Jodie Parkinson: Backing Utah ban on conversion therapy is not heroic

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has solved Utah’s LGBT discrimination problem! Or so it should seem, by the amount of hype its recent statement in support of a ban on conversion therapy.

Of course, no one has forgotten that the ban was only at risk in the first place because of the church. (Not to mention the fact that Mormons are the primary participants and believers in conversion therapy in the state of Utah.) But a disavowal of a pseudoscientific practice that harms Utah’s LGBT youth is not heroic. It should be a no-brainer.

The LDS Church should have no place in politics, even if 90 percent of the state Legislature identifies as Mormon. Its responsibility is to address the cultural stigma surrounding the LGBT community amongst its own membership, on which I doubt its recent political actions have had any meaningful effect.

Disappointingly, while the church has kept everyone on their toes during their long detour on their way to support the ban — remaining politically vocal all along their merry little way — it has been utterly silent on LGBT issues within the confines of its own membership.

Are we surprised? Not really. Do church members and Utahns alike deserve better? Absolutely.

Let’s consider what’s going to happen to the sexual minority youth of the church, now that they can’t be referred by their bishops to supposed sexual orientation alterations specialists? Most likely, the vacuum that conversion therapy will leave will be filled by other forms of secrecy and shame. That is, unless the church does something. This time, something that’s actually within its authority.

First and foremost, LDS leadership is responsible for correcting its past statements reflecting towards the LGBT community an ignorance and lack of humanity unbefitting to an organization founded on teachings of love and compassion. Epithets pulled from former church President Spencer W. Kimball’s book, “A Miracle of Forgiveness, describing homosexuals as “weaklings” who ought to be “cured” of their “ever-deepening degeneracy,” are not only off-color, but alienating to a significant portion of the Mormon population. No wonder bishops, parents and LGBT members themselves have felt pressured to “cure” these individuals of their very nature.

Perhaps such a statement would cause a shift in the way Latter-day Saints think, talk about and address homosexuality at church. Why should it be taboo to discuss homosexuality in Sunday school (or over the pulpit, for that matter) if we are now able to recognize it as an innate part of our being and identity? The secrecy, taboo, embarrassment and shame is a dark spot on the culture of the church that cannot be justified by any doctrine against sexuality in general.

If LDS leadership is able to actively embrace a move away from the damaging practice of conversion therapy, it should use its momentum in so doing to encourage its members to foster a sense of honesty and understanding within wards and branches in regards to the very real struggles LGBT members face.

The time for the church to act is now. Now that its support of Utah’s ban on conversion therapy has elicited relief and even gratitude from all spheres, it has a platform on which to make a definitive statement addressing the wrongful attitudes that pervades Mormon culture towards the LGBT community. These members deserve much more charity from the Christian organization than they have been heretofore shown.

Jodie Parkinson

Jodie Parkinson is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City. She attends Columbia University, where she studies political science.