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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “39 – Suicides”

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39 – Suicides 


Andrew Evans: “Less than a year ago, right here in Washington, DC, my friend killed himself. He was Mormon and gay. You’ve gone on record that, ‘the Church does not give apologies’. Does religious freedom absolve you from responsibility in the gay Mormon suicide crisis?”

Dallin Oaks: “I think that’s a question that will be answered on judgment day. I can’t answer that beyond what has already been said. I know that those tragic events happen. And it’s not unique simply to the question of sexual preference. There are other cases where people have taken their own lives and blamed a church–my church–or a government, or somebody else for their taking their own lives, and I think those things have to be judged by a higher authority than exists on this earth, and I am ready to be accountable to that authority, but I think part of what my responsibility extends to, is trying to teach people to be loving, and civil and sensitive to one another so that people will not feel driven, whatever the policy disagreements, whatever the rules of the church, or the practices of a church, or any other organization, if they are administered with kindness, at the highest level or at the level of the congregation or the ward, they won’t drive people to take those extreme measures; that’s part of my responsibility to teach that. And beyond that, I will be accountable to higher authority for that. That’s the way I look on that. Nobody is sadder about a case like that than I am. Maybe that’s a good note to end on.” (Q&A following Dallin H. Oaks address at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC, February 9, 2016)


“It was a year of suicides, a rather harsh introduction to the gay society I discovered in 1965, hidden beneath Salt Lake City’s placid sheen of righteousness.

The details were gory and unsettling—a strong, athletic neck snapped by a homemade noose, a beautiful head blown apart, a body smashed like delicate porcelain on the concrete conclusion of a seven-story leap, and two quiet overdoses on begged and borrowed drugs.  Homosexuality was, of course, the immediate scapegoat.  After all, the wasp[?] voices inside cried, suicide and homosexuality go hand in hand.

But there was something disturbing about these particular deaths, something unnecessary, something these men shared which was as much and possibly more to blame.  Risking blasphemy, I concluded, after a long and bitter struggle with my own beliefs, that it was their inability to reconcile in a livable harmony the opposing forces of a rigidly homophobic religion and homosexuality that destroyed them.

Those five young men I met in 1965 were all in their early 20’s.  They were Mormons.  Three of them had recently returned from missionary service for the Mormon Church.  They were all students at Brigham Young University (BYU), the Mormon-owned university well known for its arch-conservative standards of conduct and dress.

Months prior to their suicides, four of them had been trapped in the ongoing homosexual witch hunts at BYU and subjected to the Church’s disciplinary program.  The fifth had sought help on his own by contacting Church authorities and admitting his problem to them.  As an initial step in their ‘counseling,’ each of them was interviewed by the counselor for homosexual problems at that time, Spencer W. Kimball, now president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The interviews with Kimball reeked of moral blackmail.  After all, he was ‘an apostle of the Lord’ and, Mormons believed, spoke with direct authority from God.  When he, with uncompromising precision, robbed them of their dignity, their sense of self-worth, their hopes for happiness in this life, and their dream of eternal salvation in the presence of God, they believed him.  Although the interviews were couched in the same ‘loving’ terms one finds scattered through the documents of the Inquisition, they became a waking nightmare to my friends.  Their continued education at BYU and their precious membership in the Mormon church were made contingent upon their complete repentance and their willingness to provide names of other gay people.  As they described it, the names seemed most important.

Following the interviews, each of these men changed subtly.  The smiling faces were seen less frequently and almost always without the smiles.  Their expressions grew even more dour as, one by one, each was expelled from BYU, excommunicated from the Church, their families informed through Church channels of the ‘problem.’  One by one they discovered their student records contained this sorry piece of information, causing difficulties in attempts to transfer to other schools or gain employment; one by one, they took their lives.…

My friends from 1965 were good people.  They wanted to be better people, but they believed in their church more than they believed in themselves.  When their church rejected them because they were gay, it destroyed them.  I doubt the Mormon Church will ever accept even a portion of the blame.”  (Robert I. McQueen, “Outside the Temple Gates – The Gay Mormon,” The Advocate, August 13, 1975, p. 14)


Dunn: When was the last time you read an article in the Ensign on homosexuals in the Church?  Yet, I had the homosexuals in Salt Lake adopt me as their General Authority. …

I had thirty of the homosexuals, male and female.  Half of them were practicing, the other half had the tendency and wanted to do it, but hadn’t yet succumbed.  About five of the thirty had already been excommunicated because they went to their Bishops and shared their thoughts with them.  That’s “Packer-itis” coming down the channels, without understanding.… And they’re saying, “Just give me an answer.  I’m not asking to be a homosexual.…  Just help me with it.  I didn’t ask to feel this way.”  Is that hereditary?  Is that a gene?  Or is that a learned behavior?  Nature vs. nurture–where are we?  I don’t see anybody in the Church even looking at it, let alone treating it, because they see it as a sin next to murder.…

Prince: And the mounting evidence, scientifically, supports the biological part for many of them.  If you once concede that that is a possibility, then that opens floodgates that they don’t know how to deal with, because of the whole issue of free will now is violated.

Dunn: That’s right.

Prince: And our theology isn’t to the point, yet, where we know how to deal with that.  So I can see how the Brethren don’t want to open that door even a crack, because they don’t want to face what’s on the other side of it.

Dunn: What do you do as a Church if you’re just not doing anything at this juncture, and all of a sudden science proves otherwise?…

We had an obituary a little while ago, a young man who had been an Assistant to the President in the mission field.  He was a good-looking boy, who never married.  He took his own life because he couldn’t get any answers to his homosexual behavior.  The family was very brave.  They put in the obituary something I’ve never seen before.  It said, “Our son chose to return to his Heavenly Father.”  That was part of the obituary.  I knew a little bit about the case, and he committed suicide because he was not getting answers to the real pressing problems he was having.

Prince: And if you’re on that biological end of the spectrum, I don’t think that any amount of desire is going to change things.

Dunn: It isn’t.  How could it?

(Paul H. Dunn, interviewed by Gregory A. Prince, January 10, 1997)


“My friend DJ Thompson was even more explicit in his suicide note: ‘It is unfortunate that the lives of good people such as Stuart Matis, Matthew Shephard, and many others go unnoticed,’ he wrote. ‘I see Proposition 22 as the last straw in my life-long battle to see peace in the world I live in’…

About a year later, Scott MacKay asked me to help put together a memorial page on the Affirmation website.

I spent the next few weeks reading and documenting some of the saddest stories you can imagine. My goal was to document every single instance to the best of mu abilities, to be as thorough and accurate as one possibly could, and yet once and again my task was hindered by the politics of silence.  Sometimes the families of gay Mormon suicides refuse to publish an obituary notice. Sometimes they lie about the cause of death and, in comes cases, they don’t eve know that their sons and brothers were gay.…

In the end, I came up with information about more than 20 people who took their lives. They were all Mormons, and they were all struggling to reconcile their beliefs with their sexuality.… I think that Robert McQueen was right in his analysis of the deaths of 1965. ‘My friends from 1965 were good people,’ he wrote in The Advocate. ‘They wanted to be better people, but they believed in their church more than they believed in themselves. When their church rejected them because they were gay, it destroyed them. I doubt the Mormon Church will ever accept even a portion of the blame.’” (Hugo Salinas, “A Witness Sealed with Blood: Gay Mormon Suicides and the Politics of Silence,” Affinity 22(11):3-5, November 2001)


“Utah leads the nation in suicides among men aged 15 to 24.”  (Lucinda Dillon Kinkead and Dennis Romboy, “Deadly taboo: Youth suicide an epidemic that many in Utah prefer to ignore,” Deseret News, April 24, 2006)  [NOTE THAT THE ARTICLE SAYS NOTHING ABOUT LGBT SUICIDES]


“I married a closeted homosexual LDS man and our marriage was nothing but confusion and sorrow until I ended it after two and a half years. While he bears the direct responsibility for deceiving me, a contributing factor to his cycle of self-loathing, repression, denial, and cover-up was his parents’ and his ward’s hostility toward homosexuality, making him feel he could never talk to anyone about his issues. Mormon culture is general to hostile an environment for people with these feelings to feel safe. I don’t believe that the church is likely to change any of its doctrines regarding marriage any time soon.  But an important first step is to point out that homophobia in LDS culture directly contributes to young homosexuals (mainly men) ruining the hopes of women like me by lying to themselves in the hopes that they can force themselves to be straight. Furthermore, the unusually high suicide rate among young men in Utah has also been linked to hostility toward homosexuals. It even happens here in California; I am currently a member of the stake that Stuart Matis belonged to. Pointing out that homophobia contributes to miserable marriages and suicide can go a long way to melt the ice and put a more human face on this issue. Many people never consider the collateral damage of homophobia, and I can say that the personal anguish and stigma I suffered has been just as cruel as that experienced by a homosexual enduring gay-bashing.” (Tiffany Mortensen to Peter Danzig, June 30, 2008)


“I began my 24 hours of fasting and prayer a week ago Saturday afternoon (November 1) by driving to my favorite beach north of Santa Cruz. I was relieved to find it unusually deserted. In honor of the Day of the Dead, I carried in my heart the names of the five Gay Mormons who committed suicide just after Prop 22 passed in 2000 (Stuart Matis, Clay Whitmer, Steven Wheeler, Clifford Martell, and DJ Thompson).…” (Carol Lynn Pearson diary, November 10, 2008)


“I have a friend whose close friend killed himself over the weekend due to this issue.  I don’t know if he saw the hopelessness in eliminating ignorance or whether he felt the same because of the church’s stance. He is from an LDS family so either could be the case. I am getting more and more sad about all of this.” (Carol Lynn Pearson diary, November 16, 2008)


“Another email that broke my heart:

From Dallin Phillips of Logan about a suicide:

Steve Bowman died last Friday. He had talked with you a few years back. He was married to Amy and had 4 kids, He lived in Costa Rica and practiced law. He moved to Texas a year or two ago. Amy called this morning and said they are waiting for toxicology reports, He just got rebaptized but was very conflicted and had attempted to take his life earlier. He thought the world of you.

