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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “22a – Family Acceptance Project”

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22a –The Family Acceptance Project: The Lost Boys and Girls


“Now there is hope that this can change. On Friday, the Family Acceptance Project will release an LDS version of its evidence-based family education booklet that enables families and communities to support LGBT youth in a way that reduces their risk for substance abuse, diminishes their risk for STDs including HIV, and dramatically reduces suicide and depression risk.…” (Mitch Mayne, “A Way Out of Danger for Mormon Youth,” Advocate, June 14, 2012)


“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not a partner in the project.

‘While the church has not commented on the Family Acceptance Project or the booklet, ‘Supportive Families, Healthy Children,’ we have repeatedly expressed the importance of treating all of God’s children with love and respect,’ said LDS Church spokesperson Michael Purdy.…

Ty Mansfield, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a PhD candidate in the field, agreed that ‘Dr. Ryan’s research is an invaluable contribution to helping Latter-day Saints better understand the serious mental health concerns that can stem from family rejection.’…

But he expressed concern that the way the pamphlet is framed ‘is unhelpful and may even do subtle harm.’

‘The pamphlet’s assumption of a predetermined and rubber-stamped ‘LGBT’ identity is problematic,’ said Mansfield, an active Latter-day Saint who has written about his own experience with same-gender attraction, and how he has found resolution through his LDS faith.…

[Laurie Campbell, mental health counselor] ‘If LDS parents depart from gospel truths and rush to define attractions as being a permanent ‘orientation’ when that is not necessarily the case, it can worsen the child’s distress and confusion,’ said Campbell who, like Mansfield, experienced same-gender attraction in her youth.…” (Joseph Walker, “New booklet targets LDS families of homosexual youth,” Deseret News, June 15, 2012)


“LGBT youth with unsupportive parents are more than eight times as likely to attempt suicide, more than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, more than six times as likely to deal with depression and more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV.…” (“New pamphlet seeks to help Mormon parents with gay kids,” Q Salt Lake, June 15, 2012)


Dabakis: There was a groundbreaking visit of Caitlyn Ryan, the PhD sociologist, who came to town and really enhanced the personal stories that we had been telling.  She gave a lecture at Westminster College, and the thrust of this lecture was that if you study LGBT kids with religious backgrounds, and you list negativities—it ranged from alcoholism to drug abuse, suicide, depression, a whole clinical list of objective kinds of things—and then you measured the family toleration on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being that your dad a mom would never want to talk to you again, and 5 being, “Have your friends come over and sleep at our house, and we’ll be fine,” the smallest acceptance led to a dramatic decrease, among religious people, toward the negativities.  So an LDS family that would go from a 1 to a 2 would have a 65% lower chance of suicide.

When Caitlyn came, she had a special lecture in the morning for Bill Evans and a group of the Family Services people.  I think that had an effect.  The bureaucrats were fighting to preserve the status quo, in my opinion, and they were kind of the enemy here.  I’m not even sure that the top leadership was the enemy.  It was the people whispering in the ears of the power as much as it was anything else.  So on this level, within the Church, in getting rid of this Evergreen mentality and getting rid of this generational leadership within Family Services of what is going on, there was this institutional move.

I had a meeting with a church leader, and I brought him this survey, and I brought him Dr. [William] Bradshaw, who has done a fabulous survey that hasn’t been published yet.  It was of 1,500 or 1,600 LDS-LGBT people.  Very clear, very interesting results.

Prince: Is this the one John Dehlin has been working on up at Utah State?

Dabakis: Yes, same one.  I brought the preliminary results to this church leader and I said, “Look,” and I gave the speech about “this is the 1950s.  This is terrible theology, in my opinion, but that’s not my bailiwick.  It’s terrible research.  The premise of everything you are doing in Family Services and in teaching bishops and stake presidents and the rest is locked in old technology.  How would you like to be flying a 1950s plane now?  It doesn’t work.  Within two weeks, the leadership of Family Services had been changed.

Prince: Was that when Dean Byrd was pushed out to the Thrasher Foundation?

