Reading devastating reports of LGBT teens and adults who die, or attempt to die, by suicide because of a struggle to reconcile religion with sexuality, I need to speak up. I can only speak for myself, but if my voice contributes to a chorus that helps keeps even one of you alive and gives you hope, it's worth saying something.
I speak to struggling LGBT believers. If you're not a believer, or if you're part of a faith that embraces gay marriage, you're likely not struggling the same way members of traditional belief systems do. Please correct me if I'm wrong. If this is you, know that I love and support you. Do whatever you need to do to be happy. Whether that means leaving a faith that prohibits you from romantic connection or choosing to be celibate to follow your beliefs, I'm in awe of your strength in walking either road and I've got your back. Just stay alive. The world needs you. In my view, God also needs you to bless and lift and strengthen others, same as He needs anybody else. You have incredible worth.
I'm going to level with you. I'm a Latter-day Saint, a faith whose doctrine holds that gender is an eternal construct and that marriage between a man and woman is the only kind ordained by God. It teaches that LGBT persons are children of God, equally loved by Him, and that attraction isn't a sin but acting on it is.
Candidly, this is the aspect of my religion that I wrestle with the most (not the part about you being God's child or having eternal value, the other part). I believe in marriage. I believe in family. Obviously, as a family therapist I've devoted my life to these concepts. But as a compassionate person who works with LGBT couples and has observed the beauty of their relationships firsthand… well, I talk with the Lord about it every day, let's put it that way.
I choose to stay in my faith because of what I consider to be spiritual experiences. I believe in it. It's woven into the fabric of who I am. What's more, I feel that God's told me to be there because it's where I can do the most good, especially in loving and including LGBT members who need support, understanding, and compassion. But that's me. You have to do you.
Stay alive. Stay here. Know that you are of infinite worth. You are glorious. Do what you have to do to be happy and to make a difference in this world. I love you, I accept you, and I've got your back. If you've found love, I'm happy for you and can't wait to meet your spouse/partner. If you're instead walking a certain path of discipleship, I'll carry that cross with you.
Either way,message meif you need to talk. No more death. There's a teaching in my faith: “The worth of every soul is great in the eyes of God.” That includes you.
Jonathan Decker is the clinical director of Your Family Expert. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, husband, and father of five. Jonathan earned a masters degree in family therapy from Auburn University as well as a bachelor's degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He is an actor, author, and television personality.