Another tragedy.  I remember Steve.  A very dear man.  Very tortured.  I tried to locate his emails when I was writing No More Goodbyes, but they must have been in an earlier file that I couldn’t locate.  If I remember, he said something like every time he gets on an airplane he hopes it will go down, anything to take him from this world without him having to do it himself.  

So unspeakably awful.  Beyond, beyond tragedy all this.

Added the next day, also from Dallin Phillips:

Steve’s wife, Amy, called me yesterday and we talked for some time. Steve and I were Bishops at about the same time and went through church discipline at about the same time; I was exed [excommunicated] and he was disfellowship[ped]. Amy told me that he did go into a guest bedroom late on Thurs. night, locked the door and took a bunch of pills. So yea, it was suicide but that is not how they are reporting it. The line is that he took ‘a’ sleeping pill and he had the flu and threw up and aspirated. The pressure to get rebaptized was very hard on him.

(I’m certain there are many, many gay suicides that are reported as accidents.)” (Carol Lynn Pearson diary, November 17, 2008)


“Report of another suicide.

Dear Carolyn,

I am the mother of a gay son who is happy living with his partner in NYC.  I live in Utah.  I am LDS, but my son is not anymore.  On Friday a young LDS man I know who is 19 committed suicide in Pleasant View, Utah.  I feel so bad about the situation.  He tried to talk to his parents for three years telling them he was gay.  They would not listen to him.  They just kept telling him he needed to be fixed and that he needed counseling.  They also tried to ‘pray away the gay’.  He tried once before to kill himself his junior year.  You may see his obituary in the Standard Examiner, today’s issue.  His name is Michael James Dunkley.     I wish they had seen ‘Facing East’!…

I feel that if this young man’s parents would have accepted him instead of kept trying to fix him he would still be here today.

Thank you for your time,


Outrage again.  I looked at his obituary and picture.  How can the brethren sleep at night?  I referred her to The Trevor Project and to Affirmation.  On and on go the tragedies.

Later I spoke on the phone to Allison (Black).  The young man hung himself in the family basement.  She added that the church leaders in her area are of no help on anything.” (Carol Lynn Pearson diary, June 29, 2009)


This from an article in Q Salt Lake: “LDSApology.org will be holding a memorial service for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Latter-day Saints who committed suicide on Oct. 4 at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City.”  (“Gay Mormons Hold SLC Conference,” Q Salt Lake, September 29, 2009) What about the ones who committed suicide on the 5th?


“In addition to irreverent coffee pitches and same-sex wedding announcements, a plug for a memorial for gay Mormon suicide victims can be added to the list of ads the LDS Church-owned Deseret News won’t run.…” (Rosemary Winters, “Deseret News pulls ad for gay suicide memorial,” Salt Lake Tribune, October 1, 2009)


“Kris, my dearest friend and surrogate big sister, started a foundation in Salt Lake that helps people coming out of prison and those dealing with addictions.  One day, a young man arrived who was broken more than anyone I had ever seen. He was only 30 but his body was ravaged from the affects of drug use. He was on the waiting list for a liver transplant. When he introduced himself, he sat on the chair and sobbed.

‘You just don’t know what it is like to be Mormon and gay,’ he said, more than once. His family had kicked him out, told him he would be allowed back when he had changed. I watched him suffer, and said nothing. I was so afraid of my truth that I could not reach out and help him. He thought he was alone, and I let him think that. Kris spent so much time encouraging me to open up and help him, but before I could get beyond my fear, he took his life. My fear had kept me from reaching out to him and he died thinking that no one understood.

At his funeral, I listened as his family painted a picture that was full of lies, and when I left his service I decided I needed to start doing something.…” (Denise Hamblen, “Mormon from My Eyes,” daily.gay.com, June 11, 2010)


On June 11, Jim Dabakis sent the following email to Michael Purdy and Bill Evans of LDS Public Affairs:

“I have been watching the D-News for the last year or so.  There is a strong anti-gay bent.  It is an obvious decision made by the paper to be on the offensive. The latest example is from this week-end:

Here’s the original ‘news’ piece the Des News did about the study:


Plus the editorial they posted just moments after the other came out:


Those two stories are another example of what appears to be an on-going campaign at the Deseret News to trumpet anti-gay things (including this embarrassingly unprofessional report) on the front page and on the top rung of the on-line stories.  That this is a story I have no doubt. It is interesting but this was placed and editorialized in a crusading way consistent with so many other anti-gay stories that receive top of the list attention from the D-News.

Yet, there is very small mention (if any) of the Church’s steps toward dialog and civility with the LGBT community. I suspect this spirit of anti-gayness at the Deseret News stems from a very homophobic man (co-founder of NOM) who is on the editorial board of the D-News and perhaps it is his influence that has brought about this kind of continual anti-gay crusader coverage.  

I wish someone within the Church would look at what appears to be a consistent ugly campaign at the D-News.  Unfortunately, I believe, these biases become the liability to the Church.  Here is how the blogs interpreted the D-News’s headlines. Often, the broader community sees this as a message from the Church. Maybe it is-but I doubt it.” (Jim Dabakis to Michael Purdy, June 11, 2012)

The next day, the following editorial was published in the Deseret News:

“Officials from the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit group dedicated to achieving equality for people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, were in Utah last weekend with a report that shows more teenagers feel harassed or unsafe here because of their orientation than in other states. In a survey, 69 percent of self-described LGBT Utah youths ages 13-17 said their community is not accepting of them. That compared with 42 percent nationwide. The vast majority of them said they feel they don’t fit in, with three-quarters saying they believe they would have to leave the state in order to feel accepted.…

Another troubling aspect of the report showed that the Volunteers of America Utah Youth Homeless Drop-In Center is being visited by more local teens than ever before — a 166 percent increase over the past five years.…

Young people are a precious resource. They deserve safety and dignity as they mature and develop a sense of self-worth. They need to understand the value of treating others with respect, especially when they disagree. That is a necessary virtue in order for a free society to continue to prosper. No one should tolerate abuses of young people, regardless of the reason or the type. Even mockery, as Kundera noted, causes damage far beyond what is readily apparent.” (Editorial, “In our opinion: End the abuse of LGBT teens in Utah,” Deseret News, June 12, 2012)


“An average of 402 Utahns die from suicide and 4,152 Utahs attempt suicide each year. Youth ages 10-17 comprise 12.4% of the Utah population, and 3.7% of all suicides in Utah, and 15.7% of all suicide attempts in Utah.…

The 2010 Utah youth suicide rate was 6.1 per 100,000 population among 10- to 17-year-olds. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for this age group.…

Utah’s youth suicide rate has been consistently higher than the national rate for more than a decade. Utah had the 17th highest teen suicide rate in the U.S. for the years 1999-2010.…” (“Suicide in Utah, 2006-2010. Youth (10-17 years),” Utah Department of Health, September 2012)


“At the American Fork Cemetery is buried Bryan Jordan Smith, a 21-year-old who took his life because he couldn’t handle being gay, according to the note he left. Brian was a graduate of American Fork High School. He had served an LDS mission and was planning on attending Joseph Patrick Academy of Hair.

If you think the story of a young man cutting his life short is singular in our state, you are sadly wrong. Every day two teens are treated for attempted suicide, according to the latest data from the Utah Department of Health. Students who are lesbian, gay or bisexual are eight times more likely to die by suicide, twice more likely to be physically assaulted by their peers, five times more likely to be bullied.…

An American Fork High School counselor said that in more than half of the situations she had personally handled, involving attempted suicide or bullying, the students were harassed by their peers because they were accused of being gay, lesbian—or just looking like one.

Because some families and clergies have wrongly believed that being attracted to the same sex is a choice, gay teens have paid a steep price: out of roughly 700 LGBT teens who are currently homeless in Salt Lake County, a stunning 70% said they were kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation.…” (Danny Crivello, “From the Editor’s Desk,” American Fork Citizen, October 11, 2013)


“New research shows that there are over 5,000 youth who experience homelessness in Utah each year, and this number is likely a large underestimate. About 40 percent of homeless youth in Utah identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and 50 percent of these youth come youth come from LDS families.

OUTreach Resource Center, a center for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and allied youth will present a community forum tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Clearfield Library, 562 S. 1000 E., Clearfield, Utah, to highlight new numbers showing the increase of homeless youth in the state. The forum is free and open to the public.

Epidemiologist and youth homelessness expert Rachel Peterson will present her findings and talk about her experiences working with homeless youth in Utah and her time as a homeless youth in St. George.…” (“Youth Homelessness in Utah Growing,” Q Salt Lake, October 29, 2013)


“Children in Utah have considered suicide more than any other state, ranking three times higher than the lowest state (Iowa). Overall, Utah ranks fifth in the number of actual suicide attempts for ages 10-17.…” (Andrew Wankler, “Suicide in Utah,” utahstories.com, February 4, 2014)


“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 24 — higher than the national average. Studies have found that LGBT youth are at least three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide and about four times more likely to make a medically serious suicide attempt, she [Caitlyn Ryan] said. More than 5,000 youth are estimated to experience homelessness in Utah per year. Of these, at least 40 percent are LGBT and the majority are from religious and socially conservative families, with 60 percent from Mormon homes.” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Program aims to stop suicide, homelessness in LGBT Mormon youth,” Washington Post, March 15, 2014)


“As the only Mormon in The Book of Mormon, Clark drew the attention of NBC’s Brian Williams in the summer of 2012. With Mitt Romney running for president, NBC had decided to air a one-hour special on Mormonism. The network asked Clark to sit for an interview.…

Sitting on the stage where The Book of Mormon is performed every night, Clark reflected on his mission and how it was one of the most cherished experiences of his life. The network showed pictures of him holding a Book of Mormon and baptizing people in Mexico. Clark choked up talking about it.

I choked up, too. Especially when he said this: ‘I know I don’t sound like an ex-Mormon. But I am one. I had a long path out of the church. I didn’t make the decision in one day. But I didn’t feel I could reach my full potential as a human being inside the church as a gay person.’…

With his permission, I share here his journey out of our church. My purpose isn’t to point fingers. Rather, I hope this leads to greater understanding and a kinder approach.…

Many of Clark’s gay Mormon friends traded loneliness for marriage. One by one those marriages ended in shame and self-loathing. The women, especially, crawled away feeling flawed and inadequate. Everyone was scarred.

