Guess What They’re Teaching Up At BYU-Idaho

Note: The ideas and words of each blog post are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the USGA presidency or USGA as an organization. Many of the blog posts featured here are written by LGBTQ/SSA BYU students who are not yet ready to have their sexual orientation or gender identity known by some friends, family, colleagues and internet strangers. As you read this or any other anonymous post, please take a moment to consider the implications and risks of being publicly LGBTQ/SSA as a BYU student.

Hey, it’s us again.

It was a busy Monday of school work and extra-curricular activities, but once again, I had to get on Microsoft Word to combat some ignorance.

On Sunday, in a Sacrament meeting on BYU-Idaho campus, it appears the leadership of a Young Single Adult ward passed around a flier from a marriage and family therapist inviting people to a fireside about same-gender attraction.  The fireside was to be held on campus, in the Ricks building, and was presumably organized by someone in a Church capacity (YSA wards use campus classrooms on Sundays at all BYU campuses to hold church meetings and firesides, as well as activities throughout the week).

IdahoFlyer

The problem with this activity is that it a) promoted information that is demonstrably false, b) goes against the recent teachings of the Church, and c) invited people who read the flier to visit the man’s personal therapy practice website.  This isn’t quite Ponderize.com, but still. Let’s work through this flier in a straightforward manner.

“It’s not just a matter of opinion, but of revelation and of social science: People can and do overcome same-gender attraction and enjoy rich, full lives with marriage partners of the opposite sex without regrets.”

Firstly, let’s address the “revelation” part.  Here are 3 quotes from the Church that dispute this idea:

“And, I must say, this [same-sex attracted] son’s sexual orientation did not somehow miraculously change—no one assumed it would.” —Elder Holland, October 2015

“One thing that’s always important is to recognize the feelings of a person, that they are real, that they are authentic, that we don’t deny that someone feels a certain way. We take the reality where it is, and we go from there. … I believe it is crucial that we always continue to feel that, to express that, to acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings and circumstances, and go from there.” —Elder Christofferson, speaking on the Church’s mormonsandgays.org website

“No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction.  …  Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. …  Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.” —MormonsandGays.org

And now, let’s look at some social science:

“Overall, 0% of those attempting change reported an elimination of same-sex attraction, and less than 4% reported any change in sexual orientation.” —A study of 1,612 same-sex attracted Mormons

“There is no conclusive evidence that ‘reparative therapy’ is beneficial to patients.” —INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY OF PSYCHIATRIC-MENTAL HEALTH NURSES (ISPN) Position Statement on Reparative Therapy

“While sexual orientation carries no visible badge, a growing scientific consensus accepts that sexual orientation is a characteristic that is immutable.” —Richard A. Posner, US Appellate Court Judge

Even the participants on TLC’s “My Husband’s Not Gay” TV special, who are active members of the Church and former leaders of NorthStar International (an organization that helps same-sex attracted individuals live their lives in harmony with Church covenants), talk openly about how they are still attracted to men (aka same-sex attracted). In fact, the main character, Jeff Bennion, says “We can’t choose our sexual orientation—I don’t believe that.”

So, while there are some people who are able to make mixed-orientation marriages work, it is not encouraged by the Church—and scientific studies have not be able to find significant evidence that one can consciously change their sexual orientation.

Later in the flier, Dr. Williams says that if you come to the fireside, “you’ll learn how to understand the science and research” on the matter. Unfortunately he then goes on to direct people to his website, where he has penned a series of unscientific blog posts that are both homophobic and transphobic.

Furthermore, he links to research that has been debunked as unscientific—a study that reported poor development of  the children of gay parents, which was in fact more like a study of the children of failed mixed-orientation marriages, funded by a foundation fighting against gay marriage.

Later, the flier says, “The media portray those with such feelings of attractions as born or destined to have those feelings throughout life, and suggest that they can only be happy or fulfilled by participating in same-sex relationships.”

This is problematic because he’s linking two things, one half-true, one false.  This is a straw-man argument.  The first half of his sentence is half true—there is a general scientific consensus that sexual orientation is an immutable trait affected by genetics and environment.  No one that I’ve read about says, “there is one gene that automatically makes you gay—people are born gay.” But most of them do say, “there are a lot of biological factors that determines one’s sexual orientation and it appears that we don’t have conscious or willful control to change it.”  The second half of Dr. William’s sentence is false—I watch a lot of news, I read a lot of news, I listen to a lot of radio and podcasts.  I’ve never heard a news organization say anything close to that.  That would be overtly editorial of them, and inappropriate.  Sure there are TV shows and movies that have characters in same-sex relationships, but there’s also “My Husband’s Not Gay.” Either way, I haven’t heard anyone say “you can only be happy if you’re in a same-sex relationship.”

