Commentary: How many queer people have to die?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks during the afternoon session of the189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday April 7, 2019.

Editor’s note: If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.

I sat in my room with my head in my hands, sobbing, overwhelmed with grief on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. A had just received word that a young gay man had died from a suicide attempt the previous day. This moment hit me and many others in our community like a sack of bricks.

Suicides are unfortunately common in the queer community. Everyone knows someone who has died from suicide, and most queer people at some point have attempted suicide.

This suicide, however, hit me harder than the most, not because I knew him, or anything about him other than that he was a gay man, but because his suicide letter mentioned the reason why he died this way.

He cited the talk that day by Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, given in the church’s General Conference.

“Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage and to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women,” Oaks said. “(Satan) seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing.”

For heterosexuals, this might not seem any different than what the church has taught about homosexuality since the 1960s. However, these statements made clear, much like the November 2015 policy commonly known as the “Policy of Exclusion” made clear, that not only was heterosexual marriage necessary for LDS heaven but, furthermore, that being in a gay relationship was of the devil.

This young man took those words to heart, believing that he was evil, and he wrote that he hoped that, in death, he could finally be freed from the gay thoughts and feelings in heaven that were a fundamental part of his reality on earth.

The death of this young man should fill us all with sorrow. His death in this way should be unreasonable, unthinkable, the event that should cause a community to rally around to protect those who are the most vulnerable among us

However, this death, like the countless numbers of queer deaths that happen every year, are met with somber acknowledgements, followed by forgetting, or by believing that queer deaths from suicide are uncommon enough that they needn’t be worried about.

To both of these responses, I ask for introspection. Everyone has queer family member(s) or friend(s) whom they love, even if they don’t agree with them. It would devastate us to have them die from suicide and, sadly, our queer family members and friends have more than likely given it more than a passing thought in their lifetime.

Do we wait until the torrent of deaths reaches our doorsteps or do we take preventative measures? Can we afford to not see the beautiful souls that queer people embody? The love that they have to fight for every day that strengthens and deepens through hate and scorn? How can we as ethical people purport to love them while not acknowledging and supporting a fundamental part of their existence?

How long will be continue to put up with those who want to support conversion therapy, or denounce them as evil or against the will of an all-good God?

They are people.

They are friends.

They are lovers.

They are family members.

They are us.

How can we turn them away? Thus I ask the question, How many queer people need to die before we learn to love those queer people around us?

Crystal Legionaires is a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a transgender and queer woman, and an activist fighting against oppression against transgender people, queer people, sexual assault survivors and people of color.