In a recent interview with Kurt Francom on Leading Saints, Tyler Lefevor, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Utah State University and Sam Skidmore, MS, is a third-year doctoral student of clinical/counseling psychology at Utah State University shared insights with Kurt on ways to love and support our LBGTQ+ members.
Tyler’s research focuses on understanding how LGBTQ+ latter-day saints can flourish. Sam’s research and clinical focuses include understanding the experiences of LGBTQ+ members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and ways in which LGBTQ+ mental health can be improved. Both Tyler and Sam are former members of the Church but are doing specific research to help Latter-day Saint leaders be a more empathetic and informed leader as they help their LBGTQ+ members navigate the nuances of how they experience life.
“The Eyes Have It”
When the LGBTQ+ member was coming out, their research revealed that it wasn’t what the bishop said but how he acted that was the most impactful. When there is love, understanding and caring in our eyes and actions, those we counsel with can see and feel our compassion and our desire to be a support and resource to them. Even if we fumble through our words, we can be candid and warn them that our goal is to be a help as we navigate together the concern or challenge they are facing and we can invite them to let us know ways we can help and better frame our efforts.
The top four reasons LBGTQ+ individuals strive to council and talk with their Church leaders are:
- They want comfort or guidance
- They want to be open about their experience
- They want to repent
- Topic brought up during routine meeting
Thus, it is important to listen with our heart and be seeking inspired guidance.
The Good Samaritan
In his October 2012 conference talk, Henry B. Eyring said:
Remember that when the Lord lets us encounter someone in distress, we honor the good Samaritan for what he did not do as much as for what he did. He did not pass by on the other side even though the beaten traveler on the road was a stranger and perhaps an enemy. He did what he could for the beaten man and then put in place a specific plan for others to do more. He did that because he understood that helping may require more than what one person can do.
As we minister to all of our brothers and sisters, it is helpful if we strive to follow Elder Eyring’s inspired counsel regarding things we both should not do and also do.
Here are a few suggestions from Tyler and Sam on best practices when dealing with all of Father’s children and especially LBGTQ+ individuals.
- Practice empathic listening
- Be open
- Provide affirmative counsel or care
- Be punishing, judging, hurting, or patronizing
- Lack of knowledge/experience with LGBTQ+ individuals (educate ourself now)
Realize that the below counsel may not be well received,
- You just need to focus on the Gospel
- Accept yourself and you’ll be fine
- You just need to restrict your same-sex sexuality or gender expression
- Don’t worry, I will respect whatever choice you make
Ideally, leaders can seek for ways to express love and a willingness to understand. Remember, with everyone we may counsel with, it’s okay to be honest about our fledgling efforts to better understand their situation. Here is a great example of what Sam’s mission president said to him when he began a tender and scary discussion with him regarding his same gender attraction:
“I don’t really know exactly what to say right now, but I do know that I care about you and you’re a really good person. So, give me some time to think about this. Here are some resources, but just know this is okay.”
You can imagine the great relief that Sam felt when his first effort at “coming out” was with his mission president and it went so well that he was able to move forward in peace and confidence.
Kurt also shared how it takes courage to be a venerable leaders as we strive to do Heavenly Father’s work with compassion and sincerity. He explained:
“I remember, as a bishop talking with an LGBT individual, I even said, I’m about to say some things, but you have to promise me you’ll give me another chance if I mess up, and she was very grateful giving me that grace.”
In their research and personal experience, Tyler and Sam explained that the way important people in the individual’s life, such as parents and leaders, first respond, has a BIG impact on how the LBGTQ+ member can successfully move forward.
As you might expect, negative or uneducated responses significantly impacts their hope and determination that they will be able to navigate this earth life and successfully keep their covenants that they hold so dear. Where positive, educated and loving responses empower them to not give up or loose hope in their efforts to become their best self and remain anxiously engaged in the Gospel.
With our desire to seek inspiration on how to best meet the needs of all we counsel, here are just a few resources of information that can precede the inspiration we are seeking:
“Feeling same-sex attraction or choosing to use a sexual identity label (such as gay, lesbian, or bisexual) is not a sin and does not violate Church policy. Words like gay and lesbian mean different things to different people. Identifying as gay may mean a member experiences same-sex attraction but chooses not to act on these feelings. This label may also describe how they express themselves emotionally, physically, romantically, sexually, or politically. Do not assume an individual is breaking the law of chastity because they use a sexual identity label.”
We also find in the Gospel Topics additional information regarding those who identify as transgender:
“Some people experience feelings of incongruence between their biological sex and their gender identity. As a result, some people may choose to identify themselves as transgender. They—and their family and friends—face complex challenges and should be treated with sensitivity, kindness, compassion, and an abundance of Christlike love.”
As we can see, there is much to learn and understand, yet there is an abundance of resources on the Church website that can help us navigate these tender topics. Taking time to learn what the Brethren have and are saying regarding this subject, and seeking personal understanding, will not only serve us well as leaders, but truly serve us in our discipleship.
There are additional resources in our communities as well. One resource that is focused on helping LGBTQ+ members and their families with resources and support is the non-profit, North Star.
North Star is a faith-affirming resource for Latter-day Saints addressing sexual orientation and gender identity, and who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Their purpose is:
“Is to be a spiritually uplifting resource for individuals and families dealing with these complex issues. It is also to empower individuals to help educate themselves, their family, friends, and Church leaders as they strive to become integrated more fully and lovingly into the Church community.”
Each year North Star holds a conference in Salt Lake City with an abundance of resources and classes. There are classes on Saturday specifically geared to Church unit leaders. This year the conference is June 9-11 and they are offering them both in person and virtually with a significant discount for Church leaders.
3 Important Take-Aways
We are all striving to be the Lord’s hands, words, and caring hearts, so here are three final take-aways from Sam and Tyler’s research that can be helpful:
- Understand why each person comes to you and what they need
- How you treat LGBTQ+ individuals matters more than what you do
- Do your best NOW to learn more about LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences
Beth Young is a convert of 44 years; served a mission in North Carolina; has been married for 35 years to her sweetheart, Bob; has five adult children and two grandchildren. She raised her family in Texas for 25 years where she served in various capacities in church and in her community. She moved to Utah four years ago and loves writing, teaching and inspiring others to make changes to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Beth is the owner of 5 Pillars of Health, is a certified Tai Chi Instructor, serves as the written content manager at Leading Saints, and is a master gardener.