My first recollection of traumatic bullying was in my home. Sadly, my earliest memories of being tormented involved my parents. Did they physically abuse me? No. Did they sexually abuse me? No. Did they intentionally seek to harm me? No. Any accusation that my parents purposely did anything to my detriment are completely absurd. My parents raised me to the best of their abilities, according to their beliefs. I love them dearly, and I am deeply proud of their personal growth, love, and acceptance of me as a person, especially since I came out a few years ago. But does this mean they were not culpable in severe and lasting emotional trauma? No. Indeed, that is a pain I still feel today.
Over the past decade I’ve studied, extensively, what abuse is… and isn’t. I have worked with numerous District Attorneys on campaigns to end abuse. I consider a number of Attorneys General as friends and allies; relationships developed during our work to curtail violence, abuse, and bullying. Some even provided incredible references for me when I decided to pursue my Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology a few years ago; detailing my extensive work in Utah, Colorado, and California to bring awareness to the public on these issues, and to increase prosecutions of offenders. It’s a safe assertion that I am known as an advocate of survivors, and that I have a long tradition of seeking to provide safe spaces for the marginalized, oppressed, or abused. It’s also a safe assertion that I speak on these matters from a position of experience and knowledge, supported by evidence.
If there is one thing I’ve learned as a result of my experience helping survivors, or my years of experience with counseling, is that the emotional scars of offenders and bullies are far more detrimental than physical abuse. In my opinion, the emotional torment a survivor of abuse faces is sometimes worse than death; as at least in this scenario, the victim has moved onto a better place. Escaping bullying is virtually impossible any other way. Some absurd number like 90% of domestic violence cases go unprosecuted, as victims refuse to testify against their loved ones. It’s tragedy on an epidemic level.
Another concept I have been studying and testing, is the concept of “choosing to be offended.” There are many psychologists and counselors that talk about offense being a two-party process. By refusing to take offense by what others say, we are breaking that cycle. It’s a concept that is helping some, but which is also producing catastrophic consequences. From a talk by Elder David A. Bednar:
Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.
Where does this view go astray? When we use it as an excuse to openly say things that would harm another. I have had people say absolutely horrific and inaccurate things to me under the guise that should I choose to be offended, it’s not their fault. They’ve washed their hands of the responsibility of their words and actions.
I’ve had various people tell me that I am “sick, an abomination in God’s eye, immoral, mentally ill,” and worse. Random people with a grudge? Nope. Local leaders of congregations I have lived in, and LDS counselors. Before I was even out, I was told these horrible things by people whom I believed were called by God to lead His church here on Earth. Tell me, was it my fault for feeling hurt by these words? No. Why did they say these things? Because I was born with a medical condition that makes my biological sex indeterminate, and my gender identity fuzzy as a result.
As a child my parents didn’t know I was transgender. A couple of clues here and there, but nothing really to provide convincing evidence. I kept that part of myself hidden with incredible skill. This didn’t stop me from hearing the teachings of church, experiencing the culture, and feeling in our home, that to be less than the model of perfection was evil and unacceptable. It became ingrained in my psyche as a fundamental flaw to bear. Can you imagine the emotional and mental ramifications that this belief, carried for more than two decades, would cause? Again, my parents did the best they could… as during this time… it was commonly held belief that people like me were evil.
Now We Know Better
We know that being LGBT is not a sin. Period. No question or debate about it. Those who experience being LGBT; be they born with it, or developing later in life, are not evil in the sight of God. To the contrary, we (should) know that every child of God is an individual of divine worth and heir to eternal glory; literal royalty. As being LGBTIQ__ is not a sin, it must be a weakness. We know that weakness is provided us as a gift from our Eternal Father, as a way to make us powerful here on Earth. Anyone who labels being LGBT as anything other than a gift or blessing from our Father in Heaven has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
Despite having an understanding of our eternal worth and kinship, there are many who still feel it appropriate to assign labels that do not represent our true eternal identities. These labels, in my opinion, are responsible for the death of thousands of young believers who simply desired to be loved as fellow children of God. It’s here that the real bullying begins by those who you’d think are the most innocent among us.
Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin? Hate Justified
Are you familiar with the origin of the dictum “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin?” It’s repeated with such cavalier amongst Mormons and Christians that you’d think it was attributed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But he didn’t say it. In fact, he didn’t say anything like unto it. That saying actually stems from St. Augustine, who said, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum.” This translates into “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” Notice here that the original author of the saying didn’t choose to label a person, but expressed an abhorrence of sin. It has since evolved into a statement which is 75% negative, and 25% positive; credited mostly to Ghandi. But even in Ghandi’s interation, he says it’s not right. Does it sound like eternal principle to you? Here’s an example of true eternal teaching as reference:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
To me, and hopefully to you, Jesus Christ said it best. Our attempts to replace his words with witty cliche’ have proven to be detrimental. Indeed, it’s a perfect exemplification of the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.
Who desires us to use a deviation of true eternal principle as our guiding light? Lucifer, clearly. The last (and only) reference I can find of a General Authority of the LDS Church using this cliche stems back to a misquote in 1987. I can also tell you with complete certainty that this cliche was the last thing heard by many LGBT Mormon youth before they took their lives. Evidence again that Satan is real, and he is using the ignorance of righteous followers to carry out his will.
Just recently I have heard local LDS leaders defend this bastardization of the Second Great Commandment. Back to my earlier point, who are we to label anyone aside from ourselves a sinner? From President Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick.
The lasting effect of a sting matters greatly upon the source of the attack. As an LGBT youth, and having extensive experience helping Mormon LGBT youth, I can tell you that nothing is more painful than hearing somebody who is lovely, sweet, and kind use offensive labels about us and our trials. I have heard personally, many times, people tell me directly to my face regarding my condition, “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin!” I have to ask, what sin? Despite the true intentions of the deliverer, this is how it’s received by me, and countless others: “I am a sinner because I am different, and that part of me that is a gift from my Heavenly Father is not a gift, but inherently evil.” Do you still wonder why countless Mormon LGBT youth have committed suicide? Or do you simply not care, as you believe yourself absolved of your degradation of His children?
This Must Stop Now
We must work to stop bullying of LGBT Mormon youth by peers who don’t know any better, parents who don’t know any better, fellow members who don’t know any better, and by leaders who continue to use horribly offensive and belittling language under the rouse that they are not liable for the pain suffered, or suicides committed as a result of their counsel and guidance. I am grateful for the policy reiterated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints states on serving LGBT youth:
Each congregation should welcome everyone. Leaders and members are taught to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reach out in an active, caring way to all, especially to youth who feel estranged or isolated.
Not only should we help those that come to us, but if we are prompted by the Spirit to help somebody, or we see somebody struggling, it’s our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ to reach out to them; to love, care for, support and help in any way that we are able.
Let us choose to not be bullies. Let us consider the words coming out of our mouths not by our intent, but with the understanding of how they may be received. It is our responsibility as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, when we hear others using horribly insensitive language, to gently, kindly, and with love educate people as to the harm experienced by their words. This may offend them. To tell somebody what they’ve been doing or saying for years is wrong, generally will be received with reproach. This is unfortunate, but it should not stop us from defending the marginalized or oppressed. And after all, I was told I was evil for almost 30 years. How do you think that felt?
Bullying is real and it comes in many forms, including people just trying to help the best way they know how.