LGBT Suicides at BYU: Silent Stories

Ever wonder why sometimes

Students at BYU go missing?

But no one talks about

What happened?

-Lee Bobbie

 

PLEASE NOTE: USGA seeks to create a respectful dialogue that encompasses multiple view points on the topics of faith and sexuality. The views and opinions of the following article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect USGA’s official policy or position.

Trigger Warnings: Suicidal Ideation and Discussion of Suicide Rationalization


 

Suicide risk is a serious and complex reality that many LGBTQ/SSA people face. In general, highly rejected LGBT young people are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide. In the last three months alone there have been 32 LDS LGBT youth suicides, which Church leaders have publicly mourned.

Unfortunately, BYU students are no exception to these risks. A 2012 survey of LGBTQ/SSA students at BYU revealed that 74% had contemplated suicide, while 24% had attempted suicide. In the last year, there have been at least five confirmed suicide attempts, none of which, thankfully, proved fatal.

All too often we only hear the numbers. Today we would like to share the stories of four individuals who attempted suicide in order to better convey the complexities of this issue. All names have been changed to maintain privacy, but we felt it necessary to speak out, both for the LGBTQ/SSA individuals who are still in a dark place and for those who wish to reach them.

Jane Smoot

For Jane, anxiety was the heart of her difficulties. “I was getting scared that I would never not be able to feel anxious, if that makes sense. I was getting tired of dealing with constant anxiety.” Many different factors contributed to her stress: work, the lack of a supportive authority figure (such as a professor or religious leader), and the aggressive heteronormativity in BYU culture. “I feel like I can’t be a participant in cultural rites of passage like marriage and dating. It feels like people are willfully and purposefully leaving me out, even when they have no idea that they’re doing so. It feels like people of authority are hostile to me.”

After taking pills, Jane had a change of heart and walked herself to the emergency room for three days of medical interventions. “I think the biggest reason for getting help was probably the thought of my family and my friends. I knew that I cared about them, and they cared about me, and that was definitely evident in the support they showed in the days that followed.”

Since then Jane has found better ways to cope with her anxiety, though it’s still there. Circumstances at work changed to be less stressful and she made sure she had a better support network. “I saw how hard it was on people just when I was in the hospital, how they came in with red eyes. It was hard to think how much it cost everyone else, even when they were happy to give that support. Now I feel that if I have another crisis I can get help without causing another medical crisis,” she laughs.

Sebastian Andrews

In Sebastian’s case, fear of rejection and helplessness were the main factors in his suicide attempt. “I was depressed for a reason,” he says. “I’m trans, and I could have fixed it by transitioning, but I couldn’t at the same time. I thought that if I do something about this, then everyone will hate me. It seemed easier to die than to continue with life, either being closeted and being terribly miserable or being out and doing something about it and facing rejection.”

Sebastian took a whole bottle of Tylenol, only to vomit it up immediately. But the desire to kill himself remained, and he contemplated throwing himself into heavy traffic. “I was ready to be done with this life. Two weeks later my parents finally called the BYU police and the real police, who escorted me to the hospital’s mental ward.

“The psychiatric person there was wonderful. Just having that person there to talk to was very helpful. It was then that I realized that not everyone would reject me and that I should give them the chance to accept me.”

Sebastian was formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria and was able to start taking hormones to partially transition. Since then he feels much happier, and has transferred to Arizona State. “As long as there’s progress, that’s very helpful. There’s hope, and I no longer want to die.”

Luis Mendez

Luis’ problems stemmed from the comments and reactions of others. “Other people’s idealizations or views about me because of my sexuality caused me to want to hurt myself; it made me feel in control,” he says. “I felt that people would rather that I die than have me live my life the way I want. All of my friends, my family would never want to throw me a wedding, but they would throw me a funeral.”

His sister took him to the hospital, and he felt it was a shameful ordeal. His family said that it was selfish of him to attempt suicide. However, one of the nurses on duty was lesbian. She had left the Church years ago and had lived with a same-sex partner. Now she was single again and re-baptized. She reassured him that whatever path he chose, it would be alright, and Luis laid in his bed and cried.

Since then things have gotten a lot better, though Luis still has lingering suicidal ideation. “Sometimes I’m more hopeful, but when I’m suffering, I want it to stop.” Despite this, he has started working full-time in an affirming environment and is saving up to begin the career of his choice, using his mission experience as a springboard into foreign markets. “My life changed just changing environment,” he says.

Alex Young

Alex’s anxiety was rooted in the conflict between his religious beliefs and his sexuality. “My family was really understanding, but I wasn’t ready to give up on the Gospel plan yet.” But after doing everything possible to make himself straight, he couldn’t shake the unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction. “It was getting really bad. I would get an anxiety attack going to the movies with friends because I was the only one without a date. I could barely make it out of the theater.”

The issue reached a head one night when he was watching a video about a happy Mormon couple. “I felt like that could never be me, that I had failed my Heavenly Father and my family, and that it would be better if I just ended my life rather than eke out a miserable, lonely existence.”

