Question: Are Mormon family members taught to reject their LGBT children, thereby forcing many of them to become homeless?


Question: Are Mormon family members taught to reject their LGBT children, thereby forcing many of them to become homeless?

Homelessness among LGBT youth in America is considered “an epidemic"

Reports have appeared in the American media stating that large portions of the homeless youth in Utah are gay. Critics imply that the substantial LDS population in this area explains these high numbers of homeless youth. It’s inferred that LDS families force children with non-heterosexual orientations out of their homes.

Homelessness among LGBT youth in America is considered “an epidemic.” LGBT youth are homeless more often than straight youth all over the country, not just in Utah. A recent survey of LGBT youth in America found that while feeling more disconnected from peers and communities than youth across the country, LGBT youth in Utah actually enjoyed better and more supportive and accepting connections to family than youth nationwide. No statistics have ever been generated to show causal links between LDS affiliation and homelessness among LGBT youth.

Parents have a duty to love and take care of their children

Furthermore, believing in a moral code does not automatically result in the rejection of those who struggle with the code or who break the code. Parents have a duty to love and take care of their children. However, some parents may ignore the counsel of Church leaders and the scriptures and force LGBT children out of their homes. The Church is clear that this is not in harmony with the gospel, and that such parents are not worthy to hold temple recommends. The teachings of the Church help family members love and respect their children, regardless of sexual orientation or behavior. This love and respect leads to an increase of the child's mental and physical health. [1] (See also Mormonism and culture/Wayward family members)

There are several problems with the assertion that LDS families in Utah reject and expelled LGBT children from their homes:

1) Rates of homelessness among gay youth in Utah are similar to those found in other areas of the US. The high incidence is not limited to states with large LDS communities.

2) A national survey of LGBT youth in America found that youth in Utah actually enjoy better support from adults and family members than national averages. However, the youth reported more problems with peers and larger social structures and the media focused on these negative statistics. So far, the media have ignored the positive numbers on family support.

3) A causal connection between homelessness among gay youth and the LDS Church has never been substantiated with data. It remains merely an assertion and an expression of prejudice.

4) Church leaders and scriptures explicitly teach that children have claim on their parents for support. In addition to this responsibility, parents and other family members are instructed to extend unconditional love regardless of individual behaviors.

While reports of homelessness among gay youth are sad and startling, they aren’t out of line with other data collected in other US states

Statistics on sexual orientation among homeless youth in Utah are typically derived from a survey given to youth ages 15 to 22 who access services for the homeless in Utah. It’s a written survey administered by Volunteers of America Utah. VOAU regularly surveys homeless youth using their facilities, inquiring about many factors including sexual orientation, the reasons for homelessness, and family background. In news items from 2012, a VOAU vice-president is quoted saying a recent survey revealed 42% of homeless youth using VOAU services self-identified as LGBT. [2]

While reports of homelessness among gay youth collected by VOAU are sad and startling, they aren’t out of line with other data collected in other US states.

The percentage of homeless youth throughout all of the US who self-identify as LGBT moves between 20 and 40 percent. [3] Most of the time, Utah posts rates of homeless gay youth at around one third, in the middle of the national range. [4] The finding of 42% is a high point. All gay youth, not just those in states with large LDS populations, experience homelessness at rates disproportionate to the rest of the population. Nationwide, the problem has been called “an epidemic.” [5] This doesn’t diminish the tragedy of the Utah figures but it does strengthen the notion that the Utah findings are typical of American society and are not aberrations arising from subcultures like the LDS Church.

In 2008, the homeless rate for LGBT youth in Utah rose above the national average

In 2008, the homeless rate for LGBT youth in Utah rose above the national average. When questioned about the 2008 numbers, one manager of a program for homeless youth suggested it might have resulted from a change in the way youth were asked about their sexuality. Instead of asking them to identify themselves as straight, gay, lesbian, or transgendered, respondents were allowed to choose “other than heterosexual.” [6] It’s an option respondents might have been more comfortable with since many of them feel they’re still forming their identities and resist narrower definitions.

Family Support for LGBT Youth in Utah

In 2012, the Washington D.C. based Human Rights Campaign released the partial results of an online survey of LGBT youth from across America. The survey recruited respondents through online social media and at places described as “LGBT youth centers.” [7] 10,030 LGBT youth between the ages of 13 and 17 responded and their data were compared to those of 510 “straight” youth who were already members of online panels used in market research. HRC acknowledges issues with sampling place limitations on the survey data. The report on the survey explains, “Traditional measures of margin of error do not apply and the results here may not be representative of this population as a whole.” [8]

Setting aside concerns with the methodology, the survey does yield some interesting results. When the survey first appeared in the media, emphasis was placed on differences between national averages and averages of youth in Utah. Most repeated were figures showing Utah youth were more likely to be verbally harassed and feel like they didn’t “fit in” in their communities.

However, the media seem to have ignored data showing LGBT youth in Utah were better connected to support from adults and family members than national averages.

