153: Daniel Parkinson & Tom Christofferson: LGBTQ Youth Suicide: A Discussion

Credit: Ulisse Albiati @Flickr

In the last week the LDS community has been devastated by the suicides of several LGBT youth.  Because of the closeness of many in our community to the grieving families there has been an outpouring of anger, frustration and powerlessness at the waste of these gorgeous lives.

Daniel Parkinson, a Minnesota based psychiatrist who has been involved in a number of a number of important projects that provide support and draw attention to the issues and contexts affecting Mormons LGBT Youth and their families.

Tom Christofferson is Salt Lake City based.  He’s gay and having been excommunicated and now returned to the church after a 25 year absence has found a home, Christian doctrines and theology that he finds compelling in Mormonism.  He emphasises that making compassion rather than judgment the centre of our faith lives  will allow all of us to live lives of generosity, love and inclusion.

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22 Comments

  1. Cory Teuscher

    It is important to realize that among LGTB youth that there are distinct differences with respect to suicide risk. Clearly more attention needs to be paid to these differences when discussing this topic.

    Bisexuality and suicide: a systematic review of the current literature.
    Review article
    Pompili M, et al. J Sex Med. 2014.
    Show full citation

    Abstract
    INTRODUCTION: Many studies of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have demonstrated that individuals reporting a bisexual orientation have a particularly high risk of suicidal behavior and substance abuse. It has been also suggested that bisexual individuals (both men and women) have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared with homosexual and heterosexual groups.

    AIM: The aim of the present article was to determine whether or not an association between bisexuality and suicidal behavior exists and to analyze risk factors for suicidal behavior in bisexual individuals.

    MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The combined search strategies yielded a total of 339 records screened from PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Knowledge. Duplicate articles, articles that were not in English, and those that did not analyze bisexuality separately from homosexuality were excluded. A quality assessment was performed for each study included.

    METHODS: A careful systematic review of the literature was conducted investigating the potential bisexuality-suicidal behavior link. A total of 77 articles from peer-reviewed journals were considered, and the most relevant (N=19) were selected for this review.

    RESULTS: Individuals reporting a bisexual orientation had an increased risk of suicide attempts and ideation compared with their homosexual and heterosexual peers. Risk factors included related victimization, peer judgments, and family rejection. Bisexual individuals also reported higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

    CONCLUSIONS: Bisexual individuals may experience more psychological distress and mental health problems than individuals who identify with a homosexual or heterosexual orientation. Clinicians should consider the potential for suicidal behaviors in bisexual individuals and be alert for increased mental health problems and poor social integration.

    © 2014 International Society for Sexual Medicine.

  2. Karen

    I feel confused. Elder Bednar said there “are no gays in the Church.” Yet, the Church has a website called “Mormons and gays”. If I were a parent of an LGBT child, I could: listen to Bednar, I could listen to the church’s website ” Mormons and gays ” and/or I could listen to my child. Listening to my child would be MY approach.

    In the state of Utah, there are more options for taking care of an animal than there are offered for taking care of LGBT children. Awful. Horrendous. Terrible.

    We ARE the Church. We HAVE to listen to and love our LGBT children.

  3. Rob Silcock

    What a joke to say there are no gay people in the church. Thats up there with some countries saying they dont have gay people and that AIDS does not exist in their countries. Really funny, not in a haha way, that people like to deny the TRUTH. I feel sorry for the youth that feel that they are letting people down so kill themselves. It is surely the other way round, the church as a whole, the families and friends of these youth have let them down. The sooner the church admits to there wrongdoing the better.

    1. Jennifer

      How exactly has the church let them down? By not altering the Plan of Salvation to accommodate their choices? Should they change the law of tithing for those who choose to pay less? Maybe alter the Word of Wisdom for those that choose to smoke pot. Obviously if a choice made to have an abnormal sexual relationship brings enough despair to consider suide…maybe that choice is a bad one.

      1. Gina Colvin

        Why do you keep saying it’s a choice? How is sexuality a choice? Was yours a choice? Did you wake up one day and say, ‘Today I choose to be heterosexual?’ (if indeed you are). Even the church doesn’t say it’s a choice now. They used to but they’ve realised that that position is scientifically indefensible. Check out MormonsandGays – the church’s own website on the topic.

        1. Bravo Gina! Well said. As a gay man who fathered 5 kids and tried immensely hard over 40 years to live in a narrative that wasn’t me, I am very weary of the dialogue of straight folks that I need to justify my existence and choices toward authenticity of self and emotional expression. I am a huge believer that the narrative we create for wholeness and fulfillment in our lives is an important factor in our happiness. I’m trying to avoid resentment toward a straight group of people who feel that the lives of LGBT are open for review and scrutiny, yet scrutiny their lives are off limits because they are “normal”. What’s funny is that it is these same straight people are the ones creating gay babies! And they yell loudly, that they had no choice in the matter. Did the kid have choice? The notion by some LDS folks that God rejects roughly 18% of his children ( male/female) because they are same sex oriented is laughable. They travel through life with a piety that is unconscionable. The statement, “should God change the plan of salvation accommodate their choices”, resounds with a lack of compassion and true love for fellow human beings. Gina, thanks for all you are doing to facilitate understanding on this issue. You rock!

      2. LDSmama

        Jennifer, the first part of your comment I can agree with – the church is not going to change God’s law. However, this statement:

        “…a choice made to have an abnormal sexual relationship…”

        The podcast is talking about LGBTQ Mormon *youth*. Many of these youth have never even had a romantic relationship, never mind an “abnormal sexual relationship”. They are in despair because they cannot see where they belong in the church, perhaps they have been treated poorly (such as being told they made a choice to be gay?), called names, ignored, left out, etc. All because of something over which they have no control.

