Bobby Parker

Arizona Mormon Temple Outreach for Suicide Prevention

Filed By Bobby Parker | November 26, 2010 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Arizona, gay teen suicides, Mormon, Phoenix, suicide prevention

Tonight from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m., volunteers will gather at the corner of Hobson and Main Street in Mesa, Arizona for an outreach to gay Mormons in our state. I'm one of the co-organizers of this suicide prevention outreach to gay Mormons, along with Clinton Bartlett. We are joined by allies from all of the major GLBT organizations in our state and img080.jpgtrue friends who love being on the front lines with us.

(Clinton wants a family so badly that he has spent the past two weeks in San Diego with a surrogate mother making sure that the implanted embryos get a good start in life. We wish you all the luck in getting the family you so desperately want, Clinton. We know the home you provide will be a good one for them. Hurry home to resume your activist role.)

As an activist in the Phoenix, Arizona area it is always hard to get a good crowd out to an event. People give all kinds of reasons for not coming, and there are probably too many to count...with size being our biggest obstacle. As the fifth largest city in the nation, we are now over 100 miles wide from valley edge to valley edge. It's not like the Castro in San Francisco. You can't just walk out of your home and be in the middle of the event. You have to fight traffic and distance to be involved. It's difficult...but it's also worth it.

Two years ago when we had a candlelight vigil at the Mormon Temple we had 300 hardy souls come out. This was just weeks after almost 10,000 had gathered in downtown Phoenix to protest the Prop 8 vote.

10,000 vs. 300...that's a mighty drop, but understandable, and I sincerely hope we have that many this year. We need everyone of them to do what we have to do. Not everyone wants to demonstrate in front of a church, and the distance from our gay center base to Mesa is 20 miles...but, there is good reason to make the sacrifice and come.

I asked myself why they don't come in great numbers. One of the reasons is that they may think this is insignificant and will not change anything the Mormons are doing. But, they are wrong. In response to the backlash against Prop 8 in CA, Mormons have actually changed wording in their General Handbook of Instruction, given to all leaders in the church, to govern their members. It has removed the idea that being homosexual is a sin, and changed some other wording to seem more accommodating. The doctrine hasn't changed, which is sad. But as a megachurch Mormons know they will have to respond to societal norms as those norms change.

That's where this month's issue of The Advocate is so important. It is our mainstream magazine that points out where we are each month. There are actually four articles within its pages that bear directly on tonight's outreach, and makes this event in the exact mainstream of the gay rights movement.

P. 12 Suicide: Risk of Reporting: It talks about how a Fall full of news about suicides has the potential of increasing them, if they are portrayed as 'a normal response to a terrible experience.' Our message on Friday will be in keeping with a national outpouring of YouTube videos saying It Gets Better, so that any message that suicide is normal will be overshadowed by the help available to those in trouble. Laura McGinnis, communications director for The Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline for youths, says img081.jpg"We have seen an increased volume (of calls)." And goes on, "That doesn't necessarily mean more people than usual are thinking about attempting suicide." It does mean that more people are finding The Trevor Project resources.

We will be handing out 10,000 cards with information on one side about The Trevor Hotline, and on the other about Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons. (see attached) We are hoping that gay Mormons in the closet to everyone, maybe even themselves, will take one of those cards and put it away (in their shoe even as victims of domestic violence are encouraged to do) so that when they need help resources are immediately available.

This article also points to a coming American Foundation for Suicide Prevention report due out in January on LGBT suicide and will be reported in the Journal of Homosexuality. At that time we'll definitive statistics to quote on what is happening to our LGBT youth and adults.

P. 14 Commercial Appeal: Gay Mormons have heard about and seen the evidence that the church is trying to improve its public image. When an image is tarnished it is hard to obtain converts. So the LDS have picked targeted markets where a multi-million dollar ad campaign is in full swing 'attempt(ing) to show a new side to the Mormon Church.' The ads depict Mormons as 'everyday, hardworking, diverse Americans.' The ads go on and on about surfers and others and then right at the end they say, oh, by the way, I'm a Mormon.

