Thursday, October 18, 2012

Officially withdrawing my support for "Circling the Wagons" Mormon LGBT Conference


It is with much thought and disappointment that I write this post. I am publicly withdrawing my support for the Mormon LGBT Conference “Circling the Wagons,” and have resigned my position as member of the board of directors.

“Circling the Wagons,” to date, has been a wonderful experience. It has offered an alternate view for LGBT Mormons and their families who wish to allow gay Mormons to live their lives authentically as LGBT individuals. It has given hope to many, and been a great breath of fresh air from the outdated guidance that has dominated the Mormon LGBT landscape for decades.

Unfortunately, that has changed. The conference being held in Salt Lake City this November features speakers and messages that I, as an openly gay Mormon, cannot support. These include:

  • Josh Weed, who is well known for his individual choice as a gay man to be married to a woman
  • Steven Frei, President of North Star, an organization that positions LGBT Mormons as “struggling with same-sex attraction” and encourages them to change or suppress their orientation

The messages that will be delivered in this November’s “Circling the Wagons” are in direct conflict to everything my heart and spirit tell me about the nature of being a gay Mormon. North Star encourages LGBT Mormons to view themselves as broken and afflicted, while Mr. Weed’s message is routinely co-opted by many within our faith as the preferred path for LGBT Mormon youth, despite his insistence that it may not be the path for everyone. 

I have spent many years holding the belief that we as LGBT individuals are perfectly fine in the eyes of our Father—we don’t need to lead other people’s versions of our lives. Our path is uniquely our own, and just because humans don’t quite yet understand how we fit in our Father’s kingdom doesn’t mean our Father hasn’t known all along. And I have spent many years helping others who’ve struggled inside the confines of existing folklore-based policies—including many depressed and suicidal youth.

As a member of the board, it is my responsibility to help design direction and strategy for these events, including our mission. This conference represents a significant shift in my understanding of our purpose, and is one on which I was not consulted and do not support.

What is most disturbing to me is that we now have evidence-based research from The Family AcceptanceProject that demonstrate that encouraging LGBT children to suppress or change their orientation is actually a factor that contributes greatly to health risks of LGBT youth—including suicide. 

According to the impeccable research done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University, LGBT young people whose parents reject them are: More than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
An LDS oriented version of the booklet that suggests ways families can insure a safer life for their LGBT children, co-authored by former bishop Robert Rees, is found at the site mentioned above.

In addition, based on scientific data from the American Psychological Association demonstrating that conversion therapy (encouraging people to change or suppress their orientation) poses significant risks to youth (including depression, anxiety, and self-harm), has been banned in the state of California. To quote the author of this article, “Young people in this country must be allowed to grow up knowing that they are accepted and loved no matter whom they love.”

Given these factual sources of scholarship, it not only feels unethical to give platform to these messages, but it is, quite frankly, dangerous. I am disappointed that the leadership of “Circling the Wagons” does not recognize the threat to LGBT Mormon youth they implicitly endorse with this conference. Combined with the lack of inclusion on a major shift in direction, I must respectfully withdraw my support for and involvement in the organization.

I wish my friends at “Circling the Wagons” well, and send my kindest regards to Mr. Weed and those within North Star. But I cannot be part of an organization that disseminates messages that are proven to increase the risk of suicide and other serious health issues to the same group of people that I seek to help.