Four months ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints instituted a policy for church leadership that labeled same-sex couples as apostates, and clarified that children of same-sex couples could not enter the church until they are 18 and disavow same-sex relationships.
The move was largely viewed as anti-gay, and many were concerned the policy would make LGBTQ members feel more marginalized and judged.
Now, reports among social media and support groups are surfacing that show there may be some truth behind those fears.
One such group, called the Mama Dragons, is comprised of mainly LDS women, or women who have at least some affiliation with the church, who have LGBTQ children or family members who are looking for support in some way.
One of the group’s leaders, Wendy Montgomery, said that since the onset of the church’s policy near the end of 2015, she had counted 26 suicides of young LGBT Mormons in Utah between ages 14 and 20. She tallied another six in other states.
Montgomery was sent an interview request for this story, but a source from the group said she was taking a media break due to some “major backlash” in response to coming forward with her story about youth suicide.
These numbers are hard to confirm with any state agency, due to the sensitive nature of the cases and lengthy reporting processes. But an increase in tales of those who have feelings of depression and fears over acceptance, however, is a little easier to come by.
Roni Jo Draper, a member of Mama Dragons since 2013, said she has seen an increase in requests from women who are trying to help their children and family members deal with these issues.
“Most of the chatter is from moms who are effected and confused about how to support their kids,” Draper said.
Draper joined the Mama Dragons several years ago, because she knows what it’s like to need the support of families like hers.
When a close friend found himself in need of a home, Draper opened her door. That friend then became family, and at the time was coming out as an LGBTQ teenager who was dealing with finding acceptance in his surrounding community and the church he grew up in.
“He came out to us, probably about a year or two before he came out to the world, and during that time he was attending church and that was hard,” Draper said. “There would be things that would be said in church and I would have to reach over and I would rub his back or squeeze his arm and help him know that he was loved and that we knew him and that we cared for him.”
Draper said her son was depressed and dealing with suicidal ideologies. Many late nights and long talks later, they did make it through that time, and her son is currently in college and even attends church with her when he visits home.
So how would it be received if he brought a date to a church function?
“I don’t know,” Draper said. “He would like to introduce his boyfriend to the church that he has loved and has meant so much to him, but I don’t know how people would react to that.”
When news in November surfaced of the church’s new policy, Draper said she “thought it was a terrible rumor.”
“I thought there was no way that it could be true,” she continued. “There are a lot of people who have been hurt by the policy.”
“I think that support of gay people isn’t on the binary either,” Draper said. “I think that, for a lot of the leaders – and I don’t know this personally – but I have a suspicion that there is support but there is a keeping to the policies the way the church understands them.”
The LDS church did not wish to comment specifically for this story, but spokesman Dale Jones sent the following statement:
“Every soul is precious to God and to the Church, and the loss of life to suicide is heartbreaking. Those who are attracted to others of the same sex face particular challenges and pressures in this regard, both inside and outside the Church. We mourn with their families and friends when they feel life no longer offers hope.
Each congregation should welcome everyone. Leaders and members are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reach out in an active, caring way to all, especially to youth who feel estranged or isolated. The Church has repeatedly stated that those who feel same-sex attraction and yet choose to live the commandments of God can live fulfilling lives as worthy members of the Church. We want all to enjoy the blessings and safety offered by embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ and living the principles of His gospel.”
Michael Otterson, the managing director of church public affairs, wrote an article on the LDS website titled “Understanding the Handbook” shortly after news of the policy surfaced in November.
Part of it reads:
“With same-sex marriage now legal in the United States and some other nations, the Church felt the need specifically to address such marriages in the Handbook to draw a firm line and encourage consistency among local leaders. In particular, Church leaders are concerned for children–whether biologically born to one of the partners, adopted or medically conceived. In reality, very few same-sex couples would bring children for the formal Church ordinance of naming and blessing, since this creates a formal membership record. But Church leaders want to avoid putting little children in a potential tug-of-war between same-sex couples at home and teachings and activities at church.”
Although Draper’s story has a happy ending, many are not so lucky. Draper estimates there are currently about 750 members of Mama Dragons, and the group’s Facebook page has nearly 2,500 likes. Comments mainly consist of messages of support, blogs or stories of those who are LDS and LGBTQ.
Roni Jo Draper, member, Mama Dragons