LDS media relations manager, Kim Farah, said, "The idea for the campaign came from LDS research that showed half of Americans don't know anything about Mormons." Wow! Sounds like they ripped the idea directly from our GLBT campaign to get others to know a homosexual by having everyone come out. In essence, Mormons are 'outing' themselves! Knowing a gay helps understand the issues involved in the gay rights movement. They figure knowing a Mormon will dispel some of the myths they say surround the church.

In reality, I believe that the ads are in direct response to the Prop 8 documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition which has been widely distributed and viewed by millions around the nation. It portrays the church 'at war with the gay community,' according to Reed Cowan, the gay director of the documentary.

Our outreach on Friday continues to point out the fact that the church is now out of step with the mainstream in America and spending millions to try to convince others they aren't.

P. 22 Commentary - The Bully Pulpit: All over the country homophobic individuals and organizations are fighting against gay rights. This adult-led fight sets the stage in the larger community for continued bullying and harassment of teenagers because they are different in someway. Dan Savage, who started the It Gets Better Project on YouTube "believes that despite the gains of the gay equality movement and the coming out of celebrities here and there, life is worse today for LGBT teens than is was 20 years ago, particularly for those living far from urban areas." Mesa is an urban area, but it is still governed by a preponderance of Mormons in city and state government, on school boards, PTAs, and every organization you find.

It is a tenet of the church in our area to become involved in the community so that soon the imprint of Mormon values are on everything. Not all are bad, but along with the good comes a homophobia that is still entrenched in the Mormon mind.

A recent survey in Utah reported that 55% of Mormons responding thought homosexuality is a choice. The general population in Utah was much lower in the 40% range. Thinking it is a choice leads to bullying of gays to conform and just change back already. Whew! That's what they tried to do to me when I came out, even at the age of 62, I was sent for reparative therapy (1 visit was enough!).

Not many realize that in Arizona the proportion of Mormon money advanced to pass our own Prop 102 gay marriage initiative on the ballot is larger than that of California. At least 70 individuals in the East Valley, where our outreach is staged tonight, gave at least $10,000 to the Prop 102 campaign. It was heavily pushed by Mormons in the legislature and throughout the state. At least two personal friends of mine gave $100,000 each. Over $6 million was spent by the proponents of the initiative, against $450,000 by the GLBT community.

Success in the national arena for gay rights has caused a backlash in conservative states such as Arizona that is hurting our children. Our outreach continues to let the Mormons know that they cannot act with impunity. Their religious and political stance is killing their youth. Arizona's suicide rate is 1/3 above the national average, and predominantly Mormon Utah's is three times the national average.

Lastly, P. 24 The Majority Report: Our event is not a protest as it has been reported in the media. It is a measured response to our new found power in American society. "In 2010 the number of Americans who support marriage equality crossed the watershed 50% mark. With that comes new challenges and responsibilities for a community still struggling for its rights."

When we began to plan this outreach event, from the very outset I decided that we would tell everyone from the get-go what we were going to do. Protests by their very nature often times keep their strategies secret until the last minute, to help them be more successful. However, we are reaching out to the estimated 40,000 - 60,000 gay Mormons in Arizona (out of a estimated of 400,000 members) to tell them there is an organized group, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons, who are there to assist them in their questions about coming out of the closet. We do not judge where they are in relation to their activity in the church. We are interested in their wellbeing as gays. We want everyone to know who we are and how to find us. No part of this event is a secret.

As gay Mormons and ex-Mormons we are outraged at the recent talk in General Conference by the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostes, Boyd K. Packer, in which he called same-sex attraction "impure and unnatural." He claimed that it can be corrected and characterized same-sex marriage as immoral. These were stupid and hurtful remarks by a man advanced in age and born early in the last century. They have been modified and made to seem less strident by the image conscious church. But they still hurt.

