Last week, the Family Acceptance Project released new literature encouraging Mormons to be more accepting of LGBT youth. The 25-page booklet, part of the “Supportive Families, Healthy Children” series, blends aspects of the Mormon faith with research about how best to support the mental and physical health of young people questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Unfortunately, the LDS-run Deseret News couldn’t resist inviting ex-gay therapists Ty Mansfield and Laurie Campbell to critique the guide:
MANSFIELD: The pamphlet’s assumption of a predetermined and rubber-stamped ‘LGBT’ identity is problematic… Those who take their religion seriously also understand the sacred responsibility of nurturing values and identities that are more in harmony with the deeply held spiritual beliefs from which they arise – and they’ll continue to look for guidance primarily from church leaders as opposed to ‘LGBT’ research institutes to help them in that regard.
CAMPBELL: What about those LDS youth who are attracted to the same gender yet do not want to identify as gay and hope there might be an opposite-sex relationship for them later in life? To label them as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ can be harmful… They may have a deep, spiritual sense that their attractions do not define them, but are confused by what the world has to say. If LDS parents depart from gospel truths and rush to define attractions as being a permanent ‘orientation’ when that is not necessarily the case, it can worsen the child’s distress and confusion.
These comments reflect a growing new approach to opposing LGBT identities that tries to distinguish itself from ex-gay therapy. Rather than telling young gay people to not be gay, these anti-gay therapists are simply telling them not to act on their gay identity. The distinction between self-identification and whether a person allows that identity to be an authentic part of their lives is negligible.
Campbell’s comments are the most telling — and flagrantly wrong. The obvious implication of promoting an opposite-sex relationship “later in life” is to convey that a same-sex relationship is inferior or wrong. What’s harmful to young people is discouraging them from identifying with their actual sexual orientation or communicating in any way that their family would be less accepting if they did. That’s the overarching point of the new guide.
The misguided way these therapists responded echoes the controversy over the unique case of Josh Weed, the “happily married” gay Mormon who may be advocating similar approaches in his own work as a therapist. If anti-gay activists continue to embrace this artificial distinction between orientation and identity, it must be called out as the harmful ex-gay repression that it is.