Las Vegas Sun

April 21, 2019

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Members of LGBTQ community in Las Vegas skeptical of Mormon church’s motives in revoking 2015 policy

Gay Mormons

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints revoked a policy earlier this month which prohibited children of parents in a same-sex relationship or marriage from being baptized and confirmed in the church.

While the reversal of the 2015 policy signals a softening in attitudes by the church toward the LGBTQ community, reactions in Las Vegas and elsewhere continue to be mixed.

Chani Leavitt, who grew up a devout Mormon but has since left the church, is skeptical of the church’s motives.

“It never needed to be policy,” Leavitt said. “Kids who were coming out and understanding their sexuality for the first time were killing themselves after that policy change. It was noticeable, after that policy change, there were many suicides, from people in their pre-teens into their 30s. … I think that’s a big part of why the church rolled the policy back, which is good, and it’s important that they rolled it back. But also, I definitely question their motives”

Church President Dallin Oaks said that the policy reversal, “should help affected families” and “increase respect and understanding among all people of goodwill. We want to reduce the hate and contention so common today,” Oaks said.

Yet, many former members aren’t convinced of the goodwill.

Las Vegan Michael Moore, another ex-member, converted to the faith in high school before coming out as gay. Moore and his then-boyfriend were faced with a choice: either face ex-communication or willingly remove their own records from the church. “[We] both removed ourselves from the church, and that was the end of our affiliation with the LDS church.”

The overturned policy came the same year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the legality of same-sex marriage nationwide. Moore says the LDS policy was a “failed attempt” at the church “doubling down” on members’ increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community and their gay friends and family members.

While he also calls the reversal a “step in the right direction,” he feels the policy was overturned because it made the church “look so bad” and that there is still “no place for active LGBT members in the church.”

In November 2015, the church released the document, “Changes to the LDS handbook,” which stated a child may be baptized, confirmed, ordained or recommended for mission only if he or she “specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage” and “does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.”

It also clearly defined LDS members in same-gender marriages as apostates, or those who “repeatedly act in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church and its leaders.”

“Ostensibly, what they were saying was, if you’re gay and you’re in a gay relationship, you are committing apostasy, which is the worst sin you can commit, basically,” Leavitt said. “When you’re so conditioned that the church is the most important thing, but then you realize that you’re queer in any way, what do you do? You’re not accepted anymore, and that’s what that policy said.”

In a 2017 Vox article, Wendy Montgomery, co-founder of Mama Dragons, a Utah-based group for Mormon mothers of LGBTQ children, spoke about the church’s spike in suicides following the addition of the anti-gay policy. At least 32 youth committed suicide throughout Utah after the policy announcement, she told Vox.

In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the national rate of child and teen suicide had risen by 23.5 percent between 2011 and 2015; in Utah, meanwhile, the suicide rate had risen by 136 percent.

While it can’t be concluded that the increase in suicide has a direct correlation to the LDS church’s stance on LGBTQ people, it has sparked advocacy from members of the church, like Montgomery, and from public figures like Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds. As one of the church’s most high-profile members (and a Las Vegas native), he has used his platform to found LoveLoud, a foundation and festival that raises money and advocates for LGBTQ rights, especially among youth.

Affirmation, another organization for LGBTQ Mormons, released a statement following the church’s announcement last week: “Affirmation has been a firsthand witness to the damage caused to families within and beyond membership … over the past three and a half years.”

The organization went on to list the types of damage the ruling had caused, including “same-sex couples who have been actively sought out, brought before church disciplinary councils, and excommunicated on charges of apostasy,” “intense custody battles fueled by a straight spouse’s desire for children to be members of the church,” “stigmatizing children of same-sex couples” and “the fracturing of families who felt forced to choose between love and support of their LGB loved ones and their obedience to their church leaders.”

“As one mother of a gay son in Affirmation recently put it, ‘It’s impossible for my son to see any sort of a future for himself in the Church. He doesn’t know where he fits in God’s plan,’” the statement said.

Oaks added, “We are optimistic that a majority of people, whatever their beliefs and orientations, long for better understanding and less contentious communications.”