Review of Eleven Mormon-Homosexual Studies
What are the issues focused on in Mormon-homosexual studies? What research questions are asked in these studies? What do the results of these studies show? The answer to such questions in the social sciences is called a "literature review". This and two subsequent reports provide a review of eleven studies that have focused on Mormon-homosexuality issues from various perspectives (see Table 3).
Nine of the eleven studies listed in Table 1 are either from university theses or dissertations in the fields of psychology sociology, and therapy or social work. Most are from Utah Universities (University of Utah, Brigham Young University, and Utah State University).
Ten of the eleven studies include themes and a discussion of differing aspects of an overall developmental process. The overall process is a conflict between two internal identities: a Mormon religious-cultural identity and a homosexual orientation identity. In most cases, this internalized religious-cultural identity precludes, delays, and inhibits the development of a sexual orientation identity. This process is the specific focus of two of the studies, one from a sociological perspective (Phillips) and the other from a psychological perspective (Brzezinski).
The most common research question involved reparative or change therapy which supports an individual's desires to resist accepting a gay-identity (Beckstead, 1999; Beckstead 2001a; Byrd & Chamberlain, 1993; Dehlin, 2011; Robinson, 1996; Schow, 1994). Other important parts of this process for those who have been highly committed to an LDS belief and identity that are the subjects of studies the effect of homosexual disclosure of family (parents-sibling) relationships (Benson), characteristics of same-sex relationships (Burton), and spiritual needs of gay men (Goodwill).
This review of the social science studies on Mormons with same-sex orientation is split into three sections. First, the overall identity-conflict process discussed in ten of the eleven studies is reviewed. Second, other common themes repeated in these eleven studies are discussed. Third, the question of individual differences and areas that need further research is considered.
An annotated bibliography of the eleven studies is found at the end of this report. More detailed reviews of these studies are provided in two other reports. The first gives a detailed review of four studies which consider important topics of identity development process and family support-spiritual needs of gay-Mormons. The second gives a detailed review of four studies that focus on therapy to change homosexual attractionsand behavior.
The Overall Identity Process
All but one study (Burton) discussed to some degree a process described by participants in dealing with Mormonism and homosexual attractions. This overall internal identity-conflict process involves the development of a sexual orientation identity within the context of an incompatible, pre-existing LDS religious-cultural identity.
This section summarizes of the overall process providing examples from these studies that reflects this process. Figure 11 provides a simplified model that captures the developmental process described in these studies.
The first stage, referred to here as pre-aware includes a feeling of being different and often possessing a non-sexual curiosity or fascination with others of the same sex (cf. Benson and Robinson). Many individuals in these studies showed early cross-gender behavior that led them to consider themselves different than others of the same sex. Robinson suggested personality traits he noticed typical among the seven strugglers that he interviewed: sensitive, introspective, and wanting to be right. These personality characterizations may be typical of long-term strugglers who ultimately choose to remain in the church and to reject a gay identity.
Most of the studies discussed a period where individuals first became aware of their sexual attractions. This occurred at puberty for many but much later for others.
The third stage involved a period of negative coping. Beckstead's studies consider motivational themes regarding the context which produces this negative coping such as attitudes within the religious, gay, and heterosexual societies, within families, and dissonance within the individual. Participants expressed a need to be straight, a need not to be gay, and high stakes involved. Robinson's study identified cognitive (negative interpretation of homosexuality), emotional (negative self-appraisal), and behavioral (isolation) aspects to this negative coping. Several studies mentioned both the low self-esteem and a reactive view of God. Other negative aspects include: guilt, confusion, discouragement, and loneliness.
This led to the fourth stage, attempts to change their sexual orientation. Three of the studies focused on those who felt they had been successful at changing and looked very closely at reparative therapy and related topics (Beckstead, 1999; Byrd & Chamberlain; and Robinson). These will be discussed in more detail in a separate report. In addition to reparative therapy, other efforts to change ones sexual orientation included going on a mission, getting married to a member of the opposite sex, and extensive and intensive prayer, fasting, and other forms of religious devotion and service.
The biggest improvements in reparative therapy came from a new way of framing the issue that no longer blamed the victim. The theories of reparative therapy suggest that homosexuality may due to a developmental problem. On hearing this idea, for the first time participants found validity in an idea that did not blame them for choosing their orientation. They no longer felt bad for having unwanted attractions. These theories gave them hope and suggested interventions based on the theory to resolve their homosexual issues.
Robinson makes clear in his study that the interventions of reparative therapy produced qualitatively less results compared to the substantial shift that occurred when participants first discovered the theories behind reparative therapy. Benefits from reparative therapy include improving same-sex, non-sexual relationship skills, improving self-worth, and - in the case of the men - improving their masculine identity through sports activities. Beckstead (2001a) points out that these benefits could be achieved by other methods of therapy without the negative effects and outcomes associated with reparative therapy.
The fifth stage recognizes that for those interviewed, this was a long process which included relapses. They learned to not expect perfection, while slowly learning strategies to improve on their heterosexual marriages and to better control their sexual urges and behaviors. Many of those interviewed lived in two worlds - a public face that they showed to their family and in the church, and a private face that was secretive and where they acted out a gay-identity.
Part of this long process often included a downward spiral that led to depression and eventually suicidal thoughts. Stage six recognizes the hitting bottom and catalyst events. Beckstead's studies suggested that the hitting bottom occurred prior to engaging in reparative therapy, whereas Brzezinski's model suggests that this happens following attempts to change and continued failure. Hitting bottom apparently occurs at different times in the process for different individuals. There may be more than one transitional points listed in the stories of struggling Mormons. They may have "hit bottom" more than once.
