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Epigenetic Control Offers a Rational Explanation

Epigenetic Control Offers a Rational Explanation

By Dr. Bill Bradshaw.

A recently published paper provides an important framework for understanding the biological mechanisms that are responsible for programming sexual orientation during embryonic development. The work is entitled “Homosexuality as a consequence of epigenetically canalized sexual development.” It was published in The Quarterly Review of Biology (Volume 87, No. 4, pp. 343-369, December 2012), by William R. Rice (U. California, Santa Barbara), Urban Friberg (Uppsala University, Sweden), and Sergey Gavrilets (U. Tennessee). The authors have reviewed a very large body of published experimental evidence about sexual orientation, including the hormonal control of brain development in male and female fetuses, and placed it in the context of the most recent knowledge of how the expression of genes is regulated.

For 50 years, data from animal experiments have pointed to the role of the group of steroid hormones called androgens (testosterone) in programming sexual differentiation. A simplified model of what was thought to happen is as follows: Males have an XY sex chromosome constitution. A gene, SRY, on the Y chromosome directs the embryonic gonads to form testes, which synthesize testosterone, which in turn programs development of the male genitalia, male brain, and male reproductive behavior. Femaleness has been regarded as the “default” program: in the absence of testosterone, the genitals, brain, and reproductive behavior (including sexual orientation) become female. The most recent, data, however, demonstrate that this model is incomplete. There are critical times in embryonic development, including humans, when the testosterone levels of male and female fetuses overlap. Moreover, studies at the molecular level show that different genes are being expressed in the two sexes even before the fetal gonads start producing steroids. Among the arguments made in their paper, Rice and his co-authors explain how there are biochemical mechanisms in males that boost/augment testosterone effects in males, and blunt/reduce those effects in females. This helps us understand why simple tests of the blood levels of steroids have not distinguished gay from straight people.

A large body of evidence supports the view that core sexual orientation is rooted in biology and is not the result of psychosocial influences (such as inadequate parenting). A good source for that information is Gay, Straight, And The Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, by Simon LeVay (Oxford University Press, 2012). That homosexuality has a genetic basis is clear from twin studies conducted in several countries. The degree to which two members of the same family are both gay increases as their genetic similarity increases; identical twins have a greater degree of orientation concordance than fraternal twins. But the concordance is not 100%. In the most recent public example, NBA basketball player Jason Collins has disclosed publicly that he is gay; his identical twin brother Jarron, apparently, is not. Those people who activated, leading to the production of proteins that determine the structure and function of that cell. This is a straight-forward concept we can all understand. A sperm fertilizes an egg, and cell division produces multiple copies of that first cell of the embryo. All of the descendant cells are genetically identical; their DNA content is the same. At some point, however, a group of cells follows a unique pathway and specializes to form a brain. Others follow different paths to generate a heart or a kidney. They do this because of epigenetics – complicated programs of genetic expression and silencing directed by the molecules that modify DNA or its molecular surroundings, thus determining whether genes are in a condensed, inaccessible and inexpressible state, or not. The same epigenetic mechanisms explain why one in a set of identical twins is gay and the other is not. Rice et al. demonstrate clearly how epigenetic control offers a rational explanation, consistent with a large number of known facts, for the development of a samesex sexual orientation in some individuals. It is known that the biochemical mechanisms that mark (or label) DNA epigenetically do so at specific times in development. At other times these marks are erased. Importantly, the normal introduction or erasing of epigenetic marks that occurs from one generation to the next can fail to take place. Based on these observations the authors propose that some male offspring can be feminized because of epigenetic alterations in the transmission of their mothers’ genes, and some female offspring can be masculinized because of epigenetic alterations in the transmission of their fathers’ genes. This important addition to the scientific literature not only provides a sound theoretical framework for understanding how sexual orientation originates, but will prompt laboratory researchers to carry out the additional, specific investigations that can validate its proposals. Empirical evidence continues to mount, demonstrating what we have always known from the personal experience of our LGBTQ family members: sexual orientation is not a choice, a temptation, a temporary pre-disposition, or any other inaccurate and uninformed assumption. New Insights into the Biological Origins of Homosexuality are critical of biological explanations for homosexuality, especially those who believe sexual orientation is amenable to change, through reorientation therapy and the like, invoke environmental influences to explain this lack of complete concordance. But Rice, et al. present the evidence that the explanation is, in fact, a biological one, an important principle called epigenetics.

The prefix epi- means on top of, or in addition to – in this case something in addition to the presence of DNA. Epigenetics refers to the well documented fact that gene expression in a cell of the embryo is not only dependent on the information encoded in a DNA molecule, but in the way that DNA is structurally packaged. The biochemical packaging determines whether a gene will remain silenced, like a light switch in the “off” position, or expressed; with the switch in the “on” position, a DNA sequence will be activated, leading to the production of proteins that determine the structure and function of that cell. This is a straight-forward concept we can all understand. A sperm fertilizes an egg, and cell division produces multiple copies of that first cell of the embryo. All of the descendent cells are genetically identical; their DNA content is the same. At some point, however, a group of cells follows a unique pathway and specializes to form a brain. Others follow different paths to generate a heart or a kidney. They do this because of epigenetics – complicated programs of genetic expression and silencing directed by the molecules that modify DNA or its molecular surroundings, thus determining whether genes are in a condensed, inaccessible and inexpressible state, or not. The same epigenetic mechanisms explain why one in a set of identical twins is gay and the other is not.

Rice et al. demonstrate clearly how epigenetic control offers a rational explanation, consistent with a large number of known facts, for the development of a samesex sexual orientation in some individuals. It is known that the biochemical mechanisms that mark (or label) DNA epigenetically do so at specific times in development. At other times these marks are erased. Importantly, the normal introduction or erasing of epigenetic marks that occurs from one generation to the next can fail to take place. Based on these observations the authors propose that some male offspring can be feminized because of epigenetic alterations in the transmission of their mothers’ genes, and some female offspring can be masculinized because of epigenetic alterations in the transmission of their fathers’ genes.

This important addition to the scientific literature not only provides a sound theoretical framework for understanding how sexual orientation originates, but will prompt laboratory researchers to carry out the additional, specific investigations that can validate its proposals. Empirical evidence continues to mount, demonstrating what we have always known from the personal experience of our LGBTQ family members: sexual orientation is not a choice, a temptation, a temporary pre-disposition, or any other inaccurate and uninformed assumption.

Short Shrift to the Facts

Short Shrift to the Facts

Douglas A. Abbott and A. Dean Byrd. Encouraging Heterosexuality: Helping Children Develop a Traditional Sexual Orientation. Orem, Utah: Millennial Press, 2009. 113 pp.  Appendix with references by chapter.  $16.95.  ISBN number: 978-1-932597-66-0.

Reviewed by William S. Bradshaw

The title of this book may elicit wry smiles. Even casual consideration suggests that heterosexuality is doing just fine on its own, without the need for outside encouragement. The authors’ purpose, of course, is not to encourage heterosexuality so much as it is to discourage and disparage homosexuality, based on their belief that it is a learned and chosen condition that can and must be changed because of its negative consequences for individuals, families, and society at large. The book is targeted primarily at a Mormon audience, although citations of LDS scriptural passages and statements by LDS authorities are presented as the words of “Christian prophets” or generic “church leaders.” Its pages provide self-help advice to parents about how to prevent or alter the unwanted same-sex attractions of their homosexual children.

Douglas A. Abbott is professor of Child, Youth and Family Studies at the University of
Nebraska, Lincoln.  He holds a B.A.in human biology (Oregon State, 1974), an M.A.in child
Development (BYU, 1979), and a Ph.D.in child and family studies (University of Georgia,
1983).  A. Dean Byrd has appointments in the departments of Family and Preventive Medicine
and Psychiatry at the University of Utah.  He holds a Ph.D in psychology (BYU) and an MBA
and MPH from the University of Utah.  He is the current President of the Thrasher Research
Fund, and past president of NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of

Following an Introduction, the main chapters of the book are devoted to the following themes: (1) the philosophical/religious assumptions under which the authors operate, (2) an overview of proposed causes of homosexuality, an approach that disputes biological explanations and accepts psycho/social theories, (3) an argument that sexual orientation is subject to change through the exercise of “agency,”(4) the authors’ proposed model for how contributing factors might interact to divert a child from heterosexuality (the “natural and normal human sexual preference” (53), and (6) what parents should do to foster heterosexuality in their children.  Chapter Seven restates the authors’ conclusions.

The purpose of this review is: (1) to assess the validity of the authors’ arguments and the accuracy and reliability of the information they present, (2) to offer a judgment about the probability that a family using this book will realize the objectives which the authors hold out to its readers, and (3) to consider the potential harmful impact of the book on the Church and its members. After a careful reading, my findings are that Encouraging Heterosexuality is inaccurate and unreliable, especially in its treatment of the causes of homosexuality and its optimism that same-sex orientation can be changed. It is particularly troubling that Douglas A. Abbott and A. Dean Byrd have systematically misrepresented the research of multiple scholars whose published results are at odds with the positions on these issues which they espouse.

Abbott and Byrd begin with a preemptive assertion of their charitable intent by assuring readers that they are not “taking a negative approach toward those who engage in homosexual behavior or those who champion gay rights” (ix). This claim rings hollow in the face of subsequent comments: their contention that homosexuality is an “evil” choice “in the path of “sexual immorality” in company with “fornication, adultery, and incest“ (39); their negative coupling of the worldview of certain mental health professionals with Darwinian evolution, in contrast to their own “Christian viewpoint” (7–8); their vilification of the published views of national medical, psychological, and educational associations that homosexuality might be “normal and healthy” (67); their contention that the major religions consider homosexuality “deviant and injurious to society” (73); the inference that it is a mistake not to consider homosexuality as a “moral evil” or “sickness” (73); the claim that accepting homosexuality reflects the belief that “there is no God,” nor any “higher purpose than personal pleasure” (74); the assertion that homosexuality leads to “rampant promiscuity” and “greater risk for mental and physical health problems” (76); and finally, the outrageous and offensive claim that gay and lesbian people are engaged in efforts to promote and legitimize sex between adults and children (10).

It is also noteworthy that Abbott and Byrd always identify the orientation of those researchers who are themselves homosexual. Examples include: “Gay psychiatrist Richard Isay,” who “claims there is no evidence that homosexuality is due to childhood sexual abuse” (32); “Gay activists [unidentified] proclaim [unverified] that as much as 10% to 25% [undocumented] of the adult population is homosexual” (14); “Gay advocates Parker and DeCecco” (26), and “activist researchers Drs. Anne Fausto-Sterling and Camille Paglia (both self-identified lesbians)” in a section debunking the notion that homosexuality has a biological basis (26). This kind of labeling is clearly pejorative and prejudicial, the implication being that these persons’ sexual orientation renders them unreliable, their research questionable, and their views suspect. Elsewhere, Byrd directly impugns the integrity of gay professionals whose work he is trying to discredit: “Of the four researchers [LeVay, Hamer, Bailey, and Pillard], three are self-identified homosexuals. This fact is not an unimportant consideration when issues of biases arise, as they often do in the research arena.”1 He further sows the seeds of mistrust by then alleging that gay people are wildly overrepresented among scientists who conduct research on the subject of homosexuality. Of course, there is no acknowledgement of the fact that the authors themselves are hardly neutral and therefore also subject to bias on this subject.

It is clear that the authors’ feelings toward gay people are not benign. More importantly, the same hostile attitudes they display here are likely to have a highly negative impact in the lives of the people against whom they are directed.

Abbott and Byrd’s position on the causes of sexual orientation is also clear. They assert that explanations invoking biological factors are incorrect and invalid because homosexuality is is unnatural and a “learned behavior” (9)–the result of (1) unhealthy parent-child relationships, (2) socialization (sexual abuse, for example), and (3) personal choice. Their strategy in reviewing the case for biological causality (”biogenic theories”) is first to trivialize this very complex issue by reducing it to two simplistic questions. Consider the following, written by the authors as an introduction to the first of these, “Is there a gay gene?”

Inside each body cell are 46 chromosomes, 23 inherited from the mother and 23 from the father. Chromosomes are squiggly little strings of DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid). Microscopically each chromosome looks something like a tightly twister [sic] ladder with rungs in the middle supported by side bars. The rungs of the ladder are composed of ‘nucleotides’ or ‘nitrogenous bases’. There are four nucleotides: thymine linked to adenine (T-A links) or its reverse (A-T), and cytosine and guanine (C-G links) or its reverse (G-C). These nucleotides (the rungs of the ladder) are connected by sugar-phosphate molecules which act like the side bars of the ladder to give structural support to the DNA. [page?]

This description is both superficial and seriously inaccurate. It should be corrected as follows:

Chromosomes consist of a single molecule of DNA chemically associated with proteins into a complex architecture whose appearance changes during different phases of a cell’s life cycle. It is the DNA in the chromosome that has a double helical (“twisted ladder”) configuration. Each strand (“side bar” of the ladder) of the DNA is composed of a long polymeric chain of nucleotides. Each nucleotide subunit of the chain is itself a combination of a sugar, a nitrogenous base, and a phosphate group (a configuration of phosphorous and oxygen atoms). The “rungs” of the ladder represent chemical linkages, hydrogen bonds, between nucleotide bases on one strand and the complementary bases on the other strand (A pairs with T, G pairs with C.)

This criticism should not be dismissed as academic nitpicking. Any knowledgeable student of biology will immediately recognize Abbott and Byrd’s description of the structure of DNA as having been written by someone who was uninformed about the basics of the subject. Most importantly, however, none of this detail is necessary–although the authors allege that it is–for a reader to judge the validity of the concept that sexual orientation has its roots in biology. The “DNA paragraph” quoted above is followed by another paragraph, the first three sentences of which define simple aspects of the nature of a gene. Although each sentence carries a separate citation of a different biology text as a reference, any one of these books would suffice to support the entire set of facts presented on the page. Such redundant use of references is apparently intended to impress readers with the reliability of the presentation and is characteristic of the entire book.

A third paragraph then provides a similar treatment of the nature of a protein. None of this information is vital to the argument that Abbott and Byrd are making; it is not mentioned again in subsequent pages. Their contention that there is no such thing as a gay gene is based almost exclusively on their use of selected quotes from individuals in the scientific community without any reference to factual evidence for that assertion, either pro or con.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this simplistic foray into molecular biology is a deliberate act of name-dropping, whose only purpose is to cloak the authors with a measure of credibility by attempting to convince their readers that they possess legitimate biological expertise, which they clearly do not.

Abbott and Byrd attempt to deal with the question of the genetic basis for sexual orientation, not by citing published research data as evidence, but by offering quotations from four scientists (two geneticists and two psychologists), none of whom have published the results of laboratory or other work directly bearing on the question. The purpose of including these statements is an attempt to dismiss out of hand a genetic connection to human behavior. In nearly four pages of commentary there is only one directly relevant sentence, which in Abbott and Byrd’s hands becomes self-contradictory. While arguing that there is “no causative link between a single gene and a complex psychosocial behavior,” they provide examples of four human physical conditions known to be the result of mutant alleles (alternate forms) of well-characterized genes having known mechanisms of action: Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis, phenylketonuria (an inability to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine with potentially severe neurological consequences) and achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. There are many others. The first and third of these directly affect the functioning of the nervous system.

One of the geneticists quoted, Richard Lewontin, is on record as opposing genetic studies for behavioral traits because of the potentially negative political consequences if such information became available, not because there cannot be a biological connection.2 The quotation from Francis Collins is: “There is an inescapable component of heritability to many human behavioral traits,” and there is “evidence that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, . . . whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.”3 Collins has stated that this use of his words misrepresents his position, which he subsequently clarified as follows: “No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component [of sexual orientation] (the reports about a gene on the X chromosome from the 1990s have not held up), but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years.”3 Abbott and Byrd contend that “there is a clear consensus among scientists that a gay gene does not exist” (21; emphasis in the original). This claim is patently false.

