A message from an LDS apostle that gay people can change their sexual orientation is not only inaccurate but may be harmful, say advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
After a string of LGBT teen suicides in the national news, many fear that Boyd K. Packer's statements characterizing same-sex attraction as "impure" and "unnatural" could add to the emotional distress that youths already experience as they come to terms with being gay or transgender.
"Homophobic people use this as ammunition to further their attacks," said Bruce Bastian, an Orem philanthropist and advocate for LGBT rights. "Bullies use it as verification, as almost a license to do what they're going to do."
Speaking to a global audience of millions of Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Packer condemned sexual relationships outside of the procreative ones of husband and wife as not natural.
"Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural," said Packer, president of the LDS Church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles. "Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father."
The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights heavyweight, pushed Packer to correct his "inaccurate and dangerous" statements. In Salt Lake City, activist and blogger Eric Ethington called for a protest Thursday at the LDS Church Office Building of Packer's "hate speech." Equality Utah's executive director, Brandie Balken, said she encourages gay and transgender Utahns to "speak out."
Last year, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution advising mental health professionals against telling clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments. No solid evidence exists that such efforts work, the APA concluded, and some studies suggest the potential for harm, including depression and suicidal tendencies.
Parents who tell their gay teens to change are engaging in one of a number of "rejecting" behaviors that increase the likelihood a youth may commit suicide, suffer depression, abuse drugs or have unprotected sex, according to a 2009 study in the medical journal Pediatrics.
The Utah Pride Center is holding its first ever conference to encourage "family acceptance" of LGBT youthsFriday through Sunday. Caitlin Ryan, a co-author of the Pediatrics study and director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University, will speak at the event.
Valerie Larabee, director of the Utah Pride Center, which offers support to gay and transgender teens and their families, said Packer struck a nerve that is particularly raw right now because of a series of tragic deaths.
Last month, a California middle schooler, a high school freshman in Greensburg, Ind., and a 13-year-old from suburban Houston took their own lives after being bullied by classmates for being gay, according to news reports. And Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off a bridge after fellow students broadcast over the Internet Clementi's sexual encounter with another man.
"The LDS Church needs to be held accountable for giving Boyd Packer a platform [where] he chose to be so divisive," Larabee said. "It's such a departure from where people hope the church is located on this issue. It's very contrary to the message [the church] sent when it endorsed the anti-discrimination legislation in Salt Lake City [last year]."
Lee Beckstead, a Salt Lake City psychologist and co-author of the APA report, said therapists need to be respectful of their clients' faith traditions, while sharing accurate, research-based information and helping clients to evaluate how messages from faith leaders compare with their own life experiences.
"We have more and more data that indicate biological correlations and mechanisms underlie our drive in who we're attracted to," Beckstead said. "Nurture has some influence in how we live out our sexual orientations. But to say that sexual orientation is not based in nature is not just simplistic it's wrong."
Events this week related to LGBT youths, Packer's speech
Protest • Activists plan to protest Boyd K. Packer's recent comments about homosexuality, Thursday, 7 p.m., City Creek Park, 102 N. State St., Salt Lake City. The event includes a silent protest outside the nearby LDS Church Office Building.
Suicide prevention • The Utah Pride Center will host a free workshop on suicide prevention with The Trevor Project, 1-5 p.m., Friday, 361 N. 300 West, Salt Lake City.
Conference • The Utah Pride Center is holding the Family Acceptance Regional Conference for mental health providers and families with LGBT children, Friday through Sunday, at the Sheraton City Centre Hotel, 150 W. 500 South, Salt Lake City. For details, go to http://www.utahpridecenter.org.