Brzezinski shared the catalyst and point of change described by 19 of 21 participants in that study. The catalyst events included suicide attempts, loss of jobs, spouses asking for divorce, and positive same-sex intimacy experiences. She quotes one interview as follows:
I think for some people the pain buckets have to be so full, I mean they have to be overflowing before somebody will say, "I'm not carrying these buckets anymore." The pain had to be that for me. The pain had to be rock bottom. There was nowhere else to go. It couldn't get any worse (Steve, p. 133).
This catalyst event led either to a recommitment to Mormonism and a decision to do whatever it took to save a marriage/family and to maintain their LDS belief system or to give up on Mormonism and accept a gay identity. Depending on whether one chose the first or the second option, a different set of themes emerged. Both decisions involved a need to meet others like themselves, to make their own choices, to reject negative labels, and to consider their commitment to a spouse (Beckstead, 2001a). Both groups talked of still struggling subsequent to this point of decision, but also talked of experiencing success.
Beckstead (2001a), Brzezinski, and Robinson listed themes of those who rejected a gay-identity and recommitted themselves to their Mormon identity:
Beckstead (2001a) & Brzezinski also identified themes for those (most who appear to be reconcilers rather than secularists) who made the opposite choice:
Robinson emphasized that many of the long-term strugglers who rejected a gay identity came to a point of spiritual transformation. This is where they had done everything they could and finally turned it over to God. At that point they experienced a profound experience, irrational in nature but meaningful to them. They had done everything they could and so in the end they let go of the issue and left it in God hands.
This section considers themes mentioned in several of the 11 studies. In particular, seven themes are considered: demographics, methodology, religiosity/church activity, suicide, critical ages, bisexuality, and important relationships. Under important relationships we consider four main types of relationships: relationship to church leaders, relationship to family members, heterosexual relationships, and intimate gay relationships.
Demographics. Although the samples for these studies are not representative of US population in generally, they do show the types of asymmetry we see among the dominant Western US Mormon population and in particular among those openly struggling with homosexuality among that population.
Study participants were high in education on average which is typical of LDS culture which highly values and advocates for university education. For the most part, these studies do not include Black or Hispanic perspectives. Racial minorities have not traditionally been common among the dominant Western US Mormon population, although the Hispanic population in these areas is increasing. Geographic distribution of most studies include the intermountain west with most participants coming from Utah. Goodwill compares Utah and California Mormons, while Benson's study includes participants from northern Utah and southern Idaho.
None of the studies reviewed have specifically considered women's perspectives. Beckstead's studies included four women and the Byrd-Chamberlain study included two women but in neither case was it sufficient to make any conclusions about gender issues. Schow's quantitative study included 15% women (N=20) but no discussion was made about differences between the men and the women in that study. Although Dehlin's study included 24% women (N=245), a gender study has not yet been given from that data.
Beckstead (2001a) made special attempts to recruit more female participants but was largely unsuccessful, guessing that perhaps few women enter conversion treatment (criterion for his study) in their own coping process. More will be said later in this article about the importance of research on the unique perspectives and experiences of women in Mormon-homosexual research.
Methodology. Most of these studies were dissertations or master's theses, a few having since been published in journals or books. Most of these thesis & dissertation studies were from universities in Utah (Brigham Young University, University of Utah, and Utah State).
Nine of the studies included qualitative analysis, meaning they have a relatively small number of participants who were interviewed at length. Comparisons are then made across the different interviews looking for patterns and themes. Phenomenological and grounded theories were the most commonly quoted methods for the analysis in these studies.
Three studies included quantitative analyses. These studies included sample sizes of 24 (Goodwill), 136 (Schow), and 1635 (Dehlin). Goodwill used correlations, ANOVA, and regression analyses in his study, although his sample was smaller than optimal for these statistical methods. Schow and Dehlin's studies so far have used only descriptive statistics in analysis of their data. Much more quantitative data analysis has yet to be done, but these studies provide a beginning.
Religiosity-Church Activity. By definition, these studies focused on highly religious Mormons or formerly highly religious Mormons. Most participants in these studies felt their religious belief was the chief motivation for seeking change (cf. Robinson). The LDS identity was more central and more reinforced than a gay-lesbian-bisexual identity (cf. Beckstead, 1999). Two illustrations show the importance of LDS identity:
[The Church] filled my whole life. I mean that's who you are. Your whole being is just very Mormon. And I was planning my whole life around that. My whole eternity around how I would be involved in this church and in this religion. It was just a very, very big part of my identity and still is. I just can't escape or erase that. [Tyler, from Brzezinski p.55]
…if you really understand the Mormon religion, you start to see that this is not belonging to an institutionalized religion where every Sunday you do something. It permeates every day of life, and through the week, and night, and day, and it sets for you what your priorities and purpose in life is. And so… an individual that's Mormon and truly is just dyed in the wool Mormon, it is a definition of their life. [Jeremy, from Goodwill, p.61]
While struggling against homosexual attractions, many overcompensated by spending inordinate amounts of time in church callings and service. For example, some study participants retrospectively described themselves as religious "fanatics" or "zealots" (cf. Brzezinski). Beckstead (2001a) points out that participating in church activities and callings seemed to help participants forget the "bad" parts of them and contributed to their self-esteem. Several in his study mentioned that proving their worthiness through self-sacrifices (constant, intense prayers, long fasts, and LDS missionary service) provided hope and purification.