Dabakis: Yes, and my sense is that that was the same time that the decision was made that “you are on your own” to Evergreen.  No General Authority came.  They weren’t allowed to use the Joseph Smith Building.  They were off on their own, and they have imploded to bizarreness.  I don’t know if you’ve seen their stuff lately, but they have gone cuckoo.  And they don’t have any money, because the Church withdrew financial support.…

Elder [Jeffrey] Holland has been very helpful.  He met with Dr. Ryan, but it was a very peculiar meeting.  I don’t know what you are going to do with this stuff, but you’ve got to be careful with it.  As you know, church leaders have silos of responsibility.  Elder Holland’s silo does not include Family Services, but I think he was interested to make sure that Dr. Ryan’s research out.  It’s a phenomenally important issue for a church to know that a modicum of acceptance by parents can have a dramatic output into the lives of their children.  And Elder Holland got that.

I am putting this together in my own head as a scenario.  I don’t know if this is why it happened, but it would have been peculiar for him to be meeting with Dr. Ryan, particularly with the new people at Family Services.  So the way that the meeting worked was that Elder Holland scheduled a meeting with Caitlyn Ryan and the three new heads of Family Services.  He said, “I can’t really stay.  I can’t be there, but I just wanted a kind of get-to-know-you meeting.  Just an introduction.  This isn’t my area.”

So the meeting took place with Dr. Ryan there, and Elder Holland never left the room, even though he was just setting this up.  She made her presentation, and then Elder Holland asked her a lot of questions.  Of course, with an apostle there, no one dares ask a question until the apostle does.  The frame of reference of his questioning was not directed toward Dr. Ryan, but toward the three people who were not under his direct command, but nonetheless the message went forth.  “Is this old research?  What does the old research say?  How damaging would the old research be?  What does your new research show?  What would you suggest to an organization that your new research can do?  Blah, blah, blah,” through this whole process.

Prince: All directed towards the three guys?

Dabakis: Yes, and the conversation was completely this way [gesturing towards Dr. Ryan], but it was completely that way [gesturing towards the Family Service guys].  Then he said, “Oh, since I’m just here for the introduction, I have to go.”  He left the meeting, so it was clear that he had just been there to make the introduction.  The message was taken.  Where those guys go with that, I don’t know.  But we have seen, I think, a deliberate and, I say, dramatic change in the bishops’ manuals and in the whole approach.

(James Dabakis, August 2, 2013)

Wendy: What happens in families like mine where a kid comes out, one of three things happens 99% of the time.  The kid comes out and they are shoved back in the closet.  “Don’t talk about it.  We are not even going to address this.  We are a perfect Mormon family.”  So this whole part of the kid is completely rejected, and he is shoved back in the closet.

Or, the kid is kicked out of his home, because he is now seen as a threat to the other children, and he might rub off on the other children.  “He is choosing to be this sexual deviant and sinner.”

Greg: And this is part of what Caitlin Ryan studied.

Wendy: Yes, this is a lot of Caitlin’s work.

And the third option is that the family completely and totally supports their child, and the whole family ends up either leaving or getting pushed out of the Church.  That feels like what is happening to us all the time, but we refuse to leave.

It’s rare when somebody completely affirms and supports and accepts their gay child 100% and stays fully active.  That is super-rare.  I have looked all over and I’ve only found a few instances, and almost always those instances are where the child isn’t living in the home anymore, so it’s not front-and-center for the ward members.  The child is at college at this point, or something like that, so that other things can be talked about with the family.  The gay thing isn’t right in their face all the time.…

Wendy: When we met with Elder Christofferson, we brought up the LDS booklet from Caitlin’s Family Acceptance Project.  We gave it to him and I said, “We are so lucky in our association with Dr. Ryan that she chose our religion to help first.  This is an LDS booklet that she co-wrote with a Mormon bishop, Bob Rees.  This book gave me hope when I couldn’t find it anywhere, and I have looked harder than at any other time in my life.  I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating.  I was researching everything, and I started with the Church, because that was what had always given me answers before.  I read every single word that was ever written, that I could find, about homosexuality in the Church, and all of it was devastating to me.  It was the darkest place I had ever been in my life.  Ever.  When I found her work, it felt like sunshine.  It doesn’t threaten the doctrine.  You are allowed to believe everything you still believe, but it also shows you how to love and accept your gay child at the same time.  This needs to be in the hands of every bishop and every stake president.  We were given an Evergreen pamphlet that is horrible.  This is what needs to be given.”

