Living the gospel with same-sex attraction
Leroy Richtsen (name has been changed), a professor at BYU-Idaho, grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was baptized when he was 8 years old, was ordained to offices of the priesthood and received his Duty to God award. Richtsen graduated from seminary, served a mission and married in the temple. He has served as an elder’s quorum president, a gospel doctrine teacher and a bishop.
Yet, Richtsen said that from a young age, he has been attracted to men – something he said has been one of the most significant challenges of his life.
“The first time I realized I was more attracted to men than to women was when I was 7 years old,” Richtsen said. “At that time it was more of an emotional attraction. It wasn’t until later, when puberty hit, that it became sexualized.”
Richtsen said that during his teens he heard in Church that homosexuality was a sin. He said it wasn’t until recent years that he heard Church leaders differentiate between homosexual feelings and homosexual behavior. Consequently, growing up, he believed that having homosexual feelings made him sinful.
“It took a terrible toll on my self-worth,” Richtsen said.
Richtsen said he remembers a seminary class in which the law of chastity was discussed. The teacher told the class that being unchaste was next to murder in seriousness. Richten said the teacher specifically mentioned adultery, fornication and homosexuality in the lesson, Richtsen said.
“I left the class with my head reeling,” Richtsen said. “Because I had these attractions, I was almost as bad as a murderer. I tried my best to be obedient to every rule. [I thought that] maybe if I could keep all the commandments, somehow the Lord might have mercy on me and not send me to hell with … murderers.”
It wasn’t until years later that Richtsen realized that his feelings were not a sin. He talked to his bishop, who explained that because Richtsen wasn’t acting on same-sex attraction, he was a worthy member of the Church. Richtsen’s bishop encouraged him to see a counselor.
“I met with a counselor at LDS Family Services, which was tremendously beneficial,” Richtsen said. “This was the first time in my life that I really got the message that there’s a difference between homosexual behavior and homosexual attraction. Just having the [same-sex attraction] didn’t make me a sinner.”
Reed Stoddard, a counselor at the BYU-I Counseling Center, said that although some people with same-sex attraction may find counseling helpful, not all need counseling. Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have explained the difference between having feelings for someone of the same gender and acting on those feelings.
“The distinction between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other hand, is very clear. It’s no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in a 2006 interview with a public affairs official. “The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted.”
According to www.mormonsandgays.org, an official Church website, the Church recognizes that same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people.
“The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.”
In a 2007 Ensign article, “Helping those who struggle with same-gender attraction” Elder Jeffery R. Holland wrote that, while same-sex attraction is real, there must be no physical expression of this attraction.
“The desire for physical gratification does not authorize immorality by anyone. Such feelings can be powerful, but they are never so strong as to deprive anyone of the freedom to choose worthy conduct. In saying this, let me make it clear that attractions alone, troublesome as they may be, do not make one unworthy. The First Presidency has stated, ‘There is a distinction between immoral thoughts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior.’ If you do not act on temptations, you have not transgressed.”
Richtsen said an LDS Family Services counselor gave him information to read that helped him understand how he could work to heal.
Richtsen said there is a difference between “healing” and “curing.”
“In the same way that an alcoholic is never really cured, he can experience healing,” Richtsen said. “That’s the same way I’ve come to understand [same-sex attraction]. I may never be totally free of it in this life. But it has become much more understandable and manageable instead of the huge monster it was for most of my younger life.”
Maxwell Livlund (name has been changed) enrolled at BYU-I after serving a mission for the Church. Livlund said that throughout this semester, he has come to understand that having same-sex attraction does not determine his destiny.
Livlund said he had an interest in boys and men from an early age. However, he did not realize he had same-sex attraction until middle school.
Although he has never participated in a sexual relationship with another man, Livlund said that until a few months ago, he felt hopeless.
“It was really hard for me last semester, during fall semester,” Livlund said. “I was having so many things in my mind. I was thinking this trial was going to define my destiny: that I was going to be cursed with this thing. And just when I couldn’t handle it anymore, when I just couldn’t feel the Spirit right, I decided to talk to my mom about it.”
Livlund said while he was talking to his mom on the phone, she asked if he was facing same-sex attraction.
“She said, ‘Well, I still love you. You are still my son … And since that moment I have felt so much peace, when she knew,” Livlund said.
Livlund said talking about same-sex attraction with the people he loves has made it easier for him.
He said a turning point was when he talked to his bishop. Livlund was afraid to lose his ecclesiastical endorsement the day he sat in the bishop’s office and explained his struggles with same-gender attraction.
“I was really scared to go to my bishop at this university,” Livlund said. “I didn’t want to be kicked out of BYU-Idaho, because I love this life.”
