A Guide for
Latter-day Saint Families
Dealing with Homosexual Attraction
Resources for Understanding Homosexuality
Robert A. Rees, Ph.D., Emeritus,
University of California At Los Angeles
Ron Schow, Ph.D., Professor, College of
Health Professions, Idaho State University
Marybeth Raynes, LCW, Licensed Clinical
Social Worker, Marriage & Family Therapist
William Bradshaw, Ph.D., Professor of
Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University
©2002 by R.A. Rees, R. Schow, M. Raynes, W. Bradshaw
All Rights Reserved
|—Incline thine ear unto wisdom and apply thine heart to understanding.
This guide is designed to help LDS families in
which a family member experiences homosexual
attraction. Such attractions are generally romantic
in nature and often, but not always, involve sexual
feelings. When such attraction occurs, it requires consideration
for every family member as well as understanding,
supporting and nurturing the family member
who experiences homosexual feelings.
Homosexuality is a complex and complicated matter,
one that has generated much religious discussion,
scientific inquiry and psychotherapeutic treatment.
While there is no universal consensus on the causes or
nature of homosexuality, there is an emerging body of
reliable evidence as well as spiritual wisdom that can
help guide individuals, families and ecclesiastical leaders
who deal with this issue.
is a complex and complicated matter, one that has generated much religious
discussion and scientific inquiry.
The information contained herein is designed to help families
deal successfully with the complexities of having
a child, spouse or other relative who is attracted to
those of the same gender. Members of the Church are
counseled to assist individuals and families dealing
with homosexuality. As President Gordon B.
Hinckley has said, in speaking of the Church’s attitude
toward homosexuals, “We want to help these
people, to strengthen them, to assist them with their
problems and to help them with their difficulties.”1
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, and subsequent
prophets in this dispensation have affirmed, that sexuality
is part of our divine nature. However, there are
some aspects of human sexuality we do not fully
understand, including why some of God’s children
have attractions for those of their own gender.
Research by Latter-day Saint and other scientists suggests
that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a
complex human phenomenon that is influenced by
genetic, biological, and environmental factors. As
Elder Dallin Oaks has said, “The debate over whether,
or the extent to which, specific behavior is attributable
to ‘nature’ or to ‘nurture’ is centuries old. Its
application to the subject of same-sex feelings
and behaviors is only one manifestation of a
highly complex subject on which scientific knowledge
is still in its infancy.”2
| Some of God’s
children have attractions for those of their own gender.
Our purpose here is not to explore the possible
causes of homosexuality or the various therapeutic
approaches to dealing with it. It is rather to focus on
the ways Latter-day Saint families facing this particular
challenge can find help and comfort for themselves
and guidance in relating to the family member who
experiences homosexual attraction.
It is clear that in human beings there is a spectrum
of sexual attraction. Most members of society, at one
end of the continuum, are attracted only to the opposite
sex. At the other end of the continuum is a minority
who are attracted only to the same sex. In the middle
are those who are attracted to both sexes. The proportion
of homosexual and heterosexual attraction
varies widely in the middle group. Moreover, within
all groups the intensity of sexual attraction varies.
This suggests that there may be no single approach for
understanding people with homosexual orientation.
Some people who experience both homosexual and
heterosexual attractions have been successful in
directing a portion of their affectionate and erotic
feelings toward members of the opposite sex. Others,
having strong homosexual attraction, have not been
able to experience heterosexual attractions, despite
great faith and determination, the use of many practical
strategies, therapeutic intervention, and the loving
help of family members, friends and ecclesiastical
Much misinformation about homosexuality is disseminated
within our society. Because of this, some
individuals may feel uncertain as to their sexual identity.
Not all feelings of homosexual attraction are
indicative of a definite homosexual orientation.
Indeed, many people at all stages of life experience a
degree of affection for others of their own gender. A
small minority has a pronounced romantic homosexual
preference that is durable over a lifetime. The
expression of such feelings may cause undue alarm in
family members. We urge patience as families assist
their children or other relatives in sorting out feelings
having to do with sexual orientation.
| We urge patience
as families assist their children or other relatives in sorting out
feelings having to do with sexual orientation.