So he took it and flipped it over and looked at the back.  He didn’t even look at the cover; he looked at the back for the Church’s logo.  I’ve watched every bishop I have given it to and every stake president I have given it to, and they have done the same thing.  My dad did the same thing.  They are looking for the church logo.…

Wendy: Dean Criddle is the president of the Oakland Stake.  He is super-progressive.  I would have died and gone to heaven if he had been my stake president.  A dear friend of ours, Diane Oviatt, had approached Dean and told him about our film.  This was about a year ago.  She said, “It would be great if we get them to come up.”  They were planning a fireside where they were going to show the film [“Families are Forever”] and have Caitlin Ryan and Mitch Mayne speak.  They wanted us to come up—I don’t know if they wanted us to speak, or just to be there when they showed the film.  They wanted to do a stake-wide fireside and invite other stakes.  The first mistake he made was to ask for permission.  I was like, “You’re the stake president.  Why are you asking for permission?  Just hold the fireside.”  But he went to an Area Authority, and he didn’t know.  So it went up the chain, all the way to Packer, and Packer said, “No.  There will be no showing of the film,” which he had seen at that point.  “There will be no talk of the Montgomery’s story, and there will be no talk of the Family Acceptance Project in any of our church buildings.”

(Wendy Montgomery, March 14, 2015)

Ryan: When Gary and Millie invited me over, they took me over to BYU and all around, and I met lots of different folks, and the parents and the families and young people.  I was very moved by what they were doing, and over time increased my relationships with Mormons who were connected with gay people.  I knew some Mormons just from being in the world, but now I was seeing a different experience.  I was seeing really the brave, courageous parents—the moms who fought for their children.  Many of them, as you know, left the Church because they couldn’t find a place to integrate the lives of their children into the Church, and they were not going to allow anything to happen to their children.  And many of them, as you probably know from talking to them, had been victimized in school, and the parents really didn’t understand all of the permutations and the consequences and the outcomes.  So as they became more aware, they became even more protective of their children.…

I guess how I really began to focus more on the Mormons with this project was that I saw in the 80s, and intensively in the 90s that kids were coming out at young ages, but no one was working with their families.  I knew from the research on adolescents in general that families were protective against health risks, but because historically people saw families of gay people as being rejecting—unsupportive at best, toxic at worst—there was a perception they would never grow and change.  And really, there was no mechanism to help them do that.  There was no evidenced-based approach.  There had never been any research on what happens in families when kids come out during adolescence.

Prince: Why were they coming out at earlier ages?

Ryan: Because, as time went on, more resources were available to provide support.…

So having worked across the board with people from really conservative backgrounds—what we would call family values and strong social values—I was very familiar with that.  Being drawn towards the Mormons, there was this sort of precursor, which was that once I developed this project—and you’ll learn more when I present on it tonight—I saw that there was this incredible opportunity to help families support their children before these really negative things happened, to prevent serious health and mental health problems.  And I also knew, by the time I got the funding to start this project, which was in the early 2000s, that the age of coming out had dropped significantly—at least, by the mid-1990s, to between 14 and 16.  That’s what all the research was showing.  I also saw hundreds and hundreds of kids in these support programs.  By the time the early 1990s rolled around, we saw the emergence of gay-straight alliances; and by 2000 in California, we already had 400 diversity clubs—GSA’s—in high schools, not only in the public schools, but also in parochial schools.  They may have had another name; they may have been called the Diversity Club or whatever it was, but these were vehicles, they were spaces where an LGBT young person could be safe, could find support, could find peer support, allies, all kinds of resources that weren’t typically available on the outside.…

From the very beginning, having not only grown up in a strong faith tradition myself, but I’ve already believed that religious traditions are very important to the people who live in them.  One of the things that had happened so much for gay people, and then I saw it being replicated with adolescents, was that they were being taken out of their cultural worlds.  It was as if the perception was, “Your cultural world will never be able to support you, but you can create a gay family, or you can create an alternative family, or you can create what historically was called a ‘family of choice.’”