Utah youth replied that they were “happy” 38% of the time while the national number, though close, is slightly lower at 37%.

When asked if they had “no adult to turn to” 29% of LGBT youth nationwide agreed while only 24% of Utah youth agreed. In Utah, LGBT youth are more likely to have an adult they can rely on involved in their lives.

LGBT youth inside Utah and across the country reported being “out” to immediate family at similar level with Utah youth being slightly more open at 58% instead of the national average of 56%. However, Utah youth were more open with their extended families. 34% of Utah youth were “out” with their extended families while on the national level only 25% of youth were “out” with their extended families.

When asked if they had an adult they could go to when worried or sad, 59% of Utah youth said “yes.” That’s far more than the 49% of youth across the country who report having access to this kind of emotional support from adults.

It’s possible that these supportive adults could be social workers or other non-family members. However, two factors point away from this possibility. The first is that Utah youths report greater than average feelings of animosity between themselves and the local and state governments that would be funding and supporting social agencies. The second factor is that, when asked if their families were “not accepting” of their LGBT identity, youth in Utah were less likely (29%) to say they were not accepted than their peers in the rest of the US (33%). [9]

Utah youth tend to feel more accepted in their families than other LGBT American youth

According to the HRC survey data, Utah youth tend to feel more accepted in their families than other LGBT American youth, not less. This finding runs counter to the assumption that LDS homes are more prone to break off ties with non-heterosexual children.

The results of the HRC survey depict Utah as a state where LGBT youth tend to feel more comfortable and connected to adults in general and to their families in particular than other LGBT American youth. Whether reported in the media or not, the data can speak for themselves to defy critics’ assertions and prejudices.

Failing to report on areas where Utah performs better in caring for LGBT youth than the nation as a whole is not the only foul committed by media outlets. They have also mistakenly reported a direct connection between being LGBT and being homeless because of being "kicked out" by intolerant parents. Either due to ignorance or perhaps for more cunning reasons, media covering the story have made statements claiming the 42% of homeless youth in Utah who are LGBT "report experiencing family rejection and being kicked out of their homes." [10] This is simply wrong. The 42% figure refers only to the proportion of homeless youth who self-identify as LGBT. It says nothing about the reasons why this 42% are homeless. The youths' reasons for leaving home are as complex and varied as they are. Apart from not being borne out by any data, the idea that such a perfect correlation could exist between any two social factors (including factors like being LGBT and being kicked out of one's home) is highly unlikely.

Nothing yet released in any of the data collected definitively links LDS affiliation with homelessness in LGBT youth

Nothing yet released in any of the data collected by VOAU or HRC definitively links LDS affiliation with homelessness in LGBT youth. When asked about the causes of homelessness in LGBT youth, a VOAU vice-president told the Salt Lake Tribune the reasons for homelessness were mixed. He named economic factors (especially since the recession began), lapses in foster care, and abuse as well as irreconcilable differences between parents and children about sexual orientation. [11]

Even when sexual orientation was the most commanding issue, it is sometimes the children, not the parents who insist on the separation that makes the child homeless.

And, as always, there are other faith groups in Utah besides the LDS Church. They also have children who identify as LGBT. In the Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of the story in June 2012, the young woman interviewed about her experience of being kicked out of her home due to her sexual orientation was from a religious background that was not LDS. [12] It’s just one anecdotal shred of evidence but it does reveal a problem with the assumption that all homeless LGBT youth in Utah are being victimized by the LDS Church.

Should the case arise where an LDS parent did force a child to leave home because of that child's sexuality, the teachings of the Church are quick to denounce the parent's behavior

Should the case arise where an LDS parent did force a child to leave home because of that child's sexuality, the teachings of the Church are quick to denounce the parent's behavior. LDS scripture makes clear that parents have a duty to care for their children regardless of the circumstances. DC 83:4 reads:

All children have claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age.

Luke 17:2 reads:

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

In 1992, the Church issued a statement to Church leaders saying:

If a person with homosexual problems chooses not to change, family members may have difficulty maintaining feelings of love and acceptance toward the person. Encourage them to continue loving the person and hoping that he or she may repent. [13]

In 1995, The Family: A Proclamation to the World taught:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. "Children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations... Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. [14]

In 2007, Elder Oaks and Elder Wickman had an interview in which they were asked what they would do if they had a child who decided to be in a same-sex relationship. Elder Oaks responded:

It seems to me that a Latter-day Saint parent has a responsibility in love and gentleness to affirm the teaching of the Lord through His prophets that the course of action he is about to embark upon is sinful. While affirming our continued love for him, and affirming that the family continues to have its arms open to him, I think it would be well to review with him something like the following, which is a statement of the First Presidency in 1991: “The Lord’s law of moral conduct is abstinence outside of lawful marriage and fidelity within marriage. Sexual relations are proper only between husband and wife, appropriately expressed within the bonds of marriage. Any other sexual conduct, including fornication, adultery, and homosexual and lesbian behavior is sinful. Those who persist in such practices or influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline.

