Mormon church makes historic donation to LGBTQ support group Affirmation for suicide prevention training

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Affirmation LGBT Mormons march during the 2016 Pride Parade in Salt Lake City.

The LDS Foundation, the charitable division of the Mormon church, has donated $25,000 to an LGBTQ support group to pay for suicide prevention training.

The gift is being called historic by Affirmation members, who say it marks the first time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has worked with the independent support group for gay Mormons.

“Over the past decade, we have really spent a lot of time building a productive relationship with the LDS Church to create a safe space for LGBTQ people,” Affirmation President Carson Tueller said in an interview.

While Affirmation and the church may have differences in some areas, on at least one topic — suicide prevention — they have found common ground.

“This is one of those places where our missions overlap and mesh,” Tueller said. “This is a good steppingstone and shows a certain amount of trust that has been built.”

More than just making history, though, the donation also could save lives, said Tueller, because it will allow Affirmation leaders to become certified suicide prevention trainers.

“We hope that this LDS Foundation grant to Affirmation will aid in suicide prevention amongst LGBTQ+ Mormons throughout the world and also be an encouragement to LDS members, bishops, Young Men and Young Women presidencies, and others working with Mormon youth to take advantage of these training opportunities with us,” Tueller said in a news release.

“We can’t do this alone,” he added, “Only by working together can we begin to reach everybody who needs to be reached both in and out of the church.”

One of the leading suicide prevention training institutes, QPR — Question, Persuade and Refer — will train Affirmation leaders, who in turn will train members across the globe in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

“We are committed to working with community partners to help prevent suicide and hope this contribution will support this important cause,” LDS Church spokesman Doug Andersen said in a statement. “We are mindful of those who are struggling and encourage them to reach out for help.”

Affirmation was founded in 1977 at a time when admission of same-sex attraction among the Mormon faithful was a matter of inner turmoil, deep shame and religious rejection — even a cause for suicide.

A group of activists at Brigham Young University wanted to assure gay Mormons they were loved and not alone, while striving to stop them from killing themselves. Before long, chapters emerged in Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles and ultimately across the country as well as overseas.

At the time, the LDS Church viewed their sexuality as perverse and sinful, and their love as unholy. Any acceptance of gays had to be whispered.

Since then, there has been a sea change between the LDS Church and its gay members.

Today’s LDS Church says being gay is not a sin, though acting on it is. It continues to oppose gay marriage, though it did support Salt Lake City’s and Utah’s anti-discrimination measures.

In 2015, the Utah-based faith put forth a policy that labeled same-sex Mormon couples “apostates” and generally barred their offspring from religious rituals such as baptism until they turn 18. Some argue that controversial move actually propelled the LDS gay rights movement forward.

Tueller said one of Affirmation’s top strategic priorities in 2018 has been to better equip its members and leaders with information about trauma as well as suicide prevention.

in February, Affirmation leaders met with the LDS Public Affairs Department to request funding of suicide trainings. In April, the LDS Foundation awarded the full $25,000 requested.

Over the next three years, suicide prevention trainers will conduct trainings at every Affirmation conference held throughout the world. Affirmation will also make online trainings on trauma and suicide prevention available at no cost to Affirmation members and others.

Utah’s youth suicide rate has grown at an alarming pace, according to recent studies conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s suicide rate among young adults ages 10 to 17 had more than doubled from 2011 to 2015. It had grown at an annual clip nearly four times faster than the national average.

In all, 150 youths died by suicide over the five-year period.

Last week, the LDS Church released a new series of videos calling for compassion and love for those experiencing suicidal thoughts and feeling marginalized. Mormon apostle Dale G. Renlund also denounced as “totally false” the “old sectarian notion that suicide is a sin and that someone who commits suicide is banished to hell forever.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, call The Trevor Project on 866-488-7386 or visit their website where you can talk to someone via text or chat.