As a faithful LDS/Mormon family, we expected our son Will to follow a certain path. He would grow up, get married, start a family, and be a faithful and active member of the church. But for our family, a different story began around the time our son Will turned 2. We began to notice that anytime he could, he would choose all things "girl." He loved everything pink and sparkly. What we soon learned was that he was gender-nonconforming, a child whose behavior and preferences didn't fit with how he was expected to act based on his gender.
We spent a great deal of time and energy researching this and trying to figure out what this would mean for our family. With the help of a pediatrician, we were able to find an online support community that showed us how to truly love, support, and guide our son. We also learned that many kids who are gender-nonconforming like Will would be gay when they grow up.
Armed with that knowledge, it didn't come as a surprise when, at age 9, Will began to tell us he had crushes on other boys. As an active LDS family, the fact that our son may be gay had many implications for us. We worried, and still do worry, a great deal about what the future would hold for Will and for our family. What would other church members think, and how would they react to this? Could we fully support Will and still stay active members of our church?
Around this time our family was introduced to Dr. Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University and her Family Acceptance Project (FAP). FAP's research laid out the facts for us: that our decision to love and accept Will for who he was meant that he was far less likely to attempt suicide, experience depression, or abuse drugs, and far more likely to have a happy life. It was incredible that the decision that my family has made -- not an easy one in an LDS community -- to fully support, love, and accept our son can literally change his life for the better. Seeing her research helped give us the courage and permission to celebrate Will for the incredibly strong and brave person that he is -- exactly as he is.
Now FAP is releasing a new version of the original pamphlet that helped us, Supportive Families, Healthy Children, aimed specifically at LDS families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children. This pamphlet enables LDS families to keep their focus on the well-being of their kids by letting them know the consequences of the their acceptance or lack thereof, written in language that will be familiar to LDS readers. One of the best features of the pamphlet is its guidance on what acceptance can and should look like: Supporting a child's identity, advocating for a child when he or she is mistreated because of that identity, and connecting your child with LGBT resources and organizations are just a few of the ways parents can help.
Sometimes we, as active LDS members, don't really know how to support LGBT children. We love them so much but often hear conflicting messages. We get confused about which way to go with our kids. Oftentimes, it feels like we are being forced to make one of two impossible choices: support our kids and leave the church, or stay in the church and risk sending our children the message that their very existence is wrong because they are LGBT -- and we are well aware the harm that can cause to them.
Nearly every day as active LDS people, we feel as if we are living a double life. Somehow we continually find ourselves needing to justify supporting our child. As parents, we think this pamphlet could be the bridge between these two impossible choices -- a bridge that connects the LDS church to information that could save the lives of LDS kids like Will, in a way that is accessible and meets LDS families where they are, instead of from a place of judgment.
Right now, our family's struggles are a secret, and we are forced to use a pseudonym because we are, simply put, afraid -- for our son, for our other children, for all of us. Armed with information such as this, perhaps we could find the acceptance we so desperately want and need.
Will is 13 now and only out to our family. We have no idea what the future will hold for our family. We love being a part of the LDS community and have strong faith-based beliefs. We desperately hope that when and if Will chooses to come out to other people, he will be met with love and acceptance. No matter what, we will be there to support him.
We hope other members of our LDS ward family will understand the choices we have made and will make in support of Will. We are so thankful for Dr. Ryan's research and hope that it will open people's minds and hearts.