Suicide. Almost all participants in the quantitative studies reported a common theme of reaching a point of suicide ideation. It was often the ultimate step or catalyst for decisive changes in perspectives and behavior. This was referred to as "hitting bottom," where participants faced the disparity between their attractions and their religious beliefs. For some participants suicidal tendencies led to renewing their commitment to Mormonism, while for others it led to accepting a gay identity. In both cases it often resulted in a spiritual transformation. In some cases a key to which way this commitment swings is determined by whether the heterosexual spouse wanted to work things out or to move on.
Beckstead's 2001a study mentioned that 12 of 22 (55%) participants mentioned having thought quite a bit about suicide as a way out and 10 of 22 (45%) actually attempted suicide. Brzezinski's study identified 15 of 21 (71%) mentioned suicidal ideation or plans for suicide while a third of these (N=5) actually attempted it. Schow's study of Affirmation members in 1994 showed 45% (61 out of 136) had occasional thoughts of death and suicide and 6 % (8 of 136) had attempted suicide (unsuccessfully). Phillips included questions about suicidal thoughts in his interviews and found that virtually all of the men interviewed (N=71) had experienced suicidal thoughts and several had attempted suicide.
In Benson's study, six of seventeen (23%) who disclosed their homosexuality to a parent did it during a suicidal conflict or when attempting suicide. Half of those who eventually came out to parents were experiencing depression to the point of suicide risk. While disclosure to family members relieved some inner tensions, it led to increasing tensions externally as homosexual individuals now had to deal with rejection of those closest to them (family and religious support networks).
Critical Ages. Most but not all of the participants in these studies had an awareness of their same-sex attractions from an early age, some stating that is was always there from the earliest recollections. On average, awareness of first feeling different in Dehlin's study came about age 10. In Brzezinski's study 81 % (17 of 21) identified their first awareness of same-sex feelings as occurring prior to 10 years old and for many before 5 years old. On the other hand, Beckstead (2001a) interviewed a woman (Kari) who stated she did not recognize attractions to females before 28 years old.
In Schow's study participants reported on average feeling same sex emotional attractions at age 12 and sexual attractions at age 14. Feeling a difference sexually occurred on average at 14 years old in Dehlin's study as well.
Although national studies find individuals self-identify and begin to come out as early young adults (average 21 years), participants in these studies tend to come out later. Participants in Benson's studies disclosed their orientation mostly in the mid- to late 20s. Schow's study showed an average age of identifying as gay or lesbian 23, while in Dehlin's study self-labeling came at age 24 on average.
Clearly some individual were much more in touch with their sexual attractions at an early age compared to others. Studies dealing with highly religious Mormons show a later age of acceptance, many not accepting a sexual orientation identity until in their 30s or later, and some never accepting such an identity.
Bisexuality. As Beckstead (1999) points out, sexual orientation identity is different from innate sexual orientation. One's identity is socially constructed and changes over time, which explains the variety of ways individuals self-reported their orientation. The 20 strugglers in his study identified as follows: 2 exclusively heterosexual, 6 predominantly heterosexual, 3 bisexual, 2 predominantly homosexual, and the remaining seven used the following self-designations: same-sex attracted (SSA), heterosexual with a homosexual problem, attracted to men but happy sex with wife, 90-95% heterosexual with homosexual past, daughter of God who feels physical, emotional, romantic, and sexual attractions to women, attracted almost exclusively homosexual but behavior exclusively heterosexual, and myself.
Similarly Beckstead's (2001a) former-struggler sample identified as follows: 2 exclusively homosexual, 1 between exclusive and predominantly homosexual, 2 bisexual, 2 gay, and the remaining used a unique label: openly gay-queer, exclusively gay, fabulously gay, exclusively myself. Brzezinski's study participants identified as follows: 15 gay or homosexual, 2 bisexual, 1 same-sex attracted, 1 non-gay homosexual, 2 heterosexual. In Dehlin's study, 77 identified as gay or lesbian, 14% as bisexual, 6% as heterosexual,, and 3% as other or same sex-attracted.
Schow's study used a sexual orientation scale. Of 135 participants, 52% considered themselves totally homosexual, 34% as mostly homosexual with slight heterosexual attraction, and 12% as mainly homosexual with more than a slight heterosexual attraction. Only one (of 135 participants) listed the category of equal homosexual and heterosexual and one participant listed mainly heterosexual attraction with more than slight homosexual attraction.
Robinson argues against acknowledging a sexual orientation on the grounds that such an acknowledgement implies a condition that is fairly permanent and therefore would be counter-productive where the goal is to attempt to change sexual attractions and behavior. Although Robinson makes an interesting point, classifying men who love sex with women but also find men attractive in the same category as men who struggle each time they have sex with their wife ignores an inherent sexual orientation issue that is important to consider.
Based on descriptions of Robinson's sample, one can deduce an estimated sexual orientation for each of the men in his study who were all heterosexually married. The majority of his sample (5 of 7 participants) by Schow's measure would be in the category of mostly homosexual with slight heterosexual attraction as they were able to enjoy sex with their wives but had a stronger draw to male sexuality and were generally not attracted to women other than their wives. Only one said that intimacy with his wife was difficult (#2) and therefore may have been classified as totally homosexual. The remaining man (#3) may have been in the category of mainly homosexual with more than a slight heterosexual attraction as he thoroughly enjoyed sex with his wife and it was only when marital sex decreased and conflict increased that he began looking for homosexual connections outside of marriage. Participant #4 had a valued spiritual relationship with his wife although he felt intense sexual drive when sexual with men.