The second question in the authors’ treatment of biology is whether sexual orientation has a hormonal basis. Again, the treatment is extremely superficial, relying on opinions to the effect that information on this issue is inconclusive but without any reference to the experimental data. One would never guess from the way in which Abbott and Byrd handle the questions about causality that there is an enormous body of published evidence, much of it produced in the last fifteen years, arguing persuasively that sexual orientation is under biological control. It is not possible to detail such data here, but the reader is directed to an online review of the literature that includes summaries of the research findings, with references to the original sources.4

In addition to studies with laboratory animals, investigations have been made in humans of brain structure and function, handedness, birth order, finger length, hearing, and cognitive ability, among others.  The subjects of the experiments include identical twins, selected groups of homosexual persons, persons with known hormonal dysfunctions, and the appropriate control groups of heterosexuals.  Many of the most compelling studies demonstrate that, for sexually dimorphic traits (those in which men and women normally differ), gay men and lesbians are atypical anatomically, physiologically, and cognitively for their sex. Moreover, these differences are often in place prenatally or shortly after birth. How the authors would explain this scientifically validated evidence is unclear since they completely ignore its existence.

Having given short shrift to biology as a causal factor, Abbott and Byrd move on to their preferred interpretation, based on environmental explanations. The first of these, “Psychoanalytic Theory,” posits, for example, that an aberrant sexual orientation is due to a “weak and uninvolved father and a smothering mother” (27). The second, “Social Learning Theory,”  suggests that the nefarious influence is the sexual content of TV, movies, and music, or makes the dubious claim that sexual abuse accounts “for homosexual behavior” (30). On this topic readers should be aware that Abbott and Byrd’s most egregious fault is not the omission of pertinent facts, but their inaccurate reporting of the results of researchers whose publications they cite and the fact that those data often do not actually support the arguments Abbott and Byrd are making. Making this evaluation naturally requires a careful reading of their treatment of sexual abuse, and all of the cited references, including a thoughtful comparison between the two. This truly is a case where “the devil is in the details.”

What follows, therefore, is an in-depth analysis of just two pages (30–31) from Chapter 3, “Existing Theories of Homosexuality.” (All following quotations from Abbott and Byrd are from these two pages, unless otherwise noted.) In this brief subsection, they argue that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a precursor of homosexual behavior because homosexuality (variously described in terms of orientation, preference, identity, or behavior) “is a result of socialization, learning, and conditioning.” In my discussion, I provide commentary about the eleven published works that they cite with citations coded in bold type (e.g. EH 82 = Reference #82 in Encouraging Heterosexuality). See the Appendix for the eleven citations, listed in the order of the discussion here.

Abbott and Byrd begin this section by citing a 1977 study by Grundlach (EH #83) as evidence that “adult homosexuals report CSA, often by a homosexual adult, in greater proportion than that found in heterosexual comparison groups.” In fact, the relevant design features of this paper and its reported results do not warrant such a conclusion. The subjects in this study were adult women only. Grundlach conducted a qualitative analysis which contains short quotations from both heterosexual and homosexual individuals about details of earlier rape, attempted rape, or other molestation. This information was obtained from follow-up questionnaires for subsets of larger samples in which the incidence of abuse was 30 percent for lesbians and 21 percent for heterosexual woman. The heterosexual cohort does not represent a control as a standard for comparison, and there is no evidence that either the heterosexual or homosexual samples are random representatives of their larger populations. The paper contains no statistical analyses. In every single account, the perpetrator was male; there was no report of homosexual abuse. All of these facts render Abbott and Byrd’s interpretation of this paper invalid.

Abbott and Byrd next refer to a study (EH #84) of “over 1000” (actually, 1,001) adult gay men, “37% of whom reported being encouraged or forced (between the ages of 9 and 12) to have sex with older men.” This study was a retrospective analysis of the early experiences of patients in clinics that treat people for sexually transmitted diseases. While acknowledging that their sample may not be representative, the authors of this study (Doll et al.) still suggest several explanations for why the prevalence of childhood or adolescent sexual abuse may be somewhat higher for homosexual or bisexual men than it is in the general male population. For example, young gay youth, lacking peer and familial support, may not understand their right to refuse unwanted sexual contact. Also they may seek sexual contacts in risky or dangerous environments in which they are vulnerable to exploitation. At least some self-labeled heterosexual males who sexually abuse boys express an attraction to sexually immature individuals who exhibit stereotypical female characteristics. The investigators in this study also documented various negative responses by these victims of CSA and conclude “that intimacy and caring may not have been a significant component of many of these relationships.” Clearly Doll and associates perceived that the victimized children were already homosexual at the time the abuse occurred and therefore were not seduced into their orientation.

The next paragraph begins by citing a report (Simari & Baskin, EH #86) on the incidence of homosexual incest, 46 percent and 36 percent (actually 38 percent), respectively, in the early lives of fifty-four adult gay men and twenty-nine lesbians, inferring that these values are high relative to rates of childhood sexual abuse in the general population. However, Abbott and Byrd fail to point out that for the very small number of individuals in this subset of the total sample–sixteen men and ten women–most of the incestuous experiences were outside of the nuclear family, primarily with cousins, and that many of these experiences were perceived as positive, especially for the men. This finding suggests that the relationships represented sexual experimentation, not abuse. The key statistic in the paper is that “of the respondents who had experienced incest, 96% reported that they identified themselves as actively homosexual before the occurrence of the incestuous event” (emphasis mine). Abbott and Byrd then provide two references alleged to report standard values for CSA at “17% for women” and “5% for men” in the national population. These values fail to cite correctly the respective figures from the references. Finkelhor (EH # 87) derived estimates based on an analysis of nineteen published studies. He says: “Considerable evidence exists to show that at least 20% of American women and 5% to 10% of American men experienced some form of sexual abuse as children.” He comments further (Finkelhor, p. 34), however, that these values may be too low, and cites a Los Angeles Times estimate for females of 27% and another by Russell of 34%, as likely being more valid because of, respectively, their national scope and careful methodology.  Gold and Brown (in the book edited by Ammerman and Hersen, EH #87, p. 391) state: “It is generally agreed that the most accurate estimate is that approximately one-third (33%) of all girls and one-sixth (17%) of all boys have been subjected to some form of CSA, broadly defined, by the time they reach their 18th birthday.”

In an earlier reference (EH #85), Abbott and Byrd quote Bradford, Ryan, and Rothblum as finding that “25% of about 2000 lesbian women had been sexually abused or raped as children.” The actual figure is 21 percent (Table 5, p. 233). What Abbott and Byrd do not report is the following discussion by those authors. They conclude: “The results of the current study indicate that the rate of incest among lesbians (18.7% overall) is quite similar to that among the general female population (16%). The percentage of lesbians who reported having been raped or sexually attacked was the same in the current study as it was in Russell’s (1984) sample of the general female population (34% in both studies for women under age 25).” In summary, there is nothing in these studies to support Abbott and Byrd’s assertion that sexual abuse is implicated “in the etiology of homosexual behavior.”

The final reference (EH #88) in this paragraph is an example of a different type of misrepresentation. Abbott and Byrd state that “Holmes and Slap found that ‘abused adolescents, particularly those victimized by males, were up to seven times more likely to self identify as gay or bisexual than peers who had not been abused.’” Thus the reader is led to believe that this is an independent, corroborative research finding. However, the report by Holmes and Slap is a meta-analysis of a body of work performed by other investigators. The quotation above is actually a reference to a study by Shrier and Johnson, but the work of Shrier and Johnson (the identical information) is cited separately by Abbott and Byrd (EH #91) two paragraphs later using different language: “58% of the homosexual adolescents had been sexually molested by a homosexual adult prior to puberty, while only 8% of the heterosexual boys reported sexual abuse.” This kind of “double-dipping,” in which one reference is disguised so as to be counted twice, is obviously a violation of accepted scholarship. Shier and Johnson, moreover, are cautious in interpreting the perception of some of the subjects in their clinical sample who “linked their homosexuality to their sexual victimization experience.” They state: “It was Finkelhor’s impression that the boy who had been molested by a man may label the experience as homosexual and misperceive himself as homosexual based on his having been found sexually attractive by an older man. Once self-labeled as homosexual, the boy may later place himself in situations that leave him open to homosexual activity. It should be emphasized that the vast majority of homosexuals do not report childhood sexual experiences and also that the vast majority of male pedophiles do not regard themselves as homosexual” (emphasis added).

Sandwiched between these purported summaries of academic studies are personal stories of two individuals presented in an attempt to support the view that adolescent sexual abuse can lead to a homosexual orientation. The first comes from an article by Rekers (EH #89), a neuropsychiatrist, who begins his “review of the literature on the formation of homosexual orientation” by citing the different histories of three of his clinical clients and asking if their experiences are typical (and thus indicative of causal factors) for homosexual adult males as judged from evidence in the professional literature. The story repeated by Abbott and Byrd is about “Shawn,” a fifteen-year-old who reported being forced into sexual acts two years earlier by the sixteen-year-old son of one set of Shawn’s foster parents. The older boy threatened violence if Shawn disclosed what was happening. At first disgusted and angry, Shawn later developed a preference for this kind of activity. Rekers concludes this anecdote by asking, “But is Shawn’s experience a common pathway to homosexual orientation?” Abbott and Byrd conclude their report of this source by stating “Rekers found that ‘seduction by an older person of the same sex’ was a common occurrence in the lives of homosexual men” (emphasis mine). In fact, Rekers actually stated exactly the opposite: Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981) “emphasized that their study did not provide support for other factors thought to contribute to the development of homosexuality, namely, poor peer relationships, labeling by others, atypical experience with persons of the opposite sex, or seduction by an older person of the same sex, even though they allowed for some atypical individuals (such as my cases of Danny and Shawn) having had such factors in their particular background” (emphasis mine). Clearly Reker’s conclusion is that Shawn’s case is neither typical nor consistent with the finding of other investigators and therefore is not valid evidence upon which to generalize any relationship between adolescent abuse and homosexual orientation. Abbott and Byrd completely misrepresent Reker’s findings.

Abbott and Byrd’s second story comes from the autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis (EH# 92). It describes a sexual relationship between Louganis at age sixteen or seventeen and a man in his late thirties, which they portray as revealing the young man’s “history of sexual abuse.” They omit Louganis’s account of his coming out (Breaking the Surface, Chapter 8), the details of which support a very different conclusion. Louganis “remembers being attracted to men, as far back, as age seven or eight,” including an older cousin. Even at that age, he was subjected to homophobic name-calling. For two years, beginning at age twelve, he engaged in frequent heterosexual intercourse with a junior high school classmate. While participating in the 1976 Montreal Olympic games (before the liaison with the older man), he disclosed his homosexuality to a diving teammate and described romantic feelings for a male member of the Russian diving team. He himself initiated the dozen or so encounters with the older man because it provided him with “affection, the holding, the cuddling–more those than the sex.” Louganis states, however, that his preference would have been for associations with gay and lesbian teenagers. He concludes his disclosure: “That said, I don’t regret the affection I exchanged with this man.” This account certainly does not qualify as a “history of sexual abuse” and certainly cannot stand as an example of sexual abuse as a causative factor for homosexual orientation.

In connection with these two personal accounts, Abbott and Byrd continue in their earlier vein by citing the observation of Roesler and Deisher (EH# 90) that the gay men in their study reported same-sex sex before adopting a homosexual identity. From this sequence, Abbott and Byrd tacitly infer a causal relationship. However, the stated research objective of these investigators was to document the common developmental milestones in the youthful years of gay adults. It was a qualitative study in which precise numbers are sometimes omitted. For example, Roesler and Deisher state that “a few youths in the study had decided they were homosexual before they had had any sexual experiences with other men” (emphasis mine). They made no claims that the events their subjects reported were responsible for causing their homosexual orientation. Moreover, important details of their findings contradict that supposition. On an average of three years after their first homosexual experience (mean age seventeen), 60 percent of these subjects had intercourse to orgasm with females. Some engaged in “extended heterosexual liaisons.” An average of four years intervened after the first homosexual experience before these young men self-identified as homosexual. These activities and lags suggest efforts not to be gay, consistent with their reports of experiencing mental turmoil because of societal revulsion about homosexuality. Although this set of subjects was a “non-clinical” sample, 48 percent had sought psychiatric help, and 31 percent had made a serious attempt at suicide, indicative of an inclination away from, not toward homosexuality.

Abbott and Byrd’s final evidential paragraph deals with a paper by Tomeo and colleagues (EH # 93; also EH# 82) focused on whether gay men and lesbians perceived themselves to be homosexual before or after being sexually abused as children. Abbott and Byrd correctly quote Tomeo’s percentage values extracted from the “Discussion” section: “68% of the gay males and 38% of the lesbian females did not identify as homosexual until after the molestation.” The 38 percent value for females is consistent with data reported in the “Results” section of the paper, but the value for males (68 percent) is not. Tomeo’s Table II (p. 538) indicates that 68 percent of the gay males identified as homosexual before the abuse–an exact contradiction between the text and the table. When I alerted the senior author of the paper, Dr. Don Templer, to this problem, he rechecked the original research data and confirmed to me by telephone (May 24, 2008) that the 68 percent value in the “Discussion” is a typographical error. The sentence should read “32% [not 68%] of the gay males and 38% of the lesbian females . . .” The experience of at least two-thirds of the participants in this study, therefore, is not consistent with the conclusion that Abbott and Byrd draw from this study–that “the trauma of sexual molestation may, in some unknown way, confuse the child’s sexual preference and trigger homoerotic feelings and behavior.”

Parenthetically, most of the data in this study were not derived from college students as Abbott and Byrd imply (there were only 10 gay and lesbian people in this cohort), but from 267 homosexuals (28 percent of the total respondents) recruited from street fairs in order to provide a statistically acceptable sample.

The examples of unprofessionalism documented above include the following serious deficiencies: apparent carelessness in reading the research literature, misquoting specific information, interpreting results in ways that contradict the findings of the original authors, providing superficial or partial summaries of research (thus omitting those results and explanations that contradict the original author’s pre-conceptions), and duplicating the alleged evidence. Abbott and Byrd are undoubtedly counting on the probability that few if any of their readers would expend the time and energy, or feel qualified, to check on the accuracy of their use of the references they make to studies in the published literature.

When a reader identifies an error of the sort just described, the response is probably charitable: “Oops, the authors made a mistake. But even when you do your best, things can fall through the cracks.” However, after detecting the second, third, and forth errors, the response likely becomes, “I wish the authors had been more careful.” But when there is a repeated pattern of inaccuracy, misrepresentation, and distortion, the reader is led to conclude either that these errors reflect rank scholastic ineptitude or that they are the result of intentional misuse and manipulation–a deliberate tactical decision to take liberties with the published data to spin a conclusion in a predetermined direction that supports the authors’ position.

In their summary paragraph for this section, Abbott and Byrd make a show of even-handedness in admitting that “connection (or correlation) may not mean causation, and many homosexuals do not report a history of sexual abuse.” But the damage has already been done. Many readers, unacquainted with the actual facts established by professional research and influenced by the erroneous notions promulgated in popular literature, will likely decide that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and will concur with Abbott and Byrd: “These studies taken together suggest that childhood sexual abuse may be a contributing factor to later homosexual behavior.” Such an agreement would be highly regrettable, because these studies and accounts do not in fact warrant that conclusion.

Abbott and Byrd then create a hypothetical model (Chapter 5) in which they postulate four influences that contribute to a homosexual orientation: choice, family dysfunction, genes, and social factors (peers, role models, media). The role they allow for genes is minimal, however: Genes are “not direct causative agents in homosexuality,” they may only “influence a person’s temperament and social interaction” (49). Each of these four, they speculate, will make a different relative contribution toward same-sex attraction in the life of any one individual. They offer factitious scenarios to illustrate various possibilities. Then, on the basis of this concept, the authors offer “Practical Advice For Parents” (Chapter 6). This guidance is needed, they assert, for some children for whom the “normal neural pathway” leading to heterosexuality “is short circuited” (53).

