Faith, sexuality, “change” discussed at forum

OGDEN, Utah — The conflict that many self-identified “gay Mormons” deal with, and whether a person can change their sexual orientation, was discussed at a community forum here.

The discussion, put on Tuesday night by the Ogden OUTreach Center, which serves northern Utah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, focused on the recent debut of a website by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its stance on homosexuality. It also focused on the controversial “conversion therapy,” and whether or not it can successfully make someone who is gay, “straight.”

“For me it’s really more of, taking it one day at a time and seeing where the Lord is going to take me,” said James Price, an 18-year-old freshman at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, who identifies as gay.

After he came out to his family, Price said there was tension. He said he underwent therapy to change his sexual orientation.

“My personal take on it is the people who are trying to do it come from a very loving place, but it’s misguided in many ways,” he said. “For me, it didn’t work.”

At Tuesday night’s panel discussion, those who have undergone conversion therapy spoke about how it did not work for them. They also dismissed those who claim it has been successful. California recently banned the practice, and a lawsuit has been filed in New Jersey against a group that conducted conversion therapy (a Utah man is a plaintiff in that case).

Ogden OUTreach said it invited supporters of conversion therapy to appear on the panel, but they declined to attend.

The LDS Church’s new website, mormonsandgays.org, is seen as a softening tone by the church on homosexuality. On the site, the LDS Church acknowledged sexuality is not a choice. The church insists its stance has not changed — gays and lesbians can be faithful Mormons. But they cannot have sex outside of marriage, which the church defines as between a man and a woman; they must remain celibate.

For some gay Mormons, they have found a place for themselves.

“Essentially, I’ve just kind of written out for myself a personal theology that is sustainable, that allows me to feel I can live an authentic life, as it were,” said Berta Marquez, a BYU student who identifies as bisexual.Marquez is a member of BYU’s LGBT club, “Understanding Same Gender Attraction.”

She said the church’s new website, which encourages families not to reject those who are gay — even those who choose not to follow LDS doctrine on homosexuality — is promising.

“The emphasis that family members should not ostracize or exclude those who are LGBT — that’s really big, because those who are at the level of chapel practice, and in family structures, that has not been the case, sadly,” she said.

But others take issue with the website. Ogden OUTreach director Marian Edmonds said she has heard from a lot of people within the LGBT community over the last week about the website. The perspective, she observed, is largely generational.

“The younger folks look at it and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it says this, it’s highly offensive to me,'” Edmonds said. “Some of the older generation say, ‘Wow, I’m so glad the church is saying something. This is really helpful, this is really hopeful for us.”

Price said the website has already led to some change in his own life.

“For my mom, her looking at the website has definitely helped her with her anxiety over my sexuality and my decision to be true to myself,” he said.

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