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).
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.
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.