I have a daughter who is 12 going on 20, and is the most amazing, brilliant, and wonderful girl. She recently told me that she is quite certain that she is attracted to girls and always has been. I was shocked mostly because I didn’t think she was old enough to really be attracted to anyone! Well, not really, but she is still so young I was very surprised that she was so definite.
I am worried for her though. My family on both sides comes from serious pioneer stock. Our family’s sense of identity is deeply rooted in the church. I have somewhat parted ways with the strict orthodoxy that nearly all of my family still lives by. I am so happy that my daughter knew that she could trust me enough to tell me something so personal and difficult. But I don’t know what this means for her. She is finding Young Women’s more and more difficult. Lessons about the temple are particularly painful, and my heart aches as I watch her cry.
What should I do?
I am very humbled by this question–as a mother, as a Mormon, as an LGBT ally.
I think it’s wonderful that your daughter felt she could be open with you, and I can feel your heartache as this discerning young soul begins to comprehend the difficult position Mormon theology affords LGBT people and those who love them.
There are parents of LGBT Mormons who I hope will share their experience with you in the comments section, and you may find guidance from them at LDS Family Fellowship (http://www.ldsfamilyfellowship.org/). I can only speak from my own experience.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I had a talk with my own father about my own serious conflicts with faith and the very distressed place to which they had led me. We were driving down highway 395 in California, coming home from the mountains. It was just me and him in the car. Dad took my hand and said, “Leave the church, leave the family—do whatever you must, but please don’t hurt yourself.”
That was not easy for him to say. Not easy at all. He was (and is) a man of devout faith and lifetime service to the Church. But when it came to his own children, he was courageously merciful: he did not sacrifice us to orthodoxy.
So many parents feel they must. So many LDS parents feel they must turn away or even turn out their own children who are gay. They do so out of shame, or sadness, or disappointment, or guilt, or community pressure, or out of the conviction that they must not countenance behavior that contradicts church standards. It must seem to them the kind of sacrifice God asked of Abraham: end your relationship with your child, for the sake of devotion.
The story of Abraham and Isaac gets used quite a bit in LDS circles, I’ve noticed, especially in cases of heartbreaking sacrifice. “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven,” go the words to a beloved Mormon hymn. We celebrate ancestors and fellow Saints who make dearly expensive sacrifices in the name of faith. We covenant to sacrifice all we have to build up the kingdom of God. But does God really expect us to sacrifice our own children?
One day, when I was meditating on the story of Abraham and Isaac, I thought of that first facsimile image from the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price—that’s an LDS book of scripture, for you non-Mo AMG readers–which depicts Abraham himself being tied to an altar as a sacrifice from his own family to the idolatrous god Elkanah. In Abraham’s world, child sacrifice was an accepted form of worship. And he almost perpetuated that barbaric practice on his own son—until God intervened. When God spoke, the child sacrifice ended. I realize this is an unorthodox reading of Abraham–a Mormon feminist midrash, perhaps?– but it turned the whole story around for me.
What would happen if parents refused to sacrifice their children or their relationships with their children in the name of God? I think with gratitude on the example of my own father. Certainly, I would say the same to my own child if she found herself in some comparably anguishing place: “do what you must but please don’t hurt yourself.”
Mothers especially can play a crucial role in fostering better mental, spiritual, and physical health outcomes for their LGBT children. (After all, the Proclamation on the Family says that a mother’s job is to nurture her children.) I’d recommend you take a look at this publication produced by the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. It offers guidelines to parents and families of LGBT youth. These guidelines have been recently designated “best practices” by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I offer them with my solidarity and my love and my prayers for our entire LDS community as we all contemplate and address this difficult and urgent issue.
Readers, what can you offer?
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