As a reminder, USGA is ideologically neutral.  That means that if you come to USGA and want to remain celibate, or marry someone of the opposite sex, we support you in doing that.  We don’t dictate or encourage any specific behavioral choices based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.  We don’t even force people to identify as gay—we’ve specifically make sure that we use the acronym LGBTQ/SSA to include those who prefer the term same-sex attracted and don’t want to identify as gay.  But there is a difference between ideology and facts and scientific studies.  So instead of tired talking points and debunked myths about homosexuality, let’s stick to science we do know.  Make whatever behavioral choices you want—you can even go to therapy to reduce or minimize your unwanted sexual attractions to men.  But don’t tell people you can make them straight—some people in New Jersey were found guilty over the summer of consumer fraud because they ran a program claiming to be able to change your sexual orientation, even though they actually didn’t and couldn’t.

Dr. Williams seems like a well-intentioned man, but from what I could gather from his website, his video interview, and this flier, he is dangerously misinformed—which is all the more disquieting since he is a licensed therapist. Even more alarming is that he is preaching this misinformation as if it were fact and Truth.   My hope is that this event that never was has now brought some additional light to this topic.

Since this flyer first surfaced, it appears the event was cancelled by Dr. Williams himself “due to negative publicity.”  While it’s good that BYU-Idaho campus resources were not used, this time, to dispel false information about homosexuality and conversion therapy, it should not have been cancelled because of bad publicity.  It should have been cancelled because his information and theories have been proven false, and because it directly contradicts what the Apostles of the LDS Church have said on the topic.

Even more cringe-worthy and disturbing is this 20 minute long video interview that Dr. Williams, who is also a faculty member at the university, did with BYU-Idaho where he claims that the reason men turn gay is because they got teased as a kid, found other boys distant and then exotic, and finally became erotically attracted to them.  Speaking for myself, and literally dozens of other gay men I know who were neither effeminate nor teased as children, this theory doesn’t really make any sense.  Also, to my knowledge, it’s never been tested scientifically either so…. there’s that.

Not to mention that this is the 2nd time in as many months that a licensed marriage and family therapist, who is a member of the Church and counsels clients who are Church members, has put out damaging, discredited information about homosexuality and conversion therapy. This needs to stop.

BYU Idaho Michael Williams Google Search
More importantly, in my opinion, is that this is the kind of stuff that damages LGBTQ/SSA people at BYU-Idaho, in the Church, and all over the country.  For every 1 client who Dr. Williams can try to claim has changed their sexual orientation (and I’d love to see actual proof of that), there are hundreds who have tried and tried and tried – til their knees were sore, and their scriptures were worn, and sometimes their wrists were bloody – to change their orientation, and haven’t succeeded. Children and teenagers and grown men and women who have drenched their pillows night after night with tears of anguish. And for all of those kids who feel like failures, who feel like they are despised of God because they couldn’t change a part of themselves they didn’t like, there are all of the parents who – like mine – said “you need to overcome this,” or who blamed themselves because their child is gay.  Messages and misinformation like this causes too much real pain, real depression, real anxiety, real despair to be left unchallenged.

So, instead of a listening to a (presumably) straight guy tell you junk science about conversion therapy and why people are gay, why not ask your friendly local gays what it’s really like? The last rhetorical question on his flyer was “How can we understand and help friends and family who might be struggling with same-gender attraction?” Ask us! Read through our blogs and Faces of USGA posts.  Try to listen. Try to understand.  Come to a USGA meeting any Thursday at 7pm at the Provo library.  I think that’s a good place to start.

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4 thoughts on “Guess What They’re Teaching Up At BYU-Idaho

