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Posts for April, 2008

Mormon Leaders To Meet With Gay Group

Jim Burroway

April 6th, 2008

Last summer we noted that the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) had issued a statement which appeared to represent an small, incremental improvement on the church’s stance towards homosexuality. Now we learn that Mormon church officials have agreed to meet with leaders of Affirmation, a gay Mormon support group.

Affirmation had repeatedly tried to meet with church leaders. Their last invitation to meet was turned down last August. Then in February, just three days after Thomas S. Monson was named church president following Gordon B. Hinkley’s death, Affirmation invited Monson to meet. Monson accepted the invitation for an August meeting.

Among the specifics Affirmation wants to address: the historical treatment of gays by the church, including recommendations for aversion therapies to “cure” homosexuality; recommendations for more effective counseling methods; ways to avoid family break-ups; and a change in the honor code at church-owned Brigham Young University that can result in expulsion for sexually active gay students. The same standard applies to straight students.

“None of this requires a change in doctrine,” said [Affirmation assistant executive director Dave] Melson. “They’re good for both gays and the church.”

Melson added, “We would like to start a dialogue, even if it isn’t immediately fruitful.”

The church has come under fire as gay members have come forward with allegations that they were subjected to electric shock aversion therapy at the behest of their spiritual leaders. Playwright John Cameron used his own experience with electric shock aversion therapy as the basis for his play, “14” (for the number of men in an LDS study) which debuted at the University of Iowa in February:

His harrowing, powerful play, “14,” was inspired by his experience undergoing electric shock treatment in a 1976 research study at BYU. As a college student, Cameron volunteered for the experiment, conducted by then BYU-graduate student Max Ford McBride, hoping it would alter his same-sex attraction. Instead, the psychological and emotional wounds nearly crippled him, once leading him to contemplate suicide.

Church leaders acknowledge that abusive therapies were deployed by the church in the past, but contend that they have been discontinued. Leaders also say that they will accept no responsibility for these treatments, even though gay Mormons were “prescribed” these treatments by church leaders.

Affirmation was started by Stephan Zakharias in 1977 after two friends of his committed suicide after undergoing electric shock therapy experiments administered by BYU’s Psychology Department.