Our response is not to protest, but to reach out. We are now in the majority of Americans who believe our relationships are moral and justified. According to the article, "We -- gay Americans and our straight allies -- have won the central argument for gay rights."

We go into this outreach from a position of strength, not of weakness. We can now reach out confident that the majority of Americans see us as equal. We are winning, and in our winning, rather than be the strident bullhorns on the corners, we are the peaceful marchers in candlelight vigils, allowing our gay Mormons to have a voice in speaking of their pain and what they endured in a church that has been less than its Christian teachings would have it be.

The dynamics have changed. "They can see the moral foundations of their aversion to homosexuality crumbling beneath them. Their only hope is to turn the tables by claiming they, not gays, are the real victims of oppression. Seeing that we have moved the 'moral deviant' shoe onto their foot, they are going to move the 'civil rights violator' shoe onto ours."

People are telling us, "Why are you trying to ruin the church's Christmas lighting ceremony?" My response? 600,000 lights vs. one dead kid. You do the math.

Besides, being practical, where else are we going to find a captive crowd who must pass across a city sidewalk to view an event that are predominantly the Mormon cohorts we want to get our message out to? The Church invites 1,000,000 people to see the lights....we'd just like to have a few of them really see the light on gay Mormon suicide.

So this outreach is actually a pivotal bookmark in our local activism, and points directly to what is happening in America. To help everyone understand that this is a different kind of event than we might have had in the past, I spent time with temple security, finding out exactly where the temple lot ends and public space begins. Their only concern is for our safety and the safety of those who come to the temple. I agree, and am happy to comply with their wishes for their private property. I did everything I could to let them know this is a peaceful event.

I spoke at length with the police. Their continual reaction is about what could go wrong. They are really not used to any kind of public demonstration of the kind we will have. They have no idea if 100 or 10,000 will show up. So they have asked numerous questions. They want our safety and do not want to be seen as infringing on our right to assemble. Where are our bullhorns going to be? They are being used by our speakers and for crowd control...they won't be used to hurl epithets at passersby or those trying to enjoy the Christmas Lights. That's not our purpose.

I spoke to the Parks Department. They wanted $1,000,000 worth of liability insurance (approx $500 for the six hour event) and a Special Event Permit to make sure that any damage that occurred or accidents that happened, the City was named as a beneficiary. We went round and round about what our event should look like, and eventually decided that a simple sidewalk outreach was not only legal, inexpensive, and easy to was exactly what was needed.

The City Attorney, City Manager, and Tax and Licensing Depts all got involved. We even went to the Human Rights board meeting to explain what we were going to do.

In the end, media carries our message as a protest, but we really don't care what they call it, because we know what we're doing, even if they don't. We're mainstream now, totally involved in exactly what is happening in America...we, as a country are bullying our kids to death and it must we'll be out there on the streets with a message of hope and help...if only one gay Mormon boy or girl takes our card and discretely puts it in his or her pocket and later reaches out for help...damn! That's worth the slings and arrows from a church that is behind the times and running a huge campaign to be seen as normal and nonconfrontational...while their doctrine, as spewed from the lips of their Apostles, dead and alive, is still killing their kids.

We win by being the 'new' us. We win if we touch only one heart our soul. We win just by being there!

If you are within the sound of my digital voice, and can get to the temple to help, I hope you will. You'll be right in the mix of where our movement is and on the front lines of where the action is.

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I've seen your name attached to multiple posts asserting that Utah's suicide rate is three times the national average.

I'm not sure where you got the data but from what I see Utah's rate is similar to Arizona's and nearly every other state in the West except California.

I refer you the following: (p.104, table 29)

If you decide to persist in saying that Utah's suicide rate is three times the national average can you please inform me where to find such a statistic?

Many thanks.