Resources for Understanding Homosexuality
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., Emeritus, University of California At Los Angeles Ron Schow, Ph.D., Professor, College of Health Professions, Idaho State University Marybeth Raynes, LCW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Marriage & Family Therapist William Bradshaw, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University
©2002 by R.A. Rees, R. Schow, M. Raynes, W. Bradshaw. All Rights Reserved
- Establishing a Base of Strength
- Creating a Loving, Nurturing Family Environment
- Maintaining Lines of Communication
- Reaching Out with Love
- Encouraging All to Participate in the Blessings of the Church
- Caring for Those Who Have HIV/AIDS
- Seek Help and Comfort from the Lord
- A Word to Ecclesiastical Leaders
- To Members of the Church Who Are Homosexual
—Incline thine ear unto wisdom and apply thine heart to understanding.
This guide is designed to help LDS families in which a family member experiences homosexual attraction. Such attractions are generally romantic in nature and often, but not always, involve sexual feelings. When such attraction occurs, it requires consideration for every family member as well as understanding, supporting and nurturing the family member who experiences homosexual feelings.
Homosexuality is a complex and complicated matter, one that has generated much religious discussion and scientific inquiry. Homosexuality is a complex and complicated matter, one that has generated much religious discussion, scientific inquiry and psychotherapeutic treatment. While there is no universal consensus on the causes or nature of homosexuality, there is an emerging body of reliable evidence as well as spiritual wisdom that can help guide individuals, families and ecclesiastical leaders who deal with this issue.
The information contained herein is designed to help families deal successfully with the complexities of having a child, spouse or other relative who is attracted to those of the same gender. Members of the Church are counseled to assist individuals and families dealing with homosexuality. As President Gordon B. Hinckley has said, in speaking of the Church’s attitude toward homosexuals, “We want to help these people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their problems and to help them with their difficulties.”1
Some of God’s children have attractions for those of their own gender. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, and subsequent prophets in this dispensation have affirmed, that sexuality is part of our divine nature. However, there are some aspects of human sexuality we do not fully understand, including why some of God’s children have attractions for those of their own gender. Research by Latter-day Saint and other scientists suggests that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a complex human phenomenon that is influenced by genetic, biological, and environmental factors. As Elder Dallin Oaks has said, “The debate over whether, or the extent to which, specific behavior is attributable to ‘nature’ or to ‘nurture’ is centuries old. Its application to the subject of same-sex feelings and behaviors is only one manifestation of a highly complex subject on which scientific knowledge is still in its infancy.”2
Our purpose here is not to explore the possible causes of homosexuality or the various therapeutic approaches to dealing with it. It is rather to focus on the ways Latter-day Saint families facing this particular challenge can find help and comfort for themselves and guidance in relating to the family member who experiences homosexual attraction.
It is clear that in human beings there is a spectrum of sexual attraction. Most members of society, at one end of the continuum, are attracted only to the opposite sex. At the other end of the continuum is a minority who are attracted only to the same sex. In the middle are those who are attracted to both sexes. The proportion of homosexual and heterosexual attraction varies widely in the middle group. Moreover, within all groups the intensity of sexual attraction varies. This suggests that there may be no single approach for understanding people with homosexual orientation. Some people who experience both homosexual and heterosexual attractions have been successful in directing a portion of their affectionate and erotic feelings toward members of the opposite sex. Others, having strong homosexual attraction, have not been able to experience heterosexual attractions, despite great faith and determination, the use of many practical strategies, therapeutic intervention, and the loving help of family members, friends and ecclesiastical leaders.
We urge patience as families assist their children or other relatives in sorting out feelings having to do with sexual orientation. Much misinformation about homosexuality is disseminated within our society. Because of this, some individuals may feel uncertain as to their sexual identity. Not all feelings of homosexual attraction are indicative of a definite homosexual orientation. Indeed, many people at all stages of life experience a degree of affection for others of their own gender. A small minority has a pronounced romantic homosexual preference that is durable over a lifetime. The expression of such feelings may cause undue alarm in family members. We urge patience as families assist their children or other relatives in sorting out feelings having to do with sexual orientation.
As with heterosexual attraction, awareness of homosexual attraction, whether romantic or sexual, is often discovered early in life. The young man or woman who recognizes these feelings is usually illequipped to understand them. As one Latter-day Saint wrote:
Even at age eight, I recall sensing that something was terribly wrong, and I realized, with increasing horror at each stage of my growth, that my responses differed profoundly from what I was told they should be… I was becoming something my society and religion proclaimed to be wrong… As a young man, it is hard to comprehend such things, … with no guidance, … with no one who understands.
