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:
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.
Salt Lake City, Utah
To whom it may concern from Kathryn and Robert Steffensen:
We are both fifth generation Latter-Day Saints and descendants of Mormon pioneers. We met at the University of Utah and have been married forty eight years. We are parents of three sons and twin daughters. All have graduated from college. Our two oldest sons and one daughter have law degrees. Our other daughter is a pharmacist. Our youngest son, Erik, graduated first in his class from Otis-Parsons School of Art and Design. He is gay.
Our four straight children served LDS missions in Brazil, Germany, Japan and Holland. Both of our daughters have passed away. Our two oldest sons married in the Salt Lake Temple (as did we) and have enriched our lives with eight grandchildren. These sons and their families live in Salt Lake and one lives in our Ward, the Monument Park 14th ward in the Monument Park Stake. We enjoy attending church with them. Erik lives and works as an artist in Los Angeles.
We are both retired educators. Kathryn was born in Logan, Utah in 1931. Her father, Dr. Franklin L. West, was a physics professor and dean of the faculty for twenty-eight years at the Agricultural College (Now Utah State University). In l934 he was called by President Heber J. Grant to be the Church Commissioner of Education, a position he held until he retired eighteen years later. He is the author of five books. Three are texts for use in the seminaries of the Church: Discovering the Old Testament, Jesus, His Life and Teachings, and The Apostles and the Early Church. His Sunday evening radio addresses were compiled into the book, The Fruits of Religion. He also wrote a biography of his grandfather, Franklin Dewey Richards.
Kathryn’s father grew up in Ogden, Utah next door to his grandparents, President of the Q Quorum of the Twelve Franklin D. Richards and Jane Snyder Richards. Kathryn remembers the vivid stories her father would tell of his relatives’ involvement in the affairs of the Church and of their intimate acquaintance with the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was particularly impressed by his gallant ninety-eight pound grandmother who drove her own wagon team during the exodus from Nauvoo because her husband was on a mission. She is the quintessential pioneer woman and her tragic journey to Winter Quarters has been the basis of Sesquicentennial plays in Iowa and in the documentary, “Trail of Hope” where her words, “I only lived because I could not die” represented the courageous spirit of the pioneers. Her words are still inspiring to her descendants whenever they begin to lose heart.
Kathryn’s mother, Violet Madson West, was nurtured by the entire Danish immigrant community in Brigham City, Utah. Everyone was Cousin This and Uncle That. She was known as the most beautiful girl in Box Elder County, and she caught the eye of Franklin West at the annual Peach Day Celebration. She was as beautiful inside as out, and was a wonderful mother to Kathryn and her three siblings.
Kathryn graduated from the U. of U. with a B.S. in Home Economics. After her children were in school she went back to the U. of U., earned a M. Ed. and taught second grade for twenty years.
Robert was born in SLC in 1926. He attended South High School, the U. of U., BYU, and the U. of U. receiving a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. respectively. He taught Seminary at Olympus High School, was a counselor in Granite School District, and an information system designer at the Utah State Office of Education. He was an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at the U. of U. He served an LDS mission to Norway, loves the gospel, and currently is an instructor in the High Priest’s group in the Monument Park 14th ward.
We are telling you about our early lives and the influences which shaped us to illustrate that nothing prepared us for the possibility that one of our children might be gay. We lived our entire lives in a very insular community with little exposure to diversity. We accepted our culture’s messages that homosexuals were confused heterosexuals and had chosen to live an abnormal lifestyle. We didn’t think that they should be persecuted and harmed but we thought that they should be encouraged to change and should not be around children. Actually we didn’t think about homosexuality very much.
We recognized that Erik was different from his brothers when he was a small child. We felt some concern, but since we were fairly confident in our parenting skills, we didn’t think that we fit the stereotypical absent father and overbearing mother who might cause a child to become homosexual–a Freudian notion. We communicated through subtle messages that we did not approve of homosexuality. We were convinced that Erik was such a fine person that he would never make such a choice. All of this did not prevent Erik from being gay, but it did prevent us from being any support or help to him during a very important part of his life.
His teenage years were very difficult. He thought he was the only gay person in his high school. He had no positive role models. He had serious moments of despair. He later told us that if he had believed the things that our culture was telling him, he would have killed himself. But he did not believe that he was evil. He believed he was a person of worth. This innate belief in himself sustained him through those years of isolation. In the meantime we continued to socialize all of our children as heterosexual and idealized temple marriage. As a result, the subject of homosexuality was never openly discussed. Erik suffered through this on his own.
As parents, we carry a burden of guilt because we were not prepared to help and support him through this difficult period of his life. We unquestioningly accepted our society and church’s public disapproval of homosexuality. Erik did not feel we could be trusted with his terrible secret. He feared that we would throw him out of our home as he knew other parents had done. Or we might enroll him in the reparative therapy programs of electric shock and aversion therapy which were conducted at BYU. Consequently he struggled alone. He did not talk with his siblings, friends, teachers or anyone. He did not see how he could ever hope for a life of dignity and purpose. However, his high school years were filled with personal accomplishment. He had a group of outstanding friends who were admired for their academic achievements and their extracurricular activities. He did not experience any overt gay bashing. He was a Sterling Scholar in art and attended the U. of U. on an academic scholarship. He graduated from Otis-Parsons School of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
When he was twenty-two he told us that his only hope for a productive life was to accept the reality of who he is and to stop trying to become something he isn’t. With tears streaming down his cheeks he said, “I don’t think I am an evil person.” These words broke our hearts because he was and is one of the finest persons we have ever known. We had suspected his homosexuality for a long time, but thought if we ignored it, somehow it would go away.
We didn’t know where to turn for help. We grieved because of the loss of our expectations. We were (and still are) fearful of the reactions of our friends, family, and members of the church. We are alarmed by the level of hateful speech directed toward gays. We are horrified by acts of violence. We fear for Erik’s safety. For several years we kept this matter to ourselves. We were voiceless.
While we were living in silence and isolation, Erik was embracing life and opportunities. We were stagnating and he was flourishing. He decided we needed to meet some other parents. We didn’t think that there were any other parents of gay children in Utah and certainly not in the Church. We were laughably naive. He called the national headquarters of P-Flag and discovered there was a small group of people who met in the home of Gerry Johnston each month. They were known as “People Who Care.” He insisted that we attend. It was the first time we had openly stated that we had a gay son. Gerry introduced us to the editors of a newly published book, Peculiar People. We began meeting each month with Marybeth Raynes and Ron and Wayne Schow. This led to the first Conference on Sexuality co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Social Work at the U. of U. We were on the committee for that conference in l993 and thus began our journey out of ignorance and into gradual understanding and enlightenment. It was not easy to shed all the myths and misinformation with which we were so comfortable. We read voraciously, and we discussed the subject endlessly. We became friends with wonderful gays and lesbians who were leading productive and meaningful lives. They were not the miserable, hopeless people we had expected them to be. We grew to love the L.D.S. parents with gay children whom we met at social and educational events. They became our dearest friends and truly a life line during our odyssey.
