SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – After Elder Dallin H. Oak’s remarks regarding gender during a Wednesday meeting with leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Utah transgender community expressed concern about the well-being of their members ahead of General Conference weekend.
Oaks said, ‘The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.’
He went on to say, ‘First, … that God created ‘male and female [and that this] binary creation is essential to the plan of salvation.’
Sue Robbins, board chair for the Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, said Elder Oaks’ statement cut a deep wound in the transgender community.
“He basically erased us by saying that sex is immutable in either male or female at the beginning and tying gender to sex,” she said. “The statement is non-supportive, because it says to transgender people, ‘You’re wrong. You don’t exist. You don’t have a place in our church and you don’t have a place in the afterlife.”
Robbins recalled the Church’s reversal of a 2015 LGBTQ policy in April that originally barred children of same-sex couples from being baptized and labeled same-sex couples as ‘apostates.’
“Their comments separated families and caused a lot of damage among our community,” she said. “When people throughout Utah and in the LDS Church hear a statement like that, they can take that to heart and then it becomes the way they act towards us.”
Samantha Taylor said she knows the feelings of invalidation and dismissal all too well. She was raised in an LDS family, served a two-year mission in Russia, got married, and had three children. However, she always knew something was missing until she came out as a transgender woman last year.
“I always felt like these thoughts were sinful and something I needed to suppress. No one ever really taught me what to do because the Church didn’t talk about it very much,” said Taylor. “It feels so much better now though. Even though I nearly lost everything, I would still do it all over again knowing what I know now, not having to hide who I am anymore.”
She said she found a lot of strength advocating for other individuals in the transgender community, but still faces discrimination from others.
“My local ward has very much treated me like I’m a monster, that I’ve ruined my family,” she said.
Taylor expressed concern for other transgender individuals who may be impacted by Elder Oaks’ comments.
“My heart sank. Unfortunately, Elder Oaks kind of likes to use the LGBTQ community as a punching bag. I spent enough time Wednesday and Thursday crying about this that I looked like I had been in a fist fight. That’s how swollen my eyes are, knowing the hurt that it caused not just me, but other people. My own children because they’ve been bullied by people within the church.”
Robbins said the LGBQT community sees an increase in individuals having suicidal ideations and mental health breakdowns when statements regarding sexuality and gender are made by Church leaders or during Conference weekend.
“One of the things we have to realize is we have transgender individuals in our community who are very strong in their faith and with the church, so it really starts to work at their faith and their ability to live within their religion,” said Robbins. “We see that people start struggling because they find their relationship with the church to be broken. They’re trying to find a way to work through it and decide what it means to them.”
Taylor said an additional concern is other members in the church could act upon statements made by church leaders.
“People are going to accept that. Those who would use it against us are going to accept it as doctrine. He’s given them a bludgeon that they can use and I know lots of young adults and kids whose parents have already begun using that,” she said.
With General Conference coming up, Robbins also said she’s worried about additional statements that could be made about LGBTQ individuals during General Conference weekend.
Despite the risk of being excommunicated, Taylor said she’s speaking out to increase awareness and protect the transgender community.
“I think it’s important for people to understand the harm that this causes. Conference hasn’t even started yet and they are indications is the worst is yet to come,” she said.
For transgender individuals, they’re encouraging them to seek resources and services if they need help. For everyone else, they have one message.
“For anyone who isn’t LGBTQ, don’t take all of this as something that you can now discriminate with. When you go out to Conference and you see some of us standing out front with signs that say, ‘Hug a transgender individual, hug a bisexual, hug a queer Mormon.’ Go up and hug them. Tell them you love them,” said Robbins. “We are people, just like you and we just want to be loved and we want to be able to live our life.”
If you or anyone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there are resources available:
- Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
- Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860
- Crisis Text Line: 741-741
- University Neuropsychiatric Institute: 801-587-3000
- SafeUT (smart phone app)
- Safe Zone Project: www.lgbtqsafezone.com