Growing up I was taught that Mormons were supposed to be a “peculiar people,” a phrase trotted off to convert social embarrassment into tribal pride. There were certainly many peculiar people in my home ward, and in all wards I’ve been in since, but during my lifetime, the Church has become less and less peculiar or unique, and more and more right-wing, conservative and pretend-Evangelical, seemingly trying to “pass” for a “legitimate” copy of these more popular denominations. While we are less peculiar, though, according to a recent survey by Nationscape, we are more queer, up to 1 in 4 among Gen Z Mormons (born after 1997). There were 3,881 self-identified Mormons who responded to this survey, across various demographics.
While 23% of Gen Z Mormons identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other, and 19% of Millenial Mormons do, older Mormons are less likely to identify as such (94% of Boomers claim heterosexuality, 89% of Gen Xers like me also claim heterosexuality). From the data compiled in The Next Mormons by Jana Reiss and Benjamin Knoll, only 11% identified as LGBT. While many would point to the trend that Gen Zers self-identify as more sexually diverse than older generations, which points to the fact that there is less stigma around sexual orientation than before, another possible interpretation is that Gen Z Mormons are simply young enough that they have not yet (inevitably) left the Church due to its anti-LGBT teachings.
The second point is that Gen Z Mormons currently show more sexual diversity than older generations of Latter-day Saints because, frankly, some of them are statistically likely to leave the church but have not yet done so.https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/06/21/jana-riess-there-are-more/
There are some reasons to question the results of the survey. For one, there is a geographical disparity. Those not from the Western US had higher sexual diversity (35%) than those in the Western US (12%). That points to likely sampling errors. A different survey (Cooperate Congressional Study) pegs Mormon LGBTQ at 17% outside the Western US and 10% in the Western US. This geographical disparity could be related to social pressure in heavier Mormon areas to conform to binary gender identification and orientation.
It could also be related to a strongly conservative base in the Western US vs. other areas of the country. For example, in the Pennsylvania branch I grew up in, our ward was probably closer to 50/50 Democrats / Republicans with several of the “strong” ward families being very vocal Democrats. I was very surprised when I got to BYU to discover that the majority of Mormons in Utah were Republicans. While I’m not sure my experience was typical, there does seem to be less of a political focus and less conflation of party politics with the gospel (perhaps due to a higher percent of converts) in *many* (but not all) areas outside the Western US from what I have seen. This political climate (or apolitical climate, ideally) affects how willing young adults are to grapple with their own sexual orientation and gender identity. If they grow up in a climate that is hostile to non-binary identities and attractions, they are less likely to openly identify as such.
- Gen Z Mormons have similar results to all Gen Z respondents (regardless of religious affiliation), meaning, this is a generational thing, not influenced by religious affiliation.
- The definition of LGBTQ+ is becoming more expansive than in other, earlier studies which may increase self-identification with non-cishetero options in a survey. Gen Z respondents claimed “other” in 4% of results vs. 2% for Millenials, 1% for Gen X, and 0% for Boomers. This could be caused by several factors: 1) older respondents were more settled in their self-perception, 2) there are more socially acceptable options now than before (e.g. many Boomers may have seen sexual identity as binary–gay vs. straight–vs. on a spectrum including bisexual, pansexual, asexual, as well as orientations for those with non-cis gender identification or gender expression), and 3) a willingness to accept fluidity rather than having a fixed sexual orientation that needs to be identified and accepted.
- Younger people are more willing to claim non-cishetero identities on an anonymous survey than their older counterparts. Only 1% of Gen Z respondents said they would “rather not say” vs. 2-4% among older respondents.
- They haven’t yet left the Church (or quit self-identifying as Mormon), but many of them will. Median age for leaving the Church is 19, and Gen Z respondents were between 18 and 22. The Boomer numbers are so low because 1) the majority of LGBT Boomers have already left the Church by now (which is why the %s are lower for each successively older generation).
It’s not surprising that it’s harder for queer members to stay. The church has made a point for years of fighting same-sex marriage, condemning nontraditional families as “counterfeit,” and preventing church members who are in a same-sex relationship from attending the temple, holding certain callings or exercising the priesthood. While there have been important steps toward compassion and understanding in the past few years, that damage still runs deep.https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2021/06/21/jana-riess-there-are-more/
I will also add a few other theories out there about these results from some of the social media groups I am in and also some of my own guesses:
- A “cool” factor around non-cishetero sexual identity / immediately finding a supportive community (unlike in prior generations). I admit I don’t find this theory terribly compelling, but it’s one I’ve heard. Yes, the queer community is pretty great, but it’s not like you have to change your sexual orientation to be accepted by them.