By 2007 Clark was 30 and starring in an off-Broadway production of Mama Mia in Las Vegas. He was still attending church regularly. But when another one of his gay friends killed himself, Clark hit rock bottom. He thought about doing the same thing. He’d get on airplanes and secretly hope they would crash. He finally called his mother and said he had decided to leave the church.

She pleaded that leaving the church wasn’t the right answer. Clark pleaded for understanding. ‘If the choice is between leaving the church or leaving the earth through suicide,’ he told her, ‘leaving the church is the right answer.’…” (Jeff Benedict, “Maybe I’ll Meet a Girl,” JeffBenedict.com, June 28, 2014)


“Many are driven to suicide. My own son spoke often of suicide when he first came out to us. My husband spent his 40th birthday talking my son out of suicide.” (Wendy Montgomery, “Why I Stay,” www.NoMoreStrangers.org, August 24, 2014)


“More adults have thought about or attempted suicide than anywhere else in the country.…

For youth (ages 10-17) Utah ranks 5th in the nation for suicide deaths. Suicide is the second leading cause of death.…” (“Facts/Data,” Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, September 2014)


“Utah has one of the highest age-adjusted suicide rates in the U.S. In 2013, it is the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17 years old, the second-leading cause of death for ages 18-24 and 25-44, and the fourth-leading cause of death for ages 45-64.…” (“Indicator Report – Suicide,” Violence and Injury Prevention Program, Bureau of Health Promotion, Division of Disease Control and Prevention, Utah Department of Health, December 9, 2014)


“An official LDS document, ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World,’ written and approved by the faith’s top leaders, states that ‘gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.’

‘Because of this,’ church spokesman Eric Hawkins writes in an emailed statement, ‘the church does not baptize those who are planning transsexual operations. If a person has already had such an operation and wishes to join the church, they may be baptized only after an interview with the mission president and approval by the First Presidency.

‘The church does not ordain transgender people to the priesthood or issue temple recommends to them,’ Hawkins adds. ‘Church leaders counsel already-baptized members against elective transsexual operations, and bishops may refer specific cases to the stake president for possible resolution at that level or by the First Presidency.

‘We have faith that ultimately, the emotional pain that many of these people feel will be addressed by a loving God who understands each individual’s circumstances and heart.’

Hawkins declined to comment about the church standing and prohibitions for those who have had only hormone treatments.…

From fonts to altars • Moore’s mother doesn’t see sex-reassignment surgery as a matter of choice.

According to a poll conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality, 41 percent of transgender persons have attempted suicide.

That is dramatically more than ‘the 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population who report a lifetime suicide attempt, and is also higher than the 10 percent to 20 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults who report ever attempting suicide,’ reported the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.…” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Transgender Mormons struggle to feel at home in their bodies and their religion,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 2, 2015)


“My student, Melissa, a married lesbian mother, visited my office on Wednesday, a mixture of anger, frustration, and sadness visible on her face. Four gay Mormon youth had taken their lives since L. Tom Perry, a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), told LGBTQ people that their relationships were counterfeit. He was speaking at the Saturday, April 4, 2015 General Conference about the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman. Sitting in my office, Melissa was exhausted and heartbroken. Tuesday night she had stayed up until 3:30 in the morning talking with a terrified, suicidal young man, reassuring him that he was not alone. He survived that night, though Melissa fears that he’s still not out of the woods,” (Carol V. A. Quinn, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Metropolitan State University of Denver, April, 2015)


“Our sweet, loving son and brother, Cory Paul Swapp, passed away July 10, 2015. He was 16 years old. Though his earthly life was short, he influenced many people with his infectious personality, genuine sense of humor and bitter-than-life-smile. His presence will be greatly missed by many but especially his family.  We are heartbroken by his passing and hope someday to understand the hopelessness and silent evils that inflict a child’s spirit.…” (Deseret News, July 12, 2015)


Statistics from the CDC, made available by Phil Rodgers of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, show that the Utah suicide rate for Ages 15-19 was flat (about 12/100,000 population) from 1999 through 2011, but then spiked over the next three years to a 2014 rate of 25/100,000.  The rate for Ages 20-24 changed little over the same time period.  The national rate for Ages 15-19 was flat from 1999 through 2014.


“Analysis of the data suggests that the problem is worse in LDS communities than the national average. The youth suicide rate in Utah is the first statistic that implies this. Although the suicide rate is elevated throughout the intermountain west, no other states have seen the doubling in the teen suicides that Utah has had in the past 4 years.…” (Daniel Parkinson, “The LGBTQ Mormon Crisis: Responding to the Empirical Research on Suicide,” RationalFaiths.com, February 25, 2016)


Claudia: The bishop came to my house and tried to get me to come back to church and I said, “Bishop, there are no disposable people.”  He didn’t have an argument for that.

Greg: So did you immediately pull back from the Church after that revelation?

Claudia: No. I went ahead and finished out.  I had about 4 more months of that 6 months that I had signed up for.

Greg: Was it after that that the bishop was trying to pull you back?

Claudia: Yes, Braden came out to me in August. I had signed that paper in June or something like that.  In January, when I finished that assignment, I went ahead and finished up my responsibilities and felt like that’s what I should do, but in that time I was also going to Las Vegas about every other week and cleaning house for my mother because she was getting older and it was harder for her to take care of all that. Each time I went to the bookstore and I picked up some books about homosexuality.  Every time I came back with a bag full of books. I read and I read and I got myself educated about the issue. I was still doing my temple assignment, but in January, when I was done with that assignment to be Assistant Supervisor on one of the shifts, I left and never went back.  Then the bishop came to my house and wanted me to come back to church. I really went around with him a few times.  First of all, I said, “You know, I love my son and I love his partner, too.”  And he said, “Well, there are morals.” I said, “I think it’s immoral to push people to suicide.”  

Greg: Did he have a response?

Claudia: No.  He didn’t come back after that one.

(Claudia Bradshaw, March 4, 2012)

Wendy: They don’t understand that when they say those things, it is a trackable thing.  We work with groups like Affirmation and with the Ogden OUTreach, Marian Edmonds [Allen’s] group.  It’s trackable.  There is usually about one gay teen suicide a week in Utah, and two to three [attempted suicides] are treated a day in Utah hospitals.  And she gets about one teen a week who is kicked out of his home.  Those are average statistics just for Utah.

But when there is a statement in the Church Newsroom, or a General Conference talk, on an Ensign article, or somewhere the Brethren give a talk on traditional marriage—and there have been many of these statements given since the Amendment 3 decision last year—even if they think they are being very loving and inclusive, those numbers that Marian gets almost quadruple.  The week of General Conference in October, when [Dallin] Oaks gave that horrible talk—we had the Uchtdorf talk that said, “There is a place for you; please come, we want you here”—and then the next morning there was the Oaks talk that was horrible.  “God’s laws will never be trumped by man’s laws”—that week there were fourteen suicides!  These numbers are trackable.  Every time they say something like this, these numbers skyrocket.  Marian wrote a piece about how after one of the Mormon Newsroom stories about marriage is between a man and a woman, after gay marriage became legal in Utah, there were five kids who were just kicked out of their homes, all from good Mormon families.  One of the girls was sleeping in front of her high school in January in the snow for three days before Marian found her.  These Brethren have got to shut up!  There is not a Mormon out there that does not know the Church’s position that marriage is between a man and a woman.  We all know it!  It’s going to take an act of God for that to change; they don’t have to keep saying it.  Every time they say it, ever for teenagers—marriage is a decade away for my son.  He is fifteen.  It’s not even on his radar.  But when they say, “Marriage is between a man and a woman,” it makes all of these kids, or even adults who are not married, feel like, “There is no place for me there.  They don’t want me.  I’m different from everybody else.  I’m not good enough for them.”  It’s horrible.  They can’t keep saying that—there is blood on their hands.  I know that Utah has some of the highest rates of gay teen suicide.

(Wendy Montgomery, July 16, 2014)

Greg: Can you go back to what you talked about last night?  I know it’s a sensitive issue—the bullet comment.

Wendy: Yes.  What I used to do—Jordan has been out for about three years, and for about the first year-and-a-half my family—with the exception of one brother who is in Utah, all of my family live about two hours south of us—I would drive down at least once a month, if not more, to talk about this specific issue with my parents especially, but with a lot of siblings as well.  I knew that it was going to take them a long time to wrap their heads around this.

Greg: This was without Jordan along?

Wendy: Without Jordan.  We would still go down for other things together, but not when we had these conversations.  Patience is not my strong suite by far, but I knew that I was going to have to be really patient with my family, because this was going to take them a very long time.  My dad has some crazy, crazy old-fashioned ideas.  For instance, I’m left-handed, and for ten years he made me be right-handed, because to him it was almost like a birth defect.

So I knew it was going to take him a while, and I would go down to have these conversations and put myself in really difficult conversations, just hoping they would get it, letting them ask anything, say anything, and trying not to react and not to be hurt and offended.  Almost every single time, I would drive home in tears.  After about a year-and-a-half I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”  It was self-preservation.  I just had to start pulling back.  I didn’t feel like there was any movement or any getting it, and I thought, “I can’t do this anymore.”

But in one of those conversations, my dad was saying—he is a bit of an insomniac, so he reads constantly, and he has a near-photographic memory and can tell you what page he read what on, and like to delve deeply into church doctrine and the deep questions.  It is astounding to me now that he has very little knowledge of the sticky parts of church history.  I have read most of the books in my house.  I am a constant reader.  They were always very church affirming, always by prophets or apostles.  There was never anything that even approached any of these complicated things.  So he was very well read, knew the scriptures like nobody I have ever known at this point.  He would say, “I don’t understand why people are gay.  There is nothing that talks about it in anything I have read.  Since Jordan has come out and you have told us about this, I have been reading and praying, and there aren’t answers.”  I said, “No, Dad, there are not.  There is no way to reconcile this with what we know.”  He said, “Well, we know that they are going to be straight in heaven.”  I said, “No, we have zero knowledge about that.”