But I knew that for 14-year-olds or younger, or even young adults or adults, this wasn’t a solution.  It wasn’t an answer.  I knew that in order to move the discourse and to move the mechanisms of prevention and care and interaction, I needed to do research that would change the way people thought about this.…

Faith was always a powerful part of peoples’ experiences.  So when we went to the quantitative part of our work, we were actually able to see the relationships between religious condemnation and religious support for LBGT young people.  I knew, in terms of developing the interventions—because this project was never just research; it was really designed to develop a whole new, family-based approach to care, because historically the approach was adolescence only, through individual services or only peer support.  So at that point, if you went to an LBGT youth program, they would not involve families.  They wouldn’t ask about them.  When I did a training for one of the biggest and oldest LGBT youth programs in the country, the response was, “We never talk about families here.  We think it’s too painful for the youth, so we don’t even mention the world.”

We are not out of that, Greg.  Our research started to be published in 2009, and I have now trained about 65,000 providers—families, clergy across the U.S. and some other countries.  But we are still not there yet.  We need to have a cumulative math to help everyone understand how incredibly important families are, what a resource they can provide, that they can learn to support their LGBT children when research-based information is presented in a way that resonates for them.

When I started developing our family education materials in different languages, which were cultural translations, I knew several things.  One was that I knew that we needed to model what acceptance and support looked like.  By 2004, I was thinking about these films that we would make, and I knew that we needed several of them to show the different kinds of experiences.

I also knew, from my ongoing relationships with Mormons, that we needed to develop a Mormon version of our family education booklet, just like we would need a Catholic version or a version for Evangelicals, because it’s not a one-size-fits-all.  I saw faith, also, as a cultural world, in addition to a belief system.  If you are helping families whose faith encompasses their social world, if you were helping them to understand how to help their children, it had to be in that language.

So part of the reason that I ended up developing early resource materials for Mormons was because I knew I couldn’t start with every faith tradition.  I asked a friend of mine who knew some of the longstanding parents that I knew, in addition to Gary and Millie and some of the others, if they would help me identify a group of Mormons who had really been involved with some of the issues with gay people.  That’s how I met Bob Rees.  There were several other folks that I met as part of that, and I presented my research to all of them.  They were very moved by it and felt that it would really have application for Mormon families.

Prince: Until that point, did anything about the Mormon situation jump out at you as being different?

Ryan: Yes.  One of the things I did in 2000 was a study on care of LGBT homeless youth in faith-based programs.  The perception was that faith-based programs can’t support these youth.  They will be trying to change them, all of these negative things will be happening.  Again, because I had a very different and broad experience, I knew that some could; but I wanted to show that that was possible.  So I started having interviews with a lot of different agencies to look at how they were providing services.  I wanted to do a case study, so I ended up doing a case study of a couple of different kinds of programs—one from a church, and another one that was tied to the Catholic Church but was a stand-alone program for youth coming out of homelessness to keep them there for X-amount of time.

In the context of that, I studied how faith was involved, what about the faith of the workers, the case managers.  In doing that, in my interviews with adolescents from different faith traditions I saw a qualitative different in Mormon LGBT homeless youth, compared to the others.  It affected me on a feeling level, because I felt that they were in great despair, and I felt that there was something that was different about their loss of a future—about having ended up out of home, ended up on the street, ended up away from their families—that there was another element to it, and I was really trying to understand that.  As I learned more about the culture of the Mormon world and Mormon families, I realized that what I was seeing was a multi-dimensional level of rejection.  It was the rejection by their family, the rejection by their church and their culture, and the rejection for eternity because they would lose their family and all of those connections for eternity.

Prince: Was that the qualitatively different part of it?

Ryan: That was the different part of it, but it came across with this sense of yearning and great despair when they would talk about what it was like growing up in the Church.  I knew enough about what people thought about Mormons to know that, “Oh, Mormons are against gay people.”  There was this really negative sense of ending up out of home.  I knew many Mormon parents who felt they had to leave the Church to support and care for their gay children.  Or their extended families would shun them—“Don’t come to family reunion.  We don’t really want you here.  You are doing really bad things to your child.  Until you are going to treat this in an appropriate way, we really can’t have any discussion with you.”

So it was not only the adolescent, but it was also the parents who were being rejected and shunned by their own parents and by long-term family friends and their bishop and others.  I was well aware of the excommunications and the negative perceptions and the sense of intransigence, that this was just an impossible situation, that there was no way to have any positive discourse about homosexuality or what it meant to be gay.

Prince: And the excommunications at that point were for being gay, not for acting on it?