These suggestions for parents are grouped under the following headings: (1) Build healthy parent-child relationships; (2) Create a happy marriage; (3) Encourage healthy same-sex friendships in childhood; (4) Guard against sexualization by the media; (5) Remediate sexual abuse; (6) Provide value-based sex education at home; and (7) Teach personal responsibility. Of these numbers, 1 and 6 receive the greatest attention.

Contrary to scientific and therapeutic consensus, Abbott and Byrd see dysfunctional parents as perhaps the greatest culprits in the development of same-gender attraction. Of particular concern are the “sensitive son” and the “tomboy daughter,” that is, young children who exhibit childhood gender non-conforming behavior (CGN). The authors blame weak or overbearing mothers and/or fathers for the strong correlation that has been empirically observed between CGN in the early years and homosexuality in adulthood5. With regard to sons, fathers should “look for ways to build up and reinforce the boy’s masculinity,” and “mothers should give love and kindness but must not pamper or mollycoddle sons.” With regard to daughters, fathers should “bring confidence into his daughter’s sense of feminine identity,” which will be injured if mothers fail to provide “a true sense of nurturing.” Not only do mental health professionals repudiate assigning fault to parents in this fashion, they are also contradicted by statements issued by LDS leaders.

For example, in a discussion of homosexuality, Elder Dallin H. Oaks has stated: “We surely encourage parents not to blame themselves and we encourage Church members not to blame parents in this circumstance.”6 Further, the counsel provided in the official Church publication God Loveth His Children is: “Do not blame anyone–not yourself, not your parents, not God–for problems not fully understood in this life. . . . Please understand that abuse by others or youthful experiences should not create a present sense of guilt, unworthiness, or rejection by God or His Church. Innocent mischief early in life does not predispose a youth toward same-gender attraction as an adult.”7  It is important to lift from the souls of the parents of gay children the unjust torment they may bear if they incorrectly assume, as Abbott and Byrd propose, that something they did or failed to do is responsible for the homosexual orientation of their sons or daughters.

In the twenty pages, Abbott and Byrd devote to treating their seven themes, one finds many commendable recommendations independent of whatever real or imagined effect they might have on sexual orientation. For example, they suggest that parents should “teach and model modesty in dress,” “expose your children to wholesome and appropriate music, movies, books, and TV early in life,” “direct child victims of sexual abuse to a professional therapist,” “open up a dialogue with children about human sexuality,” “discourage early dating (before 16) and encourage group dating,” and “use restrictions, supervision and guidance” against “the sexual wickedness promoted in the media” (62-62).

On the other hand, one also finds unfounded and indefensible generalities, including the statement by psychoanalyst Irving Bieber that he has never met “a male homosexual whose father openly loved and respected him” (55) and the assertion that “If parents would live a ‘normal and happy heterosexual married life,’ very few children would be attracted to homosexuality” (60). There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these claims. This propensity for drawing unfounded conclusions unsupported by the facts leads Abbott and Byrd to make statements that are outright falsehoods: “Very few [intersex children] struggle with homosexuality, suggesting that homosexuality is very different from intersex challenges” (71). The fact is that there are adult intersex persons (those having some combination of both male and female reproductive organs–hermaphroditism) who do exhibit a high frequency of homosexual orientation. Examples include (1) genetic males with functioning testes, but without the biochemical means to respond to testosterone; they develop female external genitalia, assume a female identity, and are sexually attracted to men, and (2) genetic females exposed prenatally to abnormally high levels of testosterone develop masculine characteristics and assume a lesbian or bisexual identity.8

A striking feature of this section (Chapter 6) of Encouraging Heterosexuality is the authors’ defensiveness. Repeatedly they acknowledge that on, key points of concern, such as whether core sexual orientation can be changed, their prescriptions are at odds with professionals in the field. They speak of the opinions of “so-called experts,” (66) whom they also describe as “the purveyors of political correctness,” (67) and whose work they label as “pseudo-psychological” (66). Because “mental health professionals are biased,” for example, school counselors may fail “to help a teen affirm his or her heterosexuality” (67).  School personnel as “authority figures may teach, with subtlety, the dominant philosophy of promiscuous sexuality: One is obligated to act upon one’s sexual desires without reference to any moral code” (67). These quotations illustrate the importance Abbott and Byrd attach to discrediting anyone whose views about homosexuality differ from their own. As an example, they pejoratively label alternative positions, for example, as “one-sided propaganda by the school, the media, and the medical and psychological communities” (67). They issue a particularly severe indictment of the publication Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel.9 This document was written in recognition of the reality that “lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth must also cope with the prejudice, discrimination, and violence in society and, in some cases, in their own families, school, and communities.” It accurately reports that, in recognition that sexual orientation is not an illness, “the nation’s leading professional, medical, health, and mental health organizations do not support efforts to change young people’s sexual orientation through therapy and have raised serious concerns about the potential harm from such efforts.” This brochure provides information on pertinent legal and ethical issues and additional resources for those with responsibility for the well-being of young people. The contents of the publication are endorsed by a coalition of thirteen mainstream national organizations.10 It is unfortunate that Abbott and Byrd so cavalierly and irresponsibly dismiss the experience and expertise of hundreds of thousands of these dedicated medical and educational professionals.

Abbott and Byrd do not discuss techniques of reorientation (reparative) therapy directly but clearly support its use. They repeatedly mention this kind of treatment and strongly defend the right of individuals to deal with an unwanted sexual orientation in this way. Absent from this discussion, however, is how to deal with the situation when neither their recommendations for parental conduct nor intervention by spiritual or secular counselors succeed in changing same-sex attraction. When rejection by parents and alienation from the family occur in such circumstances, the consequences are usually devastating. The results of a highly regarded study document that the incidence of negative health measures (depression, attempted suicide, use of illegal drugs, and high-risk sexual behavior, for example) increases dramatically in the face of family rejection.11 In contrast, even a modest degree of acceptance of gay and lesbian youth by their parents and siblings results in a large reduction in these harmful outcomes.

Abbott and Byrd’s set of recommendations for parents is weakened considerably by their own admission that “the reader should be aware that our specific parenting advice has not been empirically tested by research” (69). In fact, their insistence that sexual orientation can be changed is strongly contradicted by the careful review of the published research literature on this subject released in 2009 by the American Psychological Association.12

The reason that this book will fail to deliver significant help to LDS and other families with gay and lesbian children is that the authors’ approach is intrinsically flawed. Instead of beginning with an open-ended and open-minded investigation of a complex issue, and seeking the best information available from knowledgeable sources, they begin with a predetermined and inflexible position–that individuals with a homosexual orientation must be changed. This firm thesis requires two wholly irresponsible actions for anyone who claims to be a professional: (1) contrary data and experience must be altered, reinterpreted, or discounted to comport with their point of view; and (2) those who hold alternative opinions must be silenced, marginalized, or characterized as motivated by evil intent.

The evidence is very strong that homosexual orientation is the result of biological factors, that it is not learned nor the result of conscious choice or inadequate parenting, and moreover is not subject to change for the vast majority of those affected. Based on these facts, the “encouraging” that should be promoted is a greater outpouring of understanding, compassion, and Christian charity toward our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters from those of us who are in the heterosexual majority.

In conclusion, Encouraging Heterosexuality is a book based on poor scholarship, whose major claims are invalidated by the published work of biological researchers and which are at odds with professionals in the mental health community. By taking the position that homosexuality is a chosen and changeable condition, Abbott and Byrd have written a dangerous publication that is likely to be harmful to families with gay and lesbian children. Ultimately, it will prove to be injurious to the LDS Church. When parents and Church leaders act on the kind of information that these authors provide, the predictable results will be, in at least some cases, rejection and ostracism from the family, alienation from the Church, engagement in risky personal behavior, and suicide. I hope that there will be efforts by many in the LDS community to prevent such unacceptable outcomes and that fewer such “resources” will be produced in the future to hamper their efforts.

WILLIAM S. BRADSHAW is professor emeritus, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.


Sources cited in the subsection titled “Existing Theories of Homosexuality,” in Encouraging Heterosexuality, Chapter 3.

83.       Grundlach, R. (1977). Sexual molestation and rape reported by homosexual and heterosexual women. Journal of Homosexuality, 2, 367-384.

84.       Doll, L. S., Joy, D., Bartholow, B. N., Bolan, G., Douglas, J. M., Saltzman, L. E., Moss. P.M ., & Delgato, W. (1992). Self-reported childhood and adolescent sexual abuse among adult homosexual/bisexual men. Child Abuse and Neglect, 16, 855-864.

85.       Bradford, J., Ryan, C., & Rothblum, E. D. (1994). National lesbian health care survey: Implications for mental health care. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 62, 228-242.

86.       Simari, C.G., & Baskin, D. (1982). Incestuous experiences within homosexual populations: A preliminary study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 11, 329-344.

87.       Finkelhor, D. (1994). Current information on the scope and nature of child sexual abuse. The Future of Children, 4,31-53.  In Ammerman, R. T., & Hersne, M. (1999). Assessment of family violence. New York: John Wiley.

88.       Holmes, W., & Slap, F. (1998). Sexual abuse of boys. Journal of the American Medical Association, 280, 183-188.

89.       Rekers, G. A. (1999). The development of a homosexual orientation. In C. Wolfe (Ed.), Homosexuality and American public life (pp. 62-64). Dallas, TX:  Spence Publishing Company.

90.       Roesler, T., & Deishner, R. W. (1972). Youthful male homosexuality: Homosexual experience and the process of developing homosexual identity in males age 16 to 22 years. Journal of the American Medical Association, 219, 1018-1023.

91.       Shrier, D., & Johnson, R. L. (1988). Sexual victimization of boys: An ongoing study of an adolescent medicine clinic population, Journal of the National Medical Association, 80, 1189-1193.

92.       Louganis, G., & Marcus, E. (1995). Breaking the Surface.  New York: Random House.

93.       Tomeo, E., Templer, D. I., Anderson, S., & Kotler, D. (2001). Comparative data of childhood and adolescence molestation in heterosexual and homosexual persons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 535-541.


[1] A. Dean Byrd, (2009). “Homosexuality: What Science Can and Cannot Say,” In D. V. Dahle, A. D. Byrd, S. E. Cox, D. R. Dant, W. C. Duncan, J. P. Livingstone, and M. G. Wells, eds.  Understanding Same-Sex Attraction (Salt Lake City: Foundation for Attraction Research, 2009).

2 Richard Lewontin, quoted in C. Burr, A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation (New York: Hyperion, 1996),  pp. 271-273.

3 Geneticist Francis Collins Responds to NARTH’S Dean Byrd. http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/2007/05/25/389 (accessed May 2008).

4 http://www.simonlevay.com/the-biology-of-sexual-orientation. (accessed January 2010).

5 J. M. Bailey and K. J. Zucker, “Childhood Sex-Typed Behavior and Sexual Orientation: A Conceptual Analysis and Quantitative Review,” Developmental Psychology 31 (1995): 43-55.

6 Dallin H. Oaks and Lance B. Wickman, “Same Gender Attraction,” September 2006, 6,  http://www.lde.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=27f71f1dd189f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=726511154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD&vgnextfmt=tab1 (accessed January 2007).

7 God Loveth His Children, http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/memuitem.b3bc55cbf541229058520974e44916a0/ (accessed January 8, 2010).

8 L. Gooren, “The Biology of Human Psychosexual Differentiation,” Hormones and Behavior 50 (2006): 589-601.

9 Just the Facts Coalition. (2008). Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2008), www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/justhefacts.htm (accessed January 2010).

10 The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselors Association, the American School Health Association, the Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Education Association, and the School Social Work Association of America.

11 C. Ryan, D. Huebner, R. M. Diaz, and J. Sanchez, J. “Family Rejection as a Predictor of Negative Health Outcomes in White and Latino Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Young Adults. Pediatrics 123 (2009): 346–52.

12 Insufficient Evidence that Sexual Orientation change Efforts Work, Says APA.  Practitioners should avoid telling clients they can change from gay to straight.  American Psychological Association, Press Release, August 5, 2009.   http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2009/08/therapeutic.aspx (accessed August 7, 2009).



Talk given by Bill Bradshaw

Talk given by Bill Bradshaw, Sunday, April 15, 2012, South Jordan Utah Country Park Stake, Outreach Fireside

Image an unusual helicopter hovering over a predominantly LDS community.  Let’s make it Easter Sunday.  Besides being able to feel the warmth of the sun, and making note of the pink and white blossoms and the contrasting yellow of the Forsythia, extraordinary scanning devices are recording all of the prayers of the Saints as they ascend to heaven:  the private prayers at bedsides, the prayers to open and close the meetings, the prayers at the Sacrament table, the blessings on the food  – each and every one of the prayers.  Then, all of the requests are catalogued and listed in the order of their greatest frequency. So now, make a guess.  What tops the list?  What do we want most from God?  Which of our needs is number one?

You’re right – His spirit.  “May Thy spirit be with us,” we implore.  In each of our circumstances we need the influence of Deity to close the gap between our all-too-inadequate humanity and His enviable omnipotence.  And Heavenly Father complies.  The devices in the helicopter record the spirit as it descends and falls temporarily on our shoulders.  Don’t brush it off.  Don’t open the doors to the chapel; we don’t want the spirit to leak out.  Make it last as long as possible until we have to refill the prescription.  And what role do we play in this communication?  Are we like sponges?  Hotwater bottles?  Reflecting mirrors?

This then, is my first theme tonight.  How might we understand the workings of the spirit of God in connection with how we treat our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters?

Even as our prayers focus on obtaining God’s spirit, the sermons of Easter call our attention to Christ and our need to express admiration and appreciation to Him.  We hear again the standard admonition, that we should all find meaning in this celebration of His resurrection.   We are prompted again to do or to become something better as a result of His redeeming sacrifice.  So let me pose a question.  What particular trait might be most closely connected to the ability of Jesus to function as our Redeemer?  This, then, is my second theme:  What aspect of Christ’s character, present in all of us, perhaps in a woefully undeveloped state, might we marshal as we try to treat His homosexual brothers and sisters in a way pleasing to Him?

Could the answer to this question be that Christ was unusual in His capacity to love that which He was not?  The Sinless to comprehend the sinner?  The one without blemish to seek association with the multitudes struggling with their imperfections?   To be comfortable with those who find themselves outside the circle, marginalized, invisible because they are different?

Do we generally seek the company of people unlike ourselves?  That seems to me to be rare.  I know that it is sometimes said of some married couples that “Opposites attract,” and there might be examples of that.  But the model that most frequently applies is the one described in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue: light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy,” and so on (D&C 88:40).  We’re happiest when we’re with our tribe.  Jocks hang out with jocks, nimble-fingered ladies congregate in quilting bees to share artistry and the latest doings in the neighborhood, the wealthy men of Augusta National Golf Club don’t admit women, and all Red Socks fans hate the Yankees.

What enabled the Savior to be such a contrary example?  Let me suggest that it was His divine capacity for imagination.  The gifted scientist Jacob Bronowski has suggested that this ability of the mind and spirit separates us from all the other creatures (1).  “It becomes plain,” he asserts, “that imagination is a specifically human gift.  To imagine is the characteristic act, not of the poet’s mind, or the painter’s or the scientist’s, but of the mind of man.”  “To imagine,“ he continues, “means to make images and to move them about inside one’s head in new arrangements. The images play out for us events which are not present to our senses, and thereby guard the past and create the future – a future that does not yet exist, and may never come to exist in that form.”  Perhaps in its most refined form, imagination is that capacity of deity that permitted Christ to “descend below all things” (D&C 88:6) in his effort to understand and have compassion for the full range of human experiences.

A major problem, however, for us in the insensitive heterosexual majority, is our inability to imagine being otherwise.  Our orientation is the orientation, to persons of the opposite sex, and to conceive of erotic feeling for someone of our same gender is – well, unimaginable.  And ironically, our own sexual perspective is one we would defy any program of therapy to change.

