I am not your typical gay man. Nor am I your typical Mormon. For the past nine months, I have served as the executive secretary in the bishopric (the religious leadership) of my home ward in San Francisco, Calif., as my authentic-self -- an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint.
For years, I'd been writing about my experiences as an openly gay Mormon and accepted this calling in a way that honors both my orientation and my faith. As with all callings in the Mormon faith, mine is both a duty and a privilege. It provides me with an opportunity -- and a responsibility -- to be of service to both the Mormon and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) communities, and help those around me better integrate deep and often conflicted parts of their lives.
Over the course of the past nine months, thousands of LGBTQ Mormons and their families have reached out to me to offer their support, and in many cases, to ask for mine. I have, because of the position in which I have been placed, become the repository of stories of deeply wounded women, men and youth who struggle greatly to understand how LGBTQ Mormons fit inside our faith.
I've been quite open about my own turbulent past growing up as a gay Mormon. As a youth, I tried and failed to kill myself. My life was given back to me. But many are not so fortunate. While no formal statistics of gay Mormon youth suicide exists, most estimate it to be between four and nine time the national average.
For each of us -- of Mormon faith or none at all -- every LGBTQ youth lost is a loss we feel personally, whether we recognize it or not. Among those we've lost are potential leaders who could have contributed to make the world a better place. We may have lost the next Nobel Laureate. We may have lost the scientist who would have discovered a cure for cancer -- or the skilled orator who could have brokered peace between troubled nations.
But now there is hope that this can change. On June 15, The Family Acceptance Project released an LDS version of their evidence-based, family education booklet that enables families and communities to support LGBT youth in a way that reduces their risk for substance abuse, diminishes their risk for STDs including HIV, and dramatically reduces suicide and depression risk.
When I met with Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project, and saw these materials, I was amazed at how skillfully she and her team had blended the compelling science of her research with the best parts of the Mormon faith -- the parts that carry with them true compassion and Christ-like love. Dr. Ryan left me by myself in the conference room when we neared the close of our meeting. What she never saw -- and what I've never shared before today -- is how intensely I cried in those moments I was alone.
I mourned for my Mom, who wanted so much to do the right thing and keep me safe, yet, without the resources to understand and support me, instead told me it would have been better for her if I had been born dead than gay.
I mourned for my Dad, who also loved me, but lacked the tools to deal with his gay son--and instead told me I should change, that I had bitterly failed him, and then withheld his love and companionship from me for the bulk of my life.
I mourned for my 16 year-old self, trapped inside a cycle of isolation and despair, with nowhere to turn. I mourned for the years I spent trapped inside self-loathing and depression, and I grieved the many subsequent bad decisions I made that exacerbated my pain and low self-esteem. And I wondered how my life would have been remarkably different if I, my parents, my teachers and my ecclesiastical leaders had access to research that demonstrated unequivocally how to keep LGBT youth safe.
But I also felt gratitude. More than anything, I was deeply grateful this kind of research was finally available -- and for what this means not only for Mormons, but for the LGBTQ community as a whole: We don't have to wonder how to keep our gay youth from killing themselves anymore. Our solution is here.
This is not marketing based on focus groups. It is not speculation. It is not opinion -- even ecclesiastical opinion. This is science. For LGBTQ Mormons and their families, this is a lifeline of hope that has not existed before. Gone are the days where Mormon parents -- many armed with good intentions but alarmingly little data -- feel compelled to choose between their children and their faith. Family relationships are a cornerstone to our faith -- and we're taught that "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." (David O. McKay). The Family Acceptance Project materials have eliminated the illusion of that horrible Sophie's Choice.
As my LGBTQ fellow, I want you to share this information with your friends, your families, and your networks -- independent of faith. This is an opportunity for us as well -- to help the most vulnerable among us emerge healthier, happier, and grow up in an environment dramatically better than the one many of us experienced.
This is our chance to do for others that which we wish had been done for us.