As with heterosexual attraction, awareness of
homosexual attraction, whether romantic or sexual, is
often discovered early in life. The young man or
woman who recognizes these feelings is usually illequipped
to understand them. As one Latter-day Saint
Even at age eight, I recall sensing that something was
terribly wrong, and I realized, with increasing horror at each stage of
my growth, that my responses differed profoundly from what I was told
they should be. . . . I was becoming something my society and religion
proclaimed to be wrong. . . . As a young man, it is hard to comprehend
such things, . . .with no guidance, . . .with no one who understands.
Often, persons with such feelings experience deep
pain and conflict. They fear rejection by their families,
their peers, the Church, and by God. The most common
response to such fears is to attempt to suppress
these feelings and hide any behaviors that may result
from them. As a result, people with homosexual
attraction often experience a deep split between two
seemingly irreconcilable parts of themselves which
may create shame and self hatred and increase their
isolation and loneliness. Eventually, many acknowledge
that the feelings are persistent and undeniable.
They can then begin to face the challenge of understanding
and managing their feelings and behavior.
Sometimes parents blame themselves when they
discover that their son or daughter is attracted to
members of the same sex. Parents should not assume
blame or responsibility for the romantic attraction or
sexual identities of their children. Such children are
born to all kinds of parents and they grow up in a wide
variety of family environments.
Establishing a Base of Strength
When parents become aware of or are told that
a child has homosexual attraction, they need
time to absorb this information and decide how best
to respond to it. At first, many parents in this situation
feel betrayed, hurt, upset and afraid. Very often such a
disclosure leaves them confused and conflicted. The
following expression by one Latter-day Saint parent is
typical of what many feel:
When our seventeen-year old son told us of his feelings of attraction
for other young men, we were first shocked then upset and then dismayed.
We tried desperately to convince him that he was mistaken, that this couldn’t
possibly be true. Based on what we had read and been told, we then went
through a period of guilt and self-blame, scrupulously reviewing the way
that we had raised him, convinced that we had done something wrong.
In order to understand and relate effectively to a
homosexual family member, parents, spouses, siblings
and others should obtain the best information available.
In order to do this, consider the following steps:
I am sorry to say that our first impulses were not to respond to his needs
but rather to protect our image with others. We were embarrassed to think
that anyone in our ward or in our extended family would discover that
we had a homosexual son. We wish we could live those years over and knew
then what we know now.
- Seek assistance, guidance and information from
national professional associations; from respected,
accredited therapists; and from others who are
experienced in working with homosexual issues.
Such guidance will help family members who feel
confusion, disappointment, and loss and in dealing
with their other responses to this issue.
- Seek the counsel of other families who have been
through this experience. This provides perspective
and, often, access to helpful resources and support.3
- Employ good listening and communication skills.
Family members who are truly able to listen and
empathize are better able to extend understanding
and love to others. Excellent materials on family
communication are available through the Church
and other sources. These should be studied until
the principles can be applied with confidence.
- Encourage but do not pressure persons with these
attractions to seek professional counsel or other
guidance from those who have broad experience
with gender, marriage and family issues. Such a
therapist should help a client assess and integrate
all dimensions of his or her life—including social,
spiritual and sexual—without taking sides and
while enhancing self esteem. The therapist should
be experienced, have a solid reputation, and be
aware of the conflicting information given by different
sources. Such therapists can help the client
develop her or his own process of discernment.
Some individuals have reported that therapy has
helped them diminish the strength of their homosexual
attractions. However, managing behavior
based on careful planning, regardless of the attraction
level, would be an appropriate goal for therapy
in view of the possibility that a change in
attractions may not occur.3
- Beware of any therapy, be it reorientation or gay
affirming, which leads to depression of the client.
Research studies and feedback from many therapists, including numerous Latter-day Saint therapists,
warn about risks associated with some treatments
for homosexuals. Positive, growth focused
therapies—those which honor and support the
client’s values using current knowledge and understanding
of these issues—will have the best outcomes.