  1. Seriously this is an answer to a prayer. I am so sick and tired of heterosexual people trying to define what it is like for me to be homosexual. I don’t try and define what it is like for someone to be transgender, I don’t try and define what its like for someone to suffer from an autoimmune disorder, I don’t try and define what it is like for someone to be paralyzed or crippled…I ask them what it’s like and then I try and learn from them and offer to help in any way I can. I am not naive enough to think that everyone’s homosexual expereince is the same, maybe some people have “overcome it” in some way that worked out for them and kudos to them if that is what made them be able to function in life and progress. I see people in mixed orientation marriages that are happy and I am happy for them and applaud them being true to what makes them feel at peace. But to see this type of “one size fits all” mentality being spewed forth into a crowd that is already volitaile from being pulled in 100 directions from their religious convictions, from what they see on social media, from their friends, their families, their personal doubts and fears is just asinine and ungoldy to me. I am so tired of so many people making so many people feel like they will never be good enough, they will never try hard enough, they will never meaure up. We minister lovingly with cookies and with feel goodery to inactives, to less actives, to the sick and lonley. I don’t see any active effort by the LDS church to minister in any form of Christ-like way to the LGBTQ population except for the private efforts of individuals in the church and through organizations like Affirmation, Mormons Building Bridges, etc which are all NOT SANCTIONED by the church. On my mission in Ecuador we were told to avoid the gay population, those men dressed very feminine who would whistle at the missionaries as they walked by. We were told they would possibly try and do stuff to us so it was better to avoid them. We push LGBTQ members right out the door unless they are willing to never act on their feelings, yet we will minister freely to any straight person “living in sin.” Hometeachers are sent to anyone associated with the church yet not to gay people. We are a leper colony to remain isolated yet somehow feel God’s love through personal prayer and scripture study, general conference talks, and social media messages until we “come to our senses” and can be reasoned with. When is the leadership of the church at large going to be held accountable to these “lost sheep” that are being spiritually starved if they choose not to be alone in this life, or the ones who suffer silently in the pews? I see handfulls of courageous members, bishops, and stake presidents who choose to minister to some despite the policies and general guidelines that make so many others feel justified in a state of inaction toward the LGBTQ community. I will be forever grateful to those who find a way to untie their seemingly bound hands and reach out in love and compassion regardless of the pressure they feel from the upper crust. Thank everything good and holy that this event was canceled.

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    1. When are the church leaders going to be held responsible? When are YOU going to be held responsible. The talks quoted in this story are not the church leaders saying folks are born gay. They’re saying now that these individuals have made choices to head down that path, it’s not easy to get back out of it just like any addiction. I believe people are born with gay tendencies, just like an alcoholic or sex addict. But it’s a series of choices and thoughts that lead to action on it.

      You need to stop assuming everyone else is responsible for feeding these lost sheep because when the church tries, you all get up in arms and get offended. Maybe set your pride aside and listen, just like any of the rest of us have to do when they teach about not doing something that we are weak in. God is not going to change his mind because you or anyone else enjoy a particular sin so much. It’s you and I that are responsible to come unto him.

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      1. Hi Kevin,

        I would just like to mention that it’s pretty rude to compare being gay to having an addiction. Being gay in itself is not inherently sinful, like your comment seems to imply. Sin is a choice. Being gay, as an identity, is not inherently sinful. Acting, such as through sexual means, is sinful. Being gay is more like an unchangable personality trait. But one of the quotes specifically says that they don’t know how people end up gay–none of those quotes state that there are steps to becoming gay. Just thought I would point that out.

        Also, it’s worth mentioning that gay people fight this not because they are prideful, but because they are recieving futile guidance. They are told to change instead of acknowledge what ails them, and move forward regardless. That’s why many faith-oriented support groups have sprung up separate from the church. Please do not be so harsh and quick to judge those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Trust me, those who are desperately clinging to the gospel but struggle with these things need your understanding. We ask for someone to listen and ask for guidance from the prophets. As far as I’m concerned, they’re making a good choice. Having these sorts of concerns are human and natural. They are seeking answers to prayers and I hope that you can understand this.

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      2. Kevin,

        Let me be honest here, because I see you really don’t understand what it is like to be attracted to the same sex. I am, and I have done it all, praying more, fasting, attending the temple, trying to be more spiritual, but it NEVER changed. And to this day, my heart still jumps when I see a handsome guy. I have been on dates with women, I have tried to make it work, but it is pretty obvious to most women that even with my best efforts I just don’t have a lot of romantic interest in them. I haven’t come out to anyone outside of my family and church leaders so it is hard to explain that to a date, and I haven’t had anyone stick around long enough for me to trust them with this immense burden.

        If I could change it I would. But after I failed time and time again, I finally considered suicide, like really considered suicide, I wrote a goodbye letter, I had a method, I even thought about how I would send a delayed text so that a policeman and not someone who knew me would find my body. Luckily I had a great stake president who knows about my issues who was able to calm me down. But he calmed me not by saying that I needed to do more to get those feelings to go away, honestly if he had done that I would probably have considered suicide again.

        Kevin I understand your point, but it is misguided, and if I had read that when I was really considering suicide that might have pushed me over the edge. I encourage you to watch your words. Even Elder Holland said in general conference when he referenced the same sex attracted young man who came back from his mission, that when he was getting better his feelings for other men did not change “and NO ONE expected they would”
        Just keep that in mind next time you decide to comment on the subject.

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