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Commentary: The power of connection can reduce suicide

Healing takes place when love and understanding are provided.

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Affirmation LGBT Mormons march during the 2016 Pride Parade heads up 200S, Sunday, June 5, 2016.

Affirmation, the world’s largest and oldest organization for LGBTQ+ Mormons, has been at the forefront in supporting LGBTQ+ individuals who are experiencing rejection by their society, their families and their faith communities. Despite our community’s efforts, reported suicides have continued to increase, particularly in the last 15 years. At every loss, our community has experienced great collective grief and pain.

In January of 2018, the executive committee and board of Affirmation held a strategic planning meeting wherein suicide prevention and trauma awareness were identified as the organization’s primary spirituality and wellness goal. Our team decided to use a leading suicide prevention training program, QPR — Question, Persuade and Refer — to train our leadership team, who will in turn train our international membership in suicide prevention in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Important new research that supports Affirmation’s recognition of this issue was recently conducted by Dr. Brian Simmons at the University of Georgia. Dr. Simmons’ study addresses negative LDS beliefs regarding sexual or gender identity and how they are impacting LGBTQ+ Mormons. Simmons’ data indicates “that study participants overwhelmingly perceived LDS teachings, messages, and experiences associated with their gender or sexual identity to be harmful.”

Perhaps the most shocking data Simmons found was that, “overall, nearly three-quarters (73.4%) of respondents would have likely met criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This estimation of PTSD prevalence among study respondents is ten times greater than the approximately 8% for the general U.S. adult population.”

Understanding how membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints informs the well-being of our LGBTQ community is what motivates Affirmation’s efforts to establish a relationship with the LDS Church, something that has moved in a positive direction over the last decade. This understanding is also what led, in part, to Affirmation’s decision to request a grant from the LDS Foundation for suicide prevention training. The LDS Foundation awarded Affirmation the full amount requested, $25,000.

Why collaborate on suicide prevention with an organization so many perceive to be the source of so many LGBTQ+ wounds? Affirmation believes in the power of connection. We witness the destructive effects of rejection and, conversely, see the power and healing that takes place when love and understanding are provided by those around us.

QPR training recognizes that, “to the degree suicide is an index of community disorganization and despair, so too are effective suicide prevention programs a reflection of an integrated, educated, and caring community.”

This must be a community endeavor. We invite LDS Church leaders to seek established resources and education models that can help raise awareness and prevention of suicide. While the online resources that the LDS Church is providing are helpful, face-to-face training is most effective and needed for local leaders. We invite the LDS Church to give suicide prevention training to stake and ward leaders, and in particular to those who work with youth.

We hope that this grant will inspire confidence in Mormon leaders and members to utilize Affirmation as a resource in providing support to the LGBTQ+ people in their lives. We invite all Mormons and former Mormons, LGBTQ+ and straight alike, to utilize Affirmation’s resources and community to the fullest extent in joining with us on our mission to make the world and the LDS church a safer place for LGBTQ+ people.

National, state and LDS Church leaders agree that something must be done. As an organization, Affirmation is implementing concrete action and awareness at the grassroots level within our communities worldwide in suicide prevention. QPR trainings for Affirmation members will begin July 20th, 2018 at our International Conference in Salt Lake City.

Carson Tueller

Carson Tueller is the President of Affirmation: LGBTQ Mormons, Families and Friends.

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