I wouldn’t describe the conversation as heated, but I had a knot in my stomach.  I don’t know if he did.  It felt like it was going towards, “Maybe Jordan doesn’t know this for sure.  There is no way he could know.  Has he kissed a boy?  Then he doesn’t know.”  It just kept escalating, although it wasn’t an argument or a fight.  It was him wrestling with it, and me trying to be like, “We don’t actually know that.”

He finally just said, “You know, the only way this works out is in the next life.”  He said that to me my entire life.  He said, “Nothing in this life makes sense unless you understand the pre-existence.”  That was when I asked him about blacks and the priesthood, and why women couldn’t have the priesthood.  These were questions I was asking when I was twelve and thirteen and fourteen.  He would say, “Nothing makes sense in this life unless you understand the pre-existence.  We signed on for things there.  If people were less valiant there, they have to prove themselves here.”  It was that whole line of thinking.

So that’s when he said, “Nothing makes sense unless we understand the pre-existence, and that everything is going to be made right in the next life.  So the only cure for your son, the only cure for homosexuality, is a bullet to the head.”  My mom was there and she went, “Dennis!”  Usually she says nothing.  She is very much the 1950s, “What the man says, goes.”

I said, “How can you say that, Dad?”  In all of these conversations, I had just let them say stuff.  I had tried to answer questions, but I had never called them out on anything that was hurtful.  I just said, “How can you say that?”  He said, “You know what I mean, Honey.  He’ll be fixed in the next life.”  I said, “We don’t know that.  And it’s comments like that that make our gay kids kill themselves.  If this life is so bad, why wait?”  He said, “Well, there are things he needs to learn in this life.”  I said, “Not along those lines.  If that is something you ever say to him, you’re done having a relationship with him.  That’s horrible!”

The next morning he said, “I probably shouldn’t have said that.”  I said, “But you believe that, right?”  He said, “Yes, I believe it, but I never should have said it to you.”  So it makes me wonder what else they believe that they at least have the courtesy not to share with me.

(Wendy Montgomery, March 14, 2015)

Prince: Thanks for helping with my interview yesterday with Barb Young.  It was great.

Wendy: I got that message early this morning.  We’re in Arizona at an all-Arizona LGBT conference, so I didn’t have a chance to give you a call back.   I’m happy it went so well.  It was good?

Prince: It was great.  She said one thing I wanted to verify with you—that after Elder Perry’s talk, you got a bunch of phone calls.  Is that right?

Wendy: Fifteen.  They were not all phone calls.  Two were phone calls; the other thirteen were emails and private Facebook messages.  A couple were from parents whose kids had attempted suicide.  Some were from a couple of kids who were in the hospital, who had just had their stomachs pumped after trying to overdose.  And then a couple others were ones that were deeply suicidal but hadn’t attempted it yet.  Every one of them referenced Elder Perry’s talk as the reason why they were that desperate.

Prince: Over what time period did you get all of these messages?

Wendy: Within forty-eight hours of his doing that talk.  So between Saturday afternoon to Monday night, or so.…

Another one was a girl that comes to our support group.  She drives three-and-a-half hours, one-way, to come to that group.  Seven hours round-trip for a one-hour meeting.  She had just come out to her kids—she is in a mixed-orientation marriage.  She is in her 50s at this point.  She heard that talk and she was like, “I just wanted to take a knife and cut the evil out of me that was inside of me.”  I just get furious at these leaders.  They either don’t know the damage they are doing, or they don’t care.  I feel like I have to go around and clean up their mess.  You do, too.  It’s very hard for me not to just get angry.  Those sorts of things do not need to be said.  Especially Easter weekend.  Why are we not just talking about the Savior?

(Wendy Montgomery, April 25, 2015)

Wendy: I was talking to Phil Rodgers, who first pointed out to me that since 2012 the teen suicide rate in Utah has doubled, while the rate in older age groups has not.  He asked if I had any idea of what had caused this.  I said, “I don’t have any scientific proof, but with all the people I have talked to, I know what causes them pain.  I know what I attribute a lot of the suicides to, and that is that in the past couple of years church leaders have spoken more than ever before about heteronormativity: marriage is between a man and a woman; the Proclamation on the Family; traditional families; what God views as an OK family.  They’ve never hammered that point more.  Anytime anything happens in society, like when DOMA was repealed, when Prop 8 was shut down at the Supreme Court level, when the SCOTUS decision happened last summer—the Church always comes out with its own statement about how it views marriage and family.”  He said, “Why would that cause people to kill themselves?”  I said, “Because these men speak for God.  We believe that, we teach our children that.  And if these men are speaking for God, then God is rejecting our children.  That message gets taken home to the parents, and the parents talk about it during Family Home Evening or around the dinner table.  These kids are getting rejected not only by their families, but by God.  There is no higher form of rejection.”  It sounded like he had a light-bulb moment.  He just went, “Oh, my gosh!  I never put those two things together.”  I said, “In 2014, for the entire year, the Primary theme was the Proclamation on the Family.  This year, 2016, every Visiting Teaching message for the Relief Society is from the Proclamation.  They can’t shut up about it.”

Greg: And two years ago was when Judge Shelby overturned Amendment 3.  That really put the Church on the defensive, and they’ve been on that ever since.

Wendy: The Attorney General in Utah came out with a statement recently that said the number one cause of death in kids ages 10 to 17 within Utah is suicide.  For the time period since the policy was announced in November, the average would have been eleven or twelve suicides.  We have thirty-two, just that I know of.  I’m sure there have been more.  That’s triple, and I attribute that to the policy.  They have never come out in a harsher way against gay people.  We call them the meanest word we have in Mormon vernacular: APOSTATE.  That’s what I attribute the recent jump in numbers to.

(Wendy Montgomery, January 25, 2016)

Wendy: Probably ten minutes ago I got a message from a guy who lives in northern Utah.  His wife works at Weber High School.  There was a suicide this morning of a gay, Mormon teen who left a suicide note saying it was because of what [David] Bednar said.

Greg: Oh, my gosh!

Wendy: That was this morning.  I got a message earlier this week that there had been three suicides at Salem High School alone in the past little while.  I don’t know what “little while” meant.  I don’t know even know what to do with all of this.  I’m so angry constantly.  I get messages flooding in about these different suicides that are happening, and I can’t fix it.  I can’t make it go away.…

Wendy: The man that messaged me was telling me what happened in his wife’s school, Weber High School.  So I didn’t even hear it from his wife.  But he said he and his wife had been working with this kid, who was having a hard time.  So he knew his story.  All I know is what this guy said.

(Wendy Montgomery, February 29, 2016)

Prince: I have one question for you.  How is it that Tom Perry can give Jim Dabakis the front of his hand one week, and then three weeks later give the entire LGBT community the back of his hand?  Help me to understand this.

Urquhart: I need someone to explain it to me!

Prince: I asked first.

Urquhart: OK, here’s my take.  He could easily have given that same talk, “We believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, done in the temples under the standard to which we subscribe.”  He could have done that without crapping on other marriages, and especially without calling them “counterfeit.”  So you have to think there is some intention there.  What I gather is that the Church is trying to simultaneously play to two warring camps.  They are trying to play footsies with the LGBT community so that they don’t get branded as being bigoted; but then I guess there must be people in the flock that they had to signal and say, “OK, we’re doing this stuff, but you understand that we really hate these people.”

Prince: “So keep writing tithing checks.”

Urquhart: Yes, “Keep writing tithing checks, because you know we hate them.  This is just politically-correct stuff we have to do.”…

Prince: I talked to Wendy yesterday.  She said that in the forty-eight hours after Perry’s General Conference talk, she had fifteen people contact her, saying either, “My son or daughter tried to commit suicide,” or talking about suicide—and all fifteen of them referenced Perry’s talk as the reason.

Urquhart: Are you serious?

Prince: I am serious.

Urquhart: Ugh!

Prince: She said, “I’m one person.  They are reaching out to me,” and most of them she didn’t know.  Can you imagine how many others there were?

Urquhart: Let me stop you right there.  That needs to be shouted from the rooftops.  I don’t know if she has written that anywhere, but that needs to be out there on social media.  That kind of stuff may be able to stop it.  The Church does not want blood on its hands.

Prince: No, but they have it there.

Urquhart: I know they do.

Prince: And they have had it for years and years.

Urquhart: If you can say, “Here was a talk with one word, ‘counterfeit,’ and it caused these reactions,” then you can say to the Church, “Stop it!  Think before you speak.”  I would think that would have to put them back on their heels.

(Stephen Urquhart, April 26, 2015)

Wood: If you were to say to Elder Andersen, “Elder Andersen, do you realize that there have been thirty-four confirmed suicides since the policy came out.  What does that mean to you?  Does that affect you at all?”  I’ll be you that he would either not be aware of it, or he would downgrade it as being embellished or overblown, not completely accurate.  I can’t believe that you could come to them and say, “There are kids who feel so disenfranchised, so marginalized”—my first cousin got off his mission, and for eight years tried to make himself fit in the Church.  His nieces and nephews say, “This is the best uncle that we could possibly have.  He comes over and plays with us.  He doesn’t really have much going on.”  And he didn’t.  His social life was dead.  He was lonely, and he finally realized that he couldn’t make it work, and he killed himself.  That happened twelve years ago.  The sad part of about it is that I really didn’t pay much attention to it.  He killed himself and I felt horrible about that, but I didn’t really look at his motives until this last year, when I have thought through this thing.  I thought so intently about what would make him feel so horrible about himself and his future, and about the eternities, that he would take his life.  Then I see kids continuing to do that, and I think, “How can you stop it?”  The only way I can see is that somebody stands up and says, “We are rethinking this.  We are concerned about our LGBT members of the Church.  We are concerned about their emotional and spiritual welfare, and we want to do something.  We are lifting this ban and we are going to allow the children of same-sex marriages to be baptized.”  It’s not going to happen, but it sure would be nice if it did.