Ron Schow asked us in l993 if we would be willing to be part of a gay-friendly group of L.D.S. people who could extend a hand of friendship to the gays and lesbians in our community. The first meeting of the group which would become Family Fellowship was held in our home. We didn’t really have an agenda. We didn’t agree on what the Church’s response to its gay members should be or how gays and lesbians should live their lives. But we could all agree that families should not reject their gay members, and that all of God’s children should be loved and valued. In the ensuing years the official Church pronouncements on the subject have seemed harsh and hurtful. But to our knowledge never has a General Authority publicly advised parents to turn their gay children out of their homes and cut them out of their lives. So we think that our original intention to build bridges and offer unconditional love is still consistent with the official Church teachings on the subject.
After so many years of prayerful study and thought, we are very different people than we used to be. We are more compassionate, less judgmental, more dedicated to community service, and more grateful. We are concerned about social injustice. We have grown as human beings. We have come to believe that the cause of homosexuality is very complex, consisting of genetic, neurobiological, and hormonal factors. We believe that it is involuntary and immutable. The term “lifestyle” connotes choice. Neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals choose their sexuality. They discover it. Many researchers have concluded that sexuality is determined at the early age of two to four years. We do not believe that therapies designed to change orientation are effective or morally defensible and can even cause serious harm.
Since Family Fellowship does not include advocacy for human rights in its mission statement, we began to seek out groups which work for social justice. We have been members of the Salt Lake City P-Flag group since its beginnings. We have made our services available to the National Conference of Community and Justice which is the oldest anti-discrimination organization in the U.S.A.
We are supporters of the Gay and Lesbian Center in S.L.C. We were featured in a KUED documentary, “Friends and Neighbors – A Community Divided.” This documentary recently won a gold medal in an international competition. We speak at the Sunstone Symposiums, which is one of the few public forums with L.D.S. connections which addresses this issue. We are quoted in the newspaper. We have become accidental activists.
As we became aware of the intolerance and discrimination toward gay students at East High School by students, administration, and parents; we sensed the need to form a Coalition for Safe Schools which involves concerned members of our community. We have been heartened by the success which a relatively small number of dedicated citizens have been able to achieve in reducing discrimination and raising awareness of a systemic problem. This effort has placed us on a first-name basis with the Salt Lake City Supt. of Schools, the principal of East High, and the members of the Community Council. Recently a juvenile judge assigned The Coalition for Safe Schools responsibility for overseeing the community service hours which were ordered by the judge as part of the sentence of a student convicted of strong armed robbery and assault on a lesbian student at East High. We were able to assist this girl to complete her graduation requirements in spite of her fear of attending school because the principal refused to guarantee her safety. The girl’s mother was very grateful for our assistance.
We are often asked about our relationship with the LDS church. As we have already mentioned above, we are currently active in the church and have participated in church activities all our lives. We expect this to continue. Some of our friends who have gay children have not been able to do this because they have been made to feel that supporting their gay children is contrary to the policies of the church–namely, homosexuality is chosen and can be changed; homosexual behavior is sinful; partnerships between two homosexuals (i.e. marriage) is not sanctioned by the church and is grounds for excommunication. While these policies are troubling to us because of what we have learned about homosexuality, we are not deterred from activity. Furthermore, because our local church leaders know all about our positions and participation in support groups and other groups which promote equal opportunity under the law, we have been able to maintain temple worthiness. Some of our friends who have gay children are temple workers. Some are BYU professors. All are some of the finest people we have ever known. We admire them for their church service and worthiness.
Because the main problem regarding homosexuality is ignorance, we have made a concerted effort to find several documents and research information which we have organized into a “packet” of information. In this packet, we have documented our experience with our son, Erik, and have mailed or distributed same to all of our relatives, friends, members of our ward, our bishopric, and stake presidency. The common response given by most is that “we don’t really know much about this.” Upon distributing the packet, we have received an overwhelmingly positive response. Each member of our stake presidency personally thanked us for the information and encouraged us to continue our efforts.
We believe that the restoration of the gospel and our God-given children are totally compatible. We intend to continue our activity in the church and we absolutely intend to embrace and love our children. We hope that all LDS parents of gay children will do the same.
With kindest regards,
Kathryn and Robert Steffensen
2500 Promontory Drive
SLC, Utah 84109
Phone: (801) 467-3773
By Mildred Watts
October 1994 (plus addendum below from February 2012)
Gary and I are fifth generation LDS. We both claim British ancestors who, after joining the Church, sacrificed all and came to the USA. They crossed the plains and settled mainly in Southern Idaho and Northern Utah. They have always been my heroes and heroines. We were raised in conventional Mormon families with the Church always at the center of our lives. Our parents chose Logan, Utah as the place best suited for their careers and raising their families. My father, a family physician in Logan, removed Gary’s appendix when he was thirteen years old and casually told him that I would be starting junior high that fall and that he should ”look me up!” That he did, and thus began a friendship and romance that has continued to grow and become more meaningful through the years.
We celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary in September! Gary served a mission in New Zealand. We both graduated from Utah State University, and then Gary graduated from the University of Utah Medical School. He completed his internship and residency at UCLA’s Harbor General Hospital in California. He also served two years in the Air Force. We have been blessed with six wonderful children that we love dearly. Gary has been in practice as a radiologist and nuclear medicine physician in Provo for the last nineteen years.
Our second child, and our first son, Craig, is gay. I hesitate to describe him as gay, because he is much, much more. Craig was a very delightful child. He has blessed our lives from the day he was born. He did well in school both academically and socially and was dubbed early on, I think by his second grade teacher, as “Mr. Perfect,” and though he would disagree, we feel he has always lived up to this name. He was elected student body president of Provo High and graduated with high honors. He served an outstanding mission in Dallas, Texas, Thai speaking. He graduated from BYU in English with high honors and then received a master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago. He is currently in Kyoto, Japan. He teaches at the University of Kyoto and is also studying Japanese. Craig is fluent in Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Laotian, and Cambodian languages, and is also a wonderful writer. He is athletic and enjoys many sports. He is a person of great integrity, and has many friends. When you are with Craig, life is interesting and fun.
Craig told us of his sexual orientation in 1988. We were very shocked and surprised. He certainly did not fit our ingrained perception of a gay person. This apparent incongruity motivated us to study all we could about homosexuality. Gary brought home many articles written in the medical literature dealing with same sex orientation. We had to rethink all the things we had been taught and learned about homosexuality through the years, since they were incompatible with our knowledge of our son’s inherent goodness. We met other gays and lesbians who were very much like Craig – thoughtful, kind, intelligent human beings. We learned about the broad spectrum of sexuality and individuality. We now regard sexuality much like a fingerprint – everyone’s is truly unique and deserving of respect. We learned that same-sex attraction is not something to fear. One by one, as our other five children learned of Craig’s orientation, we watched them go through a similar process, with the end result always being an outpouring of understanding and a feeling of love and compassion. Our family has shown a strength and closeness that I would never have dreamed possible. Having known many families where this is not the case, we feel particularly blessed. We are truly grateful to our children and their spouses for their love, support, and courage.
Our love for Craig led to a family commitment to do all we can to help people understand more about same-sex orientation. Not only do we share the scientific research that is coming forth, we also try to help people realize how much discrimination hurts, not only the homosexual person, but his family and friends as well. It has also opened our eyes to the world of “justified” discrimination that exists in many aspects of society. Elie Weisel, 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has stated: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” We share his view and have made a conscious decision with Craig’s approval, to be open and public about his sexual orientation.