- Refrain from pressuring a family member with
homosexual attraction to marry. President
Hinckley and Elder Oaks have both advised that
marriage should not be viewed as a way to
resolve homosexual problems.4
Creating a Loving, Nurturing Family Environment
Children can profit from a feeling that they are
loved unconditionally by both their earthly and
heavenly parents. Parents can help create an environment
in which their children experience the love of
God. A person who feels that he or she is loved by
God will generally do better in dealing with samegender
attraction should it arise.
| The importance
of parents creating a loving environment cannot be overstated.
The importance of parents creating a loving environment
for all of their children cannot be overstated,
especially when these children follow paths of which
the parents and other family members may not approve
or understand. When a child who begins to experience
attraction for the same sex feels secure and loved at home, he or she is more likely
to confide such feelings to a parent or other family member.
Maintaining Lines of Communication
Parents should try to maintain an environment of
open communication so children can speak
freely about any troubling emotions. This is especially
important if a child is experiencing homosexual feelings.
As one parent reported,
I found my daughter growing more and more distant. I knew something
had changed with her, but I couldn’t seem to get her to talk about what
it was. I noticed that she had stopped going out on dates and was spending
more time with her girl friends, but it never occurred to me that she
was romantically attracted to them. I decided just to continue loving
her as I had always done. I guess I trusted her to talk to me when she
was ready if I could just maintain good relations with her. When she finally
got up the courage to tell me about her feelings, even though I was totally
unprepared for them, I just listened and told her that I was there to
help her. It hasn’t been easy by any means, but we have come through this
as a family and it has made us closer.
Those who experience homosexual attraction may
be fearful and confused. They need loved ones or
trusted confidantes to whom they can explain their
feelings and concerns. They need time to sort out
these matters in a safe, compassionate environment.
When families react with alarm and disapproval over
such revelations, they close off opportunities for dialogue.
It’s important not to be judgmental and to avoid blame, hostility, rejection or condescension.
| It’s important
not to be judgmental and to avoid blame, hostility, rejection or condescension.
Persons may experience homosexual romantic attraction at different times and to differing degrees. Over a period of time, their reaction to such feelings may include resolving to suppress them, denying that they exist, expressing them openly or keeping them secret. Accordingly, families will need to respond differently depending on the particular situation.
Even when initiating discussions is difficult, parents
should try to do so, preparing themselves before
hand with responsible information and careful
thought. They should maintain open dialogue and be
willing to share the challenges of their family member
as well as his or her achievements and joys. They can
affirm the qualities that make their child a unique person.
Again, parents should show by their words and
deeds that they love their children. They can bear testimony
of the Lord’s love as well. Of course, parents of homosexuals have the right
to set boundaries of acceptable behavior in their
home. If parents feel it is necessary to do this, we suggest
that the list of limits be short and clear. We recommend
that these boundaries not exclude any person
from being in the home or prevent attendance of
anyone at family events. Sometimes it is helpful to
have a bishop, friend, or some other person skilled at
mediation assist with such communication.
Reaching Out with Love
Parents and other family members should strive to
prevent hurt and anger from breaking ties with a
family member who experiences homosexual feelings.
Too often such individuals find themselves rejected by
their families, which makes their situation even more difficult. Family members need to reaffirm that their love is
constant. As Elder Oaks has said, “We encourage Church
leaders and members to reach out with love and understanding
to those struggling with these issues.”5
Families of homosexuals may find themselves hurt by
the lack of understanding among people within their
extended family, congregation or community.
Nevertheless, their primary focus should be on their relationship
with their family member and on receiving inspiration
that will help him or her. As they do this,
their example can have a positive effect
on others. Family members dealing with these issues may
take comfort from the following statement by Elder Oaks:
“Our doctrines obviously condemn those who engage in
so-called ‘gay bashing’—physical or verbal attacks on persons
thought to be involved in homosexual or lesbian
behavior.” Elder Oaks adds, “All should understand that
persons (and their family members) struggling with the
burden of same-sex attraction are in special need of the
love and encouragement that is a clear responsibility of
Church members, who have signified by covenant their
willingness ‘to bear one another’s burdens’ (Mosiah 18:8)
‘and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2).”6
| Elder Oaks: “Our doctrines
obviously condemn those
who engage in so called
‘gay-bashing’. . . .”