(Walter Wood, January 27, 2016)

Young: Wendy Montgomery had fourteen suicide calls after the Saturday [General] Conference, between Saturday and Monday, and four were in the hospital.  One was from a mother who caught her son holding a gun; another from a mother who caught her daughter taking pills.  The rest had deep suicidal thoughts.  Ohio, Texas, Utah, Arizona.  And those were only to her.  How many others were there?  How can anyone stand by and rationalize that that’s OK?  I can’t see anything about that that’s OK.…

I have days where I ache.  There is a sweet boy named Wes Buckley who killed himself on March 29th in Hyrum, Utah.  He was in junior high, he was an amazing composer and piano player.  He was shockingly talented.  Beautiful soul.  He was loved in the school—a gay boy with a thousand girlfriends.  One girl wrote, “You told me it was National Hug Day every Monday.  Nobody else treated me the way you did.  You always found me on Monday and gave me a hug.”  He was just this beautiful, beautiful soul.  When you see his picture, you just know that he was a beautiful soul.  He killed himself on March 29th.  He was out.  Within hours, his cousin had contacted Wendy Montgomery about it.  He was laid to rest, he was being put into the ground while Tom Perry was giving his “counterfeit” talk.

We hear about the suicides.  We hear about all of them.  I have names of all these kids who have killed themselves.  Wes was loved, and yet the rhetoric got to him—and the fact that he was laid to rest that day.  I go through these moments where I can’t take it anymore.  I can’t handle it anymore.  I’ve got to step away from the Church because I’m not getting spiritually fulfilled from it at all.  Having got to so many other churches, I know what that feels like.  I miss it and I want it and I desire it and I crave it.

(Barbara Young, April 24, 2015)

Wendy: Elder Christofferson went to the viewing of Stockton.  I saw Elder Christofferson in the parking lot.  We pulled in at the same time for the viewing.  He came up to us, gave Jordan, Suzanne and me a hug and said, “I’m so sorry for all of this.  It’s awful.”  Then he said, “Wendy, keep doing what you’re doing.  It’s really important.”  I think in a normal moment I would have taken that as a compliment, but it really pissed me off in that moment, because we were going into this boy’s viewing.  I just looked at him and said, “Elder Christofferson, we need help from the top!  Your voice reaches so much further than any of ours, but I’m not hearing any help.”  He looked at me and winked, and said, “Working on it, Wendy.”  I don’t know if he was trying to give me hope, or if he was politely dodging my question.

When Elder Christofferson and his brother Tom got up where Alison and George were standing, right by Stockton’s casket, it was one of the most powerful moments I have ever witnessed.  Alison grabbed Elder Christofferson’s face, put her hands on both of his cheeks—he’s quite a bit taller than her, so she pulled him down to eye level, with their faces about four inches apart—and he just said, “I am so sorry about this.”  She said, “This needs to stop!  Look at my son right there!  Look at him!  No more!  No more!  Say something!  Do something!”  There is no voice that was more powerful than that mom in that moment.  For her to be that forceful and passionate with an apostle—he just had tears running down his face.  He just said, “I’m so sorry.  I’m so affected by what is happening right now.  Please know that there is not a day that goes by that this is not talked about, prayed about, and we are seeking for answers.”  I don’t know if that was helpful for Alison or not.  But to see her grab that moment when she had it and just really hammer it home to him, I thought was amazing.  I wish I had that on camera and could put it on YouTube.

(Wendy Montgomery, July 14, 2016)


“The fears were there right from the start — that the LDS Church’s new policy on same-sex couples would make gay Mormons feel more judged, more marginalized, more misunderstood and that more of them would take their own lives.

Since early November — when the edict labeling gay LDS couples as ‘apostates’ and denying their children baptism until age 18 took hold — social media sites have been buzzing with tales of loss, depression and death. Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts. Activists have been bombarded with grief-stricken family members seeking comfort and counsel.

Wendy Williams Montgomery, an Arizona-based Mormon mom with a gay son, says she began receiving email or Facebook messages from bereaved families nearly daily, mourning a loved one’s suicide.

From the policy’s onset through the end of 2015, Montgomery, a leader of the Mama Dragons support group for the families of gay Latter-day Saints, says she had counted 26 suicides of young LGBT Mormons in Utah — 23 males, one female and two transgender individuals — between ages 14 and 20.

She tallied another six in other states — though none of the reported deaths could be specifically tied to the policy.

Montgomery’s statistics were shared at a recent meeting in Los Angeles of Affirmation, a support group for gay Mormons.…

Trouble is, the number far exceeds the suicide figures collected by the Utah Department of Health.

Preliminary figures for November and December show 10 suicides in the Beehive State for people ages 14 to 20, with two more cases ‘undetermined.’… (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Suicide fears, if not actual suicides, rise in wake of Mormon same-sex policy,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 28, 2016)


“The LDS Church responded Thursday to an unverified report about suicide deaths among Mormon LGBT people.

‘We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope,’ senior church leaders said through a spokesman.

Wendy Montgomery, a co-founder of the Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon mothers with gay children, reported last week that she had been told 32 young LGBT Mormons have died by suicide since early November.

The individual families who told Montgomery about their losses requested privacy. The Deseret News has not been able to verify this number independently.…

Each of the 32 suicides documented by Montgomery took place after Nov. 5, when LDS Church leaders released new policies in an online update to Handbook 1, a private document of instructions to local priesthood leaders who run Mormon congregations. The update clarified that the church, because of its fundamental doctrine on marriage, considers entering a same-sex marriage to be apostasy and grounds for excommunication. A new section in the handbook instructed local leaders that children living with parents who are in a same-sex relationship cannot receive baby blessings or baptism before age 18.…” (Tad Walch and Lois M. Collins, “LDS Church leaders mourn reported deaths in Mormon LGBT community,” Deseret News, January 28, 2016)


“It’s very significant that the Deseret News chose to lead with this story. It wasn’t certain that anybody would break the story without being able to verify Wendy’s report on the number of suicides. This is the strongest public acknowledgment by the Church of the LGBT Mormon suicide problem; it acknowledges increased trauma for LGBT Mormons, possibly linked to an increase in suicide, since the new policy; it provides excellent information about suicide prevention; and it emphasizes the importance of creating an environment in the Church that enables individuals to come out of the closet. 

It’s not a perfect article (including a section where I was quoted a bit out of context in relation to the policy), but it is a big deal that it’s appeared in the Deseret News, and that the Deseret News broke the story. 

Caitlyn Ryan says that downloads of the Family Acceptance Project brochure have been going non-stop since the article was posted.” (John Gustav-Wrathall to Affirmation Board, January 29, 2016)

Interviewee: Laura Dulin

Date: February 12, 2018

Place: Telephone

Interviewer: Gregory A. Prince

My feeling is that suicide is sort of the worst symptom of some of the same problems—panning out more and looking at it from the bigger umbrella of what are the negative mental health impacts, including the suicide piece as just one of many, many potential negative outcomes of sending this persistent message that you must cut yourself off from this part of yourself and not live into it, in all the ways that that plays out.…

More and more prominently, we are talking about post-traumatic stress disorder.… I think a lot of people are misdiagnosed.  They may show up as classic depression, but the actual trauma is what it means to be rejected by your family, told by your bishop that you have committed a sin next to murder, and you are integrating some idea about yourself as a sexual deviant who is dangerous.  And then the symptoms showing up are more like people having flashbacks and being triggered into fight or flight, or having nightmares about what happened.  Or, just by walking into a church or anticipating seeing their families again, their whole body is getting into distress.  These are more the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than they would be a classic anxiety disorder or depression.…

Timing-wise, he [Brian Simmons] ended up putting out his survey about six months after The Policy.  So he was capturing something really heightened about trauma in that context.  He had about 278 respondents who were LGBT Mormons and post-Mormons who were accessing online support.  They might have been in North Star or Affirmation or Mormons Building Bridges—people accessing support, rather than some random sample.  Of those people—and I think his sample was about half-and-half between people were in the church and who had left—87% [correction: 73%] had symptoms diagnosable as post-traumatic stress disorder.…

We do have some statistics from things like the Family Acceptance Project and some of the things John Dehlin has done, about how many people have attempted suicide.  Then, as you said, we have this really fuzzy thing about the suicide rates going up.  We don’t know how many of the suicides are LGBT, and how will we ever know, because people don’t feel safe to come out.  All of the numbers were jumping up during the same years that they were saying that youth mental health had really suffered since about 2005, when they said the majority of Americans started to own smart phones.  More and more people are connecting to each other through social media.  The year that the majority had smart phones was also the year that the correlation of mental health problems across the board with youth showed up: more depression, more anxiety.  But it’s very hard to correlate any of that with suicide.…

Clearly, we have a lot of people attempting suicide and experiencing suicide ideation.  How much the numbers we have here in Utah are reflective of people who have committed suicide is fuzzy.…

I do think there is a strong correlation here, mostly because it’s rare to encounter an LGBT Mormon who doesn’t have some point in their story where they are beginning to talk about how they became suicidal and had suicide ideation.  There is maybe a little smaller set that says, “I actually made an attempt,” but that’s still pretty common in peoples’ story, where they made an attempt or concocted a plan.  Knowing that that’s such a common part of peoples’ stories, both the ideation and the attempts, how can that not ultimately show up in the actual numbers, even if we don’t know the orientation of people who have taken their lives?…

[Prince]  And the church response is totally predictable.  “Gee, this is tragic.  And, by the way, it’s not our fault.”  [Dulin]  Right.  “We’re going to put up a website.”  I haven’t seen a single client yet who said to me, “I was really thinking about hurting myself, and then there was this church website that I sought out.”  It’s not happening.  Or, “We had this lesson in Sunday School where we referenced this church website.”  I don’t think it’s doing anything, other than having them sort of cover their butt.…

[Prince]  How do we fix this?  We can’t just resign ourselves to saying, “Well, that’s the way it is.”  [Dulin]  I think policies and doctrines have to change.  My feeling is that ever since The Policy, we’ve had a social response of, “We’re going to increase love.”  But no matter how much love that you “increase,” even if you’re sending a message to parents who would kick out their children, nothing ultimately keeps people from having to make the decision of either cutting themselves off from the church, or cutting themselves off from a partner.  Those two things, having a life partner or having a community in your faith, are both essential human needs.  Until we actually change that, we will continue to cause people trauma.  Actually, all this love language can be somewhat deceptive.  If someone loves you, you’re going to trust them, you’re going to look to them.  But in the end, there is nothing in that sentiment that is going to save you from ultimately having to make that decision, and then suffer the losses, suffer the pain.