In September of 1993, Gary and I attended a Family Fellowship retreat. We met other LDS parents like us who also have homosexual children. We learned that they felt as we do, that homosexual orientation is not a choice, and that our gay children are among the most kind, talented, and intellectual people in the world. These other parents also wanted to do something to make the world a safer, more understanding place for our children to live in. When we returned home, Gary and I talked with our children and decided to begin holding Family Fellowship meetings in Utah County. We have held three meetings to date, and each one has been very rewarding, bringing new families together. Our children are actively involved with Family Fellowship. They help us decide on formats for the meetings, patiently teach their computer illiterate parents, address envelopes, lick stamps, compose letters, and our eldest daughter even conducted our last meeting!
I was invited to participate in an interview for the Salt Lake Tribune. A reporter wanted to do a feature article on mothers of gay sons for the Mother’s Day issue. I hesitated to do this, not because I was embarrassed about Craig’s orientation but nervous that I might be quoted out of context, or perhaps make a comment that I would regret later. I also knew that this would be a ‘coming out’ to many friends and acquaintances that we had not had the opportunity to talk with personally. I was visiting with one of my daughters, telling her my concerns – when she just suddenly and enthusiastically cried, “Oh, Mom – go for it.” So I did. The article was not written exactly as I would have liked it to be, but it opened many doors for us.
Gary and I have met so many wonderful people through Family Fellowship. The parents we have met are active LDS people and are an inspiration to us. The gays and lesbians we have met are wonderful, spiritual, intellectual and talented. Beyond all this we always have a wonderful time talking, eating, singing, laughing, and crying together. Craig has given our family a wonderful gift. It has helped us become more aware, tolerant, sympathetic, and supportive of diversity. We have experienced the pains of discrimination. As a result, we are a close family, and as individuals we are striving to be more Christ-like people.
February 24, 2012
Much has happened since the above article was published. In 1996, our fifth child, Lori, came out to us as a lesbian. This time we were not surprised. We had enough information and knew enough lesbian women to recognize that she was gay before she told us. Our response this time was more like…Oh, she has found herself.
Lori, like all our children, is a wonderful, loving, responsible person. We are proud of her. She graduated from Reed College, participated in the “Teach for America” program for three years, received her masters degree in Social Work at Boise State and is currently working with cancer patients and their families at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise, Id. She has always been a good person and is outstanding in the service she provides her patients. Lori is a wonderful, contributing member of our society. The world is a better place because Lori is here.
Oh, how we wish the Internet had been available while we were trying to find answers to our questions and information on homosexuality. I am grateful for a strong, intelligent husband and that we were united in our feeling that we love first and then educate ourselves.
Our family has grown. We also have three sons-in-law who have joined our family and continue in acceptance, support and love for our gay children. Our grandchildren have grown up knowing and loving their aunt and uncle. They recognize their goodness.
As the mom, I still marvel at the wonderful gift our family has received to have two gay members and to also know and love so many gay people, their parents, and their families. I also marvel at how united our family is on this issue. We are definitely better people and are still striving together to be more Christ-like. How time flies – we will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this September!
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: A Rejoinder (unedited version)
Ted Packard, Kay Packard, & Ron Schow
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
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 Scout Policy is Legal, but is it appropriate
Gary M. Watts, M.D.
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.
Gary and Mille Watts were featured in the KUED-TV documentary, “Friends & Neighbors: A Community Divided,” a program that goes beyond the headlines to tell the moving stories of families and friends who struggle with issues surrounding homosexuality. Following is the full transcript of their interview.
Dr. Gary and Millie Watts Interview
Dr. Gary (M.D.) and Millie Watts are the current leaders of Family Fellowship, a support group for families with gay children.
Q: Okay. Let’s start off by talking about Family Fellowship. Tell me a little bit about why it was founded and why there’s a need for it. Gary?
Mr. Watts: Well, I think it was founded in 1993; we were not at the initial meeting. I think there were six people, as I understand, that met together and felt like there was a need for this organization. In fact, I think those six people decided to form a conference on homosexuality, which was held up at the University of Utah in April of 1993.
Millie and I had been dealing with this issue in our family for, I guess, about four years by then. And we got an invitation to come to the conference, and we attended it, along with about 400 people that attended that first conference. And we went with some hesitation, because we weren’t totally out and were still not sure where we stood on the issue. And we were very impressed with the conference. We met a lot of great people that were there. And out of that conference, we met several of the parents that had founded Family Fellowship and affiliated with them and have been fairly significant in that fellowship ever since.
Q: Millie, what’s the purpose of Family Fellowship?
Mrs. Watts: Well, it’s basically a support group. The purpose of Family Fellowship is mainly a support group for parents and families who have gay children. And it works like any other support group, I think, the camaraderie and being able to share your experiences. Education is one of our major goals and just to try to get the parents and siblings to love their gay child and keep their gay child under their wing, not kick them out of the house, like happens so many times with gay children.
Q: Isn’t a major component of this the Mormon faith?
Mrs. Watts: It is made up mainly of Mormon families. We have people of other faiths who are welcome to come, but we feel like the Mormon background, the Mormon culture, we have situations and problems that are maybe a little different from the rest of the people in the world, the rest of society, things that are a little harder for us to deal with. And there’s just camaraderie there.
I think a lot of us have felt through the years that we were the only Mormons, the only LDS parents who had gay children, we had nobody that we felt like we could really talk to. And so when we found these other parents, it was just like an instant bonding for us and common ground and thinking along the same lines, which was good for us.
Mr. Watts: You might be interested to know that since we joined with Family Fellowship in 1993 that it was a very small group of closely-knit parents, if you will, and over the last six years, that number has grown to over 1,300 families now that are on our mailing list through Family Fellowship. And almost all those families have contacted us and requested information on discovering the fact they have gay children or maybe a close gay friend or something, and they want to know something about it. And so they’ve contacted us and our mailing list has just grown exponentially from year to year.
Q: Millie mentioned that Mormon families may have a more difficult time. She used the word “harder.” Can you explain that to me? Why would a Mormon family with a gay child have more difficult issues to deal with?
Mr. Watts: I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the Mormon people have any greater difficulty. I think the Mormon Church, traditionally, has viewed homosexuality, and particularly homosexual behavior as immoral, and they’ve taken a fairly strong stance on that. And as parents, when you discover you have a gay child, you’ve been taught all your life that homosexual behavior is immoral and doesn’t square with church doctrine. And so, suddenly, you have this incongruity between your own personal experience and what you’ve been taught by the church.
And when I talk about an incongruity, that was certainly our case, because we certainly didn’t, in any way, think of our children as being perverted or unusual or sinners or immoral people. In fact, our gay children, we consider to be highly moral people. And so when I talk about the incongruity, I’m talking about the incongruity of the reality of our lives and the experience with our own gay children and what we’ve been taught by the church. And so that’s a difference that has to somehow be reconciled, and it’s a difficult one. It’s a difficult bridge for people to gap.
Q: That’s okay.
Mr. Watts: Yeah. A difficult chasm that has to be crossed. And some people are able to do it and some are not.
Q: Let’s talk about your kids. Tell me a little bit about your family and specifically about Lori and Craig.
Mrs. Watts: We have six children. Our oldest child is Nancy. Craig is our second child and our first son, and he is now 33. And then we have two more daughters, Becky and Wendy, in between Craig and Lori. And Lori is 25. And then we have a younger son Brian. Did I get six?
