At the beginning of 2011, about three months before I finished my Latter-day Saint mission, I found myself in a small internet cafe in rural Thailand reading an email from the mental health senior missionary couple stationed in Hong Kong.
I had revealed to my mission president how depressed I was and he responded with compassion and immediately sought the assistance of this senior couple. We had talked over the phone from time to time in those last few months, and they offered what limited support they could from nearly 800 miles away.
For months, I had danced around the core issue at the heart of my depression: my sexuality. Eventually, desperate to find some relief, I had revealed to them that I was “struggling with same-sex attraction.” In this final email from them, they included articles and a list of resources, including therapist recommendations and articles from Evergreen International, the now-defunct support organization for Latter-day Saints with a mission to assist “people who want to diminish same-sex attractions and overcome homosexual behavior.”
After returning home, I visited LDS Family Services for an initial intake. The therapist gave me an occasional judgmental glance as he scribbled down notes. He prepared referrals to therapists and I moved to the next room to meet with the psychiatrist.
As I told him about my situation, he offered me the first glimmer of hope: “You know that you can be gay and lead a happy life, right? You don’t have to be miserable.”
At the time, I was shocked. I knew what the LDS Church taught about homosexuality. “Wickedness” never was happiness, or so I had been taught since my youth. How could someone employed by the LDS Church offer such an opinion when the therapist referred me to practitioners of conversion therapy?
Now fast forward nine years later to 2020 to the church handbook updates, which say, “The Church opposes any therapy, including conversion or reparative therapy for sexual orientation or gender identity, that subjects a person to abusive practices.”
While I did not pursue therapy to “correct” my sexual orientation, thanks in part to those kind words from that psychiatrist, I am the exception. There are still far too many Latter-day Saints who followed the LDS Church’s previous advice. Even today, many parents will continue to funnel their children into conversion therapy.
The LDS Church told members for decades that LGBTQ+ people could change. And today? In a single sentence, they try to erase decades of abusive advice. A single sentence will not change the course of a culture of homophobia and transphobia. We will continue to hear stories of LGBTQ+ youth who have suffered at the hands of bishops and immoral counselors as they abuse youth.
The LDS Church has not repented; it has merely tried to update its public image. A whited sepulcher deserves cleaning, not a new coat of white paint.
Jacob Newman served an LDS mission in Thailand from 2009 to 2011. He lives in Millcreek with his husband of four years.