Ryan: In my hearing of it, it was for someone finding out that you were gay.  It was just that awareness.  And so I knew, both as a practitioner and as somebody living in the modern world, that it was very, very serious; that if you were a Mormon and you were gay, there was not a place for you.

So when I interviewed these homeless youth who had been raised Mormon, I was beginning to get more of a feel for how did this manifest itself?  What was the effect on them?  How did it affect them in their contemporary life?  Some of them might have been on the street for a few years, or ended up in a program like this where someone would be trying to get them a G.E.D. and give them some skills and help provide mental health services or whatever else it was that they would need to put their life back together.

But I also felt this devastated sense of hopelessness from them.  That was striking for me, when I really looked at young people who came from a range of backgrounds.

Prince: Were you able to reach through them to their families after they had been thrown out?

Ryan: I wasn’t doing that kind of a project at that time.  It was really just looking at how faith-based agencies were serving LGBT homeless youth.  My earlier experience was working in the AIDS epidemic.  My second opportunity to think about this in context was a program that just looked at what was happening in these agencies.  At the same time, I was conceptualizing the Family Acceptance Project, which for me was research provider and public education developing a whole new family approach to supporting LGBT young people in the context of their cultural worlds, and then finally inform public policy.  So it fit—all of these pieces would be connected to this.

Prince: What were the faith-based agencies in Utah that were working?

Ryan: I wasn’t working in Utah.  I didn’t have a large grant.  You had asked me to put my evolution with the Mormons and what I was learning.  So that was another stop along the way.  Faith was a very important part of our research with the Family Acceptance Project.  How I got back to the Mormons, when by 2005 I was thinking about how do I implement this in conservative communities, how do we show them what we found—because frankly, when I saw the initial run from our young adult survey and I saw these staggering relationships between high levels of family rejection and these really serious negative health and social problems of young adults—I knew that we could do something with that.  I knew that we could help make a difference.

Also what we saw in our early work was that so many of those families didn’t want to hurt their children.  They didn’t want to do anything that would contribute to their children dying or getting HIV or any of that.  They were teaching their children what they had learned from received wisdom from their culture, from their faith tradition, what they were being told by others.  They were like a conduit for all of this, but I knew in those situations that if someone had been able to help them, the outcomes would have been different.

So what we then did after our young adult survey, we took all of this information back to a wide range of families from diverse backgrounds, including Mormon families.  We did what I would call “briefing sessions” with those families to share what we found, to document pre- and post-, to do a three-month follow-up interview to find out what was the relationship between the information that we shared with them and their relationship with their child, their spouse, their family, their pastors or their religious leaders.

We found that just learning about this information had a powerful effect—learning that if they did certain kinds of behaviors it would affect their child’s level of depression or being thrust into high-risk sexual behavior or suicide attempts, or these kinds of things.  If they diminished or changed or stopped those behaviors, they could really make a difference with their kids.

We also asked families to guide us—what kinds of materials should we develop?  What should they look like?  What kinds of resources did they need to help their child and help their family and increase awareness in their cultural world?  They gave us an enormous amount of information about what we should do and what it should look like.

All this time I was conceptualizing what kinds of tools we would need, and I knew that with the limited resources that I had—and we were going to start focusing on a faith-based community—I knew at this point, in my own experience, that our findings lined up perfectly with my knowledge of Mormon doctrine and theology and values.  Having met Bob and several other Mormons who were connected to working with gay people, or writing about it or helping in a variety of ways, I said to Bob, “We need to take this to one of the high-level religious leaders.”

Prince: Was anything being done by the institutional church at this point?  This was all grassroots, at least what you were interfacing with?

Ryan: When I started doing this work, Family Fellowship had been in existence for a number of years.

Prince: And that was grassroots.

Ryan: That was grassroots.  Affirmation was really small and not particularly active.

Prince: And grassroots.

Ryan: And grassroots.  Those were the two.  And what I knew was still happening, because I heard it, was that gay Mormon young people were being sent for reparative therapy.  I was asked to work on a number of cases to help provide support or guidance.  I knew that there were still high levels of antipathy and serious health risks.  I knew that people were in great need.

With Bob, who has many relationships with the Church over years, Bob wrote to one of his old contacts inside the Church and arranged for us to meet with one of the General Authorities.

Prince: Jeff Holland?

Ryan: Do I need to go on the record here?