Thus it becomes useful for us to listen.  Listen with me now to the words of one man, Andrew Sullivan, in his attempt to articulate his private early encounter with his gay sexuality (2).  “My feelings were too strong and too terrifying to do anything but submerge them completely.  Gay adolescents are offered what every heterosexual teenager longs for: to be invisible in the girl’s locker room.  But you are invisible in the boy’s locker room, your desire as unavoidable as its object.  In that moment, you learn the first homosexual lesson:  that your survival depends upon self-concealment.  The gay teenager learns a form of control and sublimation, of deception and self-contempt, that never leaves his consciousness.  He learns that that which would most give him meaning is most likely to destroy him in the eyes of others; that the condition of his friendship is the subjugation of himself.”  And why, we ask?  It is hard not to imagine that the answer is a terrible sense of not belonging.  Thus the contradiction: “Know the truth – know the truth about your homosexual self – that truth may not make you free.”  All of this inner anguish because you are different.

There seems to be an unfortunate human inclination such that when you look across at another person who is different from yourself, you make the decision that that person is not as good as you are.  If that person is black, you must be superior.  If that individual speaks Chinese, well, of course, English is better, never mind more than a fourth of earth’s population.  If that person is a woman whom you could best in a fist fight, well, men are incomparable.  This in spite of who was responsible for managing the family on that meager income in the early years, who remembers when the anniversary is, and finds the car keys you’ve misplaced when they are in plain sight.  Is it possible that this capacity for unrighteous judgment was the one trait that God most hoped would disappear from his spirit children during their mortal sojourn?  If so, and based on the historical record, He must be terribly disappointed.

I return again to Andrew Sullivan, who freely acknowledges that his experience may not be the same as that of other gay men, or especially of lesbian women, but who argues as follows.  “It’s possible, I think, that whatever society teaches or doesn’t teach about homosexuality, this fact will always be the case.  No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures.  And every homosexual child will learn the rituals of deceit, impersonation, and appearance.  Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality.  This isolation will always hold.  It is definitional of homosexual development.  And children are particularly cruel.  At the age of eleven, no one wants to be the odd one out; and in the arena of dating and hormones, the exclusion is inevitably a traumatic one.”  What Sullivan doesn’t mention is how frequently this isolation and sense of not belonging leads to thoughts of self-destruction, and sadly to attempts, sometimes successful, to take one’s life.  Please listen thoughtfully to this actual statement by one of our gay brothers, “I attempted to ‘change’ myself through righteous behaviors.  However, when the attractions remained despite how often I prayed, read scriptures, served others, attended church meetings, or was obedient, I became more depressed and felt more distant from God and others.”

While agreeing with Sullivan’s description of the inner turmoil in the souls of at least many gay adolescents and young adults, and acknowledging the reality of the cruelty, I find myself imagining that his assessment about the inevitability of isolation, deceit, and impersonation is too pessimistic.  I imagine myself being part of an effort to change that world, at least my part of that world, at least for one person, or perhaps for five, or maybe for several dozen, at least for those several dozen at an earlier time in their emergence from that terrible closet, in time to point them away from a mind set in which they imagine the possibility of talking their own lives.  And, in fact, more than that, of opening up their imaginations and those of their families and loved ones to lives of possibilities and fulfillment, to lives of goodness, and family, and happiness.

Consider what might be the common element in the following statements which you’ve all heard before:  1)  “Honor thy father and thy mother . . . that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee” (Deuteronomy 5:16);  2) “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven” (“Praise to The Man,” LDS hymn # 27);  3)  “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20);  4)  “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10); 5)  and concerning children, “ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15).  What we have here is a cause and effect theme; that result depends on this action.  From a grammatical point of view, these phrases tend to be constructed in the imperative case, and the feeling is:  “You need to do this.”  From another point of view, we can imagine a gifted mathematician expressing each of these sentiments as an equation:  A is a function of B.  Thus, herbs + fruit – nicotine, ethanol and caffeine = tireless jogging.   Example 2:  X (having obedient, successful, and highly commendable children) = faithfully hold Family Home Evening with great lessons and even greater refreshments.   If you do it, everything will turn out right.  Remember the words of the song:  “Do what is right, let the consequence follow” (“Do What Is Right,” LDS hymn # 237).

So you’re sitting in the living room reading the paper, and your son comes in, sits by you, and announces, “Dad, I’m gay.”  And somewhere in the first minute after that, you’re overwhelmed with self condemnation.  “Where did I go wrong?”  “We thought we had been completely faithful in correctly solving all of the equations!”  Or, less traumatically, perhaps, sitting in judgment mode when it’s somebody else’s problem – as in, “Did you hear that Susie Smith came out to her parents as being lesbian?”  “Well what do you expect from the Smiths, they’re Democrats, you know.”  Misfortune must have an explanation in a failure to follow the paradigm.  “John Jones has been home from his mission for eight years.  He’s 29 and not married.  He must be one of those.”

But then some members of the Ward may suffer pangs of conscience.  “I wonder if we’re not being Christian about this?” they ask.  Enter the standard solution to save the day:  “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.”  Good, all is well.  No, all is not well.  Why?  After all, it sounds right.  It has the ring of conventional wisdom.  We’ve heard it over and over; it must be right.  The problem is that it just doesn’t happen.  We don’t really love the sinner.  We can say it, but we don’t do it.

Church leaders and members have been officially encouraged to “reach out with love and understanding to those struggling with [homosexuality].”   What might it mean in this context to “understand”?  Some of us appear to equate understanding with sympathy; “we feel sorry for you.”  No. The kind of understanding that’s called for is knowledge, accurate information, and the discarding of the myths, misinformation, and distortions that are so common among us – myths, misinformation and distortions that get in the way of the “love” part of what we’ve been asked to do.  What then, should we understand?

One:  sexual orientation is not a choice.  Our children do not choose to be gay.  The LGBT brothers and sisters in our wards are not perverse; they have not willfully opted for romantic attractions other than heterosexual ones.  Those of us in the majority, who are straight, must honestly confess that our interest in those of the opposite sex did not develop as a conscious decision.  Two:  sexual orientation has its roots in the biochemical mechanisms that program the developing brain.  Homosexuality is not the result of an aberrant psychology, of dysfunctional parenting, or of sexual abuse.  No Latter-day Saint parents should carry any feelings of guilt because something they did or didn’t do caused their child to be gay.  It just isn’t true.   Third:  Sexual orientation is not subject to change.  Being gay is not a disease, it is not an addiction, it is not a passing phase, it is not a tendency or an inclination, it is not learned, it is not communicable.  Some of our LGBT brothers and sisters are able to make accommodations by assuming an alternate sexual identity that makes them more comfortable, some have a degree of attraction to both sexes.  But efforts to counsel or persuade gay people to become something that they are not frequently have severely negative spiritual consequences.  Four:  Gay people are not intrinsically unstable, unhappy, or subject to poor mental health outcomes.  The way we treat them, however, does have an impact.  Being the target of verbal and physical harassment, being shamed and ridiculed by peers, being marginalized and subjected to rejection, even by family and fellow Church members – these do have serious negative consequences.  There is a very large body of evidence that validates each of the assertions I’ve just made.  Exploring that evidence will have to wait for another time.

So back to the refrain about hate and love and sin and sinners, the one which some hope will grant then immunity from gaining genuine understanding and an exemption from the task of loving those who are different.  “Hate the sin?”  What happens to our humanity when we’re given license to hate, especially from afar, when we really don’t know those children of God we’re willing to judge, especially when we haven’t bothered to comprehend their circumstances?  Does our hate, which was supposed to be limited, to only be leveled at an abstraction, really start to leak out onto real people? And while we’re looking around for our favorite sin to hate, which one do we choose?  Is it Sin 1 or Sin 2?  Which is the most hateable?  And is it possible in deciding among the popular choices that are available for hating, that we become guilty of falling into the trap Christ warned us about, of “neglecting the weightier matters of the law”?  And what of the very act of judging that we’re indulging in?  Where does that rank in the hate list?

And who gets to judge the impact of hating sins, the hater or the hatee?  We know who delivers the love – it’s Cupid, that pink, and plump cherub.  But who delivers the hate?  He’s certainly not pink – has to be some darker color.  So we imagine him, whoever he is, with his bowstring pulled back to his chin aiming for the bullseye of homosexuality.  He lets fly and – what if he’s wildly off target?  What if he hits one of God’s children instead?  Is that possible?  Well, let’s imagine that we’re all gay or lesbian or transgender and we’re in the gallery section of the hearing room in the city offices of a town somewhere to the south of where we are tonight.  We’re there as the city council listens to public comment on the proposed Non-Discrimination Ordinances in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  We hear, one by one, the otherwise decent citizens of our community, many of them LDS, come up one by one to strenuously state their opposition. “What if we don’t want one of those kind of people living next to us?”  “I should have the right to keep one of them from corrupting my work force.”  “We have to protect the morality of this community from their evil influence.”  How do you feel, there in the gallery?  How much love is washing over you?

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner?” I think we would do well to eliminate that concept from our conversations. Let’s discard that phrase on the trash heap of our theological mistakes, along- side the analogy of holes left in boards after the nails of immoral conduct have been pulled out, and the justification for withholding God’s blessings from some of His children because of their alleged failure to be valiant in the pre-existence.

Many years ago I made a promise that I was too young to understand.  It was a covenant to be “willing to bear the burdens of other people, to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”  Mourning, then, can take the form of recognition of a need.  It can be an internal activity, accomplished in the privacy of one’s mind and home.  But the “comforting” part of what I promised I would do cannot.  To comfort and bear one another’s burdens we must go outside of those private places; we have to speak, we have to act, we have to stand for something.  A dear friend, Duff Hanks, whose wisdom and example were important guides at needful times in my life, passed away a few months ago.  I think he would not mind if I were to quote some of his words tonight.  “In the most personal of His parables the Savior identified himself fully with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned (see Matthew 25:35-36).  So many are burdened with earthly care, the stain of sin, poverty, pain, disability, loneliness, bereavement, rejection.  The promise of Christ’s mercy is sure and certain to those who find Him and trust Him.  He who stilled the winds and waves can bring peace to the sinner and to the suffering Saint.  And we as His agents are not alone to declare His word but also to represent Him in doing unto the least of His brethren that which He himself would do were He now here (3).”

It is, or course, natural, to speculate about how sexual orientation will play out in the life to come.  It is also true that we have more questions than answers about the eternities that will follow mortality.  Some of you will know that there are some questions of particular interest to me, such that I’m starting now to take the steps necessary to resolve them.  I am counting on being able to attend a Fireside after I pass on.  The topic for the evening will be “The Creation.”  Christ is the speaker, and has promised to show slides.  Because I’m expecting a large crowd in attendance, I have already booked a seat, the middle one of three, on the front row.  On my left will be Charles Darwin.  On the right will be Bruce McConkie.  I anticipate that in one of His slides the Savior will explain how the possibilities increased marvelously once protein tyrosine kinases made their appearance at the beginning of the Cambrian.  I’m also really looking forward to the slide of Lucy.  I want to know what she really looked like when none of her bones were missing.  When it’s over, I expect all three of us to be not just surprised, but astounded, and a lot of humility will be called for as we recognize the extent of our previous ignorance.

I also want to attend the Sexual Orientation Fireside.  Whatever the surprises turn out to be in that meeting, I hope to be able to make the accommodations required of me in the face of the greater light and knowledge that’s going to be available.  And I’m pretty sure that the requirement to love will not be rescinded.

In the meantime I’ve decided that there a few things about which I don’t need to be uncertain.  The following statements are actual sentiments of real people, our gay brothers and sisters; they are not fictitious.  They are responses to the invitation to “briefly describe any benefits or positive aspects of being LGBTQ.”

“You can learn to love others for who they are and not who you think they should be.”

“I am more compassionate, caring, considerate, and sympathetic.”

“I love being authentic, honest, open, happy, and optimistic, more emotionally involved and present in my relationships with others.”

“I feel that it has made me a much more sensitive person and that it has made me always able to think outside of the box which I do not believe would have been true had I not been gay.”

“I think it’s helped me be less judgmental of people, whatever their issues may be.  I think it has caused me to be more tolerant and compassionate towards others who may live differently than I do.”

Being gay has given me emotional experiences that make me very sensitive to others.  I am often told I am “wise beyond my years” and I attribute that to the amount of time I have spent on inward contemplation as I came to understand my homosexuality.  There is a sense of universal understanding that I find comes with being gay.  Many times, I have been the “bridge” between my male friends and my females friends – I love being uniquely fit to have that role.”

As I listen to these expressions I find myself wishing that I could be a little more like that.

To return now to the image of Heavenly Father responding to our requests to send to us His spirit.  I’d like to share with you a few examples of actual statements by some of God’s gay and lesbian children when asked the following question:  “Have you experienced a spiritual manifestation through which you felt an acceptance of your same-sex sexual orientation from Deity?”

“I have had that testimony type feeling with my relationship with my Father in Heaven; Knowing              that I am ok and that I am loved for who He made me to be.”

“I was on the verge of suicide . . . driving out to the west desert to commit the act when I heard a still small voice that I was loved no matter what; and that nothing was wrong with me.”

“Prayer in the temple and a distinct voice telling me I was made this way and the only                disappointment was that I wouldn’t love myself for who I was.”

“ I had a dream that I was on a platform at a train station where the Savior held me and hugged me and I felt complete love to the point that it was almost consuming.”

“On the mission the Lord told me that I was the way I was, so that the Lord could better use me to help his children in future calling I would have. That my sense of emotions and a caring heart        would make me a better servant.”

I am convinced by the spirit accompanying many expressions like these, that they accurately represent a communication from Heavenly Father.  I also believe that good people are not just the passive recipients of a divine spirit, but that they can, in fact, become the source of godliness, the origin of a divine spirit, even if only briefly, even if only to an imperfect degree.  I spent part of Thursday evening of last week with nearly 100 gay and lesbian students at BYU and some of their straight allies.  I spent a few hours Friday with a wonderful group of parents who have gay and lesbian children.  I spent some time last night with a group of gay men bound together by the fact that they are fathers.  My feelings on these occasions were not identical, but there was a commonality: a strong sense of their shared humanity, their fundamental goodness, and my need to try to follow the Savior’s personal instruction, “But of you, Bill, it is required to love all men.” (See D&C 64:10)

The record states that in ministering to the little children of the Nephite people Jesus spoke words so “great and marvelous” that they could not be verbalized nor written by others, so we are left to our imaginations in fathoming their content.  What happened next, however, suggests that the themes were love, both divine and human, and mercy.  Having wept, “He took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.  And when he had done this he wept again (3 Nephi 17:9-22).”  Knowing what we know today, we have to believe that among those children were a few who later, as young adults, would have to confront and cope with their homosexuality.  I can further imagine that they would not have forgotten that extraordinary experience from their childhood, and that the memory of the Savior’s great love for them would have assuaged their efforts to deal with their recognition of being different, and they would have known that they did belong, to Him and to all the rest of the human family.


  1.  Jacob Bronowski.  1967.  The Reach of Imagination, in The Norton Reader, 10th Edition, L.H. Peterson, J.C. Brereton, and J.E. Hartman, Eds.  W.W. Norton and Company, New York, NY.  Pages 233-234.

2.    Andrew Sullivan.  1995.  Virtually Normal, Vintage Book, New York, NY.  Pages 12-13.

3.    Marion D. Hanks.  1991.  Bread Upon The Waters, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, UT.  Page 39.

No More Strangers And Foreigners

No More Strangers And Foreigners
A Compassionate & Loving Response

One Latter-day Saint Examines The Question Of Homosexuality In The Church

Toward the end of his five-year call as Bishop of the Los Angeles Singles Ward, Robert A. Rees gave this talk to his congregation. Delivered on May 19, 1991, this message was an attempt to share the experiences and insights gained while counseling and ministering to homosexual Latter-day Saints

At a recent baptism as we welcomed a new member into the Church, I thought of Paul’s welcome to the newly-baptized saints at Ephesus: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God. And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (2:19-20). Jesus Christ is the cornerstone not only of the Church but of our individual lives and when we take his name upon us and when we come together in his name, we should cease to be foreigners and strangers.

