Suicide fears, if not actual suicides, rise in wake of Mormon same-sex policy

First Published      Last Updated Jan 29 2016 12:31 pm

No stats » It’s hard to tie reported deaths to the church policy, but therapists have seen more clients with suicidal thoughts.

The fears were there right from the start — that the LDS Church's new policy on same-sex couples would make gay Mormons feel more judged, more marginalized, more misunderstood and that more of them would take their own lives.

Since early November — when the edict labeling gay LDS couples as "apostates" and denying their children baptism until age 18 took hold — social media sites have been buzzing with tales of loss, depression and death. Therapists have seen an uptick in clients who reported suicidal thoughts. Activists have been bombarded with grief-stricken family members seeking comfort and counsel.

Wendy Williams Montgomery, an Arizona-based Mormon mom with a gay son, says she began receiving email or Facebook messages from bereaved families nearly daily, mourning a loved one's suicide.

From the policy's onset through the end of 2015, Montgomery, a leader of the Mama Dragons support group for the families of gay Latter-day Saints, says she had counted 26 suicides of young LGBT Mormons in Utah — 23 males, one female and two transgender individuals — between ages 14 and 20.

She tallied another six in other states — though none of the reported deaths could be specifically tied to the policy.

Montgomery's statistics were shared at a recent meeting in Los Angeles of Affirmation, a support group for gay Mormons.

"The number of suicides reported to Wendy Montgomery is shocking," says John Gustav-Wrathall, Affirmation's newly installed president. "I've never seen anything like it in the history of my involvement with the organization."

Trouble is, the number far exceeds the suicide figures collected by the Utah Department of Health.

Preliminary figures for November and December show 10 suicides in the Beehive State for people ages 14 to 20, with two more cases "undetermined."

In fact, the department reports, the overall number of Utah deaths for that age group in those months was 25, including the 10 suicides and two "undetermined" cases, along with 11 in accidents, one by natural causes and one homicide.

"We monitor the numbers [of youth suicides] very closely. We review them every month," says Teresa Brechlin, who works in the department's violence- and injury-prevention program. "If we had seen such a huge spike, we would have been investigating it."

Had there been any mention of the LDS Church's policy on gays, her department "would have noted that," Brechlin adds. "We have not seen that at all."

LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones says any suicide is lamentable.

"Every soul is precious to God and to the church, and the loss of life to suicide is heartbreaking," he says. "Those who are attracted to others of the same sex face particular challenges and pressures in this regard, both inside and outside the church. We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope."

The state's suicide records are not broken down by religion or sexual orientation. Gay activists argue such a void cries out for more understanding — and a better way to collect data about these deaths.

No matter the exact number, the policy has sent tides of anguish throughout the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It is a community," Gustav-Wrathall says, "in trauma."

» Next page... 2 3 4 Single page


Where to get help

National round-the-clock hotline


Talking about suicide and LGBT populations


U.S. Department of Health


Utah Suicide Prevention Hotline


Mormons Building Bridges


Official LDS website for gays and their families