FOR FAMILIES OF LGBTQIA PERSONS (Please see Key Points and chapters 2, 6, 9, 10, 13, 14, and 15.)
You may just have learned that a loved one is LGBTQIA; your head may be swimming. It’s normal to feel inadequate to even respond. One of the first feelings may be guilt—please surrender that to God and let His love and peace fill you. You may have been taken by surprise, but He never is.
May I offer you my assurance that regardless of what you or your loved one might feel at present, these differences—like all differences—are gifts to bless us. When I finally figured out how these kinds of differences enrich my life, I was overwhelmed with how much God loves me and how exquisite the gift of difference is. I would never alter what differences have brought me.
Like this book’s subtitle suggests, you don’t have to choose between promoting unhealthful choices (which exist for everyone, regardless of orientation) and being hateful. There are far more loving and helpful responses.
WHEN LOVE ISN’T LOVE
Some of the worst pain in our lives can come from those closest to us—both via rejection and via too much “support” at the sacrifice of good judgment and even truth.1 Some of us have heard of someone being disowned and/or kicked out of the house for being gay or of someone’s partner being ignored or insulted by family. This is not loving one’s neighbor (it’s certainly not loving one’s “enemy”; this is your loved one/a fellow child of God!).
You are not condoning sin by loving your LGBTQIA family member. Of course, you can still have expectations for behavior as long as they live in your home, just as you would for any family member. No family member should attack or demean your faith (and no one should demand that family choose between their faith and a family relationship). But you are not denying your faith by loving your LGBTQIA family member; you are living it.
Christian faith asks us to love and respect all people—including your loved one’s significant other. You are not offending God by saying, “God loves you and I love you,” for He loves all of us on our unique paths.2
While the appendixes that follow offer specific supportive steps and resources for making good choices, here are some thoughts to expand your options and, hopefully, those of the people dear to you.
If the LGBTQIA individual is your child (or a child in your care), it’s important to teach them resilience and to stand up for self, even with physical self-defense (hoping it won’t be necessary). All bullying—psychosocial and physical—is to be taken seriously. If your child’s bullies physically attack four or five at a time, as mine did, self-defense is moot. As soon as you’re aware of a situation, immediately address it with teachers, youth leaders, administrators, law enforcement, and other authority figures who can help, and work with them toward resolution. Your child may not be the only victim. However, if the problem isn’t handled immediately, get your child out of that environment, even if it is a “worship” environment!
Perhaps you cannot afford a more structured school or other environment; perhaps you don’t have the luxury of home or private schooling (truly lamentable). If your child must remain in a public school or another less-structured environment, be persistent in exploring options for other classes, even other schools or districts. Do not back down until there is a place where bullying isn’t tolerated.
If your child’s school teaches human development or health courses (what was once called “sex ed”), advocate for age-appropriate curriculum that teaches inclusion but is balanced as to sexual expressions (hollow, isolating, unrestrained expressions must be countered by instruction on consequences and on expressions that foment lasting, boundary-respecting bonds that cherish all involved [see chapter 10]). Ideally, this guidance should come from you.3
Protect your child against those who (even in the name of love and support) too quickly or ill-advisedly encourage ideologies and choices that are harmful. Some individuals and families confuse divine confirmations of God’s love (for them, for each person, for who we are right now) to be a divine waiver of God’s expectations and standards. Some parents try so hard to support or not offend their children that they never challenge their child on any idea. Rather than be concerned for their child’s lasting happiness, they try to put their child’s comfort (or their own status with their child) above truth or above God for fear that their child might not like them. Sacrificing truth in the name of love is neither helpful nor loving.
I believe God gave us differences so that we would learn from one another—and spread our love broadly, as He does. Of course, we sometimes bite our tongues (wisely) when someone isn’t in a place to healthfully hear truth (and for better long-term relations). That situation is different from pretending that something harmful isn’t harmful—or from outright encouraging the harmful things! To paraphrase myself, if a person hasn’t experienced firsthand, long-term, sexually monogamous happiness in a same-sex union, perhaps they shouldn’t encourage what they don’t know is or isn’t good for people.4
Unconditional love never equates to license—nor canit make consequences evaporate.5 Unconditional love simply means that the object of our love can never do anything that would make us stop loving them, and this fact should be expressed!
