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Prince Research Excerpts on Gay Rights & Mormonism – “Suicide – Chapter 29 Notes”

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Chapter 29 Notes: PTSD and Suicide

Section 1: PTSD and Suicide are on the same spectrum

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.…

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.

“[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.

(George Deussen, interviewed February 20, 2018)

Wendy: 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.…

(Wendy Montgomery, February 21, 2018)

Section 2: Suicide in the 60’s


“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)

Section 3: Prop 22


“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.…

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.… (Hugo Salinas, “A Witness Sealed with Blood: Gay Mormon Suicides and the Politics of Silence,” Affinity 22(11):3-5, November 2001)


“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)

Section 4: Squishy statistics vs. grim realities


“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)


“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)


“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)


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.


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 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.…

[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)

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)

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…

Wendy: Twenty-eight of those [post-Policy] 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.…

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.…

 (Wendy Montgomery, interviewed February 21, 2018)

Section 5: The human face


“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)

Wood: 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.

(Walter Wood, January 27, 2016)

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.”…

Alyson: 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.…

(Alyson and George Deussen, interviewed February 20, 2018)

Wendy: 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.…

(Wendy Montgomery, February 21, 2018)

Section 6: Layered blame

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.”…

 (Alyson Deussen, interviewed, February 20, 2018)

Wendy: 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.…

(Wendy Montgomery, February 21, 2018)

Section 7: The church is not blameless


“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)

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.

(Wendy Montgomery, July 16, 2014)

Prince: [Barb Young] 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.…

(Wendy Montgomery, April 25, 2015)

Wendy: 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)


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)

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)

“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)

Wendy: 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.…

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.…

(Wendy Montgomery, February 21, 2018)

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)

Section 8: What can we do?

[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.…

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.

(Laura Dulin, interviewed February 12, 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)

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

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)

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.…

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.…

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.…

(Stephenie Larsen, February 22, 2018)

Wendy: 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.…

(Wendy Montgomery, February 21, 2018)