Alex picked up a knife from the kitchen and placed it on his wrist, but stopped short of hurting himself. “Fortunately I had lots of friends I had been open with, and I trusted them. I shuffled like a zombie over to their house and curled up in the corner of their living room. I was numb, but I was alive.”

Today Alex is vibrant in comparison to his darker days. “I got more involved with USGA, and helping others brought a lot of clarity for myself.” Alex has come to accept his identity as a gay man and his faith has become stronger as a result. “I don’t really know what my place will be in the Church in the future,” he says, “but I’m willing to be flexible and stick with it until I do. I’ve learned to live with ambiguity and uncertainty.” Alex decided to continue his studies at BYU and is contemplating doing a Masters there as well. “I feel like I can make a difference for others here.”

Signs

Recognizing signs that someone is in danger of suicide can be important for ensuring that people get the help they need, but signs differ for each person. Jane withdrew into her room and would miss class and work, while Sebastian withdrew socially and threw himself into schoolwork. Luis would talk about his suicide to others with a smiling mask, while Alex didn’t talk much at all and had a permanent frown. Disruptions in a person’s normal patterns of behavior seem to be the best way to tell if they need help. For serious cases, people can either call the Trevor Project Hotline (866-488-7386) or go to their local emergency room.

How to Help

When asked how BYU students could help, everyone agreed that others could be more kind in what they say to others. “Don’t say mean things to people,” says Jane. “You never know what they’re going through. You never know when a degrading comment will trigger something. Watch what you say and say everything in a positive way.” Sebastian agrees. At one point a girl in his ward was saying disparaging remarks about Caitlyn Jenner, not realizing that Sebastian was trans as well. “We often think that there are no queer people at BYU,” says Alex, “when nothing could be further from the truth. There are closeted people in every ward and every class. Every time you say something, assume a queer person is listening.”

“Be nice, that’s all you need to do,” says Luis.

A Message of Hope

Last, we asked everyone to give a message to any LGBT students at BYU who are contemplating suicide.

Sebastian: “Don’t do it. Transfer, if you need to. It might be harder on you financially, but there’s always student loans. I don’t want you to leave this life. You have a purpose.”

Jane: “There’s this thought that you shouldn’t try to change your situation to deal with your anxiety, that you should change yourself to deal with it. That’s not something that’s always true. You can at least consider taking time off school or finding a different job. That’s not an option for everyone, but there’s medical support you can get or support from friends.”

Luis: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you’re not just surrounded by assholes. When I came out at work, I never would have thought that people would come up to me and say how brave I was. When you’re around people that see your sexuality as bad, it’s worse. Know that there are better places out there.”

Alex: I know it sounds cliché, but it really does get better. Get help. Find a shoulder to cry on. Love and acceptance are out there for you; keep looking for them.

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20 thoughts on “LGBT Suicides at BYU: Silent Stories

  1. Hey, somebody should have told them about Jesus and the Bible. Everybody must understand what the old testament says and wants to say and must know the pros and cons.
    1. In Leviticus 20:13 is is written: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”. It must be understood that be that any human reasonin behind God does not want this to happen. The homosexual act is an abomination before God.
    2. In Exodus 20, in the commandments it is written: “You shall not murder” (even yourself). To kill somebody it is against God’s will. Who are you to end life, for if you do it you certainly don’t know what comes after.
    3. Do not judge (yourself), for who are you to judge. It is not your, it’s God’s competency.
    4. Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Jesus came and died for us for all of our sins to be forgiven given that we go to Him and give our hearts to enable Him to transform our lives.
    5. Who are the men who judge you that cannot forgive Jesus. Are you following Jesus in this forgiveness?
    6. There is an open door and Jesus waits for you. Understand that there is always forgiveness, but you should never think that an abomination is not an abomination. It is Satan that makes you believe, that you have no choice. It is him who deceives you to commit the greatest sin to yourself, what Judas did. Jesus would have forgiven him, but he chose to judge himself.
    7. If you want to live your life on your own, without Jesus and if you want to have an Eternity without love then go and choose your judgement, but better repent and go to Jesus as he is ready to forgive your trespasses. If you feel that you have failed in your life and want to die you can start giving brotherly love. Help and encourage whoever needs it, work for others, not for you then. If you throw away this life, you will not have a second chance. And your decision will be Ethernal. Please take heed of this word and try to find the way of love instead of self-judgement.

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    1. First off none of these individuals were doing anything wrong. They were trying to be active members and lost hope of finding any joy in a church that LOVES marriage and relationships but expects gay people to be alone for the rest of their lives.

      I was miserable in the church as a gay man. And I did not go on any dating apps, and haven’t even held a guys hand romantically.

      Them Inleft the church and honestly am very happy. I feel joy I have never felt in the church, and no I have not had sex yet, but kust being authentic and conmecting with people Ibcare about romantically has brought me out of clinical depression.

      With that said, do you think someone could convince you to be happy in a life of isolation and loneliness ny telling you to repent and not be an abomination?