Prince: Yes.

Ryan: It was Bruce Porter.  Bruce has a PhD and he understands research.  I think he was really intrigued.  So Bob and I went to meet with Bruce.

Prince: Was he connected with LDS Family Services?

Ryan: Not at that time.  Bob had written to Elder Holland, and Elder Holland asked Bruce to meet with Bob and me.

Prince: I figured there was a Jeff connection.

Ryan: Yes, there was a Jeff connection.  Elder Porter spent more than an hour with Bob and me.  I sat right next to him.  I was to his right.  He looked at all of the research, all of my charts, all of our findings.  He was really fascinated by them.  I went over all of the rejecting behaviors that we had identified in our research and shown how they related to serious health risks.  He said, “Well, we would not want any of our families to be engaging in any of these behaviors.”  I thought, “That’s great!”  Because if we now know that the Church would not be supporting any of these rejecting behaviors, that’s a great place to start.  

And then he went over with me all of the accepting behaviors.  Almost of all of them he said, “Well, we agree with that.  I can go for that.  We can support that.”  There were just a couple of them—one was supporting your child by welcoming LGBT friends and partners to the home.

Prince: Which is where Dallin Oaks went ballistic later.

Ryan: So it was really the smallest number of accepting behaviors that they would have issues with.  At the end of it he told me that, and then he said, “Well, Dr. Ryan, would you consider writing”—because I brought copies of our family education booklets, which were the first best-practices at that point for suicide prevention for LGBT young people in the best-practices registry, so he could see that—he said, “Would you consider writing a version of this for our conservative families?”  I said, “What a wonderful idea,” and I went home and started to work on a Mormon version.

I’ve never had any funding for our faith-based work because, as you know, the LGBT community has had a lot of antipathy for religion, having been pushed out.  As you probably know with most of the studies, except to a large extent for African-Americans and maybe some Latinos, most people have left the religion of childhood because there was no place for them.  So that affecting funding and I could never fund this.  So I just did this work myself.  I paid for it myself, and it took a long time to write the booklet, because I would have to do it at night.  

What Bob and I did was to spend a lot of time together thinking this through.  We took copious notes on our meeting with Elder Porter, and really began to figure out the framing.  I already knew how I wanted to frame the messaging from our research—that it didn’t have to be all-or-nothing.  All of this, Greg, had come out of our two years of extensive qualitative work with families.  They included Mormon families and Evangelical families and a whole wide range of them.  We did this work in English, Spanish and Chinese.  It was absolutely fascinating.  We did so much of our work in peoples’ homes that it really gave us a flavor for how were they integrating this, or how was it separate.…

So the reason I started with the Mormons—I started this work before Prop 8—was that I felt it was a faith tradition that was seen as so conservative and rejecting, but I knew that of all the conservative faiths, the values of the faith were deeply compassionate and the language was not as punitive as it was in many other faiths that rejected homosexuality.

Prince: Was your meeting with Porter pre-Prop 8?

Ryan: Yes, pre-Prop 8.  And this was in the works before Prop 8.  It was a question of contextualizing it, figuring out the best way to present it.  And also, frankly, I would not get to work on the Mormon booklet until two or three o’clock in the morning.  Then, I’d work on it for a couple of hours, and I’d have to put it down and get back to all the other stuff that I would have to do.

But Prop 8 began to come on, and the antipathy, the anger on both sides, the rage, the hatred that started to be fanned in society at large, and especially in California, just increased.  It engendered in me this sense of, “We have to get this done.  This has to be out, it’s so important.”  But I really couldn’t get it out during Prop 8 because there was just so much work that I had to do.  And also, as Prop 8 started, in that time period the economy tanked.  So I had to raise every nickel for the work that I was doing, and it meant that I went from having some multi-year funding to no multi-year funding, and spending forty hours a week doing fundraising and another forty or fifty hours a week doing the work.  That went on for years.  And so that made it harder to do this work.…

So I was dealing with a number of different social and economic factors that were totally beyond my control.  I couldn’t change any of that, but I continued looking for a Mormon family to tell the story of family acceptance.  I was also working with Bob on the booklet, and once the booklet was done, we had to field test it.  So it wasn’t really ready to go out until 2011, and then we had to field test it, I had to do all of the artwork on it, and I said to Bob, “We can’t put this out until the Church sees it.”  He said, “Well, we’ve got to get it out.”  I said, “Yes, I know, but we can’t set them up that way.  The media covers our work, somebody will stick a microphone in their face, and it’s unfair.  Also, it undermines this work, because they need a chance to digest this and see what it says.”

