Weekly Activity: Parents Panel

Some lovely parents of LGBTQ/SSA kids in the community took the time to participate in a panel at USGA this past Thursday. They related their experiences of coming to understand and becoming an ally for their children and how that changed them. It just goes to show that trying to understand someone solely for the sake of understanding them is one of the sincerest displays of love. Come see us this week for another awesome activity, where we’ll hear from the Center for Women and Children in Crisis about healthy relationships.

Weekly Activity: Hope4Utah

Dr. Greg Hundal, creator of Hope4Utah, addressed us at our most recent USGA meeting. We received great instruction in suicide prevention and how to talk to someone who might be experiencing suicide ideation. Dr. Hundal offered great wisdom and insight regarding how we can help ourselves and others who may be in need of help. You are loved; please reach out to someone if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Know you are not alone.

In addition to Hope4Utah’s website linked above, below are some resources for suicide prevention:

Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386
Suicide Lifeline: (800) 273-8255

Weekly Activity: Music and the Spoken Word (Queer Edition)

This past week we had the pleasure of participating in a mini fireside-type meeting in which we were privileged to have Rod Olson come speak to us about his experiences as a gay Mormon. He offered great insights and told us about his past and current decisions and how they compared. We also sang hymns (and primary songs too!) allowing us to connect with each other in fun and spiritual ways. Come see us Thursday night for a great activity on recognizing privilege.

Weekly Activity: LGBTQ/SSA Media Representation

In the past, mass media often lacked diversity in terms of ethnicities, looks, and sexual identities. While our current society has come a long way with including more diverse characters in movies, video games, and other media, there is always room for improvement. At USGA last week we observed the way minorities and members of the LGBTQ/SSA community are currently represented. It can be difficult when you identify a certain atypical way and then not see that represented it media accurately. Many stereotypes surround certain races, LGBTQ/SSA men and women (and those in between), and it is important to not only acknowledge those stereotypes as potentially harmful, but to try to change them as well.

Come see us at USGA this Thursday at 7:00 pm in the Provo Library for our next activity, Music and the Spoken Word (Queer Edition).

And as always, feel free to check us out on social media to stay connected.

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.

Weekly Activity: Alphabet Soup

Have you met anyone who identifies as non-binary, asexual, or aromantic? At USGA last week, panelists who identify as such gave us a small glimpse into their world. Their responses to questions regarding their sexuality/gender identity left the audience with a new viewpoint on many of the things that most people take for granted each day.

If you would like to learn more about any LGBTQ/SSA issues – including those mentioned in this article – we invite everyone to come to our next USGA meeting this Thursday night at the Provo Library at 7:00 p.m. If you are unsure about what exactly USGA is and stands for, check us out on all social media. Take a chance to cha(lle)nge your perspective!

“Asexuals Don’t Exist”: A Crash Course on Asexuality and What Not to Say

By Emelia W.

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 author’s own and do not necessarily reflect USGA’s official policy or position.


I’ve been out to myself as belonging to the asexual spectrum for about a year now and I’ve noticed that people, both friends and strangers, both queer* and straight, seem to have a hard time grasping an understanding of exactly what asexuality is. Before starting, I would like to note that it is perfectly normal to be curious about asexuality because I understand that having sexual attraction is seen as such a core part of love for a romantic partner and that a lack of sexual attraction is difficult to comprehend. As such, as long as you have the consent of your conversational partner, it is okay to ask some questions and try to get a better understanding of how they see relationships. However this article is just to act as a word of caution because even though some comments can be well intentioned, they can be understood as demeaning, invasive, or hurtful.

Before beginning, let’s explain the basics. Within the spectrum of asexuality, how a person identifies relates to their variation on sexuality and romantic attraction. First, on sexuality, asexuality is defined as “the lack of sexual attraction to anyone or low or absent interest in sexual activity.” But there are sub-identities. This can include greysexuality, where people “experience sexual attraction very rarely, or of an intensity so low that it’s ignorable”, and demisexuality, where someone “may experience secondary sexual attraction after a close emotional connection has already formed”.  It’s also probably worth noting that within asexual sexuality there is sex-positive/indifferent and sex-repulsed (here people disagree on what sex-positive means so I will just go with the way I’ve heard it).  Sex-repulsed just means that an asexual is repulsed by the idea of having sex while sex-positive/indifferent just means that they don’t prefer sex but are not repulsed, so they are just indifferent about having it.

Next, people can also differ in their orientation of romantic attraction. Here someone can identify as aromantic, or lacking in romantic attraction towards anyone, or they can only have a romantic attraction just as someone else would have sexual attraction (biromantic, heteroromantic, homoromantic, demiromantic etc.). So for example I identify as asexual, indifferent, and biromantic. This means I have no particular interest in engaging in sexual activity of any kind but I have no qualms about dating and the regular activities it entails like holding hands or kissing.