When faced with something difficult, we can lower the standard, or we can try our best. Again, trying counts with God, and His grace empowers us to accomplish things we couldn’t on our own.6 I think the best thing one could do for an LGBTQIA child is to live the gospel of peace, which, along with love, includes real trust in the Lord and His grace, His power, His love, and His timing.7
Additionally, protect your child against those who would paraphrase or spin spiritual discourse as being hateful (unless preachers use epithets or condemn people rather than of ideas). Be wary of “advocates” or “bridge builders” who demean or who think condescension is a loving way to alter opposing positions.
Most parents want life to be fair for their kids. Yet, some parents accuse those who speak God’s timeless ideal of sexual purity and morality of being haters. Given the options, described in earlier chapters, for supernal same-sex relationships now and in eternity, why might some parents become incensed when God’s law of chastity is reemphasized? This kind of sensitivity isn’t advocacy. It facilitates self-deception and is misleading to kids and other impressionable people who are trying to identify who they are and what’s important.
The devastating part of such sensitivity is that some well-meaning people could be contributing to someone’s discouragement and despondency, even a child’s. If a public or religious figure discusses options for LGBTQIA people that include chastity, some parents (regardless of how the message is articulated) hear a bigot oppressing or condemning their child.8 Some people paraphrase messages in such a light. Negative paraphrasing or message-spinning can cause LGBTQIA people to avoid hearing the originalmessages—meant to bless them with increased choices, were they heard directly from their authors. Does negative interpretation help a person avoid overwhelm and the feeling of rejection? I think it can foment it—perhaps more so than typically loving, supportive statements by faith leaders earnestly encouraging contentment by mapping out positive choices.
I acknowledge that some leaders and laypeople have been (and even are today) bigoted and ignorant.9 While change is needed in the church and in society at large, as charity director Sharon Eubank says, “I believe the change we seek in ourselves and in the groups we belong to will come less by activism and more by actively trying every day to understand one another.”10 What good does it do to interpret a well-meaning message as being hurtful or hateful or to tell someone you love how they should feel or react? Telling another what to think is an effort to limit their choices. There are ways to support a loved one without abandoning trust in God, His words, or His servants.11 Help kids find peace with who they are and with where they are in their lives’ journey: not shame, not pride, but peace.12 If you hear a statement on LGBTQIA issues that rubs you the wrong way, perhaps the best thing to say to your LGBTQIA child is “I love you, and I know that God does too.”13
With regard to gender identity, keep fluidity in mind. I believe that even intersex individuals (hermaphrodites) at some point attain a clear understanding of their eternal gender identity—despite initial doubts. I believe that in the eternities, everyone will be clear on their identity and will be ecstatic about it. Keep in mind, many people—including me—have experienced fluidity regarding physical attraction. Fluidity (even over decades) in gender identity is not uncommon.14
Encourage your child to be patient and prayerful in self-discovery.15 Even attractions unfold at different rates—and many early attractions aren’t physical (see Appendix B). Yes, promise to keep your mind open, but wait until your child’s brain is capable of adult reasoning before taking permanent steps, like agreeing to or facilitating surgery or a limiting philosophy or treatment that would be painful (or next to impossible) to undo. It is vital to evaluate long-term experiences and attitudes of many people who have experienced various options in this area.16
Awareness of mental health is critical: Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, told The Christian Post that [a] study “confirms what no one disputes: Namely, that youth who identify as LGBTQ have higher rates of mental illness leading to a greater risk of life-threatening behaviors.” But contrary to what these authors conclude, Cretella said, there is “no evidence that ‘destigmatizing efforts’ will solve the problem, because there is no evidence that the higher rates are due primarily to stigmatization.” She pointed out that Sweden is among the most LGBT affirming nations in the world, yet, LGBT mental illness and suicide rates in Sweden are just as dramatically elevated relative to the general population.17