From the beginning, when the Lord gave his law to the Israelites, He stressed the importance of our relationship to strangers. In Exodus we are told, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (22:21). In Leviticus we have a foreshadowing of the New Testament ethic toward those who are strangers: “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself, for ye were strangers in a strange land of Egypt” (19:34). The Lord is reminding the Israelites that since they were strangers in a strange land, they must remember how it felt to be treated as aliens and therefore they should not merely treat strangers hospitably, but love them as they love themselves. The Lord also reminds us that in some ways we are all strangers. Certainly we are all strangers from the Kingdom of God, but God treats us as friends and invites us to enter His Kingdom as joint heirs with his Son.

It is significant that Christ refers to himself as a stranger: “I was a stranger and ye took me in” (Matthew 25:35). In the world, the stranger is oppressed, persecuted, imprisoned, cast out and even killed. One can open the newspaper on any given day to confirm this. Kurds, Palestinians, Jews, and Arabs are all considered strangers in some quarters of the Middle East; Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, Muslims and Christians in Kosovo, Muslims and Hindus in India, are all strangers to one another. Closer to home, there are other strangers–the “ilegales” who stream across our border from Mexico and Central America; the homeless; those of different races, nations, and political persuasions; strangers of gender, strangers of age, strangers of sexual orientation. Under the right conditions, any one of us might be considered a stranger.

Even in the Church, among brothers and sisters, we are sometimes strangers. We have a tendency to judge one another for failure to understand the gospel as we understand it or abide by the commandments as we ourselves do. In every ward there are members who speak disparagingly of those who are different, who question the devotion of their brothers and sisters on some basis, who treat them as strange.

In Romans, Paul emphasizes the importance of the saints having tolerance and charity for those who are different. To those who may make judgments about others in regard to their eating habits, for example, he says, “If a man is weak in his faith, you must accept him without attempting to settle doubtful points. For instance, one man will have faith enough to eat all kinds of food, while a weaker man eats only vegetables. The man who eats must not hold in contempt the man who does not, and he who does not eat must not pass judgement on the one who does; for God has accepted him” (14: 1-3, New English Bible; hereafter NEB). Disputations about the Sabbath day are seen in the same light. “This man regards one day more highly than another, while that man regards all days alike. On such a point everyone should have reached conviction in his own mind. He who respects the day has the Lord in mind in doing so, and he who eats meat has the Lord in mind when he eats, since he gives thanks to God. For no one of us lives, and, equally, no one of us dies, for himself alone. . . . Let us therefore cease judging one another. . . . Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and build up the common life” (14:5-7, NEB). Building that common life is our common stewardship and when we take it seriously we progress as individuals and as a Church.

I am struck by what Paul says because I think he is trying to teach a very important lesson: there are a number of things about which the Lord seems not to care, in which He gives us choice. It seems there are many issues over which we choose to be divisive, which are of no consequence to God. He doesn’t care whether we are Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, sophisticated or simple. It is probably of no concern to Him if we are vegetarians, eat white flour, have beards, wear colored shirts to Church, or the myriad other things that some of us consider important enough to judge, condemn, or spiritually disfellowship one another over.

Instead of focusing on such trivia, we should, as Paul says, “pursue the things that make for peace, and build up the common life.” Those things generally are love, understanding, tolerance, acceptance, liberality of spirit, magnanimity, and forgiveness.

I would like now to turn from the general to the specific, to a particular kind of strangeness or differentness—homosexuality. I would like to make it clear that I don’t consider myself an authority on homosexuality. While I have read widely on the subject and thought a great deal about it, while I have counseled with many homosexuals during the more than five years I have served as bishop, and while I have a number of homosexual friends, I do not presume to have any new knowledge on the subject. I speak only as one Mormon Christian who has tried to understand both what it means to be homosexual and what my Christian responsibility toward homosexuals should be.

Sexuality is such a powerful and mysterious part of human experience and identity that any discussion of it can never really be neutral. This is particularly true of homosexuality, a subject so charged with prejudice, so influenced by historical attitudes, and so distorted by myth and misconception that it is usually difficult to have a rational discussion about it.

Over the centuries homosexuality has not only been misunderstood, it has been treated with contempt, hostility and violence. In almost every society homosexuals have been subject to persecution. In many cultures they have been cast out or killed. Even today, gays and lesbians experience numerous kinds of persecution and discrimination, much of it subtle and insidious. I believe that any time we speak disparagingly of gays and lesbians, make jokes about them, mimic stereotype gestures, or treat them in unkind or cruel ways, we participate in that long history of persecution.

Although traditionally homosexuals have been treated as abnormal and strange, in actuality, except for their sexual preference, homosexuals and heterosexuals are basically alike. As LDS psychotherapist Jan Stout says, “The personality spectrum among homosexuals is as diverse and complex as it is among heterosexuals.” To elaborate on this point, Stout quotes Judd Marmor who says that this spectrum runs “from passive ones to aggressive ones, from shy introverts to raucous extroverts, from theatrically hysterical personalities, to rigid compulsive obsessive ones, from sexually inhibited timid types to sexually promiscuous flamboyant ones, from radical activists to staunch conservatives, from defiant atheists to devout church goers, and from unconscionable sociopaths to highly responsible, law-abiding citizens.”

In speaking of the range of expressions homosexuals have in the Church and in society at large, one gay Latter-day Saint has written, “We belong to your priesthood quorums; we teach your Sunday School classes; we pass the sacrament to you each Sunday; we attend your Primary classes, your faculty meetings, your family reunions and your youth conferences. We sell you groceries, we keep your books, we police your streets, we teach your children in school. We preside over your wards and even your stakes. We are your sons, your brothers, your grandsons, and who knows, but by some riddle of nature, we would be you as well.”

What do we know about homosexuality? There are numerous theories and scientific explorations about possible genetic, neurobiological, hormonal, psychological and environmental causes. But there is no consensus as to which of these or any combination of them holds the key to understanding homosexuality. However, the consensus among those who counsel with homosexuals and who study same-gender attraction is that homosexuality is not a disease or a depravity, as the following statement by the American Psychological Association attests: “The research on homosexuality is very clear: homosexuality is neither a mental illness nor a moral depravity.” What most researchers do agree on, and this is confirmed by my own experience in counseling numerous Latter-day Saint homosexuals, is that homosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation any more than heterosexuals do.

One of the reasons this conclusion is important is that there is a tendency for homosexuals to blame themselves for their homosexuality and for parents to feel that somehow they’ve done something to cause the homosexuality of their child: either the father was not masculine enough or the mother was overweening. There is nothing in the research to suggest such a cause and effect relationship. We simply do not know what causes one person to have a same-sex attraction and another person to have an opposite-sex attraction.

Can homosexuality be changed? Can homosexuals be “cured”? This is one of the most controversial subjects among both Latter-day Saint and other psychotherapists. . Some therapists contend that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. While gays and lesbians may have no choice over the fact that they are homosexual, these psychologists argue, they do have choice over whether they stay homosexual, and if they will but reorient themselves, recondition themselves through “reparative therapy,” they can change from same-sex to opposite-sex orientation.

Some of these therapists claim limited success in helping some gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints to reorient themselves. I emphasize, some psychotherapists claim limited success in helping some gay and lesbian Later-day Saints to reorient themselves sexually. If these reports are true, what it suggests is that in the range of homosexual experience, some may have more choice than others with regard to their sexual attraction.

I spoke recently with a good friend who is a highly respected psychotherapist, both in the Church and in his profession. When I asked him if he knew of any cases in which homosexuals had successfully reoriented themselves, he said, “Well, I know of cases in which people have made successful heterosexual relationships that have lasted fifteen or twenty years.” He added, “But my guess is that if you could take an x-ray of those people’s psyches, you would still find a very strong homosexual component to their personality.” Of course, a homosexual who has married, especially if the marriage was sealed in the temple, would have a very strong motivation to adjust to a heterosexual relationship, particularly so if he or she had a bi-sexual orientation. Others who try for years to make such an adjustment are unsuccessful in doing so.

After counseling with numerous gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints , I have come to the conclusion that not only would the vast majority of homosexuals change their orientation if they could, but that most have tried desperately, usually for many years, to do just that. These good brothers and sisters have fasted and prayed, often over a sustained period of time, have sought priesthood blessings, have thrown themselves passionately into church service, have made desperate promises to God, and have endured tremendous suffering–all in an attempt to change their sexual orientation. Some, following what at one time was Church counsel, but which no longer is, have even married and had children to prove their sincerity in trying to adapt themselves to the heterosexual norm.

H. Wayne Schow, a Mormon whose son, Brad, died of AIDS, in commenting on the depression that plagued his son over a period of years, says, “He told us that he prayed fervently over a long period that God would help him reorient his feelings, and in return he promised God extraordinary devotion.” Another gay saint expressed his struggle in these words: “After much denial, suffering, fasting and prayer, many tears and brave efforts to change, I submitted my problem to God. It was not as though I had never asked for help, but…God’s answer was to continually deny my request to become heterosexual.”

I would characterize such efforts as these as evidence not only of great commitment, but of great faith and courage as well. It may not be possible for heterosexuals to fully understand the anguish, heartache, and despair that such struggles entail. When heterosexuals so glibly tell homosexuals that all they have to do is start thinking in the opposite direction and change will come, they do a great disservice to the noble efforts of those who have struggled to try and become something that they are not. More destructive are those who suggest that homosexuals who have not been successful in changing their orientation have failed because they are not righteous or faithful enough.

Instead of condemning homosexuals, Mormon Christians should seriously examine the ways in which they themselves may contribute to the suffering of their gay brothers and lesbian sisters. We are compelled as Christ’s disciples to lift the burdens of those who suffer–no matter what their sexual orientation. Speaking of the burdens homosexual Mormons bear, H. Wayne Schow has written, “Consider the psychological burden born by Mormon homosexuals in particular. From their youth the seeds of low self-esteem are planted. From both adults and peers they hear the deprecating epithets, the scornful aspersions, the biased misinformation about gays which cause them to feel contemptible. They struggle to understand their differences in an environment which demands conformity. They hide their feelings from the world, even from loved ones, and hate themselves for this deception. They discover that there are laws against homosexual intimacy. They read books written by people who encourage their assumption that they are flawed, mental ill” (Schow, p. 12).

Based on my experience, homosexuals have four possible relationships with the Church. One group, the smallest, have chosen to live a chaste life and have decided to forego expressing themselves sexually with another person in mortality. I have some such individuals in my congregation, and for their devotion, and especially for their courage, I have the greatest respect. These saints admit they are homosexual, they acknowledge their desire to have legitimate sexual relations with partners of their own gender, they often express a strong wish to be heterosexual and to have a spouse and children, and yet they are firm in their resolve to keep their covenants. They do not have easy lives.

The second group, after struggling for a period of time with their homosexuality, drop out of the Church, although some continue to have a distant relationship with it. Some of these gay and lesbian Mormons are bitter about the Church and are openly critical of Church leaders. Others are happy and seem to be at peace with their choice. Some are promiscuous while others live in homosexual monogamous relationships. Either way, if they remain connected to Mormonism , they do not have easy lives.

The third group maintains an ambivalent relationship to the Church. This relationship tends to be more mercurial than those of the other groups. Their lives generally are characterized by periods of conforming to Church standards, having an initial homosexual experience, repenting, being involved in extensive counseling, further sexual intimacy with various partners, being subject to Church disciplinary councils, dating opposite-sex partners, etc. They have lives that are marked with turmoil and considerable pain. As with the others, they do not have easy lives.

The fourth group consists of those who have chosen to remain active in the Church but who are secretive about their sexual preference. Some in this group are sexually active but they do not disclose this information to church leaders for fear that it will affect their ability to function in the Church. Because their relationship with the Church involves deception, like those in the other groups, they do not have easy lives.

Most Latter-day Saint homosexuals who stay connected to the Church live in a state of almost constant conflict because they feel they must choose between being true to the Church and being true to themselves, because they must choose between being open or closed about their homosexuality, and because they desire to be intimately involved in the Church and yet recognize that they belong to a group who generally are treated with scorn and derision by the very community they wish to be a part of. While no official statistics are available, it is the consensus of those closest to the situation that a significant number of Latter-day Saint homosexuals, out of fear, self-loathing, guilt and a desire to be free of the tortuous conflict in which they find themselves with regard to the Church, have taken their own lives. One authority on this subject reports that there is a higher number of known gay related suicides among Latter-day Saints than among members of any other American religion.

Because of the strong sentiment against homosexuality within the Mormon community, Latter-day Saint homosexuals often experience rejection and alienation from their own families. If they do not disclose their homosexuality to their families, they are usually subject to intense pressure to marry; if they are open about their sexual orientation, they risk condemnation and sometimes ostracism from family members.

From time to time I get calls from Latter-day Saint parents who want to know what to do about a homosexual child. Recently, a mother called and said, “I’m very concerned because our eighteen-year-old son has just told us that he’s gay. Our family is extremely disturbed, and my husband is very angry about it. What can we do to change him?”

I said, “Your emphasis should be on what you can do to help him, because if he has declared his homosexuality to you, knowing how you feel about it, you have to assume that he’s frightened, confused, and in a great deal of pain. What he needs more than anything is to know that you will love him no matter what his sexual preference is. He needs you to accept him for what he is. He’s still your son, and being homosexual does not change that.”

She said, “Well, my husband wants to kick him out of the house because he’s worried that our son will influence the other children to become homosexual.” I assured her that there was no basis for such fears. I counseled her to take the leadership in encouraging all members of the family to love this young man and to help him through what was sure to be an excruciatingly painful experience.

What should our attitude as heterosexual Latter-day Saints be toward our homosexual brothers and sisters? Let me suggest several principles from the teachings of the Savior and those of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

For those who consider homosexuality a sin or who tend to condemn homosexuals who have transgressed the law of chastity, the following statements by Joseph Smith might prove instructive:

“The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls. We feel we should want to take them upon our shoulders and cast their sins behind our backs.”

“Nothing is so much calculated to lead a people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O What power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind.”

“Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and [more] boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”

These statements suggest that we should have a greater magnanimity toward our gay brothers and lesbian sisters than is now generally the case.

The entire burden of Christ’s message is that we should be slow to judge and quick to forgive, that we should consider all people as ourselves, and that we should love one another without regard to our differences. The Golden Rule applies especially to all those whom we consider strange, queer, abnormal—all those whom we might see as different from or less than we are.

The scriptures continually emphasize principles of charity. The alteration of the following scriptures is in keeping with their intent and I hope illustrates my point.

“Beloved, let us love one another (including homosexuals); for love is of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not (homosexuals) knoweth not God, for God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)

“If a man says, I love God, and hateth his (homosexual) brother (or sister), he is a liar; for he that loveth not his (homosexual brother and sister) whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20)

“And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female, (homosexual and heterosexual).” (2 Nephi 26.33)

“Be filled with love towards God and all men (and women, including homosexuals).” (Mosiah 2:4)

“Thou (both heterosexual and homosexual) shall live together in love.” (D&C 42:45)

In addition to accepting and loving homosexuals, I believe we should recognize that they may have something significant to contribute to the culture of the Church. For whatever reasons, many gays and lesbians seem to have an increased sensitivity to beauty and a more highly developed artistic sense than do most heterosexuals. To exclude them is to deprive ourselves of the richness they can bring to the Church. It also seems to be true that homosexual men have a more gentle, if you will, a more feminine demeanor. While this characteristic is often mocked and derided, a more enlightened view might consider it a potentially positive influence on some of the more aggressive aspects of the masculine ethos that tends to dominate the Church. Lest such an idea be dismissed too quickly, one should remember that at times the Savior referred to himself in terms that society might consider feminine. As a whole, integrated being who took upon Himself the sins of men and women, he taught us how to balance the masculine and feminine.

When gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints are excluded from the fellowship of the gospel through prejudice or intolerance, when through suicide or disease they are taken prematurely from our midst, we lose something of great value. I believe it is possible to celebrate what homosexual saints can contribute in the Church without compromising gospel principles.

I don’t know if there is a way out of the dilemma that Mormon homosexuals and Mormon heterosexuals who relate to them face, but I would like to suggest something that we might at least try. Since this is a matter of such significance to the Church, and since it involves the suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, perhaps as individuals and as a Church we should make the solution of this problem a matter of urgent fasting and prayer. Since we believe in revelation, why don’t we plead with the Lord for light and knowledge on this problem that affects so many of us? Surely it deserves very high priority among those matters for which we knock upon the door of Heaven.

Each of those of us who is concerned about this matter could begin including it in our daily prayers. Perhaps we could undertake special fasts on behalf of our gay brothers and lesbian sisters. At the very least, our religion requires us to accept homosexual saints with love and fellowship, to bind up their spiritual and psychic wounds, to mourn with them, to weep with them, and to comfort them.

If, as suggested above, homosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation and if they have no power to change it, then both they and we must accept their homosexuality. This does not include expressing their sexuality in inappropriate ways; what it does mean is that they can express those aspects of their nature that are in keeping with gospel principles.

In his sonnet, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Gerard Manley Hopkins suggests that God created each of us to express our uniqueness:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: . . .
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

That is, all beings and all things are created by God to express what they are.

Hopkins says that we do even more than this:

Each person
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Since we have the light of Christ within us, since we take on his character when we are born anew through him, thus becoming his children of light, then beyond expressing who and what we are, we also express who he is. Christ justifies us to God, and it is through His grace that when we act before the Father, in a sense we become Christ, because His light shines through us. Christ plays in ten thousand places and through many times ten thousand faces which he makes lovely to the Father through his grace. Those faces Christ plays through are both heterosexual and homosexual. He would bring us all to God.

I am grateful to belong to a church which teaches us that the light of Christ shines in us and can shine through us. It cannot do that if we act in prejudicial ways toward one another, if we consider others less than ourselves, if we persecute those who are different, if we cast out strangers and forbid them from the table of the Lord’s Supper.

The great lesson of Matthew 25 is that Christ puts Himself in the place of the stranger–of the homosexual, if you will: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of one of these my (homosexual) brethren (or sisters), ye have done it unto me” (25:40).

There is no question but that many heterosexuals treat homosexuals as if they were the least. Yet Christ says that if we treat a homosexual with love and kindness, if we behave toward him or her with charity and magnanimity, then we have treated Christ in that manner as well.

I pray the Lord will bless us as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God, as those who have taken upon us His name, that we will let Christ’s light shine through our faces, that we will make of our community a wholeness, that we will seek that common ground of peace of which Paul speaks, and that we will learn how to love and serve the Lord by celebrating who we are, his heterosexual and homosexual sons and daughters. Because we are all his creatures, we are all born with his light. I pray that we may let that light shine among us, that it might grow, that we ourselves might be its beacon, and that, as a Church and as individuals, we not only will pray to the Lord for greater light and understanding, but that we will turn our hearts with greater charity. love and acceptance of all of those whom we might consider strangers.

I bear witness that the Lord wishes us to do this. That He waits for our prayers and for our lives which manifest those prayers. That we may love him, that we may let his light shine through us, that he may play through our faces to others, is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Losing a Church, Keeping the Faith

Losing a Church, Keeping the Faith

By ANDREW SULLIVAN, NY Times on the Web, October 19, 2003

New York City. — Last week, something quite banal happened at St. Benedict’s Church in the Bronx. A gay couple were told they could no longer sing in the choir. Their sin was to have gotten a civil marriage license in Canada. One man had sung in the choir for 32 years; the other had joined the church 25 years ago. Both had received certificates from the church commending them for “noteworthy participation.” But their marriage had gained publicity; it was even announced in The New York Times. This “scandal” led to their expulsion. The archbishop’s spokesman explained that the priest had “an obligation” to exclude them.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a very small event. But it is a vivid example of why this last year has made the once difficult lives of gay Catholics close to impossible. The church has gone beyond its doctrinal opposition to emotional or sexual relationships between gay men and lesbians to an outspoken and increasingly shrill campaign against them. Gay relationships were described by the Vatican earlier this year as “evil.” Gay couples who bring up children were described as committing the equivalent of “violence” against their own offspring. Gay men are being deterred from applying to seminaries and may soon be declared unfit for the priesthood, even though they commit to celibacy. The American Catholic church has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would strip gay couples of any civil benefits of any kind in the United States. For the first time in my own life, I find myself unable to go to Mass. During the most heated bouts of rhetoric coming from the Vatican this summer, I felt tears of grief and anger welling up where once I had been able to contain them. Faith beyond resentment began to seem unreachable.

For some, the answer is as easy as it always has been. Leave, they say. The gay world looks at gay Catholics with a mixture of contempt and pity. The Catholic world looks at us as if we want to destroy an institution we simply want to belong to. So why not leave? In some ways, I suppose, I have. What was for almost 40 years a weekly church habit dried up this past year to close to nothing. Every time I walked into a church or close to one, the anger and hurt overwhelmed me. It was as if a dam of intellectual resistance to emotional distress finally burst.

But there was no comfort in this, no relief, no resolution. There is no ultimate meaning for me outside the Gospels, however hard I try to imagine it; no true solace but the Eucharist; no divine love outside of Christ and the church he guides. In that sense, I have not left the church because I cannot leave the church, no more than I can leave my family. Like many other gay Catholics, I love this church; for me, there is and never will be any other. But I realize I cannot participate in it any longer either. It would be an act of dishonesty to enable an institution that is now a major force for the obliteration of gay lives and loves; that covered up for so long the sexual abuse of children but uses the word “evil” for two gay people wanting to commit to each other for life.

I know what I am inside. I do not believe that my orientation is on a par with others’ lapses into lust when they also have an option for sexual and emotional life that is blessed and celebrated by the church. I do not believe I am intrinsically sick or disordered, as the hierarchy teaches, although I am a sinner in many, many ways. I do not believe that the gift of human sexuality is always and everywhere evil outside of procreation. (Many heterosexual Catholics, of course, agree with me, but they can hide and pass in ways that gay Catholics cannot.) I believe that denying gay people any outlet for their deepest emotional needs is wrong. I think it slowly destroys people, hollows them out, alienates them finally from their very selves.

But I must also finally concede that this will not change as a matter of doctrine. That doctrine — never elaborated by Jesus — was constructed when gay people as we understand them today were not known to exist; but its authority will not change just because gay people now have the courage to explain who they are and how they feel. In fact, it seems as if the emergence of gay people into the light of the world has only intensified the church’s resistance. That shift in the last few years from passive silence to active hostility is what makes the Vatican’s current stance so distressing. Terrified of their own knowledge of the wide presence of closeted gay men in the priesthood, concerned that the sexual doctrines required of heterosexuals are under threat, the hierarchy has decided to draw the line at homosexuals. We have become the unwilling instruments of their need to reassert control.

In an appeal to the growing fundamentalism of the developing world, this is a shrewd strategy. In the global context, gays are easily expendable. But it is also a strikingly inhumane one. The current pope is obviously a deep and holy man; but that makes his hostility even more painful. He will send emissaries to terrorists, he will meet with a man who tried to assassinate him. But he has not and will not meet with openly gay Catholics. They are, to him, beneath dialogue. His message is unmistakable. Gay people are the last of the untouchables. We can exist in the church only by silence, by bearing false witness to who we are.

I was once more hopeful. I saw within the church’s doctrines room for a humane view of homosexuality, a genuinely Catholic approach to including all non procreative people — the old, the infertile, the gay — in God’s church. But I can see now that the dialogue is finally shutting down.

Perhaps a new pope will change things. But the odds are that hostility will get even worse. I revere those who can keep up the struggle within the channels of the church. I respect those who have left. But I am somewhere in between now.

There are moments in a spiritual life when the heart simply breaks. Some time in the last year, mine did. I can only pray that in some distant future, some other gay people not yet born will be able to come back to the church, to sing in the choir, and know that the only true scandal in the world is the scandal of God’s love for his creation, all of it, all of us, in a church that may one day, finally, become home to us all.

See Andrew Sullivan’s blog here – www.andrewsullivan.com.


Science and Homosexuality

Science and Homosexuality: A Rejoinder (unedited version)

Ted Packard, Kay Packard, & Ron Schow
(June 2001)

Dean Byrd, the lead author of a recent Tribune op ed piece (Homosexuality: The Innate-Immutability Argument….May 27, 2001) is a licensed psychologist who has been heavily involved in reparative therapy for homosexuals along the Wasatch front for the past decade. His primary employment is within a faith
based institution.

To our knowledge Byrd has not been involved in any genetic research. Yet, unfortunately, he along with his two therapist/social work co-authors offers to the general public a superficial critique of genetic research related to homosexual orientation. In their eagerness to claim that science has not proven a genetic basis for homosexuality, Byrd, Cox and Robinson misinterpret the research they purport to analyze and use selective quotations in a fashion that belies the scientific objectivity they claim. The beliefs espoused by Byrd and his associates seem based more on their a priori views of the matter than on the relevant scientific literature.

In fact, the argument presented by Byrd and his associates is to some extent self-contradictory, since these three authors, and virtually everyone else, admit that “homosexual attraction, like many other strong attractions, includes both biological and environmental influences.” Their commentary on genetic research (is homosexual attraction innate?) distracts the reader from the far more important issue of whether homosexual attraction can be altered (are same sex attractions immutable?) The latter question is a subject on which these authors might be expected to have some germane data, but alas they offer none.

This is the second op Ed piece on homosexuality by Byrd published in the Tribune in less than a year’s time and in both the conclusion is drawn that “…homosexual attractions can be diminished and that changes can be made.” Thoughtful readers will be struck by the vagueness of this assertion. “Diminished” how, and to what degree? Exactly what kinds of “changes?”

Bryd and his associates have been promoting the same message in religious publications and elsewhere and yet one finds it curious that they provide here no scientific evidence of change based on their own therapeutic work. Unfortunately, because this is a field about which the general public is ill informed, they are successfully getting out their message and having an enormous influence. Their theories about change of sexual orientation are accepted as fact by many church leaders, by some professional counselors, and
by some homosexuals and their family members.

Over the past decade Byrd and a number of his associates have worked with hundreds and hundreds of homosexual clients, and yet to date they have produced no comprehensive summary of their work, even as they continue to promise change. In a published article (Nicolosi, Byrd, and Potts[another Utahn], 2000, Psychological Reports, Vol. 86, pp. 1071-1088) only 79 LDS subjects are included in a sample of 869 “successful” reparative clients based on a highly selected nationwide sample. This raises questions on the outcome for hundreds of other LDS clients treated by Byrd and the extensive network of therapists who are following his lead. Even on this most successful group of clients, the overall numbers reveal that 84% report that they continue to experience same-sex attractions. Furthermore, the 16% who reported their homosexual attractions have ceased, must also be considered tentative because no systematic outcome data were reported at, say, one or five years post therapy.

These dubious claims of change do enormous harm to homosexuals. For the argument goes, if homosexuality can be changed, if homosexuals can be made into heterosexuals, then those who refuse to change are deliberately going against religious and therapeutic counsel. The bogus claims for change
therapy are used to label homosexuals as willful sinners, to brand their sexual behavior as perverted, and to deny them equal rights. These claims cause families to reject their homosexual members and religious organizations to excommunicate those who act on their homosexual feelings. And homosexuals end up being judged based on the supposition that change is possible if one wants it badly enough.

The situation would be viewed far differently if everyone understood that most individuals dealing with persistent same-sex attraction really do not have a choice that will allow them to experience generalized heterosexual feelings or arousal. Only a few with bisexual attractions might be placed in that category.

Even though Byrd, Cox and Robinson report no data on their reparative therapy practice in their op Ed piece, the more accurate truth about reparative therapy is gradually coming to light. Interested readers should consult material on change therapy at (LDSFamilyFellowship.org). Furthermore, two recently completed University of Utah doctoral dissertations speak directly to the topic. (See Beckstead, 2001, “The process toward self-acceptance and self-identity of individuals who underwent sexual reorientation therapy,” and Bryzezinski, 2000, “…Identity development of same-sex attracted/gay men raised in the [LDS] church….”)

The Beckstead study is an extensive analysis of fifty LDS clients of reparative therapy over a four year period. Two large subgroups within these clients were examined: those who felt they benefited from the therapy and those who believed they had been harmed. Several important and alarming findings emerge from this work:

1. Participants from both groups acknowledged that, in spite of their reparative therapy, they were not able to modify their tendency to be attracted to their same sex and did not experience any substantial or
generalized heterosexual arousal. Some reported an ability to manage their attractions to a greater degree, but the feelings did NOT disappear. This fundamental finding suggests that persons can temporarily ignore, suppress, or manage their same sex attractions, but deep inside, such feelings and vulnerabilities are still present and do not change or disappear. In short, LDS clients, many of whom are from our local area, are testifying to the “immutability” that Byrd, Cox and Robinson deny. For those individuals who claimed benefit, their sense of peace and contentment did not indicate a change in sexual orientation per se but a change in self-acceptance, self-identity, focus, and behavioral management patterns.

2. Participants in both samples reported they had expected marriage to help them experience heterosexual arousal and cause their same-sex attractions to diminish and ultimately disappear. Despite having strong
homosexual attractions, these persons reported that they were encouraged by therapy outcome claims and by church and societal expectations to marry. One of the harms reported is the effect that false hopes of sexual reorientation had on their spouses and families. The great majority of their marriages were troubled and often failed with tragic results.

3. Simplistic promises of change led many of those in therapy to experience despair and to believe that when they could not change, then they were somehow to blame for the failure. They believed (often along with family and church members) that they had not tried hard enough. These participants seemed to internalize their continual failures, and any lack of progress contributed to their self-loathing, lowered self-esteem, and hopelessness, which resulted in several attempted suicides with EACH group after treatment.

A pernicious aspect of the Byrd, Cox, and Robinson article is the suggestion that high rates of suicide, mental illness, depression, and anxiety disorder among homosexuals, are the result, not of societal treatment, but of living a homosexual life style, thus attributing further blame to already vulnerable individuals. No scientific or therapeutic evidence is offered for this assertion.

Until Byrd and others like him who are so convinced of the viability of their reparative therapy can demonstrate from their own practice the validity of their claims in professionally juried publications, they should cease advocating a form of therapy based on the illusion that fundamental change in sexual orientation is possible for all or most of the gay population. While reparative therapy may help a minority to suppress homosexual feelings and related behaviors, it has had an especially deleterious effect on the many while producing so little real change for the few. In contrast, therapy which is designed to help homosexuals make healthy choices, but not expect change, is increasingly available at university clinics, local mental health agencies, and from various therapists in this area.

It is ironic that the authors raise the issue of morality in regard to therapy for homosexuals when the foundation for their practice is so questionable. The real moral question here is the extent to which we should be rolling the dice with people’s lives in the absence of any substantial evidence that homosexuals
can change their fundamental sexual orientation.

We acknowledge that all of the truth on homosexuality is not yet in, and yet based on the extant research, therapeutic practice, and real life experience of the vast majority of people working in this field, the overwhelming evidence is that reparative therapy has not delivered on its promise of fundamental change and that, in fact, negative treatment outcomes are a regular occurrence.

We believe that open discussion and public dialogue is badly needed on this important and frequently misunderstood topic. We would be pleased to be involved in any such discussions.


Ted Packard is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Utah, a board certified counseling psychologist, and current president of the American Board of Professional Psychology. His current research includes work on issues associated with homosexuality.

Kay Packard is a licensed clinical social worker with a doctorate in marriage and family therapy from Brigham Young University. She has worked with a number of clients, including some couples and families which, at times, have included a homosexual member.

