Why the queer Mormon policy reversal is not enough

Mormon suicide has deeper roots — and demands more change — than the church’s reversal of its exclusion policy.

 

When I was a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, I thought it was a coincidence that I befriended suicidal students. Three of my close friends confided their suicidal intentions in me, and I spent evenings talking to them, trying to help them feel hope, trying to keep them safe. In each case, it took at least a year of friendship before they confided a further secret: Each of these three women was queer. I was still at BYU when I survived my own attempted suicide in the winter of 2012. I had realized I was queer myself and found my conflicting identities unbearable. In Utah, family and religion frequently tell queer folk that we’re sinning, but that we won’t have our sinful urges after we die. For a while, my life plan was to retain the Mormon beliefs I had loved since childhood while remaining celibate and holding out for a straight afterlife, where God would “fix” my sexuality.

Kathy Carlston embraces her wife Berta Marquez, who worked as an advocate for both the church and the LGBTQ community, before taking her own life in 2018.
Kim Raff

For decades, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has enforced policies that harm queer Mormons. This April, when one policy was repealed, it made headlines. The 2015 proclamation had called people in same-sex marriages apostates — people who renounce their faith — and banned our children from baptism. But the church’s homophobia remains. Even the language around the repeal includes beliefs that contribute to queer suicides. Repealing this policy is a step in the right direction, but it is not nearly enough.

It falls short because it reinforces, rather than reverses, anti-queer rhetoric. In a press release, church leader Dallin H. Oaks says that “while we cannot change the Lord’s doctrine, we want our members and our policies to be considerate of those struggling with the challenges of mortality.” Mormon theology believes a “challenge of mortality” is limited to earth life and ceases after death. Such rhetoric is dangerous for trans and queer Mormons, who are often taught that death will remove these “challenges” that alienate us from our families and communities. Until leaders stop calling our sexuality an aberration that will be cured after death, queer Mormons will need help seeing ourselves positively.

It is not enough to say that I, a woman married to another woman, am no longer an “apostate,” as long as the church still teaches my family that my marriage is a “serious transgression,” like murder, rape and abuse. Oaks claims that church leaders “want to reduce the hate and contention so common today,” but at no point does he take responsibility for leaders’ role in fostering “hate and contention” — both by creating the exclusionary policy, and by claiming it as revelation from God.

A queer Mormon friend I met after college, Berta Marquez, took her own life last year. Near the end of her life, she intensely feared that the church was correct in labeling her and her wife as apostates — that she had actually turned away from God. Berta was an immensely compassionate woman who spent much of her time working to heal the rifts between the church and queer folk. She was an advocate for queer Mormons and for Utah’s homeless youth, working with Operation Shine America, Mormons Building Bridges, Affirmation, Equality Utah, and the ACLU, among many others. This policy reversal makes her death more heart-rending, both because it might have given Berta some peace if she were still alive, and because it fails to acknowledge the harm the church caused and continues to cause for queer Mormons like her.

Though the government does not track victims’ sexuality, researchers have linked Mormon culture and rhetoric with queer suicides. Utah’s suicide rate has increased by nearly 50% since 1999. Queer folk, including youth made homeless by devout parents, are particularly vulnerable.

Let me suggest a path forward, based on my experience after my suicide attempt. A chaplain visited me in the psych ward. (I don’t think she was Mormon; the church apparently didn’t allow female chaplains before 2014.) She was gentle and patient as I told her about my family, my friends, the woman who is now my wife, and my conflict with my devout father over my sexuality. She listened to me and cried with me, and before she left, she prayed for me. She remembered everything I told her and prayed for every person I mentioned, every problem I was struggling with. That prayer is something I carry with me. It was perhaps the most important therapy I received.

I am no longer a practicing Mormon. At this point, I am able to integrate the things I love about being Mormon with the person I am becoming. I remember that chaplain’s prayer as affirmation that I can become the person I will be without destroying the person I was. This understanding has kept me on a path of recovery.

The church should apologize and make amends for its repealed exclusion policy, and members should change their approach to ministering. Family is a centerpiece of Mormon theology and culture. Accepting, listening to and connecting with queer Mormons — rather than excluding and denigrating us — would help celebrate our roles in the theology of the family and, I hope, save lives. 

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Kristen Nicole Cardon is a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at UCLA, where she is conducting an interdisciplinary study of suicide notes, with the goal of suicide prevention. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

High Country News Classifieds
  • GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS MANAGER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a Government Affairs Manager to support our legislative and administrative advocacy efforts in Colorado. This new, mid-level position will report...
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...