“Improved mental health contributes to improved spirituality,” says Steven J. Lund, “but research is showing the reverse is also true: improving spirituality improves mental health.”18
I’m convinced that our choices help—or retard—our ability to grasp what brings lasting happiness; choices like those God would make open our eyes and hearts more to the perspective and happiness He has. Contrary choices delay our becoming like Him, postpone our even seeing the difference between a momentary comfort and enduring joy. In my experience, choices that lead me away from becoming like my Heavenly Father slow my development (at minimum, they delay my happiness). Regardless, we must be patient with ourselves, God, and others.19
Like others with same-sex attraction, I have been promised that if I keep my covenants, no blessing will be denied me, but I will always have a choice. I have every reason, plus a lot of scriptural basis, to believe that profound relationships are the norm in heaven—perhaps especially between people of the same sex—but that doesn’t have to be the entire picture.20 Whether or not you believe that family units remain intact in eternity, we are promised that those who attain God’s immediate presence will have every attribute that Christ has; essentially, there will be no one with whom we won’t want to associate. (Again, everyone needs to change to live with God, but no one will be forced in anything. See chapter 5.) Whether or not one marries, I’m confident that no one’s social sphere in heaven need be limited to a spouse.21
It is unhelpful to say that I or others will never want traditional marriage; it’s comparable to saying that heavenly dessert will taste like raspberries to heterosexuals and stale bread to gays (and totally incongruent with the generous nature of the Chef). I’m contented now with my relationships and the possibilities—and choices—ahead.
FOR SPOUSES OF LGBTQIA PEOPLE
If you are married to someone attracted to their own sex, it can be overwhelming—even bewildering. But know this: Your opposite-sex spouse’s sexual orientation has nothing at all to do with you. Neither is any addiction of theirs your responsibility. However, a spouse’s attitudes about sex and intimacy—physical and emotional—may play a role in whether their partner seeks physical gratification outside the marriage. Bear in mind that the gender of a cheating spouse’s other partner(s) is not a reflection of your fully realized masculinity or femininity.
My friend Tim is a bi man married to a heterosexual woman. After explaining to Tim’s wife that he and I never get sexual (or naked) but that he and I share laughter, deep conversation, and affection, her concerns about Tim’s needs and moral behavior have been greatly assuaged.
Isolation and ultimatums are unlikely to improve the situation. Just as no argument or threat of loss prevented me from acting on my addiction, no fear, heartbreak, pleading, or withdrawal on the part of a spouse will eliminate a person’s legitimate needs. While such expressions might temporarily alter behavior, we’re not discussing being denied wants (like wanting a cookie), but legitimate needs.
These are needs God himself won’t remove—needs that must be met healthfully, in ongoing ways, or they become masters in undesirable ways (think Donner Party). Please see chapters 9, 10, and 14 on reducing risk via healthful same-sex relating. As we seek healthful ways to satisfy our needs for human connection, I know that God can help each of us through our fears and troubles as we look to Him.
If one or both spouses have not kept their covenants, counseling (individual and couple) is a helpful first step. I hope this book provides positive insight as to true needs and how to meet them. It is critical that both partners in a marriage understand such needs and meet them healthfully.
1. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done “for love’s sake” is thereby lawful and even meritorious. That erotic love and love of one’s country may thus attempt to “become gods” is generally recognized. But familyaffection may do the same. So, in a different way, may friendship. Lewis, The Four Loves, 7, emphasis added.
2. Matt. 5:44. See also George, “The Philosophical Basis.”
3. You may be concerned that your child might be indoctrinated into an LGBTQIA life. I have good and bad news: My experience is that—regardless of sexual experimentation or propaganda—a person eventually settles into what they know deep down reflects who they are (and their first guess is sometimes wrong; see Appendix B). Some people might be in their 30s or 50s before they really feel comfortable with who they are and what they are about! Experimentation, fluidity—even indoctrination—aren’t uncommon, but don’t let the notion that each person eventually figures self out make you neglectful, letting your child stumble unattended. Indoctrination might not affect them permanently, but premature sexual activity—and its frequent companions of sexual confusion and addiction—are topics far too complex and difficult for a child to deal with alone (apparently the brain is not fully developed until we’re in our twenties). (FYI: Many kids who were molested by someone of their own sex never become gay, and many who weren’t molested do.) Do everything you can to help them avoid these bumps. Parents: Six or seven years is not too early an age to begin to discuss sex and personal boundaries with your child. Even younger children can grasp basic body safety and personal boundaries. And be completely on top of what others might be teaching your kids. See “At What Age Is the Brain Fully Developed?” Mental Health Daily, n.d., https://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/18/at-what-age-is-the-brain-fully-developed/; The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership, “Content: Brain Maturation Is Complete at about 24 Years of Age,” Duke University, n.d., https://sites.duke.edu/apep/module-3-alcohol-cell-suicide-and-the-adolescent-brain/content-brain-maturation-is-complete-at-about-24-years-of-age/.
4. Some people behave as if love and truth are mutually exclusive—and loyalty should trump truth (because truth can sometimes be painful). Of course, we sometimes hold our tongues when someone isn’t in a place to healthfully hear truth; yet, true loyalty doesn’t withhold truth long-term, and it never misleads or lies. (Truth doesn’t need us to shout or drone it incessantly.) Even if, for better long-term relations, we presently avoid certain topics, our pretending that something harmful isn’t harmful—or encouraging something harmful—is neither love nor loyalty! Some people think loyalty is blind; they support poor choices because of who is making them. But devotion to truth is a better measure of loyalty: If someone truly loves you, they likely won’t say that everything you do is good.
5. “We have to be careful that love and empathy do not get interpreted as condoning and advocacy, or that orthodoxy and loyalty to principle not be interpreted as unkindness or disloyalty to people. As near as I can tell, Christ never once withheld His love from anyone, but He also never once said to anyone, ‘Because I love you, you are exempt from keeping my commandments.’ We are tasked with trying to strike that same sensitive, demanding balance in our lives.” Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” Ensign, May 2014, 8.
6. “With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.” Jeffrey R. Holland, “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders.”
7. Hebrew prophet Lehi didn’t leave the tree of life to persuade his family to come to it. He remained at the tree (committed to God above all else) and invited his family from there. How can a person hope their children will follow the iron rod of God’s word (or be confident of making it back oneself) if they have left it?
8. Isa. 29:21.
9. “Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. This must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.” Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe.”
10. Sharon L. Eubank, “By Union of Feeling We Obtain Power with God,” Ensign, November 2020, 55–57.
11. Here’s a talk affecting families with LGBTQIA members (that some may not have heard due to paraphrasers): Russell M. Nelson, “The Love and Laws of God,” BYU devotional, September 17, 2019, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/russell-m-nelson/love-laws-god/.
12. Rather than emulate shame—or pride—perhaps peace and trust in God should be our outlook. Some parents want to be dragon-like in defending their kids (the sentiment is understandable). Still, recalling one symbol of Christ (the meek lamb) might help us maintain an open mind—and have more influence with our children—long-term.
13. Trust that the purpose of “many mansions” in heaven is not to keep people from their loved ones and that there is no permanent hell (unless you want that). See chapter 5 and D&C 19.
14. Please see chapters 6 and 14 on fluidity. While growing up, I had massive crushes on girls, though I was slow to experience physical attraction to them. See Gospel Topics, “Understanding Yourself,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/transgender/understanding?lang=eng
There’s nobody exactly like you, and if you’re bold enough to inquire [with God], I believe you’ll be swamped with impressions about your purpose—more than you ever thought possible. Most of all, I hope you know there is no category that can hold you except that of being a child of the eternal God. The Lord sees you. You’re not invisible to Him. He loves your efforts that no one else may see. You’re valuable, and He treasures you in all your quirks and individuality. If you trust your life to Him, His hand will guide you every step of the way until you are happy and at peace with all the desires of your heart. Sharon Eubank, “A Letter to a Single Sister.”
