by Terri Winder
Last week, I wrote about my son’s path to homosexuality, a rite of passage that I fought all the way, one that I would like to blame on circumstance rather than choice.
However, there is always choice. There is always accountability. There are always consequences.
When Michael arrived at the point he was willing to define himself as being gay, some of his questions to me were, Will you still love me? Will you accept me for who I am? Will you welcome my partner into your home and treat him as kindly as you do your other children’s mates? If I marry, will you come to my wedding?
How could I, in good conscience, support something I don’t approve of, something I believe to be morally wrong?
I have had people say, “That’s easy. You tell him, ‘I love you but not what you are doing.’ Or, ‘We have standards in our home and if you are not willing to abide by them, you are not welcome in our home.’”
Easy for them, perhaps. For me, it has been one of the hardest dilemmas I have ever dealt with.
Whether Michael agreed to the gay label because — after all of the bullying — that was the community that welcomed him, or because he would have eventually done so anyway, he had made his choice; the only choice I had left was whether to accept or reject him.
At first I searched for answers. I wanted to know — what causes someone to become homosexual? Then I searched for guidance.
Frankly, it is dismaying to read the wide range of theories regarding same sex attraction. To me, most of them seemed biased, some were recognizably based on speculation.
And despite multiple gender studies, what it comes down to is this: there is no general consensus about what causes homosexuality.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers (together representing almost one-half million mental health professionals) have all taken the position that “the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation among some adolescents is in no way abnormal...”
Nevertheless, as I tried to reason with Michael I shared information published by the American College of Pediatricians in a letter purportedly sent out to school administrators across the nation.
It states, “Adolescence is a time of upheaval and impermanence. Adolescents experience confusion about many things, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and they are particularly vulnerable to environmental influences.
“Rigorous studies demonstrate that most adolescents who initially experience same-sex attraction…no longer experience such attractions by age 25.
“In one study, as many as 26 percent of 12-year-olds reported being uncertain of their sexual orientation, yet only 2-3 percent of adults actually identify themselves as homosexual.”
This letter influenced my own letter to The Boy Scouts of America, as they were deliberating a policy change that would sanction gay scout leaders in their organization.
I do not think it prudent to place a homosexual man with impressionable young boys who need leaders they can model their lives after.
My reasoning is based on another paragraph in the letter: “Among adolescents who claim a ‘gay’ identity, the health risks include higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, depression and suicide.”
Though this is true, I cannot help but wonder, is it causation or correlation? Are the cited problems inherently related to homosexuality or are they a direct result of the rejection and judgment homosexuals feel from family members and society?
A trusted counselor, who has spent his entire career helping people overcome addictions, told me, “All the gay men I’ve worked with share some common characteristics. Namely, they are among the most sensitive, emotionally gifted, and spiritually powerful men I know.”
Though I believe what he says — as all of the gays and lesbians I am personally acquainted with are very fine people — I also believe that all populations (cultural and racial) have a wide spectrum of personalities.
Ironically, most of the persecution aimed at homosexuals is a result of religious teachings. And although an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Quentin L. Cook, has said, “Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender,” it is not uncommon for Utah parents to shun their gay children.
Last year, the number of homeless Utah youth was estimated to be about 1,000, of which 300 to 400 are LGBT. Out of those LGBT homeless youths, about half were believed to have come from Mormon homes. This is most unfortunate, as studies show that youth rejected by families are three times more likely than their peers to use drugs and eight times more likely to commit suicide.
And while the Church has also publicly condemned “acts of cruelty or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different, whether those differences arise from …sexual orientation or for any other reason…” a nationwide June 2012 survey reported that nearly 70 percent of Utah’s LGBT survey respondents said their community was not accepting of them, compared to 42 percent elsewhere in the nation.
Most LDS people believe that if one is indeed “born gay” then they should accept that as their cross in life and practice a celibate lifestyle. The Church teaches that having a same sex attraction in itself is not a sin, but acting on it is.
Among those questioning this stance is John Dehlin, a graduate assistant with Utah State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and a USU doctoral student researching the gay, lesbian and bisexual Mormon experience.
For his dissertation, Dehlin worked with USU psychology professor Renee Galligher to investigate the prevalence and effectiveness of sexual orientation change efforts within the same-sex attracted LDS population.
The results from their study of 1,612 LGBT Mormons and former Mormons are very enlightening. According to their report, respondents knew they were LGBT at the average age of 14 years. At least 66 percent had attempted to change their orientation, most commonly through prayer, fasting, scripture study, and counseling with Church leaders.
Many had also tried other current methods. Of those who did, 80 percent rated attempts at sexual orientation change as harmful or extremely damaging. Regardless of their chosen method(s), 0 percent reported that their same sex attraction went away.
The most common paths chosen by the religious LGTB Mormons in the study is either heterosexual marriage or a life of celibacy. Marriage had resulted in a 75 percent divorce rate, hurting untold others in the process. Those who chose celibacy reported a “very poor quality of life”.
Dehlin summarizes the findings by saying, “If they didn’t choose it; if it doesn’t go away; if attempting to change causes harm; if mixed orientation marriage results in a high rate of failure and celibacy results in low quality of life ratings, then of course they would turn to suicide.”
Then he adds the kicker: Those who had entered into a legal same sex marriage have a higher than average quality of life — they are generally happier than heterosexual couples.
I remember a counselor asking me, “Would you deny your son the happiness he could find in a relationship with someone he could love and trust, even if it was a gay relationship?”
I also remember an applicable line penned by Mark Twain, “…he is as God made him, and that is sufficient.”