Mr Watts: I think you got all six.
Mrs. Watts: I just think we had a wonderful family life. We enjoyed our children. We loved our children. I think our family was very close. And Craig, being one of the oldest, was the one that the children particularly looked up to. He was a good student, you know, honor student, student body president, just your all-around good kid. And, of course, all our kids are that way. And then Lori has just always been a sweetheart, just a good friend to her friends and a good student, honor student again. And just kind, wonderful people.
Q: Tell me about when you were told that they were homosexual.
Mr. Watts: Well, Craig came out to us near Christmas time in 1989. I remember it very vividly. He spoke with me first. And, in fact, I remember it was in the next room, right in our family room. And he came to me and he says, “Dad,” he says, “there’s something we need to talk about.” And it happened that my mother was visiting from Logan and there was quite a bit going on in the house. And I said, “Fine.” And so we sat down to talk. And he started out by saying, he says, “Dad, I’m gay.”
And I couldn’t have been more surprised. In fact, I was incredulous. I had never even thought for a moment about that as a possibility. And I said to him, I said, “Well, are you sure?” Or, “How gay are you?” You know? I guess I knew enough about homosexuality to recognize that there’s a spectrum of homosexual feelings and I think I immediately recognized that this would have some significant impact on our lives and on his life and wondered what that meant for sure. But I didn’t ever have any real negative feelings about Craig as a person.
Part of my reaction to Craig’s coming out, I think, was maybe tempered by my own respect for him as an individual. As Mildred had mentioned, he was really an outstanding person. And I honestly don’t know of another person that I respected more in my life than Craig. As we’ve grown up, I’ve learned so much from him. And I’ve told people previously that, you know, you hear fathers say that, or you hear sons say that they learned a lot from their fathers. Well, I felt like my situation was a little different. I felt like that, as a father, I learned a great deal from Craig. And I had immense respect for him.
And so when he said he was gay, in no way did it imply anything negative about him as a person, because I knew him intrinsically as a good person and I knew him as a man of integrity. And so I accepted it immediately and thought, Well, what does all this mean? And then it was a matter of probably going from there and just working through the discovery, the understanding, and then trying to learn all you could about homosexuality so that you could deal with it in your life in an appropriate and kind, humane, sensitive manner, which is the course we chose.
Q: You had mentioned to me at some point that, in your own mind, you had kind of had his life mapped out.
Mr. Watts: Uh-huh.
Q: You mentioned about him being the student body president and then going on a mission and having girlfriends and, in particular, I guess, a specific girlfriend. Can you tell me a little bit about that and how that altered?
Mr. Watts: Yeah. I think parents always, you know, you think about what are your children going to do. And I saw Craig as being an outstanding person who had unlimited potential. And we saw him marrying and fathering some of our grandchildren. In fact, he had a girlfriend. He had a couple of girlfriends. But he had one girlfriend that I was particularly impressed with, and I anticipated that they would marry. And when he talked with me about his homosexuality, he indicated to me that he had already spoken with her and that that was not going to happen, that he didn’t feel like that it would be right for him to pursue that relationship any more.
And I think every gay person must go through that, you know? Here they’ve got this perfect camouflage, if you will, people maybe don’t know they’re gay and it’s very tempting for gay people to maybe pursue a relationship and marry and do the thing that’s expected of them. And I guess that’s another reason, another thing that increased my own respect for Craig, that he was able to recognize that that would not be an appropriate course for him to pursue. And so these dreams that you have, suddenly, you have to sort of reconsider. “Well, what does all this mean and how is this going to impact us as a family and impact his life?” And you know that things are going to change.
Mrs. Watts: Well, and I think, you know, they’re dreams of our children too. I mean, they’re taught at a very early age, “You’re going to grow up. You’re going to marry,” and you encouraged the little girlfriend and boyfriend situations when they’re small. And they’re taught, you know, particularly in our church, that there’s a road map for them. They’re going to grow up, they’re going to go on a mission, they’ll come home, they’ll marry, they’ll have children. And so it’s a dream for them too. And so I think it’s very difficult for them when they realize that this is not what’s going to happen to them. And I have felt really sorry that we didn’t somehow let our children know that there was a different way of living, and that maybe some of them would have to adjust, that it wasn’t all, You grow up and live happily ever after.
And I also feel badly that Craig in particular, because he was older when he told us that he was gay, that he hadn’t felt like he could come and talk to us about it. When he was in high school, he said that he was having feelings and and beginning to wonder and felt like he was different from his friends. They’d be talking about, you know, the girls in the locker room at school and making out with girls and things. And to him, you know, he just had a hard time relating to that. And I guess, you know, we’ve always felt like we were a close family, but he did not feel like he could come and talk to us about it. And I feel badly that we didn’t have that situation where we could have. And, you know, as I think about it, I might not have been very open to talking to him about it. Somehow I thought gay people were people that are chosen, that the people that you see in the gay pride parades and things like that, and, golly, our children were not like that at all.
Q: How about Lori?
Mr. Watts: Lori’s coming-out process was difficult and different in the sense that when Craig came out, and particularly when we affiliated with Family Fellowship and became quite public about being parents of a gay son, we were known as parents of a gay son. And then Lori was experiencing some of the same kinds of processes and trying to work through her feelings. And it was a little different, because we’d been through it before.
And, yet, at the same time, I think it was difficult for Lori to talk with us because I think she recognized immediately that there might be some indication that there’s some family pathology here, that maybe we’re too gay-friendly or something, and this has given her license now to choose this lifestyle, that maybe if we hadn’t shown support that maybe she would stay straight, so to speak, and follow the heterosexual norm. And it was a little awkward for us, because we might be involved in an interview or something and people say, “Well, now, you’re the parents of a gay son.” Well, suddenly now you have a lesbian daughter and how do you introduce that into the equation? And you say, “Well, not only do we have a gay son but we just have a daughter that’s come out also as a lesbian.” And so there are quite a few differences.
I remember very distinctly the night Lori spoke with me, particularly about her same-sex feelings. We talked till about 3:00 in the morning that night. And the advice I gave to her at that time, I think, was good advice. I think I would give it to any person that came to me that was expressing same-sex feelings, because she had developed some romantic interest in a friend at school and wasn’t sure what it meant and what to do.
And I said to her, I said, “Look, if you’re feeling the feelings, you ought to talk with her and see if they’re reciprocated and see if there’s a mutual kind of affection. And it was shortly after that had taken place that she found a relationship that she was very comfortable with and went from there. People might say, “Well, you shouldn’t encourage your daughter to be pursuing that kind of an interest,” but I have this strong belief that homosexuality is largely biologic, that people come that way. I certainly don’t see it as something people choose to do. It seems nonsensical to me that people would suggest that people in our society would choose to be gay. It makes no sense. And I think research certainly has shown us that these same-sex feelings are discovered very early or at least are exhibited very early in life. And most researchers will say that your sexual orientation is set by no later than four years of age. And I believe that. And so I think this is the way people are. And I think for us to try to change them or try to have them mask their feelings or try to be something they’re not is an inappropriate response.
