A dear friend of mine was recently called to her Stake Young Women presidency. She asked for my suggestions on how she and other leaders could be more inclusive of young women and LGBTQ+ youth. With the help of some of my peers and friends, I compiled a list of practical ways LDS leaders can be more inclusive. Even if you don’t have a calling with a lot of influence on policy, please consider how you can help in whatever capacity available.
1. Educate Yourself on the Latest Developments
Go to Mormon and Gay to learn about the latest teachings from the Church.
“What is changing – and what needs to change – is to help church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other church members or elsewhere.” —President Dallin H. Oaks
2. Create Space for Honest Discussion
Make space for honest discussions where Young Women and LGBTQ+ youth can share their unique experiences and testimonies without negative backlash. Include nuance and understanding that everyone is different, and we don’t always have to think or testify the same way. Allow them to share their feelings, struggles, questions, and concerns without immediately correcting or stifling them. Validate their existence as a child of God by affirming their authentic experiences.
Be willing to listen to the youth. They have genuine and important experiences to share.
3. Say Heavenly Parents
Say Heavenly Parents as much as possible. It is one of the most authentically Mormon ways to include Heavenly Mother. The ultimate goal of Mormon theology is to become our Heavenly Parents. By leaving that trajectory open to diverse experiences, genders, identities, and family structures, young women and LGBTQ+ youth can more fully see that they too are made in the image of God and eternal families are diverse.
4. Acknowledge LGBTQ+ Youth
Latest studies and surveys estimate that roughly 5% of the population is LGBTQ+. That means roughly 1 in 20-25 people you know is LBGTQ+, whether or not you actually know about it. LGBTQ+ people are certainly a part of our congregations, and a simple acknowledgment can mean the world to a queer youth.
“I now speak directly to Church members who experience same-sex attraction, or who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. We want you to know we love you. You are welcome. We want you to be part of our congregations. You have great talents and abilities to offer God’s kingdom on earth, and we recognize the many valuable contributions you make.” —Elder L. Whitney Clayton
For me, this was the first time I ever heard a church leader even say the word bisexual and I’m 34 years old. I cannot explain how much it meant to me to hear the word “bisexual” come out of the mouth of a church leader. And being told I was wanted in the congregation, it felt like I existed. It doesn’t always feel that way, but saying it is a good start.
5. Talk about Women and the Priesthood
Talk about women and the priesthood. Don’t shy away from it. Talk about the differences between priesthood power and ordination. Just because a woman isn’t ordained, doesn’t mean she can’t invoke and embody priesthood power.
Talk about the priesthood responsibilities of women in the temple, such as washing and anointing rituals and women donning the robes of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. Include how women are necessary for the “true order of prayer.” Talk about priesthood responsibilities and rituals of women in early Church history. This includes blessings of healing, midwife blessings, blessing by the laying on of hands with oil, and blessing animals. Talk about the historical origins and structure of the Relief Society. Talk about how Joseph Smith was recorded as saying he “turned the keys” over to the Society and he would make this Society a “kingdom of priests.”
Prepare and educate the young women for ordination if or when that day arises. If the revelation comes, they should be ready.
6. Include LGBTQ+ Adults
Include as many Mormon LGBTQ+ adults as possible in this effort. If LGBTQ+ youth don’t see LGBTQ+ adults at church, they won’t see a future trajectory for themselves in the Church—there’s no pattern to follow. Ask LGBTQ+ adults to pray and speak. Give them callings and responsibilities. This also includes allowing LGBTQ+ adults to express themselves and their faith as genuinely as possible. We need honest stories and testimonies from LGBTQ+ folks. Hold LGBTQ+ adults as a shining example. Don’t fear them. If LGBTQ+ youth can’t see a hopeful future to aspire to, that’s when suicide can become an appealing option.
I know this can be intimidating and difficult when feelings have been hurt and lives have been traumatized. We are all exploring new territory and we must love and trust one another as we mend bridges together.
7. Host a Fireside
Host a special fireside on women and the priesthood. Invite women to speak who have studied and are educated in matters of early Church history and contemporary priesthood practices and policies. Consider assigning the young women priesthood topics and have them research past and present priesthood responsibilities, rituals, and practices.
“My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils.” —President Russell M. Nelson
If you are in Utah or Salt Lake County and you don’t have access to Mormon women who are familiar with historical priesthood practices, I am volunteering to assist you in any way possible. I can speak, pray, read, give a spiritual thought, or get you access to a woman who can.
8. Include Women Speakers in the High Council Circuit
Include women stake leaders in the speaking circuit with high councilmen. It’s an easy way to show women can speak from a pulpit with communal authority even if they are not on the high council. If possible, call LGBTQ+ folks to stake callings so they can be included in the speaking circuit as well. If you are already doing this, fantastic!