So I asked Bob to arrange a meeting for us to talk with the Church about this research.  What we do with all of our work is we lay the research findings and approach on the foundation of the values of the culture of the faith, whatever it may be.  So in this case, we had the strong pillars and foundation of Mormon tradition, values and doctrine.  We don’t wade into the realm of doctrine, but we use that as a foundation to lay out where the families can reduce risk, support their children without accepting a behavior that they don’t agree with, or accepting a behavior that they don’t agree with, because they love their children, or whatever permutation that may be.  We document in our research families that it started out as not only accepting but celebrating their children because they saw them as a gift that it was their role to support just as God made them.

So we saw a wide range of responses, and what we were really trying to do was to develop materials for the largest group of families, which were ambivalent, followed by rejecting families.  I knew that if we could help them, with rigorous research, to understand there was a way to help their children and reduce these terrible outcomes without giving up their values, that most parents would do that.

So our aim was to get the booklet out as quickly as possible, but I knew we needed to do it in a context.  By then, the outcome of Prop 8 was so negative for the Mormon Church, I didn’t really want to contribute to the antipathy toward the Church.  I wanted the Church to be an ally in helping families get access to information, not reject it or rebuff it sight-unseen.  So it took a few months for us to have the Church digest this, and what ended up happening was our booklet didn’t come out for a considerable period of time.  In fact, when we finished it, Bob Fed-Ex’ed copies to Elder Holland and several key members in the Church, and also to Public Affairs, so they saw what this looked like ahead of time.

Then, Bob and I had scheduled a meeting to go with Bill Bradshaw to meet with Elder Holland.  There was a terrible rainstorm in California and Bob was coming from Mill Valley and across the bridge.  He had ordered a shuttle that was late, so he missed the flight and missed the meeting.  But Bill was there with me, and we met with Elder Holland.  I had, by now, met with the head of LDS Family Services a couple of times, so we met again with Elder Holland, and Family Services, including the director, Terry—I can’t remember his last name.

Prince: Was Dean Byrd still in Family Services?

Ryan: No, he was not.

Prince: He had been shunted over to the Thrasher Foundation by then?

Ryan: Yes.  He was not in the picture—publicly, anyway.

So we had a very interesting meeting with Elder Holland, who was receptive and responsive.  After he left, he asked Bill and me to continue to meet with LDS Social Services, which we did.  And then they brought in staff who worked directly with clients and families.

Prince: But you never got official buy-in.

Ryan: Well, what happened was in the meetings they said that they really needed more time to learn about it.  Terry admitted that he knew nothing about homosexuality and didn’t really understand it.  It was my experience in meeting the director that he didn’t really know the contemporary social science.  They asked me if I would consider working with the Church to potentially put out a church version of the publication.  I said to them, “I would be happy to discuss that with you.  That means going to the Correlation Committee and so forth?”  They said, “Yes.”  I said, “Yes, I’d be happy to discuss that with you.”

What happened after that—I had had to fund all of my travel and all of my work, and I wasn’t able to follow up with them, because I had a lot of other things to do.  They did not respond after that meeting.  I knew that if I wanted anything to happen, I was going to need to continue to push, but I also had to raise all the funds for my work.  The faith-based piece was just one piece of a whole, larger frame of intervention work that I was doing.

Prince: Did you get the sense that there was pushback from the inside, or was it just inertia?

Ryan: I think it was more not knowing what to do.  Here was a non-Mormon writing a research-based document for Mormons, and that probably hardly ever happens, to help them help their families.  I think it was more not quite knowing how to respond, but being interested in what I had to say.…

