* Mother of gay Mormon youth: "I have to be careful for him"
* Shift seen in church's attitude toward homosexuality
* Authors say parents don't have to choose between faith,
By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY, June 14 Lori's son was 9 years
old when he first told her that he had crushes on other boys - a
re velation th at brought considerable heartache and worry to the
Mormon mom in conservative Utah.
"In our church, (homosexuality) is considered a sin," said
the mother of four. "Marriage is between a man and a woman and
gender identity, the mother's role and father's role, are such a
huge part of our church.
"I just have to be careful for him. He's not out and we're
living a tough road," she said, speaking with R euters on the
condition that she not be fully identified because she fears her
family will be ostracized. "I do fear what will happen when it
all comes out."
Lori said she found church-based resources for coping with
the challenges of raising her son, who is now 13, to be
unsatisfactory. B ut a newly p ublished guidebook, co -written by a
former church bishop with input from Mormon families and
congregational leaders, may offer families like hers new hope
and suppo rt for r econciling their faith's teachings with needs
of their children.
"Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day
Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender
Children," is the first faith-based volume to emerge from a
series of similar publications produced by the Family Acceptance
Project at San Fran cisco State University.
University social scientist Caitlin Ryan launched her
research for the cross-cultural, cross-denominational project in
2002, seeking to understand the impact of acceptance on the
well-being of gay and gender-variant youth.
Her co-author for the 25-page booklet, due for online
release on Thursday, was R obert Rees, a former literature
professor from the Un iversity of California at Los Angeles wh o
was a Mormon bishop in the 1980s.
KEEPING FAMILY TOGETHER
The guide blends Mormon scripture and statements on family
from church presidents with research that shows family support
and acceptance to be critical to the health and well-being of
"Many parents have believed that if they came from a faith
that was at odds with having a gay child that they had to choose
between their child and their faith," said Ryan, who has been
working on health issues in the gay and transgender community
for nearly 40 years. "Our approach is really that even families
that are struggling can modify their behavior and keep their
According to Ryan's findings, gay youths who feel highly
rejected are eight times more likely o thers t o attempt suicide,
six times more likely to have high levels of depression and
three times more likely to use illegal drugs and engage in risky
Rejected youth also are more likely to withdraw from their
families, lose their faith and leave their church, the research
As a bishop in charge of a congregation for young adults,
Rees has seen the power of rejection first-hand. Lacking
acceptance and flooded with messages that homosexuality was
unnatural, many gay Mormons have become disassociated with faith
and family, he said.
Some have committed suicide, while others have sought
"cures" through heterosexual marriages or reparative therapies,
both of which were on ce r ecommended by church officials, Rees
Lori found Ryan's work on her own years ago while seeking
resources outside her church and said it was immediately
"It was reassuring to realize that the things we do to
support him are going to make a huge difference," said Lori, w ho
resides in a Salt Lake City suburb, sa id of her son.
"It gave me a lot of courage. People can't question my
choice when it comes to what I do with him because there it is
in black and white."
Still, she remains troubled to feel at odds with the
teachings of her faith.
"It's hard, because the church works really, really well,
for the rest of my family ... and (her son) loves the church
too, so we're in a terrible spot."
The Mormon faith, formally known as the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, is hardly the only religion in
which homosexuality is considered a sin. But the stakes are
especially high for gay Mormons.
Traditional marriage is deeply woven into Mormon theology,
and the lines between religion and culture are blurred. Mormons
also believe that families are eternal, so disassociation with
family or excommunication from the church, which has occurred
for some gays, can mean the loss of the promise of religious
salvation, Rees said.
Church attitudes are shifting, however, he said. The faith
now regards the origins of sexual orientation as less than fully
understood and differentiates between feelings and actions when
considering disciplinary action. Gay Mormons are welcome in
church but only those who remain celibate can enjoy full
While the Mormon church has worked vigorously for decades on
political campaigns against gay marriage, including California's
Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, church leaders more
recently have endorsed Utah laws that bar housing and employment
discrimination based on sexual orientation and have denounced
bullying of gays.
"I've seen significant progress in my lifetime," Rees said.
"I am hopeful that this pamphlet will provide hope for families.
This body of research affirms the very best teachings we have as
Christians and as Latter-day Saints."
The booklet is not endorsed by the Utah-based church, though
Ryan said Mormon officials are aware of the project and that she
has met with several high-ranking church leaders since 2009 to
discuss her research.
Church spokesman Michael Purdy declined in a statement on
Thursday to comment directly on Ryan's project or her booklet,
but said, "We have repeatedly expressed the importance of
treating all of God's children with love and respect."
Ryan said she has used her research in workshops offered to
Mormon bishops in California and Utah and that feedback she
received showed "our ap proach is innately respectful."
"We're not thrusting our values on them," she said.
The "Supportive Families, Healthy Children" booklet was
scheduled to be available online at familyproject.sfsu.edu/
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott)