Event aims to raise awareness of suicide, homelessness among LGBT Mormons

Posted at 5:09 PM, Dec 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-07 23:21:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Some members within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world worked to raise awareness on a sensitive topic Sunday.

The first Sunday of December from now on will be known as LDS LGBT Suicide & Homelessness Awareness Day.

The LDS Church holds fast and testimony meetings on the first Sunday of each month, and during those meetings any member is allowed to speak during the service and share their testimony. Sunday, members all over the world wore black and spoke of the risk for suicide and homelessness among LDS LGBT youth.

“Most people are very kind when they understand, and I think this is a problem of not understanding,” said Sherri Park with the group Mormons Building Bridges.

Sherri and Bill Park are members of the Mormon LGBT friendly group Mormons Building Bridges, and they spoke with FOX 13 News’ Carly Figueroa Sunday. The pair dressed in black and were the only two at their West Jordan ward to observe the inaugural LDS LGBT Suicide & Homelessness Awareness Day.

“If you just type in gay or lesbian, and they will say what our attitudes should be towards people who are gay or lesbian or transgender, and that should be an attitude of love and kindness and acceptance,” Sherri Park said.

According to a press release from event organizers, studies indicate suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utah youth. More than 5,000 youth are estimated to experience homelessness in Utah per year. Of these, at least 40 percent identify as LGBT and the majority are from religious and socially conservative families, with 60 percent coming from Mormon homes.

“For a long time I was told it’s better to be dead than gay,” said Devin Rehal, a gay man and former member of LDS Church.

Rehal left the LDS Church in 2008 immediately following the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

“There wasn't much blowback, I think really only my Mom knows but she just cried a lot,” Rehal said.

Rehal said the LDS Church coming out and accepting LGBT members was a step in the right direction but said more needs to be done to keep LDS LGBT kids alive and off the streets.

“They have to actually support the youth that are in these terrible situations and coach their family members how to react when they come out and really kind of love them through it,” he said.

The Parks have no connection to anyone who has committed suicide or is homeless, but they participated in the event because having two autistic children has taught them what it is to feel different and the importance of standing up for those who might be afraid to do it on their own.

"If we can touch one person's heart here, that person can pass the message on to someone else,” Bill Park said.

Some participants also wore a rainbow ribbon and the name of a LGBT LDS youth who has taken their life or who is the survivor of a suicide attempt. Vigils were held all around the world to commence what many hope will become a growing annual trend.