Why We Leave: Ex-Mormons on Queerphobia in the LDS Church

I’ve posted before about the casual survey of ex-Mormons I undertook to help myself (and hopefully others) understand the complicated, nuanced reasons people leave the LDS church. What I posted — a breakdown of the 660 responses I recieved, based on broad categories like “social issues” and “church history” — necessarily paints a picture of ex-Mormondom with very broad strokes. Now, I want to dive into each of the categories in more detail, keeping in mind the categories and where the responses fell were chosen based on my best judgment.

After church history, what I categorized as “social issues” were the biggest primary reason for people having left Mormonism. More than one in four (27 percent) of respondents listed something in this category as their primary reason for leaving the church, and slightly more (31 percent) listed a social issue as one of their overall reasons for leaving. Within social issues, the topic breakdown was LGBTQ+ issues, racism, sexism/misogyny and sexual predators.

This post’s focus will be on LGBTQ+ issues, because a significant portion of responses to the survey mentioned the church’s treatment of queer members and policies regarding the LGBTQ+ community. On Friday, I’ll tackle sexism and misogyny within the church.

Trigger warning: References to suicide (not specific).

LGBTQ-Related Reasons for Leaving the LDS Church

More than half (55 percent) of all respondents listed LGBTQ+ issues as at least one reason they left the LDS church. Some people mentioned having left because they’re queer or know someone who is queer and couldn’t reconcile the church’s queerphobic teachings with their own personhood or beliefs, while others just more generally opposed the church’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues or were turned away by a specific policy.

Here are some examples from people for whom the church’s harmful stances on LGBTQ+ members are personal:

They told me that my sister was going to hell for being gay.

As a gay person, there was no place for me within Mormon theology. 

I had been ashamed of who I was my entire life, wanted to kill myself my entire adolescence, and it was all because of the church. I was OUT. The church contributes to LGBT suicide every day and won’t stop and I hate every minute of it.

I am gay and trans. I heard Boyd k Packard say the three greatest enemies of the church were the gays, feminists, and intellectuals, and realized that I was all three and had no place being there anymore.

As a gay individual, I couldn’t see why I would purposely put myself in an environment where everyone thinks less of me for something I cannot control. 

I am gay and they told me it was my choice and that I was broken.

Unsurprisingly, many of the responses than mentioned LGBTQ+ issues spoke of specific policies:

  • Prop 8: The 2008 California constitutional amendment that eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The Mormon church and its members were some of the biggest supporters of Prop 8, and for many members, it was one of the only times they could remember being asked to support or oppose a specific political initiative.
  • The November Policy: The 2015 policy that named those in same-sex marriages “apostates” and forbade baby blessings/baptisms for their children. It was overturned in 2019 after years of outcry.

Even more respondents spoke of the church’s overall attitudee toward LGBTQ+ members as having been a reason for leaving:

Its treatment of the LGBTQ community. The idea that people could decide not to love who they love. 

The way the church treats LGBTQ+. Shaming and suicides and being told they must remain forever alone.

The damage The Church does to the queer community and anyone who doesn’t quite fit the Mormon Mold.

Their policies regarding LGBT people became especially troubling to me as I became more accepting and supportive of LGBT people.

The church treats LGBT people horribly.

Teenagers committing suicide because they feel their family won’t forgive them for loving (who they love).

Here’s the thing: The LDS church is almost never on the right side of history when it comes to social issues, whether we’re talking about LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights or civil rights. Hell, even when Mormonism looks like it’s on the right side of history (Utah Territory granted suffrage to women half a century before the 19th Amendment was ratified!), it’s usually just a smoke screen (men didn’t want women to look oppressed because of polygamy!).

BYU is a great microcosm of the church as a whole, because it shows us what kind of social disfunction unfettered Mormonism leads to. Here are some examples:

  • Conversion therapy for queer students was encouraged and/or required at BYU through at least the 2000s. Conversion therapy is basically psychologically tormenting queer people in an effort to “turn” them straight. Spolier alert: It’s debunked garbage and the church should be ashamed of itself for not deeming it unethical until 2016.
  • Until 2007, you could be kicked out of BYU for being anything but straight — even if you weren’t in a relationship or sexually active.
  • Until 2011, you could be kicked out for advocating that being LGBTQ+ is morally acceptable.
  • You can still be kicked out for “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings,” meaning that if I, a bisexual woman, were to walk across campus holding hands with another woman, and then kiss her goodbye, we could both be kicked out.

The Mormon church hates gay people. And bi people. And trans people. And anyone else who isn’t cisgender and heterosexual. Maybe one day they’ll get the hint that their backwards rhetoric and policies are driving people away and doing real, actual harm to many others, but I sincerely think this is the hill Mormonism has chosen to die on. So kids will keep growing up thinking there’s something wrong with them, torturing themselves because they’re different, hurting themselves because they don’t belong, and the church will keep allowing it to happen. There is blood on the LDS church’s hands, queer blood, and nothing they do now can make up for the trauma that’s been inflicted and the lives that have been lost because of their hatred.

There is a bit of hope, though: The church may be far too slow to change, but public pressure has forced the church to change in the past, and as more people have become comfortable with opening up about their experience with sexuality and the church, support systems for queer members have sprouted up. If the church refuses to take care of its LGBTQ+ members, there are other places they can turn. For me, that meant removing myself entirely, but there are as many different queer stories as there are LGBTQ+ members and ex-members of the church, and some people choose to or have to stay. And those of us who left just have to keep pressuring the church to change, because we no longer have anything to fear from raising our voices to fight for the ones they silence.

Some survey responses have been lightly edited for length.

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