Results of the Affirmation survey on the impact of the LDS policy regarding gay families were publicly released in an on-line community forum on November 5, 2016, the anniversary of the date when the policy became public knowledge.
This was an on-line survey published on Affirmation.org, and disseminated in Affirmation Facebook groups and allied Facebook groups frequented by LGBT Mormons and their families, friends and allies. It was published in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Responses were collected from the first week of September 2016 through mid-October 2016.
Participants were asked to provide basic demographic data about geographic location, age, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship status, religious affiliation/activity, and connection to Affirmation. In order to gauge the impact of the policy, participants were asked to remember emotional states, beliefs, feelings, relationships and church activity prior to the policy, and then to describe emotional states, beliefs, feelings, relationships and church activity after the policy. (Participants were also asked to indicate the extent to which any changes were the result of the policy.) Participants were then asked to express their level of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements related to the policy. Finally, if willing, participants were invited to share stories about their experience with the policy.
Although the sample was self-selected, the demographic data collected suggests that the sample was fairly representative of the Affirmation and allied communities. The methodology used to collect “before” and “after” data on the emotional, social and spiritual impact of the policy could not provide us with actual “before” data, but it at least offers insight into individuals’ current sense of how the policy impacted them less than a year after the policy was promulgated.
About the Respondents
Affirmation collected 922 complete responses, 795 in English, 87 in Spanish, and 40 in Portuguese. Roughly half of respondents identified as LGBT. Roughly half of respondents were women, half men (more heterosexual women, more GBQ men). Half of LGBT respondents were single, 1 in 3 were in same-sex committed relationships or marriages, and 1 in 5 were in mixed orientation marriages. More than 80% of straight respondents were married, reflective of the fact that most straight allies responding on the survey were parents or other family of LGBT individuals. The ages of respondents ranged from teenage to 80s, with a fairly even age distribution in between. About 75% of respondents worldwide were white. (About 90% in English responses were white.)
About 65% of LGBT respondents and about 80% of non-LGBT respondents identified themselves as at least somewhat active in the LDS Church as of the taking of the survey.
Responses showed significant emotional distress, dramatic loss of trust in Church leaders, and a dramatic decline in Church Activity as a result of the policy.
About one third of respondents were already disaffected from the Church at the time that the policy was promulgated. About 40% identified as “moderately or extremely loyal” to the Church prior to the policy, and reported that they had become disaffected because of the policy. About 25% identified as “moderately or extremely loyal” to the Church prior to the policy, and remained “moderately or extremely loyal” after the policy.
The policy caused significant emotional distress. Forty-eight percent (48%) of respondents reported feeling hope or optimism most or all of the time prior to the policy, and only 18% after.
The percentage of respondents reporting that they felt sad or depressed most or all of the time before the policy was 8% compared with 24% after.
Emotional distress was as intense or in some cases more intense for straight family members as it was for LGBT individuals.
Loss of Trust
Over 50% of church-active survey respondents described their trust in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve as “moderately” or “extremely” strong prior to the policy. Less than 20% reported moderately or extremely strong trust in the Brethren after the policy.
Decline in Church Activity
Respondents reported a dramatic drop-off in Church activity after the Policy, with reported weekly church attendance, temple-recommend-holding and full-tithe-paying dropping by half.
Two out of three respondents who identified as “moderately or extremely loyal” to the Church prior to the policy became disaffected as a result of the policy.
Almost two thirds (65%) of LGBT respondents in this group reported feeling loneliness, pain and isolation at church “all or most of the time.”
Seventy-three percent (73%) in this group reported that prior to the policy their belief in God was “moderately or extremely strong,” while only 37% felt that their belief in God was “moderately or extremely strong” after the policy.
Why Did Individuals Remain Loyal to the Church?
Survey respondents were asked to rate their level of loyalty to the Church, so “remaining loyal” here is not defined merely as remaining active in the Church, but as preserving a sense of personal loyalty and commitment.
Individuals who remained loyal to the Church after the policy reported no significant loss of faith in God. LGBT individuals who reported a strong relationship with God were ten times more likely to stay active in and loyal to the LDS Church, even when their trust in Church leaders declined significantly. Many reported spiritual experiences that comforted them or helped them to deal with difficult emotions related to the policy.
Seventy percent (70%) felt directed by God to stay active in the Church. These respondents were two to three times more likely to report high levels of hopefulness and emotional resilience, and were three times more likely to report positive relationships with members and leaders of their wards and stakes.