My first responsibility as a father is to make sure that he understands that, and then to say to him, “My son, if you choose to deliberately engage in this kind of behavior, you’re still my son. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to reach out and cleanse you if you are repentant and give up your sinful behavior, but I urge you not to embark on that path because repentance is not easy. You’re embarking on a course of action that will weaken you in your ability to repent. It will cloud your perceptions of what is important in life. Finally, it may drag you down so far that you can’t come back. Don’t go that way. But if you choose to go that way, we will always try to help you and get you back on the path of growth...

Surely if we are counseled as a body of Church membership to reach out with love and understanding to those ‘struggling with these issues,’ that obligation rests with particular intensity on parents who have children struggling with these issues... even children who are engaged in sinful behavior associated with these issues.[15]

In the same interview, Elder Wickman responded:

With all, it needs to be done in the spirit of love and welcoming that, as Elder Oaks mentioned, ‘You’re always my son.’ There’s an old maxim which is really true for every parent and that is, ‘You haven’t failed until you quit trying.’ I think that means both in terms of taking appropriate opportunities to teach one’s children the right way, but at all times making sure they know that over all things you’ll love them...

That is to say we continue to open our homes and our hearts and our arms to our children, but that need not be with approval of their lifestyle. Neither does it mean we need to be constantly telling them that their lifestyle is inappropriate. [16]

Families with members with same-sex attractions, including those in same-sex relationships, are strengthened through living the principles of love and respect taught by Jesus Christ. The sister of a woman (Leigh) who is involved in a sexual relationship with another woman wrote an "Ensign" article in which she describes how the Church has helped her with her relationship with her sister:

I know the best thing I can do to have a close relationship with my sister is to have a close relationship with Heavenly Father and His Son. Leigh recently commented that it has been through the way our family has loved her that she has felt what she understood to be God’s love." [17]

While we are taught to love and treat everyone with kindness, the Church puts particular weight on the way we treat our family members, including those who are attracted to the same sex. In order to enter into the temple, a member must first answer this question:

Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?

If there is anything that is not in harmony with the teachings, they are not worthy to hold a temple recommend.

Further citations which illustrate these same principles include:

Elder Quentin L. Cook in 2009:

It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other. This is especially true of members of our own families. Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up. The Lord has made salvation “free for all men” but has “commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.” [18]

Notes

  1. Family Acceptance in Adolescence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults
  2. Jessica Gail, “Utah, one of the worst places to be LGBT and homeless,” Utah Public Radio, June 11, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 10, 2012. http://upr.org/post/utah-one-worst-places-be-lgbt-and-homeless
  3. Nicholas Ray, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth: an epidemic of homelessness,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for Homelessness, 2006. Online version accessed Aug 9, 2012. http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/HomelessYouth.pdf
  4. “Throw-Away Kids,” originally published in qSaltLake, Aug 12,2008. Online copy at affirmation.org accessed Aug 9, 2012. http://www.affirmation.org/homelessness/throw-away_kids.shtml.
  5. Nicholas Ray, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth: an epidemic of homelessness,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and the National Coalition for Homelessness, 2006. Online version accessed Aug 9, 2012. http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/HomelessYouth.pdf
  6. “Throw-Away Kids,” originally published in qSaltLake, Aug 12,2008. Online copy at affirmation.org accessed Aug 9, 2012. http://www.affirmation.org/homelessness/throw-away_kids.shtml.
  7. “Growing up LGBT in America: HRC Youth Survey Report, Key Findings,” Human Rights Campaign, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 9, 2012. http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Growing-Up-LGBT-in-America_Report.pdf.
  8. “Growing up LGBT in America: HRC Youth Survey Report, Key Findings,” Human Rights Campaign, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 9, 2012. http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/Growing-Up-LGBT-in-America_Report.pdf.
  9. Rebecca Trounson, “Gay teens less likely to be happy, nationwide survey finds,” The Salt Lake Tribune. June 7, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 9 2012. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/world/54262370-68/gay-percent-lgbt-survey.html.csp.
  10. Melinda Rogers, “LGBT youth find safe haven at homeless drop-in shelter,” The Salt Lake Tribune. June 11, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 10 2012. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54274630-78/lgbt-utah-youths-center.html.csp.
  11. Melinda Rogers, “LGBT youth find safe haven at homeless drop-in shelter,” The Salt Lake Tribune. June 11, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 10 2012. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54274630-78/lgbt-utah-youths-center.html.csp.
  12. Melinda Rogers, “LGBT youth find safe haven at homeless drop-in shelter,” The Salt Lake Tribune. June 11, 2012. Online version accessed Aug 10 2012. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/54274630-78/lgbt-utah-youths-center.html.csp.
  13. Understanding and Helping Those With Homosexual Problems
  14. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," General Conference ({{{date}}}).
  15. "Same-Gender Attraction," General Conference (2006).
  16. "Same-Gender Attraction," General Conference (2006).
  17. "The Best Thing I Can Do for Leigh," General Conference (2009).
  18. Quinton L. Cook, "Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children," General Conference (April 2009).