People may differ on how they feel, but I think some honest questions are good because even though the answer is obvious to me, I can see why it wouldn’t be for others. For example, “I don’t understand, how does that work for you” and “how does this affect how you date” and “how did you know you were asexual?” I think these are all relatively ok. However, there are some comments and questions I’ve received that are not.

Things that are not okay:

  • “I don’t believe asexuality is a thing. I mean, how do you know that you just haven’t met someone you would be sexually attracted to yet?” I don’t know. If you say you’re straight, how do you know you’re not homosexual and just haven’t met the right person yet?
  • “It must be just a lack of hormones or something right?” No. Research shows that asexuality is not a result of any physical imbalance. Please don’t imply that what I have is some sort of disorder.
  • “How can you have a relationship with anyone if you don’t feel sexual attraction?” There are many facets to relationships; sexual attraction is not the only way to love someone.
  • “Oh my goodness I feel so sorry for you. That must be awful.” I don’t feel sorry for myself. I don’t think I have to have intercourse to have a fulfilling life.
  • “Maybe you should see a psychiatrist.” ”Are you sure it wasn’t some trauma you faced when you were younger or something?” No, it wasn’t. This question is wildly inappropriate and invasive to ask anyone. Please don’t do it.
  • “If you’re not going to have intercourse, what are you going to do to have kids?” Adoption? Also, maybe don’t assume that all people want kids.
  • “I mean it’s ok for you, but I’m glad I’m not asexual. That would be the worst” ????????
  • “You’re asexual? Isn’t that the thing that plants do? Does that mean you reproduce with yourself?” Obviously no. Please use common sense.
  • “A in LGBTQIA+ stands for allies not asexuals.” People can feel differently about this one, but I think it feels like erasure when people say this. Especially since I think the term LGBTQIA+ is supposed to be about giving recognition and awareness to the queer community, and that supporting the queer community and being a part of the queer community are two different things. It sucks enough not to be recognized as existing by society as a whole; it sucks more to be erased from the queer community too.
  • “Being asexual isn’t as difficult as being gay in our society—you’re nothing.” (I was actually told this, yes) First of all, speaking to my experience of the trials of being asexual is not to deny the trials of others of different sexualities. It is literally just me talking about my experiences. Second, it is not a competition of who is worse off. Please do not act as if the group that wins at being discriminated against the most is the only one that has the right to be upset about it.
  • “This whole thing is just a fad.” “Oh, you will change how you feel eventually. It’s just a phase.” “You’re just saying that because being queer is popular now.” Please do not say these things; please do not try to tell other people how they feel.

Being asexual can be difficult sometimes because it’s tough enough to come to a point where you question if how you feel about relationships is an anomaly and you’re just weird, or if it is something experienced by others, but it’s even tougher when others question your feelings on the matter. Still, ultimately my asexuality is a cherished part of my identity, and just like other people wouldn’t change being straight or gay, I wouldn’t change being asexual. Ever since I found out that asexuality was a recognized orientation and other people feel as I do, I’ve felt more secure and confident in my identity and less concerned about fitting ideas of what others think I should be. Overall I’m happy the way I am, happy to be able to accept myself, and I am hopeful that I’ll be able to help others accept me too.

*When I say queer, I use this as an unofficial umbrella term even though I recognize that not everyone agrees (and justifiably) with this use of the word.

Weekly Activity: Gay Camp

Ever wonder what a scouting organization run by members of the LGBTQ/SSA community would be like? Well, we got to experience just how enjoyable it can be this past week at our USGA Gay Camp. This put a fresh spin on scouting; as “scouts” were able to earn merit badges in everything from exercise, (which included the ever-important bend-and-snap) to guessing obscure colors. Although maybe not as practical as “Citizenship in the Nation” or “Pulp and Paper”, we think it’s safe to say that these merit badges definitely excelled in terms of enjoyment.

Be sure to check out this week’s activity, Alphabet Soup for the Soul, Thursday in the Provo Library at 7pm

Dear Transgender Friend, You Are Loved

A while ago, USGA met to write letters for the P.S. You Are Loved project, a repository of supportive letters to transgender individuals. We wanted to share them again here and invite others to add their own expressions of understanding and support in the comments section.

