your flame!
I think this genuine love and respect for others embodied in our youth will be our key to spreading the gospel to all nations. I believe the spirits that have already learned this type of Christ Like love for each other were saved for these days, with a very specific purpose! I’ve come to understand that “nations” isn’t always a geographic description; there are communities (LGBTQ, Refugees, Migrants, etc…) where The Gospel of Jesus Christ is hanging by a thread. To be able to reach out to them with the everlasting gospel requires mutual respect. This is why it’s imperative, I believe, to educate our youth with knowledge about these communities, a basic understanding of the challenges they face, and a thirst to learn more about these amazing people with fundamentally different life experiences. It’s how we all grow!
Last week in Brandon, Florida a fireside was held with about 200 youth, no parents. The speaker? A gay man who talked about being LGTBQ in the church, what it means, and how the youth in that room could extend love and friendship to others. The other beautiful part is the visual statement itself: That the LGBTQ kids in the room (~14 statistically speaking) can look forward to a future in the gospel, and place in His Kingdom! Here was a man, a stake executive secretary, who is openly gay, happy, and holds fast to gospel principles. That is how we save lives in the church; showing youth that a future is possible within the faith!
Suicide is generally driven by a sense of hopelessness and desperation. The times I attempted to end myself at age 15 and 25 stemmed from not being able to see a future in the gospel I know and love. I needed answers when none were available. I firmly believed I would be able to ask my Savior these questions within seconds of overdose or suffocation. Every time somebody is excommunicated, or excluded, or gossiped about… for being LGBTQ… anything that sends the message that different is not ok, or different is not welcome, is one more nail in the coffin of a queer child drowning in isolation.
I love this quote from Elder Ballard in November. He knew exactly what he was saying, and it was a very real call to change the way we treat people:
“WE need to LISTEN TO and UNDERSTAND what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, WE MUST DO BETTER THAN WE HAVE DONE IN THE PAST so that ALL MEMBERS feel they have a spiritual home where their BROTHERS AND SISTERS LOVE THEM and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.” -Elder Ballard
Growing up on the original Pete’s Dragon, I got to know the song “Candle on The Water.” It’s amazing. I think of The Savior as the light described in the lyrics. It’s just recently I’ve come to fully understand that the light I see in our youth is His.
I’ll be your candle on the water
My love for you will always burn
I know you’re lost and drifting
But the clouds are lifting
Don’t give up, you have somewhere to turn
I’ll be your candle on the water
‘Till every wave is warm and bright
My soul is there beside you
Let this candle guide you
Soon you’ll see a golden stream of light
A cold and friendless tide has found you
Don’t let the stormy darkness pull you down
I’ll paint a ray of hope around you
Circling in the air, lighted by a prayer
I’ll be your candle on the water
This flame inside of me will grow
Keep holding on, you’ll make it
Here’s my hand, so take it
Look for me reaching out to show
As sure as rivers flow
I’ll never let you go
This is my testimony. This is what I believe. It continues to evolve as I learn more. But right now in this moment I am excited for our faith, and our future! Thank you for reading.