9. Combine Activities
Combine as many activities as possible. Integrate the sexes beyond heteronormative assumptions about orientation and attraction. Growing up bisexual, it felt very odd that people assumed we should cater to heteronormative assumptions about sexual attraction. It felt like we were purposefully segregated to avoid sexual tension, but if that were really the case, bisexuals would need to be isolated, quarantined, and segregated from all people, because sexual attraction to anyone is a possibility. It was a harsh message to receive in my youth, because people acted as if my sexuality was something which isolated me from all genders, not just males. Even though I was implicitly taught otherwise, my sexuality was something that I was capable of controlling even when I was surrounded by person(s) I was sexually attracted to. I am confident today’s youth can do the same. Trust the youth.
Also, for many youth who are transgender or non-binary, attending sex-segregated meetings is difficult. Many wards do a combined activity once a month. These activities can be a way to include youth in your ward who don’t identify with their assigned gender. Reaching out to such youth, and specifically inviting them to combined activities is an easy way to include them in ward activities without proscribing gender roles.
10. Respect Gender Identity
Respect a person’s gender identity. If a youth asks you to use different pronouns, respect their autonomy over their gender identity. Likewise, respect their gender expression. If a trans* boy wants to wear a shirt and tie to Young Women, from what I’ve read, there is nothing in the handbook that says they cannot.
11. Teach That Women Are More Than Motherhood
Teach women that they are more than motherhood. Encourage their other interests and accomplishments. Give them options to aspire to that may or may not include motherhood. Try encouraging parenthood as a balanced option with a partner, as opposed to motherhood being their only source of worth and value in the community.
In Young Women, I was implicitly and explicitly taught my worth as a woman was tied to my ability to produce children. This caused a lot of damage because I was born with an abnormal uterus (among other issues) and was uncertain about how or if I could have children. Looking back, I repeatedly put my life on the line during pregnancy to “prove” my worth as a woman.
For the many sisters who cannot or do not wish to have children, they often feel like they don’t belong at church. Women have many talents, gifts, and abilities which may or may not include motherhood.
12. Hold Special Workshops
Hold special workshops addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ youth. Allow them to speak if they feel so inclined. Allow them the opportunity to talk about their concerns, fears, and troubles. Let them ask hard questions about LGBTQ+ issues.
Hold workshops to educate adult ward and stake members. From my experience, some of the greatest challenges are coming from the adults and older generations, not the youth. Invite LGBTQ+ adults to speak about their Mormon experience. Ask them to share their testimonies of Mormonism and how they have continued to integrate Mormonism in their lives. Ask LGBTQ+ adults educated in LGBTQ+ issues to speak and set the example of how LGBTQ+ adults can have authentic testimonies focusing on love, compassion, and charity.
If you are in Utah or Salt Lake County and don’t have access to LGBTQ+ Mormon adults who are willing to share their testimonies, I am volunteering to assist you in any way possible. I can speak, pray, or give a spiritual thought. I can do a Q&A workshop, give a presentation, or anything else to assist your ward and/or stake’s needs.
13. Stay Humble
There is so much we don’t know. The restoration is still happening. Don’t pretend to have all the answers. Stay humble. Saying “I don’t know” is one way to show epistemic humility while leaving the door open for continuing revelation.
14. Let Them Go
LGBTQ+ youth need to know that in this current climate it is okay to not be at church. They may experience a better spiritual life in an environment that doesn’t condemn their orientation or neglect the experience of their gender. They need to know there is happiness outside of the LDS Church. It is reasonable for them to leave the Church for the sake of their mental health and safety, especially when many suffer from self-harm or suicidal thoughts. If they can’t see a future for themselves in the Church, a future outside the Church is better than no future at all.
Additionally, it is important for leaders and other youth to demonstrate that their friendships are not contingent on church attendance. They need to know they have a friendship whether they choose to stay or go. If you love them, sometimes it’s okay to let them go.
According to Elder Quentin L. Cook, Latter-day Saints should be at the forefront of love and compassion. He states that we need to be a part of the family circle, which also implies the ward and stake family circle.
“As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. No family who has anybody who has same-gender [attraction] should exclude them from the family circle. They need to be part of the family circle . . . let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those and let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender . . . I feel very strongly about this . . . It’s a very important principle.” —Elder Quentin L. Cook
15. Love Them
Love them. Love them. Love them. Teach love, charity, and compassion. If we do not know love, we do not know God, because God is love. Jesus also taught the greatest commandment of them all is to love one another. Believe it. Teach it. Live it.
“To put it simply, having charity and caring for one another is not simply a good idea. It is not simply one more item in a seemingly infinite list of things we ought to consider doing. It is at the core of the gospel—an indispensable, essential, foundational element. Without this transformational work of caring for our fellowmen, the Church is but a facade of the organization God intends for His people. Without charity and compassion, we are a mere shadow of who we are meant to be—both as individuals and as a church. Without charity and compassion, we are neglecting our heritage and endangering our promise as children of God. No matter the outward appearance of our righteousness, if we look the other way when others are suffering, we cannot be justified.” —Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Jesus Christ taught that the first and great commandment is to love God and the second is to love others as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets. The scriptures teach that we will be known as true disciples of Christ if we have love one to another. And there is no fear in love. We cannot know God if we do not know love, for love is God.
*Thank you to everyone who participated and helped me put this list together. Your insights have been invaluable and I appreciate that you took the time to share your experiences with me. Sincerely.