Encouraging All to Participate in the Blessings of the Church
Many Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual
attraction have strong testimonies of
the gospel and are engaged in the Church and its
activities, although they often feel alone or outside
the mainstream of the Church. Others may feel
estranged from Christ or the Church even when they
are living according to Church standards. Because of
stigmas against homosexuality, these individuals may
feel unworthy simply because they are attracted to
members of their own gender. Often such individuals
anticipate rejection by Church members and therefore
withdraw into inactivity. President Hinckley has
made it clear that the presence of these attractions or
“inclinations” does not negatively affect one’s church
status.7 Therefore, these members need to feel that
there is a place in the Church for them, that they can
find understanding and love among their fellow saints.
They need such encouragement and understanding by
Church leaders and members to help them remain
faithful, and we urge that they be treated with the
same respect and dignity accorded any member of the
Those with homosexual feelings who are not abiding
by Church standards often feel estranged from the
Church. Those who have transgressed the law of the
Church may have been excommunicated, disfellowshipped,
or placed on probation. Nevertheless, those
who have sincere desires to remain faithful as well as
those who are uncertain as to their feelings about the
Church can benefit from the fellowship of their brothers
and sisters. We suggest that the first priority of family
members should be to extend kindness, charity,
understanding and love.
If a family member chooses not to be involved in
church activity, he or she may still be encouraged
to cultivate a spiritual life. This may
include scripture study, prayer, and private
devotions. Such practices may be the only ties a family member has with
the spiritual values that have been a part of his or her
family and church life. It is possible to maintain many
patterns of Christian living outside of normal church
| We suggest that the first priority of family
members should be to extend kindness, charity,
understanding and love.
We suggest it is of paramount importance to maintain
good relations with a family member who chooses
to live a life incompatible with Church standards.
The first priority of family members should be to
extend kindness, charity, understanding and love.
These persons should be loved and included by their
families. Our Heavenly Father does not excuse us from
parental or family responsibilities even when our child
or other family member leaves the Church or chooses
to do things of which we or the Church may not
approve. As families pursue this approach successfully,
they are more likely to maintain a positive influence
in the life of a family member who is following an
alternate path. The family should be a place of refuge
and comfort for for all its members; this is especially so
for those who may be mistreated by others in our
Caring for Those Who Have HIV/AIDS
Sometimes a parent or other family member must
cope with the fact that the person involved in
homosexual behavior has contracted HIV or is ill with
AIDS. Since there is currently no known cure for this
disease, this is a very difficult challenge, both for the
family and for the individual. Some have successfully
delayed the effects of AIDS for years with new drugs
and new combinations of drugs. Nevertheless, for most
people the disease is devastating, often leading to prolonged
illness and death. Because there is much misinformation
about this disease we urge families to
become informed about its causes, effects and treatment.
A family member who has contracted this disease
needs love and support. As Elder Oaks has said, “We
should extend compassion to persons who suffer from
ill health, including those who are infected with HIV
or are ill with AIDS (who may or may not have
acquired their condition from sexual relations). We
should encourage such persons to participate in the
activities of the Church.”8
We encourage families to attend to the health and
other needs of persons who are infected with HIV or
who suffer from AIDS. If possible, families should provide
a comfortable place in the home to care for an
individual with AIDS. If that is not possible, families
should make every effort to see that the ill family member
has the best medical and nursing care possible. As
Jacob says, “And after ye have obtained a hope in
Christ ye shall . . . feed the hungry, . . . liberate the captive,
and administer relief to the sick.” (Jacob 2:19).
Seek Help and Comfort from the Lord
Faced with the challenges of a loved one who
experiences homosexuality, families can call
upon the Lord for comfort and inspiration. He who
descended below all things (D&C 88:6) has the power
to lift the burdens of our hearts. As Paul wrote to the
Hebrews, “For we have not an high priest [Christ]
which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities;
but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet
[was] without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto
the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and
find grace to help in time of need” (4:15-16).