        1. Dear LDSmama,
          Thanks for your pointing out the matter that so many youth are accused of being abnormal and “sexual” because they are trying to navigate a very lonely, awkward period of life in their youth, as they try to come to grips with why they have same sex attractions —- yet they’ve never had sex! I clearly remember this period of my life. It was lonely. I didn’t even know that what was at the core of my loneliness was that I was gay. I wouldn’t admit it to myself for another 20 years. All I knew is that I didn’t fit in. I would spend hours after school hiking in the foothills and quietly pondering where I belonged. I knew I didn’t belong with the ‘normal’ kids of the ward, the scout troop, the ball team. Because I was same sex oriented did not mean that I was sexual. I was not immoral or unchaste. I had a poor self esteem about my body and my place in life. Most would say, “welcome to life, this is how most kids feel at this age.” Yet, many feel that a gay kid’s life is fair game for scrutiny. And I’ve seen congregations where hetero sexual expression by youth is winked at as being normal, and a small peccadillo that is overlooked by local leadership. Looking back on the screwed up socialization in local LDS communities still causes anxiety in me. Thank you for pointing out the notion that the term “abnormal sexual relationship” is judgmental and hurtful. It is a place where some of God’s children have found authentic emotional expression that finally feels right — just like straight folks. And like straight folks, all of God’s children are entitled to authentic happiness. Maybe their “plan of salvation” needs some revision. All I know is that one size does not fit all — God affirmed that to me. Maybe some of the pious will have an epiphany about this someday, when their son or daughter who is gay comes out to them.

      3. LTC

        no need to alter the word of wisdom, it says nothing about smoking pot or prescription drugs… so it’s all fair game. and members alter their own tithing by either paying gross annual income or paying tithing based on their take home pay…
        your attitude, shared by many LDS members, toward gays are the exact reason they unfortunately contemplate suicide at all. absolutely NO love or compassion on one hand and professing to be a follower of Jesus Christ on the other hand. ignorant, hypocritical and pathetic.

      1. Fred,
        Oh, the stories I could tell about screwed up adults who work with kids in “God’s true Church”! My scoutmasters brought jugs of homemade hard cider and Playboy magazines for the scout troop! After all, it’s what makes a man, a man. No wonder many of my peers had to get married early due to an unwanted pregnancy. The local church leaders winked their eye at that stuff. It was just normal hormones, right?! But God forbid the gay kid…….

  4. maddy

    I just have to make a quick comment–not through with the podcast yet. In regard to church culture-wards-etc being more welcoming to people who identify as LGBTQ–I would say some LDS members/leaders in various different wards have a hard time accepting youth/adults in general who don’t fit the “cookier-cutter” of BYU, mission temple marriage etc, let alone people who are LGBTQ. I have seen it negatively impact my family and other families as well. Tom is very fortunate to live in an area which welcomed and refrained from judging him.
    There really is little said by local or GA leadership on the topic of unconditional love–Christ-like love and not judging others. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is deeply ingrained in LDS culture and used to justify unkind actions and remarks. We have a long, long way to go on that front.
    Right now Pope Francis exemplifies this type of approach more than leaders do in the LDS church.

  5. Sai

    It’s interesting that the institution (church) which is causing so much harm here in the name of Christ, is also the one that we’re encouraging these families and youth to stay attached and dependant upon for support.
    These support systems are so wonderful and so needed and cathartic – but can they stand up to the message we all hear at church on a Sunday? Where the common rederick is anything but self authenticity, grace and LGBTQ acceptance.
    All of these LQBTQ support groups exist because of the grass root Mormon doers, with personal experience and conviction, who know deep down these guidelines are anything BUT Christ’s will for his children.
    If these things aren’t Christ’s will, then is this institution and its leaders the only way these youth and their families can have a connection with Christ?
    How can they draw closer to him in an Institution where they’re constantly being told who they are excludes them and displeases Christ from accepting them fully.
    After all isn’t that why we’re all at church?
    If one truly believes after all is said and done, after all that can be seen, experienced and felt in this world about spirituality, charity, love and acceptance, that in fact the answer is NO, staying connected to church isn’t the only way to have a spiritual connection, to Christ’s love, then why would we encourage them to stay connected to it and experience the judgements, hurt and life threatening messages?
    Is it for our own selfish sake that we try so hard to
    Hold onto them? Is it out of our own insecurities? Why can’t we help to illuminate a path out, towards far richer and loving support systems for them.

    1. Sai,

      Thank you for pointing out that “staying connected to the church isn’t the only way to have a spiritual connection, to Christ’s love”. It took me many years to figure this out after leaving the LDS faith. They actually asked me to leave. Oddly in spite of it, I did not lose or leave my faith in a loving God and in HIs Son. While I no longer feel a need to associate with organized religion, my life is highly spiritual. I listen to daily promptings for my life. I have meaning and direction in my life in a way that I didn’t have as a member of the LDS faith. I actually feel a ‘place’ in life now. After several decades of life, I now feel okay in my own skin. But what of the kid who who is deeply dependent on family and a local community for acceptance and meaning in his/her life? To be made to feel that you displease family, community and Christ himself, is overwhelming to a young person. Often the answer toward emotional health and wholeness is to walk away from the judgements of a misguided faith community which knows nothing about the will and true love that Christ extends to all. There are many other resources out there to associate with, which offer love and inclusion AND a spiritual connection.

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