Relationships: Church Leaders. Other than a few converts to Mormonism, most of the participants in these studies grew up within LDS communities and highly religious Mormon families. Their commitment to the LDS religion was a significant part of their identity and was highly reinforced while growing up.
The local congregation leader, a bishop or branch president, generally interviews teenage boys twice a year and a regional leader (stake president) also conducts interviews with LDS young adults. Considering the teenager's priesthood worthiness is a part of these interviews which includes asking about obedience to sexual norms (no pornography, masturbation, or other sexual behaviors). As these leaders are like the father of the congregation and seen as the local leader who receives revelation for the local congregants, these are important relationships and interactions in the stories that were a part of these various studies.
More than with other groups, LDS coming-out stories commonly involve disclosure to a church leader prior to family or friends. Counsel to teens and young men can vary considerably from one congregation to another. In many cases church leaders made promises that serving a mission or getting married would resolve homosexual attractions (cf. Benson). When such promises did not materialize, it led to anger, loss of trust, and disillusionment with church leaders and what they represented (cf. Beckstead, 2001a).
Phillips points out that guidance for church leaders about homosexuality has changed considerably over the years. Older respondents who came of age in the late-60s and early 70s who disclosed same-sex attractions with local church leaders were almost always subjected to church courts to evaluate the status of their membership, often without regard to differentiating between attractions and behavior. Advice given at that time included faithfully attending church, dating the opposite gender, engaging in masculine behaviors, obeying the gospel, and not telling spouses about the same-sex attraction-often with the assurance that everything would just work out. Aversion therapies and experiments were conducted at BYU at this time. Younger respondents were referred to social services or an LDS counselor and otherwise told to play it straight, attend basketball practice, and pray. Church courts are more rare now and individuals are allowed to hold callings if they have homosexual attractions as long as they are not acting on their attractions.
Most LDS family members trust church leaders rather considering what their gay relative or non-Mormon sources say about homosexuality (cf. Benson). Ignorance and prejudice among church leaders and local members created alienation among the struggling youth and young adults as well as for some of their families. Some of the strugglers who maintain LDS beliefs and reject a homosexual orientation feel it their duty to help educate church leaders that homosexual attractions are not inherently evil.
Schow's study found that of 115 participants, only 4% felt the church leaders had been helpful prior to the age of 19 while 46% felt church leaders provided no help and 50% felt the church leaders had been hurtful. Dehlin's study which included more currently active members found that the strongest attitudes towards the church were sorrowful 54.8%, mistrusting 44.3%, and hurt or damaged 37.9%. It does appear that things have and will continue to improve.
Family Members. Family can be considered as family-of-origin (parents & siblings) and family-of-choice (marriage & children). Most of the references in these studies focused more on the family-of-origin, however in Beckstead's 1999 study 15 of 20 (3/4ths) of the participants were married with children. Heterosexual marriage apparently provides a major motivating factor to stay in their current heterosexual lifestyle. Some of the married men in Robinson's study indicated that it was fear of loosing their families and everything meaningful to them which led them to choose their religious identity over a homosexual orientated identity.
The overall theme that was prolific throughout most of these studies was the lack of family support for those with a homosexual orientation. Schow's study found that of 117 who sought help from family, 72% felt their family was no help and 19% felt their family was hurtful. Only 9% felt their family was helpful. Dehlin's family disclosure scale was bipolar with most either open to everyone in the family (48.4%) or to none/few in the family (33.5%).On a six-point scale Dehlin's study found that that 58.6% of his sample had families that were completely non-supportive or closed, while only 3.5% were completely open or supportive (see Figure 12).
Phillips points out a paradox and cause of anxiety in that while the LDS church's most celebrated message is the importance of families, these cases illustrated a high level of family rejection of a homosexual family member. Parents suffer a loss of hopes and desires that they have held for that child. They are often blamed for their child's condition and stigmatized within their local congregation.
By far, the most in depth study of family reactions to the information that a family member has homosexual attractions is Benson's dissertation which takes on this issue as its major research question. Benson interviewed both the homosexually oriented individual and an LDS family member separately.
Disclosure to family in Benson's study was difficult for all respondents. Half of those coming out to parents were experiencing depression to the point of suicide risk. Parents described feelings of shock and anguish, and in some cases complete surprise. Mothers were generally approached first and did not cut off contact, whereas fathers had stronger negative attitudes. Here are a couple of the father's reactions (p.82):
(My initial reaction was) that I would like to kill him. I was very angry. And there are still times when I'd like to take a two by four and whap him up the side of the head and say, "look, let's knock some sense into this head, because you're so messed up and you don't know what y ou're doing."
My first feelings were just damned mad. I guess if there is any one thing that is distasteful in my life, it would probably be that. I don't understand it, never did, never tried to, until this time. And so, I was just really upset and my first thought was getting him away from me and the rest of the family as far as I possibly could.
In five of the families he studied, mothers withheld information from their husbands, anticipating a negative reaction. In each case the mother's prediction was correct. Nearly all family members responded by making a clear stand on the issues, drawing a line between homosexuality and their religious values. Most family members eventually came to a view of their religious responsibility to "love the sinner, but not the sin". Many accepted that this was a topic not to be mentioned in the future.
The relief male homosexuals felt after disclosing their sexual orientation was usually replaced subsequently by feeling discomfort in family relationships. In general, tensions tended to decrease over time but more so in some families than others and in no cases did the tension disappear completely. Several felt more out of place in their families over time.
Heterosexual Relationships. The seven participants to Robinson's study were all married although he did not discuss themes surrounding marriage. He noted that the men's marriages tended to get better with the renewed commitment and increased self-control as men gave up their earlier desires to express same-sex behavior outside their marriages. In Beckstead's first study 15 of 20 participants were heterosexually married with children. In many cases a heterosexual spouse provided a stability not found in the gay-community for these individuals. Some of them could not control their emotions with same-sex partners. Some found a roommate type relationship with a spouse very satisfying without it being complicated by sexual urges. They found meaning in spiritual or emotional bonding with their wife as they worked things out. A married couple in Brzezinski's study saw themselves as parenting partners and friends.
Motivations for getting married included a desire for the vision of family (wife and children, grandfather playing with grandchildren, etc.) that was internalized as a life goal at an early age, hope that marriage would help to reduce or cure them from same-sex attractions, or as a response to the pressure within the church and the religious commandment to get married.
Phillips notes that within the church in the recent past the option of life-long celibacy was seen as an inappropriate option, especially for men. In his study, the older cohorts were more likely to have been heterosexually married than younger cohorts. Gay men were mistakenly seen as a 'pillar of will-power' in not pushing sexual boundaries when (heterosexually) dating. One man in Robinson's study (#6) was afraid to get close to girls as, "they could take your virtue from you." Some men found no arousal toward the woman in their marriage and had to fantasize about a man to perform with their wife, leading to much guilt. The wives in these marriages often felt unattractive or unloved. When informed, wives felt deeply hurt, shocked, betrayed, and horrified.
In most cases, these relationships ended in divorce with much pain experienced by all parties, including the children. In Schow's study 92% of those who had been heterosexually married ended in divorce. The 36 participants (26% of his sample) that had been married, were married an average of 9 years and had on average 2.5 children. They rated their marriage satisfaction on average at 57% (on a scale from 0-100% satisfied), while those in same-sex relationships (N=97) rated their relationships on average at 84% satisfaction.
Gay Relationships. Beckstead (1999) found that those who rejected their homosexual orientation and strove after a heterosexual lifestyle had negative images of gay relationships. They saw them as promiscuous, diseased, selfish, and empty. They felt such relationships would be unsatisfying and end in a void. They felt gay relationships would lead to dependency and depression as these relationships represented a counterfeit happiness and such individuals were consumed with finding the next pleasure, like a continual Disneyland-state.
In his second study (2001a), Beckstead found that many who had come to accept their sexual orientation went through an adolescent phase where they fell in love and discovered that their homosexual feelings were natural. All of the participants in his study desired a stable, long-term, committed relationship. Similarly half of the participants in Brzezinski's study came to a realization that the same-sex sexual feelings they had were normal. They expected to feel guilty and shame but instead had positive reactions which led them to feel their church had lied to them.
Burton's dissertation specifically took on the characterizations of long-term, same-sex relationships, with most of his participants having formerly been members of the LDS church. He interviewed 19 couples, each having been in a relationship for at least 7 years. The time together ranged from 6-34 years with an average of 16 years. He discusses ten themes in these interviews.
Burton's last theme of loyalty and trust tied together the other themes of his study and was referred to as the capstone of these relationships. When asked the most important quality of their relationship, answers included love, friendship, and commitment, all of which reflect the core theme of loyalty and trust. These men expressed that if it weren't for the love the felt, they would not be in a relationship. These men would rather spend time with each other than with anyone else and felt a strong sense of friendship with each other, putting their partner's feeling before their own. A feeling of being best friends or soul mates was common. More about this study will be given in a separate literature review about intimate relationships of those with a same-sex sexual orientation.
Individual Differences & Further Research
What research still needs to be done on the Mormons-homosexual topic? What can be said about the high degree of variance in the experiences described in these studies, about atypical examples that don't fit the overall pattern, or about sub-groups within the population which may show unique variations of the overall developmental themes? What gaps in this literature can the HAHRM study fill?
An apparent meta-theme reflected in each of these studies is the considerable variation in the narratives. Although these researchers pointed out variation and atypical examples, by focusing primarily on a common process and common themes this variance and difference is overshadowed by the broader themes and becomes obscured.
There is much diversity of experiences in the stories of those who reject a gay-affirming identity (cf. Beckstead, 1999; Byrd & Chamberlain, Robinson) let alone those who no longer believe in reparative therapy (Beckstead, 2001a) or those who never participated in reparative therapy (Goodwill). Although the process involved in the Mormon-homosexual identity conflict is validated by similar themes being repeated independently in each of these studies, the results also show a variety of differences that need to be considered to fully understand critical variations in this process.
One illustration of this problem is given here by considering what we have termed, late-bloomers. Many participants in these studies were aware of their homosexual attractions from early childhood or felt they were always aware of them while others ("late-bloomers") did not consciously recognize themselves as having a homosexual orientation until their late-20s, 30s, or later.
Several common themes described in these studies applied only to those who had an early awareness of their sexual attractions or feeling different from other same-sex peers. For these individuals, it made sense that recognizing this difference led to feeling inferior and subsequent self-esteem issues. Internalized cultural and religious sexual norms contributed to these individuals feeling self-disgust and confusion due to not understanding why they had these unwanted attractions. If God made them flawed, God must not love them or God must be punishing them, in which case God must not be loving or good to do this to them.