Often, persons with such feelings experience deep pain and conflict. They fear rejection by their families, their peers, the Church, and by God. The most common response to such fears is to attempt to suppress these feelings and hide any behaviors that may result from them. As a result, people with homosexual attraction often experience a deep split between two seemingly irreconcilable parts of themselves which may create shame and self hatred and increase their isolation and loneliness. Eventually, many acknowledge that the feelings are persistent and undeniable. They can then begin to face the challenge of understanding and managing their feelings and behavior.
Sometimes parents blame themselves when they discover that their son or daughter is attracted to members of the same sex. Parents should not assume blame or responsibility for the romantic attraction or sexual identities of their children. Such children are born to all kinds of parents and they grow up in a wide variety of family environments.
Establishing a Base of Strength
When parents become aware of or are told that a child has homosexual attraction, they need time to absorb this information and decide how best to respond to it. At first, many parents in this situation feel betrayed, hurt, upset and afraid. Very often such a disclosure leaves them confused and conflicted. The following expression by one Latter-day Saint parent is typical of what many feel:
When our seventeen-year old son told us of his feelings of attraction for other young men, we were first shocked then upset and then dismayed. We tried desperately to convince him that he was mistaken, that this couldn’t possibly be true. Based on what we had read and been told, we then went through a period of guilt and self-blame, scrupulously reviewing the way that we had raised him, convinced that we had done something wrong.
I am sorry to say that our first impulses were not to respond to his needs but rather to protect our image with others. We were embarrassed to think that anyone in our ward or in our extended family would discover that we had a homosexual son. We wish we could live those years over and knew then what we know now.
In order to understand and relate effectively to a homosexual family member, parents, spouses, siblings and others should obtain the best information available. In order to do this, consider the following steps:
- Seek assistance, guidance and information from national professional associations; from respected, accredited therapists; and from others who are experienced in working with homosexual issues. Such guidance will help family members who feel confusion, disappointment, and loss and in dealing with their other responses to this issue.
- Seek the counsel of other families who have been through this experience. This provides perspective and, often, access to helpful resources and support.3
- Employ good listening and communication skills. Family members who are truly able to listen and empathize are better able to extend understanding and love to others. Excellent materials on family communication are available through the Church and other sources. These should be studied until the principles can be applied with confidence.
- Encourage but do not pressure persons with these attractions to seek professional counsel or other guidance from those who have broad experience with gender, marriage and family issues. Such a therapist should help a client assess and integrate all dimensions of his or her life—including social, spiritual and sexual—without taking sides and while enhancing self esteem. The therapist should be experienced, have a solid reputation, and be aware of the conflicting information given by different sources. Such therapists can help the client develop her or his own process of discernment. Some individuals have reported that therapy has helped them diminish the strength of their homosexual attractions. However, managing behavior based on careful planning, regardless of the attraction level, would be an appropriate goal for therapy in view of the possibility that a change in attractions may not occur.3
- Beware of any therapy, be it reorientation or gay affirming, which leads to depression of the client. Research studies and feedback from many therapists, including numerous Latter-day Saint therapists, warn about risks associated with some treatments for homosexuals. Positive, growth focused therapies—those which honor and support the client’s values using current knowledge and understanding of these issues—will have the best outcomes.
- Refrain from pressuring a family member with homosexual attraction to marry. President Hinckley and Elder Oaks have both advised that marriage should not be viewed as a way to resolve homosexual problems.4
Creating a Loving, Nurturing Family Environment
The importance of parents creating a loving environment cannot be overstated. Children can profit from a feeling that they are loved unconditionally by both their earthly and heavenly parents. Parents can help create an environment in which their children experience the love of God. A person who feels that he or she is loved by God will generally do better in dealing with samegender attraction should it arise.
The importance of parents creating a loving environment for all of their children cannot be overstated, especially when these children follow paths of which the parents and other family members may not approve or understand. When a child who begins to experience attraction for the same sex feels secure and loved at home, he or she is more likely to confide such feelings to a parent or other family member.
Maintaining Lines of Communication
Parents should try to maintain an environment of open communication so children can speak freely about any troubling emotions. This is especially important if a child is experiencing homosexual feelings. As one parent reported,
I found my daughter growing more and more distant. I knew something had changed with her, but I couldn’t seem to get her to talk about what it was. I noticed that she had stopped going out on dates and was spending more time with her girl friends, but it never occurred to me that she was romantically attracted to them. I decided just to continue loving her as I had always done. I guess I trusted her to talk to me when she was ready if I could just maintain good relations with her. When she finally got up the courage to tell me about her feelings, even though I was totally unprepared for them, I just listened and told her that I was there to help her. It hasn’t been easy by any means, but we have come through this as a family and it has made us closer.
It’s important not to be judgmental and to avoid blame, hostility, rejection or condescension. Those who experience homosexual attraction may be fearful and confused. They need loved ones or trusted confidantes to whom they can explain their feelings and concerns. They need time to sort out these matters in a safe, compassionate environment. When families react with alarm and disapproval over such revelations, they close off opportunities for dialogue. It’s important not to be judgmental and to avoid blame, hostility, rejection or condescension.