I remember when I showed him the film for the first time.  He might have been alone when I showed it to him.  There is a part in the film where it shows the effect of Prop 8 on young, gay Mormon children.  I knew at that point when we made the film—and about 75,000 people have now seen this film, in film festivals and screenings that we have done in public events, and it’s had a powerful impact on anybody who has seen it—but I knew as we started to show it that one of the most powerful effects would be on church leaders.  I knew they hadn’t really thought about what was the effect on young, gay Mormons, and how might they internalize a sense of self-hate, and God didn’t love them, and that this world that they were growing up in, they would never be part of.  The families that loved them and they wanted to show their parents every respect that who they were was in some way really going to be terribly, terribly hurtful to their parents and to everyone they knew—I don’t think at that point anyone had really thought about what the ramifications were.  Still, in my experience, church leaders didn’t really understand human development and sexual orientation.  The perception is that it’s only about sex, but it’s really about human connectedness and relatedness.  All of us have a sexual orientation, whether we exercise it or not, however we are involved with it; but it’s really about relationships.  The smallest part of it is about sexual interaction.  Little kids engage in all kinds of playing house and understanding who they are and fantasy play.  We can see this with young kids today who have language for things that were never part of public discourse.…

Ryan: One of the other things that was very appealing to me about starting to develop resources for Mormon families is that it is a contemporary faith that has the capacity for continuing revelation.  I put a lot of resources into this work.  Probably about 10% of what I have put into it has come to me from Mormon funding sources, which is not very much.  Maybe 5%.  But I really made that investment because I felt that this was a place where we could help make a difference, and that it could show other faith traditions, other social worlds, that families really can support their LGBT children and do it in a way that can make a profound difference, and that a faith tradition can express its values of compassion and mercy in a way that supports everyone, even if they disagree.  That, of course, is what Christ did, minister to the least among us and the most vulnerable.

So my real hope is that the Church will begin to reconcile the extensive social science with the way LGBT people are treated in their families, in their communities, in their congregations, and in the Mormon world.…

One of the most powerful messages from our film is, if kids from conservative worlds where there is one right way, there is no deviation, there is nowhere for these children to go—and when you are coming out at 9 or 10 or 11 or 13, you don’t have the coping skills of a 25-year-old or somebody who has a car they can drive and get away and go and have a friend or go to a support group, or whatever it may be; or even get online to find resources.  You have nowhere to go, and if you can’t get your family’s support and if you are a kid who is more vulnerable, the chances are very good that something really harmful is going to happen to you.

I’ve been telling them this in my meetings with them for a long time.  I said, “Look, these ages of coming out are dropping because of the Information Age.  The reason people didn’t know who they were was because there was no way for them to find out.  There was no language for it.  But there is now, and we are not going back.  We don’t have the services for families in the LGBT community, in mainstream society, in LDS Family Services.  You don’t have it anywhere.  You don’t have the accurate information to give them to help them understand their children, and this is putting kids at really high risk.”

(Caitlin Ryan, March 15, 2015)

Schow: If you look at any of that little discussion I had with Susie Fei, what we have right now in the gay community, and particularly the Mormon gay community that has left the Church, they are really ticked off that the Church talks about attraction.  That’s not the only place it comes up.  It actually is a part of the Family Acceptance Project pamphlet situation with Bob Rees and Caitlin Ryan.  You’re familiar with that pamphlet, right?

Prince: Yes.  I have the pamphlet.

Schow: Are you aware of the fact that the Church, and particularly North Star, has pushed back against that pamphlet?

Prince: I didn’t know that North Star had, and I didn’t know that the Church had pushed back.  I just know that Bob was frustrated because they hadn’t embraced it.  But there is a difference between not embracing, and pushing back.

Schow: My evidence for pushing back is that when the Deseret News announced the pamphlet, they contacted Ty Mansfield, who is a major player in North Star, and he pushed back against it.  We’d have to find that article.  It is something that would probably go in the documents at some point.  [“New booklet targets LDS families of homosexual youth,” Deseret News, June 15, 2012]  I think Joshua Johansen, who is now handling the FAIR [Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research] website, has kind of taken over that website on the gay issue, whereas Dean Byrd’s stuff had dominated there before.  I believe they [the Deseret News] quoted Johansen, they quoted Ty Mansfied, and they had a Church spokesman who said, “We have nothing to do with this pamphlet.”

Prince: What do you think their aversion is?

Schow: It has to do with identity, and the use of identity in the list of items that Kaitlin has.  She has about ten “do” and about ten “don’t” items, and practically all of them are phrased in terms of “identity.”  “Your child’s LGBT identity.”  Identity.  Identity.  The Church wants to talk “attraction.”

(Ron Schow, March 18, 2013)