This pattern of logic all depends on one being consciously aware of their sexual attractions and gender-deviance from an early age. Many of these "typical" or "common themes" would not apply to the late-bloomers. The general model would look different for these individuals who likely did not have low self-esteem growing up or a low God image. Many individuals within the gay community do not show the stereotypical gay gender-deviant behavior and many of these gay individuals did play sports and do masculine things growing up. How would the story be different for the "late-bloomer" sub-group compared to those who fit the "typical" process?
As late-bloomers often did not suffer from poor self-esteem or underdeveloped social skills commonly described in these studies, they may have more self-confidence when they did discover their own sexual orientation and did not need to go through years of therapy to resolve their own sexual orientation identity.
Even among a narrowly defined group such as Robinson's study of seven advocates of reparative therapy who were all in heterosexual marriages at the time of their interviews, almost every theme discussed included a wide range of variation among these seven men. Two participants had never acted out their unwanted attractions, while others struggled to overcome frequent, compulsive anonymous sex with men. As already mentioned, the degree of heterosexual attractions differed within this group of married men. Some of these men described major problems involving social skills, especially with other men, while others did not. Discussion of common themes in this and the other studies at times showed almost as much variation as there were participants in the study.
Four studies did contrast perspectives of individuals from different subgroups to see if there were differences across sub-groups:
A problem one encounters when recognizing the need to understand individual differences is in determining what significant dimensions of difference are going to be important to focus on. There is probably no concise, comprehensive answer at this point to that question. A variety of differences might produce interesting distinctions worth understanding. In addition to those discussed so far, comparisons could be made between those who had more family support in their identity conflict from those who had less support or comparing the strugglers who are heterosexually married from those who are single. To what degree does a heterosexual spouse and the presence of children influence this process?
One sub-group that is likely under-represented in these studies is the secular group that includes those who had earlier been highly religious LDS but replaced this identity with a secular identity. Because of little or no further interest or connection to their former religious identity, such individuals are less likely to be aware of or motivated to participate in these types of studies. We will next consider this secular group as well as gender and personality differences as important individual differences that should be considered.
Secular Subgroup. As none of these studies uses a random sample, those who had been believers and highly committed to Mormonism who subsequently replaced this religious identity with a secular (atheist or agnostic) identity appear to be an underrepresented group in these studies.
What is unique about their experiences which, in spite of considerable belief and commitment to a Mormon identity earlier in life, enabled them to leave behind their former religion identity without looking back? Do their stories differ in that they are less sensitive to being different growing up, they had good parental relationships, or they were less gender deviant (men were less insecure playing sports)? Perhaps they had good self-esteem and therefore less doubts about their own experiences? We could hypothesize that such individuals would be less likely to need long-term change therapy in coming to terms with their sexual orientation.
Gender Differences. Another important area for study of individual differences among homosexuals with an LDS identity is gender. This is an important topic in the study of the identity-conflict for homosexual Mormons. To avoid dealing with gender, most of the studies limited their participants to only men (cf. Table 1). In a few cases both men and women were included in a study, but due to the lack of adequate numbers of women no conclusions were drawn as to how their perspectives may have uniquely differed from those of the men.
Brzezinski points out a difference in religious socialization between men and women within Mormonism. Women do not have the intense young adult priesthood activities or pressure to serve missions that young men have. Women do not have authority to baptize while on missions and cannot hold most high leadership positions within the church. Atypical sex-typed behavior for women is more acceptable in society than it is for men. Awareness of sexual orientation for men is generally earlier than for women. These observations point to a need to consider the unique perspectives of homosexual women within Mormonism, which has not been provided in studies reviewed here.
University of Utah psychology professor Lisa Diamond's research on women's coming-out process has shown a different pattern on average than for men. In a study by her and a colleague of 164 youth (78 women and 86 men) between the ages of 17-25, they found gender differences between a sex-first (sexually oriented, 20% of women) group and an identity-first (emotionally oriented, 80% of women) group. This distinction was made by assigning those who experienced same-sex sexual contact prior to identifying with a homosexual identity (male-typical pattern) to one group and those who adopted a homosexual identity prior to their first same-sex sexual contact (female-typical pattern) to the second group.
This sexual-emotional difference is further illustrated by the relationship with whom an individual first has sexual contact. Men showed higher proportions of first same-sex contact with a stranger (20% of men, 0% of women) or friend (64% of men, 33% of women), and women showed higher first same-sex contact with a romantic partner (5% men, 62% women). Women whose first same-sex contact was not with a romantic partner experienced this contact at a significantly earlier age, suggesting that such women were following the more male-dominant sex-first trajectory.
Women on average initiate the sexual orientation identity process later and for different reasons compared to men - for more emotional rather than sexual reasons. It seems likely that the "late-bloomer" identity-process (neglected in the studies reviewed here), may reflect the more typical pattern among women whereas the identity process described in the studies reviewed in this article reflect the experiences of only a minority of women. This suggest a need to consider at least two different developmental trajectories - one more typical for men than women. Table 3 provides a summary of proposed differences between these two groups that could be further tested.
Although the HAHRM study also has many more men than women, it does have enough women to consider potential themes and insights into the unique struggles and experiences of LDS women with attractions to the same-sex. Another study that has a significant number of women, but has not yet been analyzed for that intent is the recent Utah State (Dehlin) study.