Mrs. Watts: I think for me with Lori it was a little bit different. You know, after Craig came out to us, we started meeting a lot of gay people and having gay people in our homes. And I think Gary and I suspected that Lori was probably a lesbian before she really came to terms with it, just because we could kind of see certain characteristics and things. And so when Lori told us that she was gay, it was not so much of a shock. With Craig, it was a total shock. With Lori, it was kind of like, You’ve found yourself, you know?
Q: It’s interesting. It’s very interesting. You talk about choice and your feelings about biology and things. But we just took a look at that Dallin Oakes…
Mr. Watts: Uh-huh.
Q: …article. And I’ve read the stand, or the little statement that Hinckley, Pres. Hinckley made this last October. The church has stated time and again that they feel like homosexual behavior is immoral. How do you temper your belief in God and your church with your children being gay and not being accepted by the church?
Mr. Watts: That’s a tough question. I think everybody sort of goes through their own mindset or their own rational reasoning process in order to come to some conclusions about what is moral and what is immoral. It hasn’t ever really made any sense to me to suggest that gay people have no capacity to be moral in their relationships, which is really the position that you take when you say that gay people cannot have a moral sexual relationship. That makes no sense to me.
I don’t know how morality is judged, but the way I look on morality is the way people treat one another in their relationships. And it seems to me that if heterosexual people have a capacity to be moral in their relationships, why can’t we apply the same standard to gay and lesbian people? It seems to me that both have a capacity to be moral or immoral. And to denote or to set aside a group of people, a significant group of people, percentage of our population and say to that segment of the population, “You cannot have a moral relationship in your lifetime,” seems inherently unfair to me. And it seems like there’s a double standard that isn’t correct.
Obviously, if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, then that’s the genesis of where this comes from. But that’s a big leap for me. I mean, we see homosexual behavior in virtually every mammalian species that’s been studied in the world that, to me, is a big argument that this is largely biologic, that it isn’t something that people choose, it’s the way people come. And then to arbitrarily suggest that that particular group of people can’t be moral in their relationships just doesn’t compute with me personally. I think that they have the same capacity to be moral in their relationships as heterosexual people do. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that gay people are all moral.
Obviously, we have great examples of immorality in the homosexual culture as we do in the heterosexual culture. But to suggest that one group has a greater capacity for morality than the other seems the antithesis to me of what Christian people ought to be doing. We ought to be less judgmental and more tolerant and give people the opportunity to decide for themselves what’s moral and what’s immoral.
Mrs. Watts: You know, I’ve noticed gay people fall in love just like heterosexual people do. I mean, it’s interesting to watch the romances and how they bloom. I mean, they gaze into each other’s eyes, they write love letters, they e-mail back and forth, they send flowers to each other. It’s just the same. It is not just a sexual relationship. It is a bonding, it’s a friendship, it’s just like a heterosexual marriage is. It’s a companionship.
And I know it seems strange to heterosexual people, and it has to me to begin with, and now, as I watch these romances bloom and I see people become committed to each other and the happiness that they’re finding someone who loves you and someone you can share your life with, it is just the same. It’s the same as it’s been for Gary and me.
Mr. Watts: I think it’s a rather horrible dilemma to put onto a person, to suggest that they can’t, in this lifetime, find somebody to share their life with. I can’t imagine my life without Millie in it, you know? Our relationship isn’t just a sexual relationship. We depend on each other for everything emotional, financial, all kinds of supports that are there. And it’s a critical part of my life.
And I remember Craig when we were talking about that very issue, because that was one of the questions when he was coming out. Well, maybe he should be celibate and just live a celibate life and he asked me the question. He says, “Well, dad, suppose that the church came to you and said that you had to choose between the church and your relationship with Mom? What would you do?” Well, it was a slam dunk. I mean, there’s no question that my relationship with my wife was more important to me than my relationship with the church. And I don’t think the church ought to be in the position of putting themselves between me and that relationship.
But in the gay and lesbian people’s life, that’s the dilemma they’re faced with. And I can tell you, we’ve seen it happen time and time again. When gay Mormon youth come out and identify themselves as being same-sex attracted, they almost all go through the same process. “Well, I can lick this. I can change.” Or, once they come to the conclusion that they’re not likely to be able to change their feelings, “I’ll be celibate.”
And so they do, and for a while, they’re successful. And then what happens? Ultimately, they fall in love. And when they fall in love, they are faced with that, what I have termed, the Sophie’s Choice: “Which do I choose, the church that I’ve loved and grown up in or my new friend now that I’ve fallen in love with?” And inevitably and almost invariably, they choose the friend, they choose the relationship, and they have to leave the church or they hide from the church. They maintain a relationship but don’t tell their ecclesiastical authorities because, for if the ecclesiastical authorities become aware that they’re in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex, they know they’ll be excommunicated or cast out from the church.
And it’s a terrible dilemma to be in, but I see it time after time after time. And it’s when they fall in love that the dilemma really begins. And, you know, Craig’s question to me is a relevant one: What would you choose? And can I tell my son, “Choose the church and live lonely? Have a lonely life, not have somebody, don’t have anybody to share your life with and to” — you know, and we’re talking about sharing a life.
We hear this phrase, love the sinner but hate the sin. Well, that’s sort of a pernicious kind of statement to say, because it implies that gay people cannot have moral relationships. And so the church says to them, to its members, “Look,love the person. Don’t throw them out. Don’t disenfranchise them, but hate the sin.” But the implication is that those relationships are only about sex, that there isn’t this greater bonding, this greater part of the emotional hold that has to be considered. And I think that’s, to me, the destructive part of that particular saying; it implies to our gay children that any time they involve–embark on a — on a relationship that involves a sexual relationship that they’re sinning and, therefore, you know, not to be accepted by the church.
Q: Okay. Tell me — I’m going to backtrack just a tiny bit. What impact has this had on your family? Can you talk about your family? Because,to me, when I talk to you, family is the core issue with you. Millie?
Mrs. Watts: Well, I get emotional.
Mr. Watts: Well, maybe while she’s recouping a little bit
Mrs. Watts: Well, I think I can do it.
Mr. Watts: Okay.
Mrs. Watts: It, of course, has had a huge impact on our family. But the thing that we have learned from this is how much we love each other and how much our children love each other. And at the time that Craig came out and as each child found out that he was gay, there was never a rejection of Craig. Never. They all knew what a good person he was. And it was just more a struggle with our belief as a church. And then when Lori came out, I just think our family is so much closer now and the strength and the bonding — I don’t know, just the solidarity of the family. I have just been shocked at how solid our family has been and how united it’s been. We have friends in the Family Fellowship organization who can’t even get their families together for — you know, even for Christmas or it’s like, if the gay sibling’s going to be there, then the others don’t want to come. Or the gay sibling can be there but they don’t want their partner to be there, or something like that. And in our family, I’ve just been grateful that the kids have all been so good. And I think we all struggle with the church. We’ve all had a hard time with the church. And Craig’s excommunication from the church has been a real challenge for each family member. I think we’ve all really been hurt by that.
Q: Okay. Go ahead, Gary.
Mr. Watts: Well, I was just going to say that when Craig called to tell us that he had been excommunicated, I think my reaction was similar to everyone in the family’s reaction. And my reaction was: Well, now, if Craig’s not worthy to be a member of this church, who is? Because I revered Craig. I thought he was probably as good a person as existed in the world. And to have the church say that he was no longer worthy to be a member made me wonder about everything. Also, I want to just talk for a minute about the family value concept because, you know, we have this impression among some people that gay people are anti-family. And I can just tell you, as a father of gay children, that that could not be further from the truth. Our gay children are so family oriented and so interested in family, and our experience with them has helped bring our family together as a unit.
