For Kimberly Anderson, accepting the LDS Church’s $25,000 gift to support LGBTQ suicide prevention was like hiring arsonists to fight fires.
After all, the Utah-based faith’s teachings and policies, in her view, are leading contributors to self-loathing and the desire for death among vulnerable LGBTQ Mormons.
So the Affirmation vice president resigned her post in the support group this week to protest a donation she finds “morally reprehensible.”
“To accept financial contributions from the LDS Church is not the problem for me,” the transgender former Mormon wrote in her resignation letter and posted on Facebook. “To have that funding go directly and explicitly to suicide-prevention efforts is something that I cannot abide.”
Mormonism has produced “an incredibly large amount of trauma in the LGBTQ population raised within the LDS Church,” she said. “Research is screaming at us that nearly 75 percent of our queer adults in the LDS Church are experiencing trauma, [specifically] from being taught … their gender identity or sexual attraction is deviant. This uniquely measurable trauma is at levels equal to a formal PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] diagnosis. Trauma and suicidal ideation go hand in hand.”
Anderson needs to be “clear of the institution that has caused me so much trauma and pain,” she wrote in the letter, but she is not sorry for the time she spent as Affirmation’s vice president.
“I have laughed, cried, mourned and gotten silly drunk with many of you,” she wrote, addressing the group’s leaders. “I regret none of it.”
Though Affirmation’s officers and board members are sad to see her go — she brought an invaluable perspective, they say — they respect her for doing so.
“Kimberly had very strong personal feelings with regard to the source of the funds being tied to suicide-prevention training,” said Laurie Lee Hall, a Salt Lake City transgender woman on Affirmation’s board. “She acted according to her personal convictions with integrity, which I admire.”
It was a “matter of conscience for her,” Executive Director John Gustav-Wrathall said. “She did raise issues that helped us be more inclusive. Our process was better because she was there.”
Not an easy decision
Initially, nobody on the board questioned the church’s gift, Gustav-Wrathall said on The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast, but, as time went on, several raised objections.
That began a conversation in which Affirmation leaders recognized two valid and competing concerns, he said: The importance of addressing an issue that affects the entire LGBTQ community, inside and outside the church, and the need to ensure that the group’s public actions do not make the community feel unsafe.
"There were almost no individuals on the board who felt exclusively one way or the other about the decision," Affirmation President Carson Tueller said. "Everyone could see both sides of the conflict."
That included Tueller himself.
He could imagine the trauma of what it means for a young gay man to leave the church, he said, and was concerned that the money “would look like an endorsement of the church, and that we would lose [such members'] trust.”
Ultimately, Affirmation decided the church’s historic donation could help the most at-risk among them — LDS believers and nonbelievers — by providing critical tools for suicide prevention.
Balancing disparate needs — including those of LGBTQ Mormons who still yearn for some association with their church and those who walked away from it, nursing their wounds — can be tricky.
“If we hold the church accountable for harms, then we are anti-Mormon or hostile,” Tueller said in an interview. “If we don’t sever all ties and blame it, we are under the church’s oppressive powers.”
Affirmation’s president rejects such a dichotomy.
Engaging with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, does not compromise Affirmation’s independence.
“You can do these things,” Tueller said, “simultaneously.”
Anderson said hundreds of former Mormons fear Affirmation has gotten too cozy with the LDS Church.
She is studying marriage and family therapy at the University of San Francisco, and works every day in suicide prevention with “ex-Mormons and queer circles.”
The extent of “shame and guilt” among former Latter-day Saints, she explained in an interview, “is paralyzing and petrifying.”
Many of them, Anderson said, no longer feel welcome at Affirmation.
Some former members of the support group are “very sad and angry,” she said. “They feel disenfranchised and pushed out … of an organization that was supposed to be keeping them close and safe.”
Hall, the Salt Lake City woman, can see both sides.
“I had the opportunity to be deeply within the [church] institution [as a top architect in the temple department],” she said, “and also have been deeply hurt by actions of the church.”
Being involved with the religion when appropriate, Hall said, could aid in altering the faith’s understanding of LGBTQ members and former members.
“Any steps that can decrease the number of damaged and hurt individuals within the church,” she said, “is an important step for the long term.”
Maintaining a relationship with Mormonism, Tueller said, can eliminate “harmful messaging” about LGBTQ members being somehow defective.
“LGBTQ people are perfect and whole,” he said. “If we don’t have a relationship with Mormon leaders, they might never have an opportunity to see this.”
If the support group is seen as credible, it can be “absolutely bold about saying, ‘This is the way you are harming our people,’” Tueller said. “‘We are holding you accountable for this.’”
There’s a difference between blame, which leads to unending negativity, he said, and accountability.
Those who only want to blame the church, he said, “have no influence on the church.”
For her part, Anderson plans to reimburse Affirmation for the $500 she received that came from the LDS Church for suicide-prevention training, but she will accept money for other kinds expenses. She plans to fulfill her three-year commitment to the group’s suicide training around the world and will participate in the group’s conference, which begins Friday at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.
“My loyalty is to members, not to the organization,” she said. “I will keep doing my life’s work — putting out fires with our queer members.”