Dealing with same-sex attraction is a difficult task, and much more difficult when faced alone. Healthy and varied connections in church, social, and personal life can make an enormous difference in hope and healing. [ MORE ]
Some people with same-sex attraction will need lots of encouragement and motivation to continue through the long counseling process. This is best delivered with a measure of practicality, to foster hope and self-acceptance during the process. [ MORE ]
Initial feelings of same-sex attraction are not chosen, but individuals do choose how they respond to them. Parents, spouses, friends, and Church leaders can support or detract from an same-sex attraction person’s sense of personal responsibility. Different relationships require different approaches. [ MORE ]
Spiritual growth and development are powerful assets in resolving issues related to same-sex attraction. A ward leader’s assistance in developing a spiritual growth plan may be very helpful to the individual. [ MORE ]
Certain things can actually be harmful to those with same-sex attraction. Below is a list of some harmful behaviors we’ve observed among Church leaders and family members. [ MORE ]
Individuals with same-sex attraction need support from several sources: family, spiritual leaders, friends, mentors, and skilled professionals. This need for support may continue over a period of several years. It’s helpful to assess with the individual what support they feel they have and what additional support they believe they need.
We have not found it necessary for everyone in a support network to know about the person’s same-sex attraction. But it is helpful if some of their supporters do know so that the person can be completely open. This helps diminish shame and isolation. People will almost always prefer to be consulted before anyone is told about their same-sex attraction. If the person, rather than a priesthood leader, can be the one to tell others, it will help them feel in control of their own information and give them experience pushing through their shame.
Encourage With Prudence
A family or ward member who discloses their homosexuality to you may well be among the most courageous individuals you will ever meet. Opening up about this issue is usually extremely difficult, especially when doing so for the first time. Help them see their own courage.
If discouragement threatens, it may help them if you hold out the vision of how their life can be when they are free of the dilemmas and negative feelings they presently face. They may need to be reminded that the Atonement covers everything, including same-sex attraction. This may be especially true for those who believe they have gone too far or done things for which they cannot be forgiven.
They may need you to show them their own progress as the process moves along. Some people have difficulty noticing their own growth and don’t recognize it until someone else tells them about it.
At the same time, it is important to maintain a realistic and practical perspective. There is no quick fix for same-sex attraction. Resolving the conflicts, shame, pain, and other negative feelings and ways of thinking related to same-sex attraction takes time. Diminishing homosexual feelings also takes time and substantial personal effort. Individuals will do best if they are encouraged to keep their sights on the idea of progressing gradually and as far as they are able, rather than holding an expectation of quick or total change. It is also important for them to understand that because every person is unique it is impossible to know to what degree they will be capable of shifting their sexual feelings. Some people’s sexual desires change substantially, while others’ do not.
The person may need help to accept and love themselves even in the midst of their problems. Some people may be very conditional in their self-acceptance: they can only accept themselves once they “get rid” of their homosexuality. You might discuss with them the concepts in the section, What Change Means.
Encourage Responsibility and Independence
The complex circumstances that create homosexuality are outside the control of those who develop same-sex attraction. No one chooses whether or not they will develop feelings of same-sex attraction. As adults, however, we have the capacity and the responsibility to make choices about our lives. You can help your family, ward member or friend with same-sex attraction accept this responsibility to guide his or her life in positive ways.
But there are limits to your influence. You can’t choose for the person how they will respond to their same-sex attraction. They will, and must, make their own choices. And yet, you can encourage awareness and careful consideration of choices, and responsibility for consequences. And you can encourage them to move toward independence and self-reliance. Supporting a person in this way requires sacrifice of your own desires for their life. Remember, it’s their life, not yours.
Appropriate approaches to encouraging responsibility and independence differ greatly between parents, spouses, friends, and Church leaders. But they all begin with you holding a vision of the person with same-sex attraction as a responsible adult. See the individual’s highest potential while accepting and loving them in the present exactly as they are.
Below are some specific suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.
- Look for opportunities to positively reinforce choices and behaviors that move your child toward greater independence.
- Avoid making decisions or handling situations for your child that they are capable of making or handling themselves.
- If the child is in therapy, let them set up their own appointments and allow them to be accountable to the therapist (rather than to you) for accomplishment of therapeutic goals and homework.
- If you are paying for the therapy, ask the child to pay at least a small portion of the therapy themselves to encourage a sense of investment and ownership.
- If the child is still living at home or is otherwise dependent, consider small ways in which the child can gain a greater sense of self-reliance and self-governance, even if they must remain dependent overall.
If you as a parent are unsure how to implement these ideas, or find them confusing or anxiety producing, we strongly encourage you to seek counseling for yourself with one of our therapists.
Sometimes, out of fear, doubt, or anxiety, spouses can become critical, demanding, or overbearing toward their same-sex attraction partner about his or her efforts at making change. This is understandable but also very destructive in that it tends to remove from the partner the responsibility and sense of independence they must have when facing these issues. same-sex attraction partners tend to respond to this with passivity, resentment, or resistance. If you find yourself experiencing distress, or reacting in ways that are distressing to your partner, we encourage you to contact a CGW therapist for personal counseling.
