To the editor:
Earlier this month, renowned psychologist and former member of the LDS General Sunday School Presidency, Allen Bergin, released a statement apologizing for his part in “marginalizing LGBT persons.” Bergin is known both for his faithful service in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a bishop, stake president, and Church Education System missionary and for his professional work as a faculty emeritus at Brigham Young University, the president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, and author of the Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change.
For much of his life, Bergin was a proponent of sexual orientation change therapy, believing that “homosexuals” could be rehabilitated through therapy. Bergin was influential in guiding local mental health professionals and LDS church leaders in their understanding of same-sex sexuality. He was famously quoted as suggesting that the average gay man has between 500-1,000 partners.
In his apology, Bergin writes, “I regret being part of a professional, religious, and public culture that marginalized, pathologized, and excluded LGBT persons.” He continues to share that his change of heart was made by being a father of two gay sons and a grandfather to a gay grandson, stating “I’ve been given a personal education that has been painful and enlightening.”
I can’t imagine the humility it takes to publicly apologize for hurting both family and community. Bergin’s apology is a testament to his courage and to the fact that he — like many of us — has shifted the way he thinks as he’s listened to others. Too often, in discussions of gender, sexuality, and faith, we are too anxious to have our voices heard that we fail to listen to the people at the center of the discussion. Bergin’s apology is a kind reminder to all of us to be a better listener and to give ourselves the time and space to figure things out.
In my research with LGBTQ Mormons, it has become clear that there is no single “best” path for LGBTQ Mormons to follow. Some find satisfaction and health in pursuing same-sex relationships or medically transitioning where others find satisfaction and health in their devoted engagement to the LDS church. Regardless of life choices, the data consistently indicate that people are happiest living the lives that they choose. Currently, my colleagues and I are recruiting LGBTQ Mormon participants to be part of a study to understand how they find health and satisfaction in whichever life path they choose (www.4optionssurvey.com).
So, for you or me, perhaps our question shouldn’t be whether LGBTQ people can change their sexual orientation. Rather, perhaps we can take a cue from Bergin and apologize where we have done wrong and choose to love.