      Like

  2. It’s unfortunate. And heartbreaking. However, the student has CHOSEN to attend BYU, one of the strictest private universities in the nation. It’s moral code is absolutely clear when it comes to homosexuality. Why would a student choose to attend that school when they are already conflicted about their sexual orientation? And why would they place appeasement of parents over their own well being? Why continue attending instead of transferring to another University that will happily take the credits?

    Then there are those who live a double life: hooking up on apps while attending BYU, knowing full well they are gay and violating everything they swore to uphold as a student and member of the church. That’s not only a slap in the face to their integrity, but also to the other students struggling to find their place in the world while sorting out their sexuality and faith.

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    1. Being gay DOESN’T mean you are seeking homosexual relationships.

      None of these individuals were. They were all trying to be faithful Mormons and do what the church asked of them, and they were still miserable.

      With that said most of my gay friends xame to terms with their same gender attraction a few years into college far beyond when thwy signed the “honor code”

      But I am sure it is just much easier to think that these people were doing something wrong instead of realizing that the church makes it very difficult to be mentally and emotionally healthy as a faithful LGBT mormon and that it is harming people.

      Like

  3. I saw this video or year or so ago and was so deeply touched. I so wish I had such support while I was there; I could’ve stayed in school and avoided my own attempt to take my life. But I’m here, and it does get better. Thank you for all the people who speak out and speak loud to say “you Are loved, and you are a gift from God.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you all for sharing your stories. The line in Luis’s story about his family being more willing to attend his funeral than his wedding broke my heart for him, for everyone who feels like this.

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  5. It is difficult for anyone to conform to standards that go against their personality. I was certainly not in the LGBT group but I can certainly understand how it feels to be ostracized by the very social group we are suppose to depend on. The LDS church does an amazing job of teach morality but does not do a good job of teaching of love and acceptance. It is a situation where it is easier to make someone else a pariah than except ones own failings. People tend to quantify there level of holiness based on a scewed scale of what they see in others. I can remember when word got out about my own discretion, it was just members of the church that treated me different but even my own family. In some way they were able to put aside the fact that I was there child to fall in line with the principles of the teaching. It lead to me being kicked out of my own home. You want to know what alone feels like. It took kind words from a college professor from a paper I had written about the experience to bring me back from the edge, a total stranger. She basically said learn to love yourself and find true happiness in your own world, there was no grade on the paper. So, I completely understand why this would be a HUGE issue on campus as kids are discovering themselves for the first time and struggling for accpetance from people they were raised with. The church has to a better job of teaching acceptance regardless the indescrection. After all I dont remember Jesus stepping up and saying I am with out sin give me the first rock.

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    1. Sadly Saul, you speak of a lack of “teaching of love and acceptance” when nothing could be further from the truth. And your judgmental view of those in the church being “easier to make someone else a pariah than except ones own failings”.. Perhaps you should look within to find fault..?? Also your comment: “People tend to quantify there level of holiness based on a scewed scale of what they see in others” REEKS of judgmental assumption and your own pride! And speaking ill of your family because they respect and admire obedience to the commandments of Christ, rather than abandon them as apparently you did, also REEKS of your personal unrighteous pride! Not to mention your justification of your judgmental pride is extremely unattractive! Again, perhaps if you cared as much about being obedient to the commandments instead of trying so desperately to disavow and discard them as an “unfair” attack on your personal selfishness, you’d be much happier!
      As fair as your pathetic attempt to justify your guilty behavior by claiming to know and understand our Savior.. Let me enlighten you on His truth found in Alma chapter 41 concerning how he views your attempts to justify your unrighteous acts.. I would also encourage you to not only read, but to prayerfully study Moroni chapter 7: 14 thru 19.. From your clearly prideful views, it is not the church nor it’s humble members that need a change of heart.. but obviously your own..

      “1 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the restoration of which has been spoken; for behold, some have wrested the scriptures, and have gone far astray because of this thing. And I perceive that thy mind has been worried also concerning this thing. But behold, I will explain it unto thee.

      2 I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.

      3 And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.

      4 And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame—mortality raised to immortality, corruption to incorruption—raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other—

      5 The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.

      6 And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.

      7 These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.

      8 Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.

      9 And now behold, my son, do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin.

      10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.

      11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.

      12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?

      13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.

      14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

      15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.”

      Like

  6. I would like to point out to those who may be angry with BYU or the LDS church, and may possibly blame them for these student’s attempts, that depression and suicide never comes from a single source. As someone who has depression and has contemplated suicide many times and even attempted once, was put into 2 hospitals for anxiety, and as well as a Psychology major, I feel as though I must heavily stress that it would be misguided to point fingers at a single source and blame it for everything. It’s never one thing, it’s multiple stressors that come from all over one’s life and pile up until it’s too much.

    Like

  7. Why are you making up statistics that are completely false? This article seems to be well-intentioned, but is based on a completely false premise. Stop lying. Seriously.

    Like

  8. I am so touched by this artical. I will share it everyday this week in oan attempt to reach out to those friends and family members who are so quick to judge my kids and me for supporting them. I want them to know the pain behind it. I have tried to make them understand. But judgement always services one way or another. We need more stories like these to help save lifes before its too late. So much pain going unseen and unheard. It are these stories that need to be heard.

    Like

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