Livlund said he was surprised by his bishop’s reaction. He said the bishop showed Livlund more love than he ever expected.
“[The bishop] helped me realize that this trial does not define my destiny,” Livlund said. “It is just something I have to control, and if I want to, I can be happy, even though I have the trial. If I let it take me to the wrong direction, it’s going to take me in the wrong direction. But I can control it, like [I can] any other trial.”
Livlund said each person who faces same-sex attraction needs to learn how to heal differently. Livlund said learning to control his thoughts had been helpful for him.
“The basic and the most important thing is just the way you control your thoughts,” Livlund said. “That can save you from doing stupid things. So that is the process that I am going through now: just trying to control my thoughts.”
Stoddard said he thinks of the levels of same-sex attraction on a spectrum or continuum. “On one extreme are people whose attraction is pretty firm toward the same gender,” Stoddard said. “And marriage is probably not going to be in their future. It is not a good idea. And then down to the other extreme are people who are just a little confused. … And then there is everything in between.”
Some men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction choose to get married to someone of the opposite gender and begin a family.
Ramona Meddern (name has been changed), a BYU-I student, began dating girls when she was 14 years old. Meddern, who did not grow up in an LDS home, said that after dating other girls for over five years, she observed that her Latter-day Saint friends seemed happier than she was.
“They had more purpose to their life,” Meddern said. “That was something that really appealed to me.”
Meddern said she went through appropriate repentance processes with priesthood leaders. She decided she wanted to eventually marry a man and start a family.
She said that although she feels physically attracted to men, she has a difficult time feeling emotionally intimate.
“I have dated and there are great guys out there, but I haven’t connected with them,” Meddern said. “But I feel like I will eventually find a guy I can connect with and be best friends with him. I know that he’s out there, but it’s been hard to find him.”
Stoddard said that although marriage may not be feasible for everyone, he encourages those who face same-sex attraction not to shut out the possibility.
“It is possible for some men to get married and make it work – I say men, but there are also women who struggle with it,” Stoddard said. “But it could be a challenge for some. It is probably not the right thing for some.”
Church leaders said that marriage is not an all-purpose solution for same-sex attraction.
“Same-gender attractions run deep, and trying to force a heterosexual relationship is not likely to change them. We are all thrilled when some who struggle with these feelings are able to marry, raise children and achieve family happiness. But other attempts have resulted in broken hearts and broken homes,” said Elder Holland in a 2007 Ensign article, “helping those who struggle with same-gender attraction.”
Stoddard said that although marriage may not always be a possibility for some people with same-sex attraction, their lives can still be fulfilling.
“There is hope – not necessarily hope of overcoming the attraction, for some people – but there is hope to be happy,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard said he remembers one young man who told him “I don’t think I’ll ever get married, but I’m going to be the best uncle in the world.”
Stoddard said the idea of being a good uncle helped him find happiness.
Richtsen said if anyone knows someone who is dealing with same-sex attraction, they should realize that the person did not choose the attraction. He also said remembering that having same-sex attraction does not make a person “bad.”
Richtsen said he encourages others to go to www.mormonsandgays.org to read about how the leaders of the Church encourage others to interact with those who have same-sex attraction.
Livlund said that family members and friends can help Latter-day Saints who have same-sex attraction by showing love.
“Give them hope. That’s what has been helping me a lot: the hope that one day … I will be healed or be perfected,” Livlund said.
Steven Frei is the president of North Star, a group for Latter-day Saints who face same-sex attraction.
“The purpose of the group is to help men and women who deal with same-sex attraction in their lives to remain faithful and keep their covenants in the gospel,” Frei said.
Frei holds a weekly support group for male BYU-I students who have same-sex attraction.
“It’s where you can come find fellowship and support in dealing with same-sex attraction, while keeping covenants in the gospel,” Frei said. If a student wishes to join the group, they can call Frei at www.northstarlds.org.
Other resources for those who face same-sex attraction include: www.mormonsandgays.org, www.northstarlds.org and www.thessavoice.com.
Livlund said it may take a lifetime to overcome same-sex attraction, but it does not define who he is as a son of God.
Meddern said it is important for those who face same-gender attraction to remain close to the gospel.
“The doctrine is true, and the Church is true, and it’s worth it,” Meddern said.
According to www.mormonsandgays.org, same-sex attraction should not be viewed as an eternally permanent condition.
“We believe that with an eternal perspective, a person’s attraction to the same sex can be addressed and borne as a mortal test. … An eternal perspective beyond the immediacy of this life’s challenges offers hope. Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction,” according to the website.