Dear Transgender/Non-Binary Friend or Future Friend,
I love you. I support you. I admire your bravery, whether in the closet or out. I will walk with you. I will talk with you. I will listen to you. I will try to put myself in your shoes, though I won’t pretend I’ll be able to truly understand your intersecting experiences with gender, race, religion, romance, and other aspects of your experience. I will seek to understand your experiences, your joys, your hurt, your gender dysphoria, your feelings of never fitting neatly into a box. I may not know what to say or understand you completely, but I will try. Please be patient with me, especially when I ask dumb questions. I will use the pronouns you want me to use, though I may make mistakes. I will treat you how you wish to be treated. I will recognize the blessing that you are in my life and how you help me be a better human. I will value your insights and be honored by your friendship. I will leave space for the many things I don’t know about God, the beautiful messiness and diversity of life, and your individual divine plan. I will not patronize you, tokenize you, or downplay your struggles of being in a body and assigned a gender role that has somehow always felt deeply wrong. I will not pretend to know what is best for you. I will defend you when others misunderstand, mischaracterize, and cast verbal stones at you. I will stand up for you when some reduce gender to genitals and discount your experiences, or if you are branded a ‘freak’, ‘f*g’, ‘confused’, or ‘tranny’ by ignorant people. I will never be ashamed of you or your appearance. You are beautiful. You are strong. You are worthy of love. I will gently remind others that trans people are far more likely to be murdered, assaulted, abused, insulted, experience hate crimes, and to experience suicidal ideation than those of us who are lucky enough to feel at home in our assigned gender at birth. I will help you find support if you’d like more. I will recognize the uniqueness of your individual story, the complexity of trans and non-binary gender identity, and will not compare you to others. You have a bright future ahead of you, and you are not alone. I will do the only thing I know I can do –I will love you and respect you. And I know there are many others who will love you for who you are.
Your friend,
Dillon
P.S. You are loved.

Dear Friend,
You experience something that I can’t completely understand. But I have heard so many stories; I promise that to the extent that I am capable, I understand how difficult it must be for you. I love you and you are important. Your feelings are important and you can do whatever you want with your life. Transition to whatever degree you need and I will defend you. I will defend the validity of your feelings and the importance of empathy wherever there is ignorance and meanness. You don’t have to prove anything. You are a whole person, a complete person.
Sincerely,
A. M.
P.S. You are loved.

Hi Friend!
Can I just start by saying I believe you? I believe you when you say that you feel like a man or a woman or somewhere in between. Seriously, why is that so hard for people to understand? When I was younger, I thought the world was black and white. This was always right, that was always wrong. But as I started meeting people and listening to their stories, I realized that life isn’t as simple as I thought it was. Life is complex, and each person’s life is unique. So when a friend came out to me as trans, I could accept her as she was. I’m not saying this to brag about myself, but to say that people do change. I changed to be far more accepting than I was before. And little by little, the world is changing too. You have a place here with everyone else. And if it seems like everyone in the world is eschewing you, know that you do have friends out there too. If we ever meet in real life, I’ll be friends with you, hang out with you, support and defend you. And I accept you as you are, all of you. We need you here with us. We want you here with us.

Sincerely,
D.D.
P.S. You are loved.

Dear Friend or Future Friend,
I don’t know a whole lot about trans issues, but I’m really glad that over the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to have gained a few trans friends. I honestly don’t understand why trans issues are so hard for so many people – it seems pretty straightforward to me, so I’m sorry you have to deal with all of the haters. I hope that someday soon trans people won’t have to worry about coming out and all of the opposition and ignorance y’all can often face. I hope you know that I believe that God, or whatever you do or don’t believe in, loves you just the way you are. And that even though this life is messy and complicated and can often be sad and filled with heartache, that there is beauty in the struggles and mundane details of everyday life – and that God is there in that beauty and struggle. I hope that you have supportive and loving friends and family to lean on in times of hardship and need, but more importantly so they can learn from you. You are beautiful and interesting and full of good things to teach people around you. I believe you have a happy and fulfilling life ahead of you, so go out and seize it!
Love,
A.J.
P.S. You are loved.

Dear Friend or Future Friend,
I just want you to know that I’m there for you. I’m here to listen to you. I’ll listen to your struggles, your frustrations, your triumphs, and your happy moments. I want you to know that you inspire me and give me strength. I don’t personally know the struggles of being trans, but my ears are open and I want to be there for you. I don’t know if you believe in a God, but I do, and I know that he also listens to me when I need to talk. Thank you for being you and I will be there for you if you need to talk.

Sincerely,
A.D.
P.S. You are loved.

Weekly Activity: Welcome and Circles of Empathy

Sometimes difficulties arise for LDS LGBTQ/SSA people and unfortunately many times those difficulties are rooted in a lack of compassion. This past week at USGA, attendees participated in a Circles of Empathy exercise to seek more understanding, in which everyone had the chance to share their values and ideas in small groups without worrying about judgment. It turned out to be not only enriching, but enjoyable too as we all came together and got to meet new friends.

Come to USGA this Thursday night at 7:00 pm in the Provo Library for more fun activities! We welcome and invite anyone to attend – LGBTQ/SSA people, allies, or even community members/students who would like to learn more!

For more information about upcoming events, check us out on Facebook.