Ron Schow has a degree in Zoology with a minor in Psychology from Utah State University. He is currently Professor of Audiology in the College of Health Professions at Idaho State University where he has a special research focus in therapy outcome measures for clients with hearing loss.



Boy Scouts of America vs. James Dale (opinion editorial)

Boy Scout Policy is Legal, but is it appropriate

Gary M. Watts, M.D.
(August 2000)

As Co-Chair of Family Fellowship, a support group primarily for Mormon parents of gays and lesbians, I have been asked several times about my feelings surrounding the recent Supreme Court decision in the Boy Scouts of America v. James Dale case. As readers are undoubtedly aware, the Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that had found the Boy Scout policy of excluding gays from leadership positions in violation of New Jersey’s state public accommodations statute. The very fact that the New Jersey Supreme Court and four of the nine justices of the Supreme Court dissented from the majority opinion indicates the complexity of the legal issues involved.

On July 16th, A. Dean Byrd published an op-ed essay in the Salt Lake Tribune trumpeting his view that the Supreme Court’s decision was correct in affirming the Boy Scouts’ right of free expression and free association under the Constitution’s First Amendment. His essay has prompted me to respond and express my views publicly since they differ rather dramatically from his. I was not surprised by the decision. If I were a Supreme Court justice, I may well have joined the majority opinion since I believe forced membership is generally inappropriate. My concern with Byrd’s essay is not with the rightness or the wrongness of the legal decision but with his attitude that the Boy Scout policy of excluding gays and lesbians is not only legal but also justifiable and appropriate.

The great tragedy of the Boy Scout decision to me is that some will take it as justification for their ongoing prejudice and exclusion of gays. People may not understand that the court decision does not mean the court approves the policy, only that the Boy Scouts have a right to their policy. It will tend to perpetuate the myth that homosexuality is chosen, changeable and contagious. As long as people cling to that view, we will continue to see these efforts to discriminate and literally try to scare young people into hiding and being ashamed of their sexual orientation.

Our young people deserve better from us. When they are 14 or 15 they need to know that every school, every church, every community has young people growing up there who have same-sex attractions that are just there, that have nothing to do with sin. Gay people are very much like straight people. They are just as capable of moral behavior. The Boy Scout policy basically says that any openly gay person is a threat to young boys and can’t be trusted. That, my friends, is wrong and terribly misguided. There are some gay men that would not be good scout leaders, just as there are some straight men. To suggest that all gay men be automatically disqualified from leadership positions is an affront to them and to those of us who know them best; parents and family members of gays. We know our children – they are not a threat to anyone simply because of their sexual orientation.

Can you imagine what it is like in this state to be growing up here gay or lesbian . . . knowing that if you are a scout, and thousands are, that you are not wanted, that you would not be trusted to ever be a leader. Science tells us that these young people are just figuring out at that age or before that they are attracted not to the opposite sex, but to their own. Is it any wonder that these teenagers feel a need to hide their same-sex attraction, and that some of them develop feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem, experiment with drugs and alcohol and preoccupy themselves with suicidal ideation?

Byrd concludes his essay with the glib assertion that homosexuality is neither innate nor immutable. He believes that homosexuality is primarily a psycho-social phenomenon and supports efforts by psychologists and social workers to “repair” or “fix” these individuals with the ultimate goal of transforming them into healthy, heterosexually marriageable individuals. He has been the single, most influential person promoting change therapy in this region, which unfortunately has become the quasi-official position of LDS Social Services through its relationship with Evergreen International.

I say unfortunate for a variety of reasons. The great majority of attempts to change or significantly alter sexual orientation are destined to fail. The process itself is harmful to the individual and too often involves others who become involved in a relationship that is based on a false hope. Case in point: One of my neighbors in Provo, a man widely respected, found to his chagrin a few years ago that an LDS counselor who shared Byrd’s view in our community had persuaded a beautiful young woman that she could change her sexual orientation if she had enough faith. She unwisely married his son and within a few weeks the marriage had to be annulled.

Because my wife and I are Co-Chairs of Family Fellowship we know of these situations and scores more like them. We have documentation that some young men who have sought help from LDS Social Services have subsequently been referred to unethical counselors affiliated with Evergreen International and been subjected to experimental electric shock and ammonia therapy as recently as 1998. These individuals have been sworn to secrecy, been treated under assumed names by unidentified counselors, and in at least one case, threatened with excommunication if he were to leave the therapy after one week of treatment. Anyone who wants to can go to our Family Fellowship web page (www.ldsfamilyfellowship.org) and find there the evidence of this malpractice and the utter absence of support for the glib, easy promises of change offered by such therapists.

It is clear to me and most other professionals that whatever the causes, homosexuality is experienced honestly and involuntarily by gay people. Homosexuality is not chosen; it is discovered. Despite Byrd’s assertion that homosexuality is amenable to change, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that significant change is very rare. Readers should be aware that every professional organization dealing with homosexuals discourages change therapy and most believe it to be unethical and unprofessional. The only organizations that support change therapy are religion based. Readers should also be aware that there are no accredited graduate programs in the United States or elsewhere where professionals can go to be trained in how to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. If you go to our web site you can read the official statements of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association. These professional organizations all look at homosexuality not as deviant, not as sinful, but as a variant of normal.

It has been this way for centuries as any careful study of the matter will show. Such same-sex attractions are present throughout the animal kingdom as well and there is nothing mysterious about it. And people do not change. Mark it down, they DO NOT. If they are married and bisexual, as some of those are who these therapists are treating then, yes, they may be able to suppress their same-sex feelings and act on their attractions to the opposite sex, but this does not mean such feelings go away.

We parents have had enough of these empty promises and enough tormenting of our young people who need support not harassment. Utah is our community also. We grew up here and our children are growing up here and we need to join the modern world and throw off these unsupported therapies and therapists who are 20 years behind the times.

In recent weeks, we have seen evidence from within the Boy Scouts itself that some Scout leaders, parents and scouts themselves reject the exclusionary practices that led to the Supreme Court case. Some are beginning to recognize that blanket exclusion, irrespective of conduct or other qualifications, means that the Boy Scouts of America should more properly be called the Boy Scouts of “Some” Americans.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Associated Press quoted a California Scout leader as follows: “The Boy Scouts, in a weird sort of way, have been outed. They are out of the closet. They are a bigoted organization. I know a lot of my friends are not going to keep their kids in scouting.” I’m hopeful that many fair-minded friends of scouting will raise their voices and begin now to work within the organization to see that any exclusionary policy is based on conduct, not on sexual orientation.

Gary M. Watts, M.D.
August 4, 2000
Dr. Watts is a Diagnostic Radiologist at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah.


“Snake Oil” vs. Responsible Information

Presented at Sunstone in August of 1999

By Gary M. Watts, M.D.

One of my close friends asked me just last week where I had come up with the title for this presentation. It really goes back to an interview that our gay son had with Channel 4 two or three years ago. In explaining the evolution of his coming to grips with his homosexuality, he told the interviewer that he delayed his decision to serve a mission for the LDS Church for 10 months because he was in such inner turmoil about how to deal with his same-sex attractions. He decided to serve an LDS mission after much contemplation in what he hoped would be a final effort to rid himself of the “demon” with which he had struggled for the preceding four or five years. He served an honorable mission, but returned with his same sex-attractions undiminished. He then determined that it would be his secret, that it was something he could never divulge to anyone, but circumstances got in the way. There were at least two young women that were romantically interested in him and from the outside it appeared that he would marry one of them and live happily ever after. I particularly liked one of the young ladies and, being completely unaware of his homosexuality, began encouraging him to marry her. He knew that he could not marry either one because of his same-sex attraction and he could not think of a good reason to tell them why other than to tell them the truth. As he revealed his feelings to one of them, he made her promise not to tell a single soul because he feared that if the information got out, it would destroy him. They cried together and then she asked him if he had read anything about homosexuality. “Do you have any information about it?” she asked. When he replied that he did not, she said to him, “Craig, that doesn’t seem like you. You need to get some responsible information.” And he said to himself, “Why haven’t I done that? Why haven’t I read one single thing about homosexuality?” Shortly afterward, he decided to go to the Orem library. He described the trip in the following way: “The library was a wreck. There were very few books on homosexuality and I don’t respect the books that were there anymore now that I have more information.”

Later that month he told us of his dilemma and the next few years were a gradual process of coming out, gleaning responsible information and becoming more comfortable with his homosexuality.

I very much want to emphasize the importance of responsible information, because there is a plethora of irresponsible information in our communities. Information that, for the purposes of this talk, I will refer to as “snake oil”. The early west was plagued by itinerant salesmen who would travel from town to town and make outlandish claims for a product they were selling. Before their claims could be refuted or proven false, they would move on to the next town, always one step ahead of their dissatisfied customers who experienced none of the promised miracles. Many of these charlatans employed shills who would offer testimonials to verify the claims. “Snake oil” was one of those popular all-purpose remedies that these salesmen hawked. Such peddlers have been lumped together as “snake oil” salesmen. Their preposterous claims lacked scientific credibility and eventually resulted in such a clamor that our current Food and Drug Administration was organized to police and license these individuals so they could no longer defraud the citizenry.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have wished we had a similar organization to police information dispensed about homosexuality. In the absence of such an organization, I’m going to identify some of the information that I don’t respect and tell you why I consider it to be like that ineffectual, old fashioned “snake oil.”

This talk is my third public address on homosexuality. My first talk, entitled “Mugged by Reality,” was presented at this conference two years ago and was just published in Sunstone. The second talk, entitled “The Logical Next Step: Sanctioning and Affirming Same-sex Relationships,” was given at the Sunstone Symposium last fall and has been accepted for publication in the fall issue of Dialogue. This talk, which I have entitled “Snake Oil vs. Responsible Information,” is intended to build on and reinforce the premises articulated in the previous talks.

Those premises, which I spelled out in “Mugged by Reality,” represent my own conclusions about homosexuality after almost ten years of intensive study. I think those premises are worth reiterating today, because they have not changed and are unlikely to do so. I find that knowledge of these basic premises is necessary when studying and trying to come to an understanding of same-sex attraction.

The five basic truths are as follows:

  1. Homosexuality occurs in a small, finite percentage of human beings and other mammalian species. It has always been present and will continue to be so.
  2. The causes of homosexuality are complex and are not completely understood.
  3. Homosexuality is rarely chosen.
  4. Homosexuality is not amenable to significant change. By this, I mean the same-sex attraction or the “core” longings.
  5. Homosexuality is morally neutral.

Is homosexuality a normal biologic variant? Its consistent presence in almost every mammalian species that has been studied lends strong support for a biologic connection. The general agreement among researchers that sexual orientation is set very early in life, most will say no later than four years of age, also suggests a biologic component. The most compelling argument that homosexuality simply occurs and is not chosen, however, is the testimony of those with same-sex attraction. While many people do not consider homosexuals to be valid witnesses for their own feelings, I do. I have yet to meet a gay man who says that he chose to be gay.

Why do people have such a difficult time believing that humans with same-sex attraction, just like swans, panda bears, and other mammals, do not choose the attraction, but that it simply occurs? Because they begin with the premise that homosexuality is immoral in humans and try to construct their own reality on that premise. Is homosexuality immoral for swans and panda bears? Interesting, yes; immoral? I’ll let you make the call. The debate about whether or not homosexuals choose to be homosexual finds its genesis in such nonsense.

I might add, however, that gays and lesbians do have to make a choice: whether being homosexual is something to deny or acknowledge. Increasing numbers are choosing to acknowledge their homosexuality. While this makes some people uncomfortable, I think it is a healthy choice. The willingness of more and more homosexuals and their families to openly acknowledge their homosexuality is the prime source of so much public dialogue we are experiencing at the present time. This premise is vehemently opposed by many religions, and is the subject of considerable debate as evidenced by the recent advertising barrage in the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today. This advertising is sponsored by the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, encouraging homosexuals to seek “cures” for their homosexuality through Christian faith. More about that later.

We see the same line of reasoning applied to whether or not people can change their sexual orientation. People begin with the premise that it is sinful to engage in sex with someone of the same sex and try to construct their own reality on that basis. It is assumed that homosexuals are not capable of having a moral relationship with someone to whom they are naturally attracted, and therefore, they should change, and must be able to change. The concept that the morality of the relationship should be determined by the way the relationship is conducted, rather than by who is involved in the relationship is simply ignored.

The belief that homosexual behavior in humans is immoral is deeply engrained in our citizenry. At the same time, people recognize homosexuals exist and are entitled to live their lives free of discrimination and harassment. This creates a moral dilemma for many and has sparked considerable debate.
In an article in the NY Times entitled “The Homosexual Exception,” February 8, 1998, Alan Wolfe, author of the recently published book, “One Nation, After All,” make the following observations:

If we listen to pundits and politicians, we get the impression that Americans are fighting a culture war. Some people are presumed to be moral traditionalists: they have an abiding faith in God, country and family and long for the days when morality was absolute and virtue predominant. Others, by contrast, are said to be modern, even post modern, in their moral outlook: they accept a more secular America, welcome the fact that families are no longer patriarchal and think that our society has improved because one group can no longer impose its conception of the good life on any other.

Wolfe found them instead divided within themselves; most people want to be traditional and modern at the same time. They honor God, family and country, yet they also want to be fair-minded and to accommodate themselves to the realities of contemporary America. Yet Wolfe also found that there is one exception to America’s persistent and ubiquitous nonjudgmentalism. However much they are willing to accept anything, most of the middle class Americans were not prepared to accept homosexuality.

“The furthest most people were willing to go in the direction of toleration was to say that while they did not like homosexuality, gay people deserved respect because all people deserve respect. Some simply refused to discuss the subject… Still others, ever reluctant to use a word that implies a judgment about someone else’s behavior, had no trouble finding these words, all of which cropped up in Wolfe’s interviews when the subject of homosexuality was raised: ‘abnormal,’ ‘immoral,’ ‘sinful,’ ‘unacceptable,’ ‘sick,’ ‘unhealthy,’ ‘untrustworthy,’ ‘mentally ill,’ ‘wrong,’ ‘perverted,’ and ‘mentally deficient.’ In all likelihood, Americans are less homophobic than they were before the gay rights revolution, but middle-class Americans have not come to the conclusion that homosexuality represents an alternative that is the moral equal of any other.”

It would be folly for me to attempt to address all of the myth and misinformation that you will hear about homosexuality. Instead, I will tackle five major issues and relate them back to our original premises. The five issues I will discuss are recruitment, the wisdom of sanctioning same-sex relationships, the need for inclusion of sexual orientation in our anti-discrimination statutes, the inappropriate linkage of homosexuality to virulent crimes in an attempt to condemn all homosexual people, and conversion or reparative therapy.

The first issue I would like to talk about is recruitment. Many parents believe that gays and lesbians actively recruit their children to the gay community, hence their aversion to having gays and lesbians in positions of responsibility or as role models. I have a very good friend in Orem whose daughter is a lesbian. Nothing I say will ever convince her that her daughter was not recruited to the gay community by her present partner, whom my friend considers to be immoral. She sees her daughter as a victim. As a good person who has been beguiled by the serpent – which in her case is represented by the entire gay community.

My friend refuses to recognize the incongruity between her conclusions about her daughter’s homosexuality and the basic premises we have articulated. Because she remains convinced that homosexuality is immoral, that it is abhorrent, and that it should be actively shunned and opposed she is unable to accept any information, which suggests the opposite. It should come as no surprise that, despite her daughter’s involvement, you will not find her in the forefront of gay rights activism. To believe that gays “recruit,” one has to reject all of the first four premises, and assume that same-sex attraction does not occur naturally, but is a result of seduction or abuse, an assertion that is simply not supported by scientific research.