Essentially what ends up happening is that people who leave the church often have such trauma, because of the way we frame the institution as being so much synonymous with God and God’s will, that leaving the church for many people essentially means cutting themselves off from God.  If a person is lucky, it takes years of distance and psychological work to access God’s voice and individuality from the church back out of that, so that they maybe can reclaim some meaning in that connection.  But initially, the trauma is so severe that thinking about God is synonymous with thinking about rejection from the community, rejection from God’s kingdom, and being worthless.

The other side of the coin, staying in the church, means I’m cutting myself off from ever having a partner, and it causes all these psychological problems and pain that comes with that.  No matter which way you cut it, people who left and people who stayed can still be experiencing the same type of symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

“The youth suicide rate in Utah has trended upward in recent years, growing at an average rate almost four times faster than the rest of the nation.  Youth suicide, [Governor Gary] Herbert pointed out, is now the leading cause of death among these young people.…

His announcement Wednesday also comes on the heels of a November report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that confirmed the extent of Utah’s youth suicide problem—and said that state officials could be taking more steps to address it.”

[From CDC report linked to the newspaper article: “The combined crude suicide rate among Utah youth aged 10-17 years during 2011-2015 was 7.9 per 100,000 whereas the rate among United States youth of the same age and time period was 3.8 per 100,000.

The crude annual suicide rate among Utah youth aged 10-17 years increased at a faster rate (22.8% per year) than the crude annual suicide rate among U.S. youth aged 10-17 years (6.0% per year) during 2011-2015.”]

(Luke Ramseth, “Utah’s governor launches youth suicide task force as state reveals 44 suicide deaths among 10-to-17-year-olds in 2017,” Salt Lake Tribune, January 17, 2018)

“To those who feel alone, rejected, or marginalized or who feel, for any reason, that taking their life might be the solution to their problems, know that you are loved, valued, and respected.  Talk to someone.  You don’t need to suffer alone.  We love you and we need you.”  (Ronald Rasband, “Elder Rasband Highlights Suicide Prevention Resources for Members and Leaders,” Church News, January 19, 2018)

“Additional information for LGBT individuals, who may be at greater risk of suicide, and their families can be found at MormonandGay.lds.org in the Understanding section.  Leaders should be especially mindful of extending love and support to these members of their congregations.”  (“Suicide Prevention and Ministering,” circular letter, January 17, 2018)

“A year ago, I sent this letter directly to the First Presidency, but never received a reply.…

In February, 2016, my son, Harry Fisher, committed suicide.…  He served a mission for the Mormon church in New York state and he was a believing Mormon most of his life.  One month before his suicide, Harry posted on Facebook that he was gay.…

On Facebook Harry posted that ‘Being gay in Utah and while being a Latter-day Saint can be hard.… Every couple of Sundays I have to go out to my car to keep from crying at church.’

This is sad, but there is something much sadder for faithful, gay Mormons than cruel comments.  That is the lack of a place for them in the church they believe in.  Harry had a choice between marrying a person he was not attracted to, leaving the Mormon church or living alone.  These are choices that you, the leaders of the Mormon church, don’t present to heterosexuals or to yourself.

(Paul Fisher, Open Letter to the First Presidency, Salt Lake Tribune, January 26, 2018)

“In recent years, suicide has become the leading cause of death in Utah among adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17.… Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers across the US each year.…

[Wendy] Montgomery said that in the months after the leak [of The Policy], the damage done was ‘incalculable.’  She estimates that at least 32 youth died by suicide across the state, and every one of the victims’ families that she personally spoke to was Mormon.  Those numbers have been contested by the Utah Department of Health, but Montgomery says there’s a reason for that: Families who have lost a child often misreport the cause of their death in obituaries, claiming instead that their son or daughter ‘had a rare heart condition’ or ‘died peacefully in their sleep.’

There’s only been one instance, Montgomery claims, where she read an obituary that was fully transparent about the reasons the child is no longer there.  ‘I’ve talked to many policemen who are the first on scene to an obvious suicide, and the parent will beg the policeman to write “accidental death” on the police report,’ she said.…

Currently, the state only formally classifies three causes of death as being the result of suicide, as Montgomery explained: ‘hanging, self-inflicted gunshot wound, and poisoning.’  These limited definitions don’t include scenarios like jumping off a bridge or intentionally crashing your car, both of which are classified as ‘accidental death’”  (Nico Lang, “’I see my son in every one of them’: with a spike in suicides, parents of Utah’s queer youth fear the worst,” Vox, March 20, 2017)

“In 2015, suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 17.”  (https://ibis.health.utah.gov/indicator/complete_profile/SuicDth.html, accessed 2/4/2018)

“[Abstract]  Two-hundred and seventy-eight participants were recruited primarily through LDS-affiliated LGBTQQA support and discussion groups on Facebook.… The majority of participants (85.6%) were raised in an LDS family and half (51.8%) indicated they still attend LDS services at least monthly.  [p. 105] Nearly three-quarters (73.4%, n=204) of respondents would have likely met criteria for PTSD diagnosis related to their religious experiences.  The prevalence of PTSD among study participants was ten times greater than that for the general U.S. adult population.”  (Brian William Simmons, “Coming Out Mormon: An Examination of Religious Orientation, Spiritual Trauma, and PTSD Among Mormons and Ex-Mormon LGBTQQA Adults,” PhD dissertation, University of Georgia, 2017)

George: I think the stimulus to the trauma is really inside the nature and the dynamic of the Mormon culture.  I think what happens is that the culture creates such a deep, deep community, a deep reliance on the community, a reliance on the Brethren, a reliance on the leadership—you are just programmed your entire Mormon upbringing to turn into those spaces.  When that space, in many ways, rejects you, I think the trauma is so deep that it moves to what we are talking about.

Greg: And it forces an impossible choice for many people.  Do you choose the religion in which you believe deeply, or do you choose to be true to yourself?  And you are not allowed to have both.  How do you make that choice?

George: I agree.  Alyson was at a town hall meeting, which was rather interesting, discussing the LGBT community and how can we better support it.  A senator who is, to my understanding, a pretty devout member of the church, made a very, very interesting statement.  He said, “I need to stop protecting my religion, and I need to start living it.”…

Alyson: Stockton came out to us at about twelve or thirteen—so 7th grade was when he came out.  He had written a note to a sister that said he identified as being gay, and he was worried, and thought that maybe he would be better off if he was gone.  Our daughter was concerned enough that she brought the letter to us.

Of course, we talked to him and told him that that wasn’t the case, that we loved him no matter what.…

At that same time, he started to say he didn’t want to attend church.  We had a family rule that as long as our kids lived under our roof, that’s what we would do on Sunday, we attend church.  In hindsight, after doing some interviews after the fact, we found out that one of the things that was a real turn-off for him was when he turned twelve and was a deacon, and they gave him the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.  In that pamphlet it talks about homosexuality being a sin and that you need to talk to your bishop.  At that point he felt like, “I haven’t even done anything that would be sinful, so why am I a sinner?”…

Literally, George and I would be walking down the hall at church, and we would see the bishopric turn and walk the other way.  We knew that they were like, “I hope they don’t come up to us, because they might say something.”  That was a little bit later on.…

We got to the point where we had one incident where he was supposed to go to scout camp.  I was out of town, and George was confronted by the bishop.  He said, “Hey, can you go to scout camp this week?”  George said, “No.  I’ve got a busy week this week.  What’s up?”  He said, “We’ve had parents come to us and say that if Stockton goes to scout camp, then their kids won’t go to scout camp.  Unless you come and sleep in a tent with him alone, he can’t go.”  George said, “My work week is crazy, and Alyson is out of town.”

So George went to Stockton and said, “Hey, dude, we’ve got a problem with scout camp.  They are wanting you to sleep in your own tent.”  Of course, he was like, “Why would I do that?  I want to be with my friends.”  So Stockton was kind of upset.  Then, I heard about it, and I called and tried to get through to the bishop.  I talked to him and shared a few expletives.…

Then, the bishop called us back and said, “Hey, we had a parent meeting, and we have decided that all the kids are going to sleep out under the stars, and the leaders will sleep under the stars but away, because of the scout rule.”  I was upset because we weren’t invited to the parent meeting.  George could have gone to it to discuss concerns, issues.  No one really said it was the gay thing; they just kind of implied it.  “These parents aren’t comfortable.”…

But they came up with that resolution, and Stockton went, knowing that he was already singled out.  He had a good time, although he did end up riding home with a leader early, and just said he was not feeling it and came home.  So we just let that one ride.…

About a week later, I decided that since I was legally the mom, I would give it a go.  So I called the same executive secretary and he asked me what it was regarding.  “I would love to talk to the stake president about this situation, just to make sure that we are all on the same sheet of music.”  He said, “No, you are not talking to the stake president.  If the stake president talked to every mom about her concerns with her gay child, he wouldn’t have time to run the stake.”  He and I went the rounds for probably an hour.  I said, “You’re not the gatekeeper.”  “Yes, I am.  We don’t need you telling us how to administer to our LGBT youth, or anybody else in this stake.”  It went the rounds.  When I said “gay,” he went off on me about, “No, it’s same-sex attraction.”  Of course, all the more I used “gay.”  He would just say, “We are already experts on this,” and so I said, “Then, by all means, enlighten us parents who are getting our butts kicked, not knowing what to do with our kids.  If you guys are truly the experts, then by all means, share.”  He was just going on and on and on.  I was livid at this point.  I said, “I cannot believe I am having this discussion with you, that you will not allow me to talk to a member of the stake presidency.”…

The executive secretary would jump in and say, “But want if he flirts with another boy?”  I’d go, “Well, what if a boy flirts with a girl?”  “Well, we want that.  We don’t want the other.”…

So we kind of go the rounds with the bishop and this executive secretary.  Finally, they were like, “OK, we guess he can come, but you guys better give him a very firm warning.  Could he sleep in his own tent?”  We went down that road, and I said, “I have an idea.  We could have a rainbow tent, and we can put all the gay kids in the stake there.  My ‘gadar’ works.  I can come and pick them all out for you, and we can put them all in a tent.  While we’re at it, let’s make a black tent and put some black kids in the stake in it.”  Of course, they were looking at me like, “Oh, crap!  Here we go.”  I had had it with this merry-go-round.…

