‘Just be there’: Group raises awareness for LGBT suicide prevention

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Bradley Brough
Bradley Brough speaks about suicide prevention for BYU students who are same-sex attracted in a YouTube video entitled “Just Be There.”

When BYU senior Bradley Brough accepted that he was gay, he said he was “more afraid that people would find out that I was gay than actually being gay in itself.”

Over the course of four years, Brough served an LDS mission to Alabama, came out of the closet to his family and friends and received treatment for depression. Brough saw a therapist, but stopped taking his depression medication without consulting a physician, he said.

Battling depression in addition to comments made by loved ones about being gay, which Brough said “weren’t intended to be hurtful but ended up being hurtful,” led to suicidal thoughts. He said he attempted suicide in 2012.

Brough is one of several BYU students featured in the YouTube video “Just Be There,” which was released Oct. 10. The video, produced by an unofficial group at BYU, Understanding Same Gender Attraction (USGA), aims to raise awareness of suicide prevention among BYU students with same-sex attraction.

“It’s a fantastic time to bring this up,” said Adam White, a BYU senior and president of USGA. Although the video has been in the works since May, White believes it has particular relevance now because of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s recent General Conference talk about those with a mental illness or emotional disorder, White said.

In his talk, Elder Holland acknowledged mental illnesses as “realities of mortal life” that should not be regarded with shame. “Whatever else you may or may not be able to provide, you can offer your prayers and you can give ‘love unfeigned,'” he said to caregivers.

The YouTube video highlights experiences of those in the Provo LGBT community who have experienced suicidal thoughts. “If you’re trying to reach out to somebody, the most important thing you can do is to just be there for them,”  Brough said in the video. “Just Be There” became the main message of the suicide prevention campaign.

“When Elder Holland opened up that door, we saw an opportunity to talk about how dire it really is,” White said. “There are a lot of different tropes we use to describe suicide or to describe virtue or same-sex attraction that are not very helpful for people who are going through coming out or coming to terms with their same-sex attraction.”

In Utah, three young adults (ages 18–24) are treated for suicide attempts every day, according to the Utah Department of Health website. The Utah Department of Health also reports that Utah has the 11th highest young adult suicide rate in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of death for young adults in Utah.

Finding suicide statistics associated with the LGBT population is difficult because it is self-reported and rarely verified on police reports or death certificates, according to Jenny Johnson, spokesperson for Utah Violence and Injury Protection Program. But in an informal survey, USGA found that of about 100 people that attend USGA meetings, 74 percent had contemplated suicide and 24 percent had attempted suicide.

Brough said one reason he wanted to contribute to the video was to help others understand the issue.

“The hardest part was that I had a good friend that I told I felt like there was this unreasonably amount of dread that I couldn’t place. I felt horrible, and I felt like something really awful was about to happen. And he didn’t really respond at all,” Brough said. “That was a pretty big warning sign. He didn’t have any idea what to do.”

The video points viewers to the Trevor Project for help. The Trevor Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention among LGBT youths. The Trevor Project has a 24-hour telephone hotline, instant messaging and texting with counselors. The Trevor Project includes resources for friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are at risk for suicide.

USGA also invites straight allies to join its meetings. Other resources include the BYU Counseling and Psychology Center, local church leaders and national and state suicide prevention hotlines.

While the difficulties of being gay were not the only factors that led to his depression, Brough said those difficulties were a main contributor and that people “need to be more careful of loving, critical remarks.”

“When you tell somebody ‘We love you, but we don’t accept who you are,’ all they hear is, ‘We don’t accept who you are,'” he said.

White said he believes there are times the BYU community does not acknowledge that gay Mormon students exist at BYU. While he said he is fully committed to BYU’s Honor Code, he also said he feels “there is not space to be a celibate gay Mormon on BYU campus.”

“There’s this deep pressure to be married, to go on dates with the opposite gender, to engage in wards where … the primary activity is finding your eternal companion,” White said. “When that no longer is on the plate, that immediately puts you in a different place than everyone else.”

Yet White seems hopeful that things are improving for the homosexual community on campus and that student organizations like BYUSA will take a deeper look at improving the place of homosexual students in campus activities, specifically via BYUnity, a committee of students that proposes initiatives it believes will improve the overall unity on campus.

When asked what efforts BYUSA and BYUnity are making to include LGBT students, Student Advisory Council coordinator Anthony Bates said in an email, “Whether the initiatives put forth by (BYUnity) involve concerns shared by students who identify themselves as LGBT is yet to be determined.”

In its mission statement, USGA requires that all meetings uphold the Honor Code, and the group serves as a safe place for students to discuss where same-gender attraction and Mormonism intersect. White said there is a lot of suspicion around USGA, and people should understand that USGA is politically neutral and stands by the LDS Church.

“I would have the BYU community know that USGA at BYU and its efforts, its videos, come from a place of genuine concern and they come from a place of desperately wanting to be active, faithful members of this Church,” he said.

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