So that I think that we’re stronger as a family because we’ve had to resist the sorts of things that would divide the family. And, quite frankly, I think some of the church policies that deal with our gay and lesbian children tend to divide families. We see it all the time. We see these great divisions that occur. And they should be resisted at all costs. I think that the family ought to be first and our allegiance ought to be to our families. And I see so much of what’s happening is driving the family apart, particularly the family that has a gay child. It’s a very destructive force in those families. And rather than bringing the families together, it divides, and I think that’s a very unfortunate situation.
Mrs. Watts: You know, when you have people that experience prejudice like, say, African-American children that may have a problem at school or something and they can come home to their family and everybody in the family is African-American, they understand, they, you know, can sympathize with him. But gay kids don’t have this. You know, they may come home to their family and they’re chastised, they’re told, “Leave and don’t come back until you’re straight,” and they don’t get the family support like, you know, other people who experience discrimination. So it is a divisive thing.
Mr. Watts: We just had an experience this past week that disturbed me greatly. We have — through Family Fellowship, we have a newsletter that we send out on a quarterly basis that basically tells stories of gay and lesbian people and their struggle in terms of their acceptance in society. And this past week, one of our Family Fellowship members who’s a lesbian mustered the courage to send this reunion newsletter to her mother for the first time, hoping that this might be the way to bridge the chasm that was there as a result of her being lesbian and her mother’s disapproval. And when the mother got the newsletter, she called the daughter and told her to call us and take her name off the mailing list, called us and asked us to take her name off the mailing list and said she didn’t ever want to see any of our literature again.
Well, when I say it’s disturbing, I think it’s so sad that we have a situation in that family where the mother and daughter can’t even talk about homosexuality, you can’t even read anything about homosexuality. And it disturbs me to think that we’ve got situations like that where there are the divisions in these families. When we talk about family values, it seems like we ought to be doing everything we can to keep the families together not tearing them apart. And here’s a situation where the stance is of the church is driving this family apart and driving a wedge in the family instead of doing what they can to bring the family together.
Mrs. Watts: I think one thing that was nice with Craig, when he first came to us and said that he thought he was gay, we just kind of, all of us together, started studying and reading and learning and listening to his feelings. And it was like we were able to learn together and come, you know, to the same conclusions. And it would be nice if that could happen in every family. I mean, we’ve got stories. I mean, there was a young man who came home from New York City loaded with books and information on homosexuality and was going to tell his parents that he was gay. And his father took the books and literally burned them in a bonfire in the back yard. I mean, just not even willing to open a book and learn and study. And that’s one thing with Family Fellowship that, you know, when we say we try to stress education, I mean, nobody really knows the answers. All we can do is get in this together and try to find the answers and to learn and to keep our minds open. And I wish we could see that in the families more.
Q: Do you think these misconceptions, as you describe them, or the fear that people have about homosexuality, do you believe that is grounded in religion or is that a societal thing?
Mr. Watts: I think it’s a combination of both. I think that religions have certainly been the genesis of the the thought that God has said that homosexuality is immoral. Picking up on what Mildred just said, I think that it’s been well documented that people who know someone who’s gay tends to be more friendly and more understanding. And I think that’s borne out in so many ways. One of the things that I I felt like was that that worked for our good in our family was we listened to Craig a lot and he taught us a lot and we believed him, you know? And it’s interesting, when you have somebody who’s experiencing this firsthand and you see the struggle that they’ve gone through and then they explain to you and you’re able to dialogue and gather information, it’s amazing how so much of the misinformation and misconceptions that you might have sort of withers away and you understand that here’s a person who is struggling with an issue in his life that has paramount importance to everything he does and is desirous of trying to work through the thing and work through it with parental and family and societal support, which is so woefully lacking in so many cases.
Q: To talk a little bit about Craig’s excommunication and how that made you feel as parents. And you — I — I know you can’t — you’re not Craig —
Mr. Watts: Sure.
Q: — so you can’t say how he felt, although you can read the letter. And then also about Lori and the decision that she made.
Mr. Watts: Okay. I think it would be safe to say that we were ambivalent. I think we were devastated that it had occurred and sad and, at the same time, I think there was a fair bit of anger, at least on my part, because I felt like there was absolutely no justification for the church to treat our gay son the way they had done. He was living in Japan at the time of his excommunication. And people locally here have tried to suggest that maybe it was because he was in a foreign land and dealing with a foreign bishop and foreign ecclesiastical leaders, that it was handled the way it was. It was handled in a very poor fashion, in our judgment. He didn’t even know that he was going to a disciplinary council when he was excommunicated. The bishop had indicated that one of the area authorities was going to be in town and would like to visit with him, after Craig had confided in the bishop that he was gay.
And so Craig went over expecting to be in an interview with the area authority and it turned out that he was in a church court with five ecclesiastical leaders. And they asked him a lot of questions about his personal life and made the decision, in about a two-hour session, that he was to be excommunicated. And it was devastating to Craig. In fact, I took out of the file, the journal entry that Craig made after his excommunication, which I’ll read to you now, just excerpts. It’s a fairly lengthy part, but maybe I can read just a couple of portions of it. “It’s early Sunday morning. I can’t sleep. I’m in tears again for the third or fourth time since yesterday afternoon. Some of the most painful, confused tears I’ve ever cried, and I’m alone. I feel so alone. I thought of suicide again for the first time in a long time. My sister’s line is busy, my parents are in Hawaii, there’s no answer at a friend’s home in Salt Lake City; meanwhile — meanwhile, I’m alone in Kyoto, Japan, so far away from home. I need to talk to people from home, but talking on the telephone will be difficult. I’ll cry. I’ll say I can’t believe they’ve done this to me. I’ll ask when the torment coming from all sides ends. I’ll say my ancestors crossed the plains and they can’t tell me I’m not a Mormon. I’ll make my family worry about me, something I’ve already done too much of, far too much of. How much can I ask?
Yesterday at 4:15, I was excommunicated. It all happened so fast, I’m still reeling.” And then he tells about the experience of the court which I won’t go into, and I’ll skip over to his feelings after the and his attempts to reach family at home. He concludes his note by saying: “I just got through on the telephone to my younger sister, Lori.” Interesting that it was Lori. “I wasn’t sure if I should tell her, but she sensed trouble in my voice. She knew the pain I was feeling. We both sobbed. She said she couldn’t believe what they had done; it isn’t fair. She said she loves me and I told her I felt far away from home. I said I would be all right in time.” And then he continues the next morning. “It’s early Monday morning now. I’ve talked and cried long distance with the whole family now. Since Saturday, I’ve had a total of six hours of restless sleep. The feelings from the trial drift behind me like a bad dream, but I feel wrapped up in the warmth of family and friends. Friends came out of the woodwork. The family showed more strength than I knew we had. They told me they were proud. I’ve never felt so close, so loved. I somehow feel blessed. “Each person I talked to gave me something I needed to overcome the shock, the humiliation, the bitterness, the discouragement, the loneliness. There is still a hard road ahead of me. I’ll have to make some decisions. However, unlike so many of my gay friends, I don’t worry about excommunication from my family. They love me and despite the manuals, I think there is a place for me in the church, that there will be a coming home.”