Stockton had a great time.  One of his buddies found a little rabbit that made it home.  It was exactly what I predicted.  I got this beautiful note from the stake Young Women’s president, telling me about how she was doing some activity, and Stockton was the only youth that came over and helped her carry some things, and then walked with her with her handcart for several hours, helping her pull it because she was alone.  She was so impressed with that.…

George: We repeatedly tried to reach out.  We knew that Stockton was walking away from the church.  We knew the way he was being treated, where it was hurting him deeply and he needed something more safe and more loving.  We were desperately seeking an experience for our son, so that even if he walked away, later on in life as he was having experiences, if a couple of Mormon missionaries tracted into his home, that he could say, “You know, the Mormon Church wasn’t really for me, but my goodness, they sure treated me well.”…

The kids who had been very close friends with him would say, “Stockton, I can’t be your friend anymore.”  Or they would say, “I love you and I want a relationship with you, but outside of school I can’t have a relationship with you, because if my parents find out that I am a friend of yours, I’m in serious trouble.”  So everywhere he turned, outside of Alyson and me, and some close friends, he constantly ran into this brick wall that included our bishop and stake president.  A letter that we read after he passed away said, “God must hate me, because his people hate me.”…

The blood of my son is begging for change.  There will be continued blood spilt, the lives of these precious youth, until that happens.…

Alyson: We in no way can say that the church is 100% liable and culpable for Stockton’s death.  I believe that with any situation like this, that there are layers.…

What happens, ultimately, with these kids is that they start feeling rejection and abandonment.  It happens over and over and continues.  If you know much about Bountiful, it is predominantly LDS; our neighborhood is predominantly LDS; and when you lose community in that area, you lose everything.  You lose your neighbor friends, you lose your schoolmates, because they are all one-in-the-same.  And in a lot of cases, you lose family.  It becomes, “Oh, I have to stay arm’s-length from this because I don’t want to be connected to something that is contrary to what the community is saying or the culture is doing.”…

We actually go, tomorrow, to sentencing of a 55-year-old gay man who was raping Stockton and got him hooked on meth.  He was a neighbor of ours.  I will tell you, Greg, that this is happening all along the Wasatch Front.  I talk to parents all the time, and this is where our kids are being pushed.  They are losing their community and they are looking for a connection, and there are perpetrators that are taking our kids.  I’ve talked to parents where kids are leaving their shoes outside motel room doors, so if they don’t ever make it back, someone will find their shoes.  It’s sad, and in this state, these men are getting slaps on the wrists.  They are not being punished.  The recommendation for our guy is 120 days in jail.  This is a man who is running young gay men, including teenagers, through his home and giving them a life sentence of meth addition and HIV.  And this is where we are turning our kids loose, because they are being abandoned by their community.…

We’ve talked to him specifically about this issue.  These perpetrators are finding bedroom communities, they are finding these kids who are being rejected and who are being exploited.  Stockton said to me, “Mom, I just wanted to find someone who cared about me and loved me.  I wanted to date, I wanted to do the things that any sixteen-year-old boy wants to do, and that is to feel a part of something.”…

The Policy came out the week that my mother was passing away.  We were at her side, doing that transition to my mom dying.  He and I briefly talked about it, because we were spending a lot of time with my mom and I remember him saying, “Did you hear about that?”  “Yes.”  I asked him how he felt, and he said, “I’m done.”  He asked if he could resign his membership, and we told him that we preferred that he wait until he was eighteen.

My mom died within a week, so it was four or five days after The Policy was announced.  The one thing that stood out to me was that it was almost like Stockton felt that because of The Policy that he was really going to Hell, and that he would never see my mom again.  My kids were really close to her.  One of the reasons we moved to Bountiful was to help care for my parents as they were getting older.  My kids were very close with my parents.  We lived on the same street, a block away.  They walked home everyday and stopped at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  He literally was inconsolable the day that we buried my mom.  My bishop was sitting right behind us and could not have missed it, that I could not console my son.  I kept on thinking, “What’s going on with him?”

Stockton came to me that night and he said, “Mom, I was going to hang myself tonight, but Grandma came to me and told me to come to you and tell you.”  And so he told me.  We know now that it was during this timeframe that he was connected with this man and was being violated and was using meth, which is so highly addictive.  Of course, we responded to his suicide ideation and plan.  Keep in mind that he had been seeing a therapist all this time and had never given her any inkling whatsoever of any of this.…

Honestly, if anybody asks me about what to do with their kid at that age, at thirteen, I tell them to take them out of the church.  I tell them to find them a church where they can be spiritual and find a connection to God and to Jesus Christ, and to know that they are loved.  Stockton didn’t know that.  He didn’t believe it.  He had no faith in anything higher.  He had none of that, because every message he got was that he was not lovable.…

Stockton went with his dad that weekend.  He and his dad got in a fight.  Stockton had snuck out of the house, and his dad found out.  His dad would say to me, “He only behaves like this for you, not me.”  We’d say, “He’s behaving this way for you, but you just don’t know it.”  Like when he got out of rehab, we wouldn’t let him have the car, which is part of the rehab rules.  They had to earn that, to stay clean in different things.  So we were following that, but his dad would give him the car, and the next thing you know, he was somewhere he shouldn’t have been.  He was upset and said, “He promised me he wouldn’t do that.”  I said, “He’s a teenager.  He’s going to promise you anything to get a car.”

So his dad said some incredibly mean things to Stockton and to us.  The night before, they got into a huge fight.  His dad told him he was done with him, that Stockton was no longer going to be able to come to his house, and that he was done with him.  I think that for Stockton, that was the last straw.  That’s the last thing he wanted to hear.  He wanted to hear, “I know you’re struggling.  I know that staying clean is hard, but we’re going to get through this, and I’m going to help you.”  I don’t know if he said anything about us being done, as well.  We certainly weren’t done.

Stockton had reached out to us Sunday night and told us that things had gone bad, and I was worried.  In the middle of the night I texted his dad and said, “Please, don’t leave him alone in the morning.”  I was more worried that he would try to find drugs, and I didn’t want him to be put in that scenario.  So I had said, “Please don’t leave him alone,” but his dad left him alone that morning.  When he came back to get him, he had taken his life.…

George: The thing that keeps ringing in my head, Greg, is that there were lots of different layers.  But the thing that I just can’t explain adequately to you is that the church failed us.  The church, even in its weakest moment, if it had followed the principles of the gospel that you hear every six months in General Conference, that you hear in Sunday School lessons—if they would just have followed those things, there would have been one less layer in his life that was rejecting and abandoning him.  The truth of this is that the church is culpable.  What smacks, to me, is that there is no ownership.  There is zero ownership.…

I don’t understand how the church can sit there, and there isn’t a General Authority, an apostle, who doesn’t stand up at General Conference and say, “This has to stop!  We have to own our part in the pain that is being inflicted on our youth to the point where they feel like there is no reason to live anymore.”…

Our purpose is that there are other Stockton’s in many, many congregations, and our purpose is to teach the worth of the soul.  The reason why I will talk with you, and the reason I will work with the church, is that those souls are precious.  That’s why what you are doing, and what anyone of us is trying to do to create some change, is really critical.  There is a child that is worth it.  That’s what it comes down to, Greg.  So no matter what a General Authority, or other leaders of the church, or even the prophet might say, this has to happen.  I applaud you for your courage and whatever else moxie runs through you.  Anything we can do to support what you are doing, we’re all in.

Alyson: I think it’s important for you to know that George and I do a monthly dinner at our house for the Millennial age group, mostly men.  There is not a week that goes by where we are not talking young men off the ledge, we are bringing them to our home to be with someone until they can feel like they are stable.  This isn’t just one; this is dozens and dozens and dozens of young men and women, but mostly men.  Here in Utah, we now have something every Sunday night for the Millennial-aged young adults to go to so that they have a place where they feel welcomed and loved and cared about.

(Alyson and George Deussen, February 20, 2018)

Wendy: I was going back through some old notes that I can send to you.  It’s a list of seven suicides in eight days, the same week that Stockton passed away:

Wyatt Bateman, 18 – Springville, UT

Stockton Powers, 17 – Bountiful, UT

Makayla Ferguson, 18 – St. George, UT

Alan Schwind – no age reported

Raymond Lamson, 26 – Salt Lake City, UT

Ian Williams, 13 – Cottonwood, UT

Anthony Bennett, 16 – Farmington, UT…

You should never attribute suicide to just one issue, because it’s very multi-faceted.  It’s never just one thing.  People say the church is to blame for all the suicides, but that’s false.  But the church isn’t innocent, either.  It has a part to play in the ten reasons why somebody has decided to attempt suicide.  But it’s definitely a part of it.…

In January 2016, we held an Affirmation board meeting in Southern California.  In the board meeting, I mentioned to John Gustav-Wrathall, who was the president at the time, that I had this list of thirty-two people who had contacted me in the past three months.  All of them had said something like, “I blame The Policy,” or, “The church is behind all of this.”  I don’t know for sure if that’s when the suicide happened, or that’s when they decided to talk to somebody about what happened.  I don’t have numbers on that.

Greg: Were these thirty-two cases where there had been a suicide?

Wendy: Yes.  Twenty-eight of those were in Utah, two were in Idaho, one in Arizona, and one “back East.”  It was mainly boys, with just a few girls and one transgender—I don’t know if it was female-to-male, or male-to-female.…

Every one of those thirty-two people who had messaged me in those first few months asked, “Please do not share my story.  Please don’t make this public.”  Even to this day, I have respected that.  Even though my own reputation was eviscerated, that is, in my mind, a small price to pay to protect the grief of these families.  Unless they want to be the ones to talk about this, it’s not coming from me.  I could have cleared my name over and over again, but it wasn’t about that for me.…

The CDC came out last year and said that the number one cause of death for 10-to-17-year-olds in Utah is suicide.  That’s crazy!  I’ve also seen several articles where people have tried to explain this.  I’ve seen oxygen levels, the altitude, screen time, air quality.  Before we moved to Arizona, we lived in Bakersfield, California.  Bakersfield and Fresno are known for the worst air in the country.  There was not a suicide problem there, and the air quality was way worse there than it is in Salt Lake.