Individual stories were a very important part of the survey, and they help us to see how quantitative data in the survey are related. The stories also help us to understand where and how different LGBT Mormons find hope, and why discussion about the Church can be so polarizing.
Individuals Who Were Already Disaffected at the Time of the Policy
Individuals who had already been disaffected prior to the policy expressed indifference to the Church and to the policy, having distanced themselves from the Church for some time. Some expressed lack of surprise at the policy, or saw the promulgation of the policy validating their decision long ago to leave the Church. While expressing admiration for Church members and leaders who behaved kindly and supportively toward LGBT members, members of this group described the Church as generally toxic and expressed the belief that the only healthy course of action in relation to the Church was to leave it.
A major concern was that the policy resulted in greater tension between them and family members and friends who were active members of the Church. Some described strained or lost friendships or broken family relationships resulting from the policy. Individuals observed emotional hurt and harm caused by judgmental attitudes of family and friends. Some were disheartened to see friends and family who personally disagreed with the policy nevertheless supporting the Church and its leaders.
A few saw change of the Church’s views on LGBT issues as “inevitable,” while the majority expressed the belief that the Church would never change its anti-gay views. Some saw the policy as evidence that any attempt to engage in constructive dialog with the Church was futile. Some expressed incredulity that anyone could have a desire to associate with the Church.
Individuals who had been distant from the Church for a long time or never really believed in the Church decided to finally and definitively cut ties with the Church because of the policy. Some felt encouraged or validated by the decision of friends or family to leave the Church in protest against the policy. Some accused Affirmation of naiveté and criticized Affirmation for not taking a more vocal public stance against the Church.
Individuals Who Became Disaffected as a Result of the Policy
Individuals who became disaffected because of the policy generally described feelings of rejection in very strong terms: feeling “shunned,” “demeaned,” “abandoned,” “betrayed,” “vilified,” and “discarded.” Members of this group described having had a sense of hopefulness for progress in the Church prior to the policy, only to have that sense shattered by the policy. They expressed the view that dialog with the Church was now hopeless, that future progress of the Church in relation to LGBT issues was hopeless. Many accused the Church of un-Christlike attitudes, and suggested that their love for LGBT people was conditional. A number compared the Church to an abusive spouse or parent.
For some, the policy contradicted personal spiritual experiences. Some questioned the inspiration of Church leaders, and described a loss of faith resulting from the Church’s actions. A number expressed a sense of duplicitousness on the part of Church leaders. For some, the policy reinforced pre-existing doubts about the Church and its leaders. Some described increased feelings of sadness, depression, emotional turmoil and loss of self-worth. Some described harsh rejection from members of their family who were active members of the Church. Some observed increasing intolerance, judgmental attitudes, and lack of empathy on the part of Church members. Some described family members experiencing intense grief and loss of faith as a result of the policy.
A number described having had a tenuous relationship with the Church prior to the policy. The policy was merely the last straw for them. Some described a sense of relief after having cut ties with the Church, and finding faith and community outside of the Church. Some decided it was best to distance themselves from the Church and to focus on their personal relationship with God. Some felt separation from the Church was necessary in order to establish healthy psychological boundaries. Some expressed the sense that even though the announcement of the policy was extremely painful, it was good that people’s false sense of progress had been dispelled.
Individuals Who Remained Loyal to the Church
Individuals who remained loyal to the Church post-policy described personal spiritual experiences that reassured them and enabled them to stay active in spite of discomfort or pain caused by the policy. They also recounted examples of Church members and leaders who were supportive of them or who became more supportive in response to the policy. They shared the observation that despite the short term pain caused by the policy, it was promoting more dialog and discussion, which was leading to greater understanding and thus was having a net positive effect. They described a desire to stay in the Church and try to contribute to greater understanding about LGBT issues.
Sources of pain included concern about the impact on children they hoped to raise in the Church, concern about losing one’s standing in the Church, concern about being being perceived as unworthy or apostate by other Church members, a feeling that the policy was unfair to gay and lesbian individuals, and sadness about seeing friends and families leave the Church over the policy.
Some described a sense that the policy did not represent a change so much as a clarification or reiteration of current doctrine. Some saw the policy as a trial of faith, and expressed the sense that individuals just needed to stay faithful, positive and hopeful. Members of this group also tended to express the sense that the policy would inevitably change, and LGB individuals would someday be fully understood and accepted as full members of the Church without having to remain single or celibate.