Persons may experience homosexual romantic attraction at different times and to differing degrees. Over a period of time, their reaction to such feelings may include resolving to suppress them, denying that they exist, expressing them openly or keeping them secret. Accordingly, families will need to respond differently depending on the particular situation.
Even when initiating discussions is difficult, parents should try to do so, preparing themselves before hand with responsible information and careful thought. They should maintain open dialogue and be willing to share the challenges of their family member as well as his or her achievements and joys. They can affirm the qualities that make their child a unique person. Again, parents should show by their words and deeds that they love their children. They can bear testimony of the Lord’s love as well. Of course, parents of homosexuals have the right to set boundaries of acceptable behavior in their home. If parents feel it is necessary to do this, we suggest that the list of limits be short and clear. We recommend that these boundaries not exclude any person from being in the home or prevent attendance of anyone at family events. Sometimes it is helpful to have a bishop, friend, or some other person skilled at mediation assist with such communication.
Reaching Out with Love
Parents and other family members should strive to prevent hurt and anger from breaking ties with a family member who experiences homosexual feelings. Too often such individuals find themselves rejected by their families, which makes their situation even more difficult. Family members need to reaffirm that their love is constant. As Elder Oaks has said, “We encourage Church leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding to those struggling with these issues.”5
Elder Oaks: “Our doctrines obviously condemn those who engage in so called ‘gay-bashing’. . . .” Families of homosexuals may find themselves hurt by the lack of understanding among people within their extended family, congregation or community. Nevertheless, their primary focus should be on their relationship with their family member and on receiving inspiration that will help him or her. As they do this, their example can have a positive effect on others. Family members dealing with these issues may take comfort from the following statement by Elder Oaks: “Our doctrines obviously condemn those who engage in so-called ‘gay bashing’—physical or verbal attacks on persons thought to be involved in homosexual or lesbian behavior.” Elder Oaks adds, “All should understand that persons (and their family members) struggling with the burden of same-sex attraction are in special need of the love and encouragement that is a clear responsibility of Church members, who have signified by covenant their willingness ‘to bear one another’s burdens’ (Mosiah 18:8) ‘and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2).”6
Encouraging All to Participate in the Blessings of the Church
Many Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual attraction have strong testimonies of the gospel and are engaged in the Church and its activities, although they often feel alone or outside the mainstream of the Church. Others may feel estranged from Christ or the Church even when they are living according to Church standards. Because of stigmas against homosexuality, these individuals may feel unworthy simply because they are attracted to members of their own gender. Often such individuals anticipate rejection by Church members and therefore withdraw into inactivity. President Hinckley has made it clear that the presence of these attractions or “inclinations” does not negatively affect one’s church status.7 Therefore, these members need to feel that there is a place in the Church for them, that they can find understanding and love among their fellow saints. They need such encouragement and understanding by Church leaders and members to help them remain faithful, and we urge that they be treated with the same respect and dignity accorded any member of the congregation.
Those with homosexual feelings who are not abiding by Church standards often feel estranged from the Church. Those who have transgressed the law of the Church may have been excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or placed on probation. Nevertheless, those who have sincere desires to remain faithful as well as those who are uncertain as to their feelings about the Church can benefit from the fellowship of their brothers and sisters. We suggest that the first priority of family members should be to extend kindness, charity, understanding and love.
We suggest that the first priority of family members should be to extend kindness, charity, understanding and love. If a family member chooses not to be involved in church activity, he or she may still be encouraged to cultivate a spiritual life. This may include scripture study, prayer, and private devotions. Such practices may be the only ties a family member has with the spiritual values that have been a part of his or her family and church life. It is possible to maintain many patterns of Christian living outside of normal church affiliation.
We suggest it is of paramount importance to maintain good relations with a family member who chooses to live a life incompatible with Church standards. The first priority of family members should be to extend kindness, charity, understanding and love. These persons should be loved and included by their families. Our Heavenly Father does not excuse us from parental or family responsibilities even when our child or other family member leaves the Church or chooses to do things of which we or the Church may not approve. As families pursue this approach successfully, they are more likely to maintain a positive influence in the life of a family member who is following an alternate path. The family should be a place of refuge and comfort for for all its members; this is especially so for those who may be mistreated by others in our society.
Caring for Those Who Have HIV/AIDS
Sometimes a parent or other family member must cope with the fact that the person involved in homosexual behavior has contracted HIV or is ill with AIDS. Since there is currently no known cure for this disease, this is a very difficult challenge, both for the family and for the individual. Some have successfully delayed the effects of AIDS for years with new drugs and new combinations of drugs. Nevertheless, for most people the disease is devastating, often leading to prolonged illness and death. Because there is much misinformation about this disease we urge families to become informed about its causes, effects and treatment.