Let me recount with you the Bresnahan story. Representative David Bresnahan stated publicly on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives in 1995 that his young brother, who has since died of AIDS, became homosexual because he was sexually abused by his scoutmaster and assistant scoutmaster in his early teens. He further asserted that 21 other boys in the scout troop were similarly abused and that “through checking with one another” it had become apparent that most were homosexual. It was his contention that this story confirms the fact that homosexuals “recruit” and force these young people into a “homosexual lifestyle.” He used this story as a basis for his opposition to the gay-straight alliance at East High School.

Having considerable faith in the five premises already cited, I offered to pay $10,000 to any charity of Representative Bresnahan’s choosing if he could document his claim. As you may have guessed, such documentation was never forthcoming. In fact, the story was debunked by a former troop mate and by the retired pastor of the Evangelical Congregational Church who ministered to the Bresnahan family for 20 years during the time of the alleged abuse and recruitment. The story was pure and simple “snake oil”. Unfortunately, a great many people believed it.

Every human being I know does some “recruiting,” so to speak. We groom and dress ourselves in order to appeal to others. When we interact with someone we are attracted to physically, we treat him or her with special kindness and consideration. But if a more intimate relationship is to develop there must be a mutual interest. The attraction, the interest, and the feelings precede the relationship. Do gay people have an ability to create same-sex attraction in someone who is straight? Do gay teachers create same-sex attraction in their students? No. The idea that gay individuals can somehow induce same-sex attraction in others is more of that bitter tasting “snake oil.” Go back to the basics. Homosexuality occurs in nature. The orientation, the same-sex interest, is established early in life, is rarely chosen, and is not amenable to significant change.

The second major category of “snake oil” that I want to discuss involves the rhetoric being expounded by so many who are opposed to the sanctioning and affirming of same-sex relationships. Is there anyone here who has not heard a statement along the lines of the following?

I am not homophobic. I have many gay friends. I oppose discrimination. But, if we begin to sanction same-sex relationships it will ultimately lead to the destruction of the “traditional” family and traditional marriage. Therefore, gay people should not have their committed relationships affirmed by the state.

This uneducated argument is near the top of my irresponsible information, or “snake oil” list. There is no evidence other than conjecture to support this rhetoric. In fact, there is credible scientific evidence that rather than destroying the “traditional” family and “traditional” marriage, the sanctioning of same-sex relationships does not significantly alter either, yet generally alleviates the tension that exists between gays and straights in societies.

Case in point: Denmark, after considerable debate and with fierce opposition from religious groups, which prophesied the same dire consequences we hear about today in America, legalized registered partnerships for same-sex couples in 1989. So what has been their experience? According to a published report in the Wall Street Journal, (June 8, 1994) “even opponents say ’89 law resulted in no social ills” The article goes on to say that “some who were skeptics now acknowledge their concerns may have been overblown.” “We were anxious about it,” says Bishop Vincent Lind of Denmark’s Lutheran Church, which doesn’t yet allow official church weddings of homosexual couples. “The consequence of the law has, in fact, been good.” Now that they have equal rights to marry, he believes, gay men and lesbians have become less militant. There was a tendency of demonstrating everywhere and every time. But to the contrary since then, there is no sensation. They are quite normal. “We’re past the debate that it’s a threat to the community,” says the Rev. Margrete Auken, a Lutheran minister and former member of Parliament who voted for the same-sex marriage law. “That’s an American debate, not a Danish debate. We don’t think in Denmark that you can make anyone homosexual who is not homosexual.”

Many Americans believe that conventional morality is eroding. Homosexuality has become the symbol and scapegoat of this supposed erosion. I say supposed because I honestly believe that we are a more just, more moral society today than we were in the fifties. Civil rights have been expanded and ignorant prejudices diminished. Nevertheless, opposition to the sanctioning of same-sex relationships has become the rallying cry for the Christian right. It seems not to have occurred to many that the lack of validation of these relationships is contributing to the very erosion of conventional morality that they are committed to saving.

As Andrew Sullivan queries in a recent article in “The New Republic,”

What, I wonder, would happen among straights if marriage didn’t exist, if, indeed, domestic partnership didn’t exist, if their relationships were accorded no public recognition and acknowledgement, their children no legal rights to their parents, their commitment to each other no moral or social support? I have no doubt would happen . . .. Social chaos. But the incentives believed essential for one segment of the society (the straight segment, the heterosexual majority) are to be ruled out of bounds for another. There is only one explanation for this . . . . . gay men and women are considered so beneath and beyond the concern of real society that it is incumbent upon them to merely echo the stigmas that perpetuate their exclusion.

You tell me. Which information is responsible and which is “snake oil?” If you were in a regulatory position would you find speculation about the possible deleterious effects of same-sex unions persuasive or would you rely on the empirical evidence produced in a country that has sanctioned same-sex unions for almost 10 years? After 5 years of registering gay partnerships in Denmark, the dissolution rate of gay couples was less than that of heterosexual marriages performed during the same time. In reality, sanctioning same-sex relationships in the gay community promotes the very morality opponents suggest it will destroy.

Thoughtful people in the United States are exploring the possibility of sanctioning and affirming same-sex relationships. Earlier this month, a gubernatorial commission on the Rights and Responsibilities of Same-sex Relationships in Colorado has recommended that the state change its current laws to create a “legal framework” to recognize the establishment and registration of committed relationships. These relationships are defined by the commission as a relationship between two people of the same sex who affirm that they are not related by kinship, are of the legal age of consent and are not otherwise married or registered in another committed relationship. The commission strongly recommends that the state protect these relationships in the same manner it recognizes and protects married relationships. Using this definition, the state should extend certain rights and responsibilities to committed gay partners, the commission said. Such laws are intended to cover several issues including probate and inheritance, medical and health-related issues, contractual relationships, health insurance benefits, dissolution of relationships, privileged communications, workers compensation benefits, wrongful death benefits and other insurance issues. The commission seemed especially interested with the legalities involved with the children of gay and lesbian parents. “It is clearly in the best interest of society to provide children – including these children – with the most stable and nurturing environment possible,” the report said. The commission is concerned that children being raised in committed same-sex relationships are being deprived by laws that essentially allow these children to have only one legal parent.

The third issue I have chosen to address is the rhetoric we hear from those opposed to the inclusion of sexual orientation in our anti-discrimination statutes. The current controversy in the Salt Lake City Council has been interesting. Led by councilman Bryce Jolley, four of the seven council members have taken the position that gays and lesbians should not be included as a protected class in their anti-discrimination statute. Laws should outlaw discrimination against everyone, the city council says, and that to specify gays and lesbians somehow grants them a “special right.”

Had the Council familiarized themselves with the brief filed with the Supreme Court by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the National Association of Social Workers in October, 1994, in the Colorado Amendment II hearing, they would have learned the following: (I’m quoting directly from that brief)

Gay people historically have been subject to intense prejudice and discrimination, both public and private . . . Indeed; “lesbians and gay males have been the object of some of the deepest prejudice and hatred in American society . . . . .. Intense prejudice against lesbians and gay men remains prevalent in contemporary American society. Public opinion studies of attitudes towards lesbians and gay men indicate that, among large segments of the public, gay people are the subject of strong antipathy. Verbal abuse is common. Discrimination against gay people in such critical areas as employment and housing remains lawful in most jurisdictions, and appears to be widespread. High rates of specifically anti-gay violence or “hate crimes” have been consistently documented.

With such strong documentation of this group as the target of intense prejudice and discrimination, it escapes me why anyone would object to specifically including them in an anti-discrimination statute. One can only conclude that some of the council members are either ignorant of the facts or subscribe to the same prejudice and discrimination so prevalent.

Contrast their position to that of Canada’s Supreme Court, which ruled in April of this year that the Canadian Province of Alberta’s human rights code must offer specific protection to homosexuals. The case arose because a 32-year-old lab instructor had been fired by a “Christian” college in Edmonton in 1991 because he was gay. That case closely parallels the Wendy Weaver case here in Utah.

In requiring the province to include specific protection for homosexuals, the Supreme Court had this to say. “Excluding homosexuals from the code sends a message to all Albertans that it is permissible, and perhaps acceptable, to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation.” The high court further stated that “sexual orientation is a deeply ingrained personal characteristic that can’t be changed and is a ground for discrimination just like religion, race and gender.” I agree with Canada’s Supreme Court. Excluding gays and lesbians from the Salt Lake City code sends the wrong message to the citizens of Salt Lake City.

Much of the legal maneuvering currently extant revolves around the question, is homosexuality a status or a behavior? Was the Canadian Supreme Court correct in identifying sexual orientation as a deeply ingrained personal characteristic that can’t be changed? The majority of Americans still feel that homosexuality is chosen and is changeable, as seen in the University of Virginia’s Post-Modernity Project, 1996, which cites 47% who say it is chosen and 38% who say it is not. However, most of the legal decisions being made suggest that jurists and judges are persuaded that homosexuality is, indeed, a status, a deeply ingrained personal characteristic that can’t be changed, and not simply a behavior.

One is prompted to ask why judges tend to consider homosexuality a “status” whereas the general population considers homosexuality to be chosen, and therefore, a “behavior?”
Are judges inherently more liberal and less homophobic than the general population? I doubt it. I suggest that being in a position that requires them to hear both sides of the debate, they are in a better position to identify “responsible” information and discard the “snake oil.”

Right wing moralists now refer to those judges who have shown support for homosexuality as a “status” as “judicial allies of the gay agenda.” The legal questions of our gay community are generally Constitutional in nature, and when judges conclude that it is illegal and unconstitutional to deny equal rights to our gay and lesbian children, the response by the right wing has been to attempt to remove them from their judgeships or to change the constitution. It seems that the idea of giving basic constitutional rights to those who are viewed as immoral threatens the moral code of the Christian right. Their reluctance to reconsider the moral question seems to blind them to the truth of the first four premises already stated.

The “snake oil” of linking homosexuality to virulent crimes is particularly distasteful to me and is the fourth issue I wish to discuss. In a recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Why It Matters,” William J. Bennett employs this technique. Mr. Bennett is our former Secretary of Education and author of “The Book of Virtues” and is currently a leading spokesman for those who support a public policy that discourages the sanctioning of same-sex relationships.

In the article to which I refer, Mr. Bennett has this to say:

Those who constantly invoke the sentiment of “Who are we to judge?” should consider the anarchy that would ensue if we adhered to this sentiment in, say, our courtrooms. What would happen if those sitting on a jury decided to be “nonjudgmental” about rapists and sexual harassers, embezzlers and tax cheats? Justice would be lost. Without being “judgmental,” Americans would never have put an end to slavery, outlawed child labor, emancipated women or ushered in the civil rights movement.

In this passage, Mr. Bennett utilizes rather egregious acts, repellent to everyone, which involve innocent victims: rape, sexual harassment, embezzlement, forced child labor, slavery and tax cheating, to marshal support for his own belief that any consensual sex outside the bonds of marriage, even for our gay and lesbian children who are currently not allowed to marry, is morally wrong and must be so judged by everyone. In other words, while the Savior told us to “judge not,” there are certainly exceptions. Perhaps we should refer to them as the “Bennett exceptions.” Since it is unclear who is being victimized in these consensual relationships, Mr. Bennett clarifies by linking these relationships to the flagrant crimes with which he artfully equates them. And in the process, this “man of virtues” can help you feel better about violating Christ’s commandment.

In the process of encouraging people to not only judge, but actively support legislation that would outlaw same-sex marriage, he links this type of judging to the abolition of slavery and child labor, the emancipation of women and the ushering in of the civil rights movement. Am I missing something here? It seems to me that all of these changes came about because we quit being judgmental. We quit judging blacks as inferior, we quit judging women as incapable of making their own choices, we quit judging ethnic groups, and the disabled as inferior and we began to see that all these groups deserve dignity and respect like all other citizens.

The fifth and mercifully, the last issue I would like to discuss today has to do with the propriety of conversion therapy. I mentioned earlier that some conservative organizations have recently placed a series of ads in several of our prominent newspapers encouraging homosexuals to seek a cure from their homosexuality through intensive counseling, will power and the help of God. The ads showcase a former lesbian who attributes her homosexuality to sexual abuse when she was four years of age, recounts her dissatisfaction with the “gay lifestyle” and tells of her ultimate conversion to heterosexuality and God’s forgiveness. The ads conclude by saying “thousands of ex-gays like these have walked away from their homosexual identities. For information on an ex-gay ministry in your area, please call…” Should we classify this ad as “heterosexual recruiting?”

I would simply ask three pertinent questions. (1) Which organizations are for and against change therapy? (2) Are there any clients who are unhappy with their heterosexual orientation who are presenting themselves as candidates to be changed to a homosexual orientation? and (3) Would you want your heterosexual son or daughter to marry someone who has identified themselves as having same-sex attraction and then claims to have changed their sexual orientation?

First, none of the professional organizations dealing with homosexuality recommend conversion therapy. Not only do they not recommend it, they actually discourage it. There are no accredited programs on reparative or conversion therapy being taught in any of our graduate schools in America.

The National Association of Social Workers has this to say:

Social stigmatization of lesbian, gay and bisexual people is widespread and is a primary motivating factor in leading some people to seek sexual orientation changes. Sexual orientation conversion therapies assume that homosexual orientation is both pathological and freely chosen. No data demonstrate that reparative or conversion therapies are effective, and in fact they may be harmful. NASW believes social workers have the responsibility to clients to explain the prevailing knowledge concerning sexual orientation and the lack of data reporting positive outcomes with reparative therapy. NASW discourages social workers from providing treatments designed to change sexual orientation or from referring practitioners or programs that claim to do so.

The American Psychological Association responded to the ads with the following statement from Raymond Fowler, Executive Director:

For nearly three decades, it has been known that homosexuality is not a mental illness. Medical and mental health professionals also now know that sexual orientation is not a choice and cannot be altered. Groups who try to change the sexual orientation of people through so-called “conversion therapy” are misguided and run the risk of causing a great deal of psychological harm to those they say they are trying to help.

It is inconceivable to me that all of the professional organizations would uniformly oppose reparative or conversion therapy if there were data to support its efficacy. One can only conclude that the “thousands of ex-gays” the reparative therapy supporters claim to have walked away from their homosexual identities have not been followed in a longitudinal study that has scientific credibility. When you re-examine the claim in conjunction with our five basic premises enumerated at the beginning of this presentation, it should come as no surprise to anyone.

Second, it almost goes without saying that therapists are not being inundated with clients seeking conversion to homosexuality. Why? Because homosexuality is not valued socially. If such a client did exist, would therapists seriously undertake an attempt to help him or her make such a conversion? Reorientation techniques would not exist if homosexuality were considered a normal, biological variation.

Third, the question about having your heterosexual son or daughter marry someone who has identified as gay, but claims to have changed is relevant. Those who are proponents of change therapy should be willing to answer that question with an empathic YES or they should get out of the business.

In closing, I would like to paraphrase the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963, for I, too, have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day Wendy Weaver, and Camille Lee, and Doug Wortham, and Clayton Vetter and many other gay teachers will be able to stand tall as persons of integrity and be judged as teachers on the merits of what takes place in their classroom, not on the basis of whom they choose to love. I have a dream that one day, all members of the Salt Lake City Council will see the need to say to its citizens: “prejudice and discrimination have no place in this city. Our gay brothers and sisters are valuable and welcome. They do not need to leave this city and go elsewhere to find acceptance. We will not tolerate gay bashing here.” I have a dream that one day our gay and lesbian children and brothers and sisters will be able to say, “I’m gay and it’s okay,” and not have to worry about suffering the injustice and indignities that too often accompany such an announcement today. I have a dream that one day our school boards and state legislatures will include responsible information in our school system about homosexuality and to distance themselves from the myth and misinformation that is too often allowed to go unchallenged and too often repeated. I have a dream that one day our gay children will be able to go to work for a company or a government agency that provides the same benefits for them as for their straight employees. I have a dream that one day their relationships will be sanctioned and affirmed not only by government agencies but also in the churches they choose to attend. This is my dream. I invite you to join with us in making it a dream come true.

May 2, 1998