Greg: And why didn’t it go up for all the other age demographics at the same time, if that were the case?

Wendy: Right.  And the altitude hasn’t tripled in five years.…

When I talked to a woman at the Utah Department of Health a couple of years ago, I said, “Why don’t we have accurate numbers?”  There are a couple of reasons.  They don’t require, or even ask for, sexual orientation at the time of death.  A lot of these kids either are not out, or the parents aren’t going to own that.  I’ve spoken with policemen in Ogden who were the first on scene at a very obvious suicide.  The parents begged them, “Please write ‘accidental death.’”  They didn’t want that stigma for their kid.  And the policemen did, just to honor the parents’ request, even though they knew it was suicide.  Whether that kid was gay or not, I don’t know.

And then, this woman at the Utah Department of Health also said, “Utah considers only three methods of death a slam-dunk for suicide, unless there is a note.”  And rarely is there a suicide note.  That’s in the movies.  Most people don’t write a note.  “The three methods of death that we consider suicide are asphyxiation by hanging, self-inflicted gunshot wound, or poisoning.”  And poisoning isn’t overdosing on drugs or over-the-counter medications.  It’s like drinking rat poison or bleach or something.  So kids who take a whole bottle of pills?  Accidental death.  You walk in front of a train, drive your car into a tree, any other method of death is considered accidental.  Those are way more common than the three that they consider.

So they are considered accidental deaths.  We don’t even know if the kids are LGBT or not.  Or, a lot of times if they did come out to their parents, the parents don’t say anything about it.…

Greg: Have you had any contact with any of the Brethren in recent months?

Wendy: That would only be Elder Christofferson.  I haven’t met with any of the other apostles or First Presidency.  The last time I spoke with him was at Stockton’s viewing.  It was the most powerful thing I have ever witnessed, what Alyson said to him.  We happened to pull into the parking lot at the same time as Tom and Elder Christofferson.  They came over and talked to us for a minute in the parking lot.  He gave us a hug and said, “I sure wish I was able to see you at an event that wasn’t this.”  Every time I have seen him, he has said the same thing.  And he said it again in the parking lot: “Wendy, please don’t stop what you are doing.  We need so many more doing this.  I know it’s hard, but you are doing on the ground what I cannot do in my office.”  In that moment, it made me so angry.  Before, I was sort of grateful.  “Oh, you acknowledge that this needs to be done.”  But I was so livid in that moment, because how dare he say that, when his voice reaches millions?  I looked at him and said, “Elder Christofferson, I have Facebook, and you have a podium that reaches 15,000,000 people.  We need help from the top!  We cannot fight this through Facebook.”  He kind of smiled and nodded his head, and said, “We’re working on it.”  That’s always what he says.  That was the last in-person conversation that I had with him about it.…

Since Nelson has become the prophet, just in the Mama Dragon group alone—because there are probably so many more that we don’t know—we have had I want to say twenty or thirty kids that have been in hospitals for suicide attempts, that are our children—children of Mama Dragons that are so supportive and loving of their kids.  These aren’t homophobic families.  Just the thought of him being prophet is sending people over the edge.  I don’t know how you write about any of that.…

Greg: Brian Simmons’s dissertation allows us to put numbers on it now, and I think that’s the way to frame it.  “Hey, guys, you are doing trauma, and in extremis that trauma can lead to suicide.  But it’s not just a suicide issue.”

Wendy: Yes, “You’re damaging them for life.”

Greg: Yes.  Isn’t that in agreement with your own experience?

Wendy: Oh, for sure.  I’m just thinking of the All Arizona group here, people who we are with and who are our age.  They are not the teenagers who are getting out before they get married; these are all people divorced from mixed-orientation marriages, some of them still in the mixed-orientation marriages.  There are people who have been divorced for ten or fifteen years, and they still can’t stop talking about it.  It is still front and center.  They’ve let the religion and faith go, but it just consumes their thoughts.…

Stockton had the fiercest mom.  I’m sure Alyson played it all down, but the things that she did and the lengths to which she went to keep him save and protected and fought for, I’ve never seen a parent work harder in my life than she.  She makes the rest of us Mama Dragons look like little puppy dogs.  She is incredible, and she still lost him!  I feel like whatever good Affirmation does, or Mama Dragons, or All Arizona, it’s like a drop of water in the bucket.  We can’t stem the tide until they change the message from the top.…

And that’s kind of how I feel that Mama Dragons—I don’t know if any of us will ever say it in a public forum, but our unofficial mission, it feels like, is to gently shepherd these kids out of the church.  Right now, it is killing them.  If nothing else, it’s giving them PTSD.  We have got to get them out, because the longer they stay, the more damage that they have.  But it’s so traumatic leaving, especially if your family is still in.  It’s so hard to know what to do.  Do you support them staying?  Do you support them leaving?  I want them all to leave until it gets better, because I just can’t keep watching these kids die.  I attended seven funerals in 2016, all of them teenagers, all of them gay.  I watched my son be a pallbearer for Stockton.  Our babies should not be burying babies.

(Wendy Montgomery, February 21, 2018)

Larsen: I have had at least fifty kids—and I’m not exaggerating—say to me, “Thank you for doing Encircle.  This saved my life.”

Prince: And this is in less than one year?

Larsen: Less than one year.  I’m not exaggerating.  I think that is because knowing that the average kid realizes that they are gay, lesbian or bisexual by age twelve—and transgender are younger than that—and on average they don’t come out until they are twenty-two, that ten-year period of hearing the negative messaging from their church, from their parents, from their aunts, from their teachers, you name it, they are feeling so much shame and self-hate that they hid the secret and they stay home in their bedrooms, depressed, feeling like there is no way out, no one can know.  “If I tell this secret, God will hate me, my parents won’t accept it”—what could be worse for a Mormon kid than to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?  There is nothing.

So I think what’s happening in Encircle is that these kids are coming together and learning “I am not the only one!”  They are finding connections that they never have had before.  Most of the time that they are there, they are spending doing fun, enjoyable things, just being kids and being college students.  It’s just that they can be normal for a while.

But then you get in their support groups, and it’s all about suicide.  I am shocked!  I don’t go in very often, because I feel like that is their sacred space.  But it is alarming, and it takes me usually about a week to recover after I go in one.  They will go around the room—I’ll give you an example of the last one I attended.  There were fifteen kids, ages eighteen to twenty-one.…

Almost all of them say—and I don’t say this to brag about what we are doing—“Today was good because I went through this, this and this drug today, but I knew I could come here tonight.”  They have a safe space to talk and to feel loved.  They kind of go through the week.  “Well, I wasn’t very depressed this week.  It was a pretty good week, although I had some problems with my family.”  Then we get about halfway around the room and one of the boys says, “I have been in a funk for the last week, and I can’t get killing myself out of my head.  I can’t make myself not want to kill myself.”  These kids are amazing.  They are like, “Adam, you are so brave to share this with us.  After I attempted suicide…”—and then they share things about after they attempted suicide, things that helped them get out of the funk.

And then Adam says, “I’ve been trying not to drive on the freeway, because I’m afraid I’ll drive my car into the median.”  The girls’ response to this is, “Adam, that’s so great!  That’s a form of self-care.  Maybe next week you can do one more thing to love yourself and take care of yourself.”  I’m thinking, “They are seriously congratulating him because he’s not driving into a median.  They all get it!  They all have been there.”

The thing is over and there is a new kid I’ve never met before.  He comes up to me and he goes, “I’ve been coming here for a few months.”  He just talked about his suicidal thing.  He said, “This is saving me.”  They have nothing else.…

But these BYU kids are doing the worst of all, because they are in this place where they still want to commit to the church.  They believe they are bad.  Over this ten-year period that they realize who they are, they have been telling themselves lies.  Eventually, a lot that they say is a lie.  Where do you figure out where reality is?  It’s just horrible to see.…

Right now, we have fifty to sixty kids coming per day, in this 1,800-square-foot house.  It’s packed constantly.  So there is a need.  Seventy-five percent come from Utah County, and the other 25% are coming from outside Utah County, as far as Ogden regularly.  It’s all they have.  Their parents will drive them.  They get it, and they will do anything they can to save their kid.  But most parents won’t come in.  That’s the hardest part.…

This year, we went from having one therapist, to nine.  That’s one of the reasons we want to expand.  These kids are aching for therapy.  They are very open and realize they are breaking.  A third of the therapy is now going to gender-variant youth.  And a third of the youth who come to Encircle are gender-variant.  We had a youth conference in December, called Ignite.  We did it at the beginning of December because these kids all talk about how hard the Holidays are, how hard it is to stay alive through the Holidays.  So we did it at the beginning of December.  We had two months to plan it, and we had 400 youth show up for this one-day conference.  A third of those kids put on their form that they were gender-variant.  They are, by far, the most need and least understood and least accepted by their families.…

Mike Purdy came down to Encircle.  He came down with Tom Christofferson, to get a tour.  Tom wanted him to talk to me, which surprised me.  I talked to him for maybe an hour-and-a-half.  He said, “You and I both understand that suicide is complicated.  The church is getting blamed for these suicides.  That’s the narrative.  What do you think?”  I said, “Do you want me to tell you the truth?”  “Yes.”  I said, “It is the church’s fault.  You can spend five minutes with me in a support group, and it becomes very evident how these kids view themselves because of what they have been told in church.  They don’t think God loves them, because of who they are.”

He was really great.  He really listened.  And then he said, “OK, so here is today,” and he held out one hand.  Then he held out his other hand and said, “Here is the day when church policy changes.  What do you think we should do between today and when church policy changes?”  I was shocked!  I was like, “Are you kidding me?  This is a $500 billion corporation and they don’t have a plan?  They are just throwing stuff out?”  I was surprised that he was asking me, a woman who lives in Provo and is just winging it.  At that moment I thought, “I am going to own this.  People need someone to speak up and stand up for them.”  That’s what they are doing here, just randomly making comments that are very destructive to people.

All I could really say to him was, “You need to make parents know that they never need to choose between their child and the church.  These kids are born this way.  It is not their choice.”

(Stephenie Larsen, February 22, 2018)