Q: So what was your reaction when he finally talked to you?
Mr. Watts: Oh, just one of total empathy and sympathy for the situation and a reaffirmation of my love for him and our love for him as a person and our assurance to him that it didn’t make a bit of difference to us as parents, that we loved him and felt like he was a person of integrity and great worth and that we would stick by him through thick or thin.
Mrs. Watts: I think, for me, his excommunication was harder than finding out he was gay. I felt like he had gone to the church for help and that was the help he got. His court was held in Japanese and, you know, he did understand the language a bit. He’d been living there for, I think, about a year learning the language. But, you know, I think it’s pretty hard to communicate in a different language your feelings and understanding. I’ve said I felt like it was like my mother stabbing me in the back. It was like, at the time we needed the church the most and I felt like the church would be there for us, they were not there. And it was the first time I really learned that there is a line. There’s a line that is drawn by our church. And if you cross that line, it’s over. And I have since felt like excommunication, I don’t care what it’s for. I know we’re taught that it’s in the best interest of the person and that the person needs to be humbled and realize what they had before and all those blessings are taken away from them. But the devastation of that excommunication for our entire family will be there forever. It just will. I don’t think we will ever feel the same about the church.
Q: What should, in your opinion, the church be doing?
Mr. Watts: Well, I’ve learned over the years that they don’t pay much attention to what I have to say on this matter. So what I say is what I think, but I’m not very hopeful that anybody in the church will respond appropriately, because we’ve been rebuffed, basically, time after time as we’ve made suggestions. And so what do I think the church ought to do? Well, I think the first thing they ought to do is stop excommunicating gay and lesbian people. In fact, I think they ought to stop excommunicating anyone. I guess I even come to the point where if a person has murdered another person, is that grounds for excommunicating a person from the church? It seems to me like those are the people that need the church the very most and that we ought to be putting our arms around them and figuring out a way to love them back into society instead of disenfranchising them. So my first thought would be: Stop excommunications. I think they’re inappropriate, they’re not Christian. I do not think that they work towards the good of the people. They can always point to the one or two examples where people say, “Well, it was good for me to be excommunicated,” but they’re far outweighed in number by the people who never want to set foot in the church again and never have anything to do with the church.
Mrs. Watts: And one of the things that really happens too is that the gay people in the church, the ones that are really trying, really want help from the church, want to be celibate, remain active in the church, they are the ones that end up getting excommunicated. And the gay people who leave the church and just basically disappear off the church records, they’re not excommunicated. So it’s kind of the ones that are making an effort that get the ax.
Mr. Watts: The other thing I would say is that I personally would prefer to see the church encourage gay people to be involved in committed monogamous relationships just like they do straight people. When people come to me as a father and say, “What do you want for your gay children,” my standard answer has become, “I want exactly the same thing for my gay children as for my straight children.” And I don’t think it’s appropriate for gay people to be encouraged to be in heterosexual relationships. They’re inherently destructive. And I don’t think they ought to be encouraged to not be in relationships. And so I say: Why not do the very same thing for gay and lesbian people as we do for straight people; encourage them to be involved in committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships? I think that would do so much to alleviate the hurt and pain that’s there for those of us that have gay children. There’s a lot of animosity between the gay community and the church because frankly, the gay community feels abused by the church. They don’t feel welcome, they don’t feel understood.
And I think that if the church could get to a point where they could say to gay people, “Look, you follow the very same standards and the same course that we expect from our heterosexual counterparts,” I think that animosity would disappear overnight. I think gay people would stay in the church. I think that you would find a greater commitment to monogamous kinds of relationships. We know a lot of gay people that have been in monogamous, same-sex relationships for many years, despite the fact that society has really set up a system that’s designed to keep those from occurring. We have no opportunity for gay and lesbian people to commit themselves publicly in the form of a marriage or a commitment ceremony that brings families together and serves as a sort of a signal entry into a relationship that is then honored by friends and associates and recognized as a relationship just like a heterosexual is. We have sodomy laws, for instance, in the state where some people want to hold over the heads of gay people the fact that they’re breaking the law, that they’re lawbreakers. We have all sorts of disincentives for gay people to be involved in monogamous relationships, and so it’s no wonder that we don’t see greater numbers of committed long-term relationships. I think if we encourage those relationships and provide some means of public and religious sanction, we’d see a dramatic improvement in the way gay and lesbian people relate to one another. So that’s what I would like to see happen. And I think that, ultimately, that is what needs to happen in order for relationships between gays and lesbians and religious people to really reach anything approaching a civil kind of relationship.
Mrs. Watts: You know, I really feel like the church misses out by losing these gay people. They are wonderful people. So many of them are so talented. You know, I always say, man, you know, the best roadshow I was ever in as a child, now thinking back, I know that the two men that wrote and directed that roadshow were gay men. You know, there was just so much talent and all the love and the sensitivity that the gay people have, to me, it is just a tragedy that the church loses out on these wonderful people. I think the most spiritual prayer I have ever heard was given by a lesbian woman who had been excommunicated from the church. They’re very spiritual, wonderful, talented people, and they don’t feel welcome and are not welcome in our wards.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Lori and what decisions she’s made?
Mr. Watts: Well, Lori, I think, as a result of all of the experiences we’ve had and, certainly, with Craig’s experience of excommunication, once Lori decided that she was indeed gay, or same-sex attracted, and once she determined that she was going to embark on a relationship, she determined that she was going to have her name taken off the church records rather than go through the trauma that Craig experienced. And so she wrote to the church headquarters and asked to have her name removed from the church. Which I’m pleased to say the church did without a lot of difficulty. We know of many cases where people have tried to have their name taken from the church records and local and ecclesiastical authorities have tried to make that as difficult as possible. And in this situation, that was not the case and I give credit to the church for allowing her to have that happen. And that was a personal choice and, at this point in time, she is not interested in being a Mormon or participating in the Mormon church.
When I say be a Mormon, it harks back to what Craig said in his letter, “They can’t tell me I’m not a Mormon,” and I think Lori feels the same way. We certainly are Mormons and we’re Mormons by culture, by social acquaintances and so forth and that can never be changed. That’s what we are. We are Mormons and I think she would willingly acknowledge that. But in terms of being formally affiliated with the church, she’s chosen not to do that any more.
Q: Gary, tell me more about your feelings and expressing a sadness about how you feel like homosexuals are misunderstood.
Mr. Watts: That is a very sad part of the way I feel about homosexuality. And, suppose that because of our work in Family Fellowship, we’ve become acquainted with so many gay and lesbian people, particularly along the Wasatch Front, but really, across the country, because we’ve been involved in, you know, national meetings and so forth. And we’ve come to know so many gay and lesbian people, people that we’ve come to know and love as terrific, wonderful individuals. And I think there’s this perception out there in society that so many gay people are like the fringe that might — Mildred made reference to the gay pride parades where we see some people dancing naked and acting obnoxiously and — and basically turning people off. And that certainly has not been our impression of the gay and lesbian community or the people that we’ve met. We see them to be very much like our heterosexual friends and children. Their sexual orientation is different but, basically, they’re just like everyone else, and they’re interested in finding a job and living a life and, for the most part, making a contribution to society.
