The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently donated $25,000 to LGBTQ support group Affirmation to help with suicide prevention.
Affirmation is a community of LGBTQ Mormons who are struggling to make sense of their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. Affirmation provides a safe place for LGBTQ individuals to receive help and support. The nonprofit also offers suicide prevention trainings to help others know how to assist those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“We felt like this is an issue that everybody, both in and out of the church, needs to work on,” Affirmation Executive Director John Gustav-Wrathall said.
According to the Utah Department of Health, the leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 17 is suicide, and this rate has been increasing since 2011.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the suicide rates in Utah have increased by 46.5 percent. LGBTQ individuals are particularly at risk. The Trevor Project reported that LGBTQ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.
Fomer BYU student Gustav-Wrathall said he struggled with thoughts of suicide while he was a student. He said suicide prevention training is an important resource Affirmation provides, and it is this resource that the grant from the church will go toward.
“These grant funds will save lives,” he said.
Gustav-Wrathall said Affirmation takes no official stance on the church or any church doctrine. Affirmation does not tell people how to live their lives; rather, it is there to support and love all its members in whatever lifestyle they choose.
“Some members of Affirmation are active LDS members, and some have distanced themselves from the church,” he said. But whatever the decision, the nonprofit affirms its member’s choices.
Affirmation was originally started by BYU students in 1977 and has grown into an official nonprofit organization with 20 board members and conferences in more than eight countries.
“The work we are trying to do within the LDS community affects a lot of members,” Gustav-Wrathall said. “We believe every member of our community has value.”
Affirmation will host suicide prevention training on July 21 in Salt Lake City that all LDS Church members are welcome and encouraged to attend.
Former YSA Bishop and LGBTQ ally Richard Ostler said he is grateful for the donation the church has made. “The church is recognizing that Mormon LGBTQ members need support, and Affirmation is providing that support.”
Ostler said lowering suicide rates is something we can all agree on. This is shared goal that has no sides, only love.
“We are all the same human family,” Ostler said. “Christ would want everyone to feel supported.”
Ostler took an active role in the LGBTQ Mormon community after serving as a young single adult bishop. While serving, he worked with several members of his ward struggling with same-sex attraction and suicidal thoughts. This experience propelled Ostler to become an advocate for the LGBTQ community on social media and connect him to others who were struggling.
“My goal is to bring people together — to be more connected, to create more understanding,” Ostler said.
Ostler believes the church’s donation to Affirmation will help accomplish this goal. He said Affirmation is not an organization trying to replace the church — it is simply a community for people who want to remain close to Christ. Affirmation gives them a sense of community and spiritual foundation.
“It’s less about us vs. them,” he said. “We can still stand for our values but choose to love others.”
Ostler helped found Listen, Learn, & Love, an organization that provides resources to LDS members who wish to understand and learn more about LGBTQ members. Ostler will speak in Salt Lake City on July 18 about being a good Mormon and supporting God’s LGBTQ children.
The church has recently encouraged love and understanding in a recent video series featuring Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve. In the videos, Elder Renlund said to “reach out in love and caring for those who have suicidal thoughts, who have attempted suicide, who feel marginalized in any way.”
Ostler also said the church’s donation shows that leaders care and are reaching out to those in need.
Church spokesperson Doug Anderson confirmed these motivations. “We are committed to working with community partners to help prevent suicide and hope this contribution will support this important cause. We are mindful of those who are struggling and encourage them to reach out for help.”