Your opportunity to have a positive influence in your friend’s life will be determined by the amount of trust you create through demonstrating unconditional love. They will feel your love as you offer consistent support and encouragement, as you accept them with all their weakness and difficulties, and as you express compassion in their worst moments.
Below are some specific the suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.
- Balance any advice or correction you offer with many expressions of love, admiration, respect, and affection.
- If you have suggestions to offer, ask your friend’s permission before doing so and then state your thoughts and opinions with humility.
- Avoid telling them what to do, making decisions for them, or handling situations they are capable of handling themselves.
- Encourage independent thinking and behavior but be cautious about endorsing rebellion against family in ways that could be harmful to your friend’s wellbeing or relationships.
- Avoid being drawn into the idea that, in order to truly support your friend, you must compromise your values and endorse the gay social and political agenda.
- Remain true to the beliefs and values you and your friend share in common, even if your friend strays from those values. Stay true to your testimony of the gospel.
- If your friend’s goal is to diminish their same-sex attraction, encourage counseling with a therapist who has extensive experience helping those with unwanted same-sex attraction. Individuals that work with counselors who lack this experience tend to make slow progress and may end counseling in discouragement.
Finally, be aware that some men and women with same-sex attraction have a strong propensity to create dependencies on friends—particularly on friends of the same-sex. If you sense that your friend relies too heavily on your opinion, looks to you too much for help or support, or seems unable to make choices on their own, this may indicate an unhealthy dependency. This may also be the case if you find yourself feeling drained by the relationship or feeling responsible for your friend’s wellbeing or safety. If you notice this happening, discuss it openly with your friend and encourage them to speak with their therapist about it.
Our experience suggests that those with same-sex attraction are far more likely to receive the positive influence of Church leaders who first create trust through demonstrating unconditional love. They will feel your love as you offer consistent support and encouragement, as you accept them with all their weakness and difficulties, and as you express compassion in their worst moments.
Below are some specific the suggestions and cautions to keep in mind.
- Look for opportunities to positively reinforce choices and behaviors that move the member toward growth and greater responsibility.
- Balance any advice or correction you offer with many expressions of love, admiration, respect.
- Help the member find counseling with a therapist who has extensive experience helping those with unwanted same-sex attraction. Individuals that work with counselors who lack this experience tend to make slow progress and may end counseling in discouragement.
- If the member is in therapy and the ward is helping to defray the cost, ask the member to pay at least a small portion of the therapy themselves to encourage a sense of investment and ownership.
If you are unsure how to implement these ideas, you are invited to contact the Center for Gender Wholeness for consultation. [Contact us]
Foster Spiritual Growth
Teaching an same-sex attraction ward member how to grow in spiritual maturity can greatly enhance every other aspect of their growth process. Obtainable and realistic spiritual and behavioral goals will help them move forward and experience noticeable success. For instance, a valuable spiritual goal might be accountability for thoughts and behaviors related to same-sex attraction. As a behavioral counterpart, you might invite the member to be accountable to you or someone else that you and the member agree on.
During this process of spiritual goal setting, remember that some individuals will be blocked in their spirituality by psychological issues. Some people transfer feelings and expectations that come from less than ideal relationships with their parents onto their relationship with God. Some have been raised in situations where religion was unconsciously used to promote guilt, shame, and compliance. And some will draw away from the Spirit through their own behavior. These people may need substantial healing through professional counseling before they will be able to rebuild their spiritual life.
Avoid Doing Harm
- Encouraging marriage as a solution to same-sex attraction. Through proper therapy, single men and women with same-sex attraction can progress to a point where marriage is a realistic and appropriate option. However, the growth should come before the marriage. Attempting to engage in a heterosexual relationship will not cause homosexual desires to go away and can lead to extreme distress for the individual and the spouse.
- Making incorrect assumptions about their attractions posing a danger to other family or ward members. While some individuals with same-sex attraction may pose a danger for other adults or youth in the ward, most will not. Most adult men with same-sex attraction are not sexually attracted to boys. If in doubt, you should ask them about the nature of their attractions. You might also ask them directly whether they feel attractions toward other ward members and whether they ever feel in danger of acting on those attractions.
- Telling others about the person’s same-sex attraction without their knowledge and consent. Also, insisting that they tell other family members or ward or stake leaders before they are ready to do so and before the family members are ready to hear it.
- Attempting to provide counsel for their psychological or emotional issues. Unless you are a trained professional with experience working with unwanted same-sex attraction, you run the risk of giving incorrect counsel, stirring up issues that you can’t properly handle, and delaying their access to appropriate therapy.
- Blaming, becoming angry, or demanding to know “why?” Remember, the individual did not cause their same-sex attraction. Often they don’t understand why they feel or behave as they do. Those who have engaged in homosexual behavior probably can’t provide a logical reason for it. Emotionally charged responses from you will only damage trust and cause them to pull away.