A family member who has contracted this disease needs love and support. As Elder Oaks has said, “We should extend compassion to persons who suffer from ill health, including those who are infected with HIV or are ill with AIDS (who may or may not have acquired their condition from sexual relations). We should encourage such persons to participate in the activities of the Church.”8
We encourage families to attend to the health and other needs of persons who are infected with HIV or who suffer from AIDS. If possible, families should provide a comfortable place in the home to care for an individual with AIDS. If that is not possible, families should make every effort to see that the ill family member has the best medical and nursing care possible. As Jacob says, “And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall . . . feed the hungry, . . . liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick.” (Jacob 2:19).
Seek Help and Comfort from the Lord
Faced with the challenges of a loved one who experiences homosexuality, families can call upon the Lord for comfort and inspiration. He who descended below all things (D&C 88:6) has the power to lift the burdens of our hearts. As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “For we have not an high priest [Christ] which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet [was] without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (4:15-16).
A Word to Ecclesiastical Leaders
As a Church leader, you may have members of your congregation who are challenged with issues of homosexual attraction. We encourage you to relate to such persons with sensitivity and with an abundance of love. Remember that many of those dealing with such issues may be estranged from their families and friends as well as from the Church. They may have serious doubts about their self-worth and even feel undeserving of the Lord’s love. Be patient in working with such individuals, recognizing that many of them have been intensely challenged. If you have not previously counseled with members experiencing homosexual attraction, we urge you to talk to other Church leaders or family members who have acted compassionately and wisely in these matters. You need not feel alone in your efforts to understand the complicated issues arising from homosexual attraction for all involved. We recommend also that you read relevant literature and seek insight from professionals with experience in working with such individuals.
We encourage you to show sensitivity and an abundance of love. Where appropriate, when estrangement exists between the individual and her or his family, you might, with the concurrence of the member, contact the family and encourage them to reach out with love and forgiveness. If the family of the person is not in your congregation, you could provide them with a copy of this guide or urge them to obtain it wherever LDS book are sold.
We encourage you to take special care in assisting families who have a member with homosexual issues. Often such families are confused about how to relate to a family member who experiences homosexual attraction. Often the family is fearful as to how they will be regarded by other ward members, especially if they are emotionally supportive of their homosexual child, spouse or sibling. At times your role will be teaching families how to be emotionally and spiritually supportive so that they do not cast their homosexual family member out. At other times your role will be teaching ward members not to be judgmental or intolerant.
Christ lifted the burden of others. He was slow to judge and quick to forgive. We feel most important thing for you to keep in mind in ministering to those of your congregation dealing with homosexual attraction issues is that you are a shepherd entrusted with the pastoral care of one of the Lord’s flocks. The scriptures show him as a merciful Lord, one who lifted the burdens of others, who bound up their wounds, who healed their broken hearts. He was slow to judge and quick to forgive. He invited all, saints and sinners, rich and poor, the high and the low, to come unto him and find rest for their souls. As his emissary, we urge you to emulate him and set a good example in all your dealings with his children.
When homosexual members of your congregation choose to maintain or re-establish a relationship with the Church, please be supportive. Welcome them into the ward family by encouraging their involvement in spiritual and social activities. We suggest you give them blessings when they ask for them or when you feel inspired to do so. Reassure them continually of the Lord’s love for them and of your love for them.
To Members of the Church Who Are Homosexual
This guide, which represents the point of view of many Latter-day Saint counselors, therapists, church leaders and others, is an attempt to bring greater understanding about homosexuality to your parents, family members, ecclesiastical leaders and fellow members. As families and as a church community, we are all striving to better understand the myriad issues associated with homosexuality and our respective responsibilities as brothers and sisters in the gospel of Christ. We are aware that you may have been sorely hurt by others, that you may have been treated in unkind and un-Christian ways, even by members of your own family and members of the Church. We are deeply sorry for any unkind or unfair treatment you have received. As we all work toward greater understanding and charity, we encourage you to extend to your parents, siblings, as well as other family members and friends, the same unconditional love, patience and care that you wish them to extend to you.
Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking About Us?” Question 2: What is your Church’s attitude toward homosexuality? Ensign, November, 1998, p. 71.
Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October, 1995, p. 10.
R. Resources For Understanding Homosexuality. Resources include a pamphlet on change therapy and video documentaries featuring Latter-day Saint individuals and families dealing with homosexual attraction. Contact Ron Schow at Box 8116, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209 (schoronaisu.edu)
Oaks, p. 13.
Oaks, p. 12.
Oaks, p. 14.
Hinckley, p. 71.
Oaks, p. 9.