Personality Differences. Robinson alludes to personality characteristics of the long-term strugglers in his study, describing a distinct pattern of heightened emotional sensitivity, intellectual introspection, and a strong desire to be right or good. Are these inherent personality traits of those who will continue to follow Mormonism in spite of a persistent, life-long struggle with homosexual attractions or are these personality traits that develop in minorities who have to operate within a society that stigmatizes an essential factor of their nature?
If long-term strugglers do show a unique subset of personality characteristics, it could be possible with further testing and narrowing the characterization, to better identify and better assist such individuals with alternatives to gay-affirming therapy without the harms associated with reparative therapy methods.
Among others, four possible hypotheses based on personality differences that could be tested include the following (as well as interactions between these traits):
The HAHRM Study. The HAHRM study includes a variety of personality traits, values, age of self-awareness, and other dimensions that can be used to understand some of the variation among the experience of coping with conflicting identities over time. Following are three main areas where the HAHRM study uniquely contributes to the ongoing study of Mormon-homosexual issues:
In addition to these primary areas of contribution to the study of Mormon-homosexual issues, the HAHRM study can add additional insights into the unique experience of women, into the role of family support in the conflict process, into how personality differences may interact with the conflict process, and other areas of interest.
More detailed reviews of most of these studies can be found in two additional reports, one considering reviewing the studies considering the Mormon-homosexual identity conflict and social-spiritual need (Brzezinski, Phillips, Benson, & Goodwill) and the other reparative therapy experiences for Mormons (Beckstead , Robinson, Byrd-Chamberlain, and Beckstead [2001a]).
As already mentioned, a more detailed review of most of these studies is given in two other reports, one on identity conflict and social-spiritual needs (Brzezinski, Phillips, Benson, and Goodwill studies)and the other on reparative/change therapy (Beckstead 1999, 2001a; Byrd-Chamberlain, and Robinson). This section provides bibliographical information about each of the studies discussed here and a short summary of major research objectives and findings of each.
Beckstead, Arvel Lee. 1999. "Gay is not me": Seeking congruence through sexual reorientation therapy. Master's thesis, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Utah: Salt Lake City, Utah. See also journal article: Beckstead, A. Lee. 2001b. Cures versus choices: Agendas in sexual reorientation therapy. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, 5, 87-115.
This detailed study of 20 individuals who self-reported successful outcomes from reparative therapy primarily considered three questions: Motivating factors for pursuing reparative therapy, process each individual underwent to create lasting change, and the benefits and harms of this type of therapy. His finding, which is consistent with other studies of change therapy, is that it is sexual orientation identity, not sexual orientation, is socially constructed and changes over time.
Beckstead, Arvell Lee. 2001a. The process towards self-acceptance and self-identity of individuals who underwent sexual reorientation therapy. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of educational Psychology, University of Utah: Salt Lake City, Utah. See also: Beckstead, A. Lee, & Morrow, Susan L. 2004. Mormon clients' experiences of conversion therapy: The need for a new treatment approach. The Counseling Psychologist, 32, 651-690. See also: Beckstead, A. Lee. 2003. Understanding the self-reports of reparative therapy "successes." Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 419-468.
The first half of this study considers results of detailed interviews with 22 individuals who unsuccessfully attempted reparative therapy and 8 additional individuals who took part in focus-groups to discuss the study results. The second part of his study compares the combined results of these 30 individuals with the 20 individuals who took part in his earlier (1999) study. He found that both groups of individuals shared the same developmental process rather than identifying two separate processes. For some individuals the recommended gay-affirmative therapy may not be adequate. Rather than accept the harmful aspects of reparative therapy, he recommends in such cases using gender-affirmative therapy, positive psychological therapy (cf. Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), or therapy aimed at overcoming depression and building self-esteem and confidence.
Benson, Brad. 2001. Perceived family relationships associated with coming out of Mormon male homosexuals. Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Family and Human Development, Utah State University, Ogden, Utah.
This study is unique in focusing on the support function of families in the process of disclosure of a homosexual orientation within a Mormon religious-cultural context. Interviews (N=46) included both the homosexual individuals and a family member (13 mothers, 8 fathers, 3 sisters). Homosexual individuals and their family members have incompatible perspectives of what it means to be supportive (acceptance of the gay son-brother vs. push for conformity to the church position, respectively). Two paradoxes are highlighted:
Brzezinski, Lynda Gail. 2000. Dealing with disparity: Identity development of same-sex attracted/gay men raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Utah: Salt Lake City, Utah.
This study involved extensive interviews and analysis of 21 strugglers and gay males from LDS backgrounds. Her object was to study the process of dealing with two incongruent identities: Mormon and same-sex attracted/gay. This study attempts to understand the process of negotiating between two core parts of ones self-identity. All participants initially held a core Mormon religious identity which represented a cultural identity and a source of answers about life, meaning, and direction. All participants had to come to terms with a core sexual attraction or orientation that was opposed by an internalized religious identity. This study considers this process and its various outcomes.
Burton, Mark K. 2001. The phenomenology of long-term, gay-male relationships. Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Utah: Salt Lake City, Utah.
This is a detailed qualitative study of 19 long-term (average of 16-years), same-sex relationships. Although not specifically about LDS religion, 15 of those interviewed had been members of the LDS church. The aim of the study was to understand characteristics of long-term gay-male relationships. Ten core themes emerge and are discussed in detail. This study shows that these long-term, same-sex relationships are positive and rewarding. Themes reported in these interviews include selfless commitment, love, soul-mate connections and deep friendships, autonomy and time together, honesty, similarity and cooperation.