16. See Ester di Giacomo et al., “Estimating the Risk of Attempted Suicide Among Sexual Minority Youths: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” JAMA Pediatrics 172, no. 12 (December 2018), 1145–52, https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2731; Donald Antrim, “Finding a Way Back from Suicide,” The New Yorker, August 9, 2021, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/16/finding-a-way-back-from-suicide; Susan Berry, “Science Says Transgender Hormones and Surgeries Do Not Prevent Suicides,” Breitbart, June 30, 2021, https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2021/06/30/science-says-transgender-hormones-and-surgeries-do-not-prevent-suicides/; Kiley Crossland, “Sex Change Regret Silenced,” World, October 6, 2017, https://world.wng.org/content/sex_change_regret_silenced; John Sexton, “One Woman’s Story of Becoming a Trans Boy and Later Detransitioning,” Hot Air (blog), February 21, 2022, https://hotair.com/john-s-2/2022/02/21/one-womans-story-of-becoming-a-trans-boy-and-later-detransitioning-n450114; Lizette Borreli, “Transgender Surgery: Regret Rates Highest in Male-to-Female Reassignment Operations,” Newsweek, October 3, 2017, https://www.newsweek.com/transgender-women-transgender-men-sex-change-sex-reassignment-surgery-676777.
17. Leah MarieAnn Klett, “Gay, Transgender Youth at ‘Significantly Higher Risk’ of Suicide Than Heterosexual Peers: Study,” Christian Post, December 18, 2018, https://www.christianpost.com/news/gay-transgender-youth-at-significantly-higher-risk-of-suicide-than-heterosexual-peers-study.html.
18. Steven J. Lund, “How the Children and Youth Program Strengthens Families,” Liahona, March 2022, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2022/03/united-states-and-canada-section/how-the-children-and-youth-program-strengthens-families?lang=eng. See also Sheldon Martin, “Strive to Be—A Pattern for Growth and Mental and Emotional Wellness,” Liahona, August 2021, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2021/08/strive-to-be-a-pattern-for-growth-and-mental-and-emotional-wellness?lang=eng; Erich W. Kopischke, “Addressing Mental Health,” Liahona, November 2021, 37–38; Reyna I. Aburto, “Thru Cloud and Sunshine, Lord, Abide with Me!” Ensign, October 2019, 58; Carolyn McNamara Barry et al., “Profiles of Religiousness, Spirituality, and Psychological Adjustment in Emerging Adults,” Journal of Adult Development 27 (September 2020): 201–11, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10804-019-09334-z; Alen Malinovic et al., “Dimensions Of Religious/Spiritual Well-Being in Relation to Personality and Stress Coping: Initial Results from Bosnian Young Adults,” Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health18, no. 1 (2016): 43–54, https://doi.org/10.1080/19349637.2015.1059301; Shannon Gwin et al., “The Relationship between Parent–Young Adult Religious Concord and Depression,” Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health 22, no. 1 (2020): 96–110, https://doi.org/10.1080/19349637.2018.1549524.
19. Mark 10:30; 1 Sam. 18:1–5, 20:16–17, 20:41–42, 23:16–18; 2 Sam. 1:26. “In the Lord’s own way and time, no blessing will be withheld from His faithful Saints. The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed.” Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” Ensign, October 2008, 94.
20. The implication that some blessings are reserved only for exalted male-female couples is a huge indicator—given what we know of God’s love, grace, and equanimity—that we will, at some point, want what He offers (not just go along with it!).
21. “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us [in heaven], only it will be coupled with eternal glory.” D&C 130:2; Moses 7:63.
National Suicide hotline: 988
Support for LGBTQIA people: https://www.northstarlds.org/;
BONUS APPENDIXES G - I (Help with compulsive behavior, on marriage, healthful relating)