Salt Lake City, Utah
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are writing this letter to you because you are important people in our lives (long-term friends, family members, church leaders, etc.). We realize that there is a significant part of our lives which we have not shared with you. Because our son Erik is gay, we are very involved with issues relating to homosexuality.
The subject of homosexuality has been thrust upon the national consciousness of late. In our more immediate environment, Pres. Hinckley talked about it in Conference; a gay young man was murdered in Wyoming; students in S.L.C. recently protested before the school board asking for their clubs back; a teacher's job is at stake in Spanish Fork because she is lesbian; a candidate for the state legislature is targeted as unfit because she is a lesbian. This is a subject which is difficult to ignore. Most of us have an opinion about it. We would like you to know ours.
We believe that the cause of homosexuality is very complex, consisting of genetic, neurobiological, and hormonal factors. We believe that it is involuntary and immutable. The term "lifestyle" connotes choice. Neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals choose their sexuality. Many researchers have concluded that sexuality is determined at the early age of two to four years.
We have known our son Erik was different from his brothers since he was a small child. We felt concern but we accepted our culture's messages that homosexuality is a chosen condition caused by faulty parenting or by association with others of that "persuasion" and we were confident that it couldn't happen to us and our child. We communicated through subtle messages that we did not approve of it. All of this did not prevent Erik from being gay, but it did prevent us from being any support of help to him.
His teenage years were very difficult. He thought he was the only gay person in his high school. He had no positive role models. He had serious moments of despair. He later told us that if he had believe the things that our culture was telling him, he would have killed himself. But he did not believe that he was evil. He believed he was a person of worth. This innate belief in himself sustained him through those years of isolation. In the meantime, we continued to socialize all of our children as heterosexual and idealized temple marriage. As a result, the subject of homosexuality was never openly discussed. Erik suffered through this on his own.
As parents, we carry a burden of guilt because we were not prepared to help and support him through this difficult period of his life. We accepted unquestioningly our society and church's public disapproval of homosexuality. Erik did not feel that we could be trusted with his terrible secret. He feared that we would throw him out of our home(as other parents had done) or enroll him in the reparative therapy programs at BYU of electric shock and aversion therapy. Consequently he struggled alone. He did not see how he could ever hope for a life of dignity and purpose. However, his high school years were filled with personal accomplishment. He had a group of outstanding friends who were admired for their academic achievements and their extracurricular activities. He did not experience any overt gay bashing. He was a Sterling Scholar in art and attended the U. of U. on an academic scholarship. He graduated first in his class from the Otis-Parsons school of art and design in Los Angeles.
When he was 22, he told us that his only hope for a productive life was to accept the reality of who he is and to stop trying to become something he isn't. With tears streaming down his cheeks he said, "I don't believe I am an evil person." These words broke our hearts because he was and is one of the finest persons we have ever known. We had suspected his homosexuality for a long time, but we thought it we ignored it, somehow it would go away.
We didn't know where to turn for help. We grieved because of the loss of our expectations. We were (and still are) fearful of the reactions of our friends, family, and members of the church. We are alarmed by the level of hateful speech directed toward gays. We are horrified by acts of violence. We fear for Erik's safety. For years we kept this matter to ourselves.
After an initial visit with our bishop, he was very kind and invited us both to come in to talk with the entire bishopric and present as much information as possible. We were well accepted and left a briefcase full of information. We have also communicated with a member of out Stake Presidency and Elder Dallin H. Oakes who wrote us a sympathetic and comforting letter in which he mentioned an article that was preparing for the Ensign. (see "Same Gender Attraction," October, 1995, page 7).
Some of our good friends are currently dealing with gay, lesbian or transgendered children -- either directly or through marriage, in which "straight" children have married "gay" children. These marriage have a very small chance of succeeding, which is why the latest Priesthood Handbook discourages such marriages as a means of trying to "change" same-sex orientation. We believe that it is no longer fair to our children to let them find out about the variances in sexuality haphazardly on their own. We need to educate ourselves and then teach our children all the facts about sexuality.
We have decided that the time has come for us to share what we have learned over the last ten years with our friends and family members. There are volumes of pertinent information and research. We instrumental in organizing an LDS support group known as "Family Fellowship" which has as its objectives: keeping families together, keeping families in the church, healing relationships, and loving and serving all. We have helped to hose and participate in annual conferences (starting in 1993) on homosexuality at the U. of U. which were co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Social Work and the Graduate School of Education. These conferences have attracted some of the most outstanding researchers in the country. Knowledgeable persons are invited to speak at quarterly forums held at Weber State University, the University of Utah, and the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. We publish a quarterly newsletter called "Reunion" which has a mailing list of over 1200. We have met some of the most wonderful people we have ever known -- outstanding professional people, church leaders and many others who have gay children who have been greatly helped by these efforts. We have made ourselves available to speak and share our experience with many local groups, churches, radio stations, national video producers and individuals.
We are also involved in the Salt Lake Chapter of P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) where Kathryn serves as Vice President. The mission of P-FLAG is to provide support and education to all families, and to advocate for civil rights. There are 402chapters of P-FLGA serving over 70,000 families nationwide. Our involvement includes an effort to promote anti-discrimination and housing discrimination. We are also preparing packets of information to distribute to public school personnel. The list goes on. If you want to know more, ask us.
Enclosed, you will find some of the documents that we have collected for information purposes. We hope that you will take the time to read and think about this information. Please feel free to call us with your questions and comments. We have truly treasure our association with you through the years and extend to you our best wishes and love.
Robb and Kathryn Steffensen