A Word to Ecclesiastical Leaders
As a Church leader, you may have members of
your congregation who are challenged with
issues of homosexual attraction. We encourage you to
relate to such persons with sensitivity and with an
abundance of love. Remember that many of those
dealing with such issues may be estranged from their
families and friends as well as from the Church. They
may have serious doubts about their self-worth and
even feel undeserving of the Lord’s love. Be patient in
working with such individuals, recognizing that many
of them have been intensely challenged. If you have
not previously counseled with members experiencing
homosexual attraction, we urge you to talk to other
Church leaders or family members who have acted
compassionately and wisely in these matters.
You need not feel alone in your efforts to understand
the complicated issues arising from homosexual
attraction for all involved. We recommend also that
you read relevant literature and seek insight from professionals
with experience in working with such individuals.
Where appropriate, when estrangement exists
between the individual and her or his family, you
might, with the concurrence of the member, contact
the family and encourage them to reach out with love
and forgiveness. If the family of the person is not in
your congregation, you could provide them with a
copy of this guide or urge them to obtain it wherever
LDS book are sold.
We encourage you to
show sensitivity and an
abundance of love.
We encourage you to take special care in assisting
families who have a member with homosexual issues.
Often such families are confused about how to relate
to a family member who experiences homosexual
attraction. Often the family is fearful as to how they
will be regarded by other ward members, especially if
they are emotionally supportive of their homosexual
child, spouse or sibling. At times your role will be
teaching families how to be emotionally and spiritually
supportive so that they do not cast their homosexual
family member out. At other times your role will
be teaching ward members not to be judgmental or
We feel most important thing for you to keep in
mind in ministering to those of your congregation
dealing with homosexual attraction issues is that you
are a shepherd entrusted with the pastoral care of one
of the Lord’s flocks. The scriptures show him as a merciful Lord, one who lifted the burdens of others, who
bound up their wounds, who healed their broken
hearts. He was slow to judge and quick to forgive.
He invited all, saints and sinners, rich
and poor, the high and the low, to come unto
him and find rest for their souls. As his emissary, we
urge you to emulate him and set a good example in all
your dealings with his children.
Christ lifted the burden of
others. He was slow to
judge and quick to forgive.
When homosexual members of your congregation
choose to maintain or re-establish a relationship with
the Church, please be supportive. Welcome them into
the ward family by encouraging their involvement in
spiritual and social activities. We suggest you give
them blessings when they ask for them or when you
feel inspired to do so. Reassure them continually of
the Lord’s love for them and of your love for them.
To Members of the Church Who Are Homosexual
This guide, which represents the point of view of
many Latter-day Saint counselors, therapists,
church leaders and others, is an attempt to bring
greater understanding about homosexuality to your
parents, family members, ecclesiastical leaders and fellow
members. As families and as a church community,
we are all striving to better understand the myriad
issues associated with homosexuality and our respective
responsibilities as brothers and sisters in the
gospel of Christ. We are aware that you may have
been sorely hurt by others, that you may have been
treated in unkind and un-Christian ways, even by
members of your own family and members of the
Church. We are deeply sorry for any unkind or unfair
treatment you have received. As we all work toward
greater understanding and charity, we encourage
you to extend to your parents, siblings, as well as
other family members and friends, the same unconditional
love, patience and care that you wish them to
extend to you.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “What Are People Asking About Us?” Question 2: What is
your Church’s attitude toward homosexuality? Ensign, November,
1998, p. 71.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October, 1995,
- R. Resources For Understanding Homosexuality. Resources include a
pamphlet on change therapy and video documentaries featuring Latter-day
Saint individuals and families dealing with homosexual attraction. Contact
Ron Schow at Box 8116, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209 (schoronaisu.edu)
- Oaks, p. 13.
- Oaks, p. 12.
- Oaks, p. 14.
- Hinckley, p. 71.
- Oaks, p. 9.