I think about our own daughter, Lori, really one of the truly great spirits in this in this universe. She’s chosen as her vocation to be a special ed teacher and she’s teaching in the public school system in San Francisco. And I admire her immensely because this is an area that is tough in education. But she sees a need that she wants to do because she wants to help people that are underprivileged and in need of service. And I look on her as one of the great people. And I feel sad for people that don’t know her as a person, who see her as a perverted lesbian or something like that and do not understand what a terrific individual she is. But she’s just a reflection of almost all the other gay and lesbian people that we’ve known. I really don’t know any gay and lesbian people that I don’t respect and love. I’m sure they’re out there. But the ones that have affiliated with Family Fellowship and that we’ve become acquainted with over the years are a uniformly terrific people. And they really have only one goal in mind and that’s to live a good life and to provide a service and do what they can to make the world a better place. And it hurts me so much to think that there are people that think they’re not worthy of respect and dignity.
For instance, I was hurt very significantly by the recent decision by the Department of Family — I can’t remember the name — but the organization that determines about whether gay parents should be allowed to adopt. I can’t remember — the Division of Family Services, I think it is. They recently voted 7 to 2 that gay couples could not adopt. And I think it’s a sad commentary on our society. I think that if they knew the gay people I knew, that decision would be a slam dunk. These people are very capable of being great parents. In fact, I think in many situations, they’d be a heck of a lot better than so many heterosexual people I know. And to deny them and to say to them that they’re not worthy of being parents is just one more indignity that they have to suffer as gay people. And when I told our gay friends about the decision, most of them just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well,” as if this was just another in a long series of indignities that they’ve had to endure their entire life. Well, I think we need to stand up for gay and lesbian people. I think they need to have somebody stand up and say, “You’re okay” and “Yes, you can be included,” and “You can be part of this community and we’ll no longer discriminate against you.” But we’re a ways away from that, and that’s a sad commentary on our society, in my judgment.
Q: Tell me about some of the impediments that your children will have to face.
Mr. Watts: Do you want to do that?
Mrs. Watts: You can handle that one.
Mr. Watts: Well, I think that when we talk about the impediments that our gay children have, I think they are innumerable as compared to our straight children. I think there are considerations in employment, as an example, and it’s very hard for our children, when they seek employment. Do they go in and identify themselves as gay individuals? Do they not say anything? What should be their appropriate course? Do they wait for their employer to find out their gay? Do they be up front about it? I think that’s a dilemma that gay people have, because there is discrimination in the workplace. If a person is applying for work and the person that’s going to make that decision is not gay-friendly or perceives that they’re gay or learns that they’re gay; he may choose somebody else just on the basis of their sexual orientation.
When it comes to forming committed relationships, obviously, our gay children don’t have the same kinds of opportunities that our straight children do. When our straight children have chosen their companion, we’ve had a reception, we’ve had a marriage, we’ve had the community support, we’ve had the church support and people gathered around and validated that relationship. When our gay children choose a relationship, they do it quietly and independently and without public sanction and without public affirmation. And I think that’s an inequity that is inappropriate. I think these relationships ought to be honored just like our straight relationships do. And there’s always the concern about hate crimes and discrimination that gay and lesbian people have to face, just by virtue of the fact that, if they choose to walk down the streets of the city holding hands or something, people may say some negative things and certainly not honor the relationship the way it should.
So I think you’ve got employment problems, you’ve got committed relationship problems, and you’ve got just the societal discrimination problem. You have situations in work where our daughter is in a relationship in San Francisco and her partner isn’t entitled to benefits like most straight employees would be. And I think that’s unfortunate. You can go to a hospital, for instance, and if you’re in a committed relationship and in a committed same-sex relationship, it carries no power. If you want to see your partner who’s in the intensive care unit, you have to be immediate family member. And if you’re in a committed relationship that hasn’t been sanctioned then that committed partner may be excluded from visiting their lover or their loved and respected one who may be in the hospital. So there are lots of areas that gay and lesbian people do not have equal rights to straight people. And I get a little bent out of shape when people say, well, gay people want special rights. That is not what gay people want. Gay people want to be treated just like everyone else. And this business about special rights is a particular irritant to me because all they really want is to be treated like everyone else. Equal rights. I see him.
Q: …it’s almost like some of the people I — I talk to feel like it should, but yet they feel they are not. Are we ready? Okay. So I have to ask you that last question based on the fact of all that I’ve read that the church has published on the issue, based on what little bit I know about the Bible and their interpretation of the Bible and predominant feeling, do you really feel like the church will ever, ever make a change on this issue?
Mr. Watts: Well, to respond as to whether the church will ever change, the truth of the matter is the church is changing daily and the church has made definite positive progress in this area. As a result of my study in homosexuality, I’ve reviewed everything the church has ever written. In fact, if you go back to 1973, which was the first statement was published in what’s called the Welfare Packet, was the first broad statement by the church on homosexuality. It’s about a 20-page document. It’s been some time since I’ve read it. But it’s about a 20-page document. And the current position of the church is dramatically changed from that position in 1973. They did another major publication in 1982, I believe, and then they did one in 1992. And so about every ten years, the church has published sort of a church position on homosexuality. And while the changes are not dramatic, they are incremental and they do reflect improvement or standing of the situation of homosexuality.
So when people say the church will never change, they’re ignorant to the fact the church is changing and is changing on a regular basis. That’s part of our church doctrine. We believe that there are many things that God has yet to reveal. Will the church ever change its policy where gay and lesbian people might be accepted as members who are in committed relationships? I think “ever” is a long time. I think that the church ought to consider such a move, and ultimately I think it will happen. There will be those “nay sayers” who say it will never happen. But we’ve seen rather cataclysmic changes in the church previously. You look at the polygamy issue, you look at the black issue; these are social issues. And things happen in society that bring pressure on the church to respond and, certainly, that was true with the black issue, it certainly was true with the polygamy issue, and I think there are social changes that are occurring in this area that might bring some pressure on the church to do something to alter their stance. So I’m optimistic that it will happen. I think that it is a long way away. I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow. I think that we’re going to continue to see improvement in gay rights in our society. I think we’re seeing that happening. We’re seeing legal decisions, court decisions that are suggesting that gay and lesbian people are not treated fairly. And as these legal decisions progress, then people have greater awareness about the ramifications of church and public policy, those policies will change and bend to meet the improved information and the legal climate that results from it.
So I’m cautiously optimistic. I would say that it would be my strong feeling that I would much prefer to see the church be the leader in these changes instead of being the last one to sort of capitulate, which is, quite honestly, how I feel that the situation was with the black issue. I think the church would have done themselves proud if earlier on they would have taken the lead and said black people deserve the same respect as white people and we’ll not be a party to this discrimination that goes on. I think the church would have done themselves proud. And I think they’d do themselves proud if they would take some leadership in this area and be the leaders in making the appropriate adjustment, because social justice demands that our gay and lesbian people be treated more fairly. And the church ought to be the leader in this area and not the last ones brought to the alter, so to speak.
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:
- 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.
- The causes of homosexuality are complex and are not completely understood.
- Homosexuality is rarely chosen.
- Homosexuality is not amenable to significant change. By this, I mean the same-sex attraction or the “core” longings.
- 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