Byrd, A. Dean, & Chamberlain, Mark D. 1993. Dealing with issues of homosexuality: A qualitative study of six Mormons. Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy, 19 (1), 47-89. Reprinted as chapter 10 in the book edited by Daniel K. Judd, Religion, Mental Health and the Latter-Day Saints (1999: Religious Studies Center Specialized Monograph Series, v. 14).
This is a study of six individuals, referred primarily by LDS Family Services therapists, who were extensively interviewed to understand their process of coping with homosexual attractions. The purpose was to help those who are struggling by identifying themes discussed by these men. Important themes included key transitions, relationships with others, change in understanding through exposure to theories of reparative therapy, change in relationship with God, changes regarding gender issues and sexual behavior.
Dehlin, John P., Galliher, Renee, and Bradshaw, Bill. 2011. Exploration of experiences and psychological health of same-sex attracted Latter-day Saints. A Utah State University Research Project.
This is a new study. Much of the data is still being analyzed. A presentation based on the data was presented at the Circling the Wagons conference in Salt Lake City Nov. 5, 2011. An initial report provides some basic information about this study. An unpublished paper has also been written. It is anticipated that other papers will result from this data. The study included 1635 individuals who filled out a qualitative internet survey. This is the largest survey of those with a Mormon-homosexual conflict. The survey asks about efficacy of a number of different methods of attempting to change ones orientation such as change (reparative) therapy, support groups, personal righteousness, counseling by bishops and stake presidents, etc. Eighty percent of participants felt therapist-change therapy was ineffective or harmful.
Goodwill, Kristopher A. 1999. Religion and the spiritual needs of gay Mormon men. Master's thesis, Department of Social Work: California State University, Long Beach, California.
This study considers spiritual needs and coping methods of gay Mormon men in reconciling their faith and their sexuality. It is the first study to employ a quantitative analysis although it included only 24 individuals in its quantitative analysis and 5 interviews in its qualitative analysis. This study provides perspectives of gay-affirming individuals who previously internalized and was committed to LDS religious beliefs and identity.
Phillips, R. D. 1993. Prophets and preference: Constructing and maintaining a homosexual identity in the Mormon Church. Master's thesis: Utah State University: Ogden, Utah. Reprinted in book form: Phillips, R. D. 2005. Conservative Christian identity & same-sex orientation: The case of gay Mormons. New York: Peter Lang.
Phillips asks two research questions: (1) how does one construct and maintain a homosexual identity in a religious-cultural context that stigmatizes and devalues it and (2) how do people with two incongruent statuses struggle to reconcile the contradictions in their lives. This is the only study here to consider these issues from a sociological perspective. Phillips creates an ethnography for this population which included 71 interviews. He provides a detailed history of Mormon policy 1959-1993 (continuing where Michael Quinn's historical study leaves off).
Robinson, Jeffrey W. 1998. Understanding the meaning of change for married LDS men with histories of homosexual activities. Ph. D. dissertation: Marriage and Family Therapy, Brigham Young University: Salt Lake City, Utah.
The primary purpose in this study of the stories of seven, heterosexually-married men who claim to have been successful in resolving their homosexual issues was to study the change process described by these men as an aid to therapists. The most surprising finding of this study was that it was learning about the reparative therapy model (primarily Moberly, 1983, but also Konrad, 1987 and Nicolosi, 1991), rather than applying the interventions recommended based on this model that had the most profound effect in the stories of change described by participants in the study. This explanation for unwanted sexual attractions suggests that homosexual attractions are not their choice (thereby decreasing their guilt & shame), there may be hope of potential interventions, and provided causal theories that participants identified with.
Schow, Ron. 1994. 1994 Survey of 136 LDS same-sex oriented individuals. A report of this study is given as part of the following paper: Schow, R., Rees, R. A, Bradshaw, W., & Raynes, M. 2004. The persistence of same-sex attraction in Latter-day Saints who undergo counseling or change therapy.
This quantitative survey was conducted at Las Vegas, Nevada, October 1994. A hundred thirty-six individuals (20 women, the rest men) completed the survey. The study provides basic demographic details about sexuality, coping, missionary service, marriage/relationship status, frequency and results of efforts to change sexual orientation, mental health, and family and church support. This study provides a baseline to compare other quantitative studies and provides a general idea of the range and variation of experiences of those involved in the Mormon-homosexual struggle.
 A term for this in psychological literature is sublimation. This is a defense mechanism where unacceptable impulses are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior.
 This type of coping with cognitive dissonance, where one demonizes what one doesn't or can't have is illustrated by the story of the Fox and the Grapes. Painting the desired but inaccessible grapes in a bad light reduces the cognitive dissonance.
 Savin-Williams, Ritch C., & Diamond, Lisa M. 2000. Sexual identity trajectories among sexual-minority youths: Gender comparisons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 607-629).
 As my own development process matches the "typical" female process much more than the typical male process described in those studies, I find this question and the insights from studies of women's coming-out process particularly interesting. This is partly why I feel it is so important to understand more completely individual differences, atypical cases, and sub-group differences.
 This journal has also been called the AMCAP Journal, a journal of the association of Mormon counselors and psychotherapists.
 This study is referred to in this review and the review on reparative (change) therapy studies as the Dehlin study for short.