- Not everyone is completely certain of their sexual orientation at age 18 (the youngest age for this survey).
- A strongly conservative Church culture forces those who feel they don’t fit into a crisis of identity in which they know the narrative doesn’t fit their situation, so they may feel more unsettled as they come of age.
- The more homophobic rhetoric we hear at Church, the more those who reject bigotry and ally with queer people may begin to question their own perceived sexuality.
- Subversive idea: God is deliberately sending more queer kids to Mormon families to teach our community the importance of accepting and loving them and the wrongness of rejecting our own. Hence the subtle shift from “mormonsandgays” to “mormonandgay.”
When I was growing up, I remember that the prevailing thought based on Kinsey was that 6% of the adult population was gay. I also remember thinking at the time that we couldn’t really know what the true percent was unless there was social acceptance of gay people on par with straight people, something we are starting to get closer to in society as a whole if not within the Church. So long as there is more acceptance in society than in the Church, the pressures will be to leave the Church, and often the families will follow.
Given these numbers, the Church is in even bigger trouble than previously thought when it comes to growth and retention. Given the trajectory for social acceptance of homosexuality in the US, the first step seems to be a version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” When we quit making it a huge deal, it quits being a huge deal. The problem is that since the 80s, the Church has doubled down so much on “the family” and allied itself with other GOP-focused sects to the point of no return. For those who remain in the Church, there need to be some who will love those queer kids and accept them for who they are, and if it’s not their families, it needs to be their leaders and teachers.
What are your theories about these results?
- Do you think these percentages are accurate (23% of Gen Z Mormons are queer) or do you think they are really higher or lower? Explain why.
- Given these trends, what would you do differently if you were a decision-maker in the Church focused on member retention and membership growth?
- Do you think this spells doom for the Church or do you think the percentages that leave in young adulthood will remain roughly the same, just citing different reasons now?
 This is clearly at play given that 10% of Gen Z identify as “bisexual” vs. 4% of Millenials, and only 2% of Boomers and Gen X.
 Again, mostly a binary view of sexual orientation in my generation at that time; bisexuals just seems like super horny straights, straights who were too lazy to figure out how to relate to the opposite sex, or gays who weren’t ready to step all the way out of the closet yet.
Hawk girl’s entire premise ignores the well known, proven tendency of generation Z to lie when they take these sort of surveys. In fact, as noted by the Deseret News yesterday, Jana Riess has had to walk back part of her conclusions because of faulty data. So before getting too carried away, toss this survey in the can and wait for valid evidence.
hawkgrrrl said, “The problem is that since the 80s, the Church has doubled down so much on “the family” and allied itself with other GOP-focused sects to the point of no return.” Yes, I agree, the cumulative movement of the Church, its policies, and its rhetoric over the last two generations have certainly pushed it to the far right end of the political/social/cultural spectrum. There really is no going back. The one leader who represented some hope for moderation, Uchtdorf, was removed from the First Presidency and exiled back to the Twelve (never to be heard from again, except for twice a year at Conference).
So it may be the sad truth that Millennials and Gen Zers show higher numbers only because they haven’t figure this out yet (the permanent rightward tilt of the Church) and reacted accordingly by leaving the Church.
Until we can answer BK Packer’s question: “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” we’re stuck. But God “does” interesting things all the time: brain cancer, an unfortunate encounter with a semi-truck on I-35, winning the lottery… To a True Believer it may be helpful to picture God as an entity who created the earth-life machine, wound it up, then turned it loose and got out of the way.
I have to agree with Mr. Charity that the results of these recent surveys seem dubious. But this raises another interesting question: why would so many LDS Gen Z lie when taking a survey, especially when they are doing so as identified members of the Church? The most plausible reason I can come up with is that even though a given person might not be LGBQT, that person empathizes with the LGBQT community to the extent that he or she is willing to lie in solidarity of that community. That’s still a major issue for the Church to deal with.
I have four adult kids. All four are hetro-sexual. But all four are also very protective of their LGBQT friends and if you ask them to marginalize that community, they will marginalize you. The Church should think about that.
My personal opinion is that the Church needs to stop fighting a culture war that was lost long ago. Same sex marriage is a reality, that did not come with the devastating consequences that were predicted.
With that being said, I agree with JCS and Josh that these statistics are dubious. The sampling method and survey size ignore what we know to be sound in statistics. LGTBQ members are clearly gaining greater acceptance, as they should. Using faulty data will only slow that acceptance.
I agree with Rudi and with p. This is a war that’s already lost and we’re just making ourselves look more and more like bigoted idiots. It just needs to stop, already. And yes, as a few folks have pointed out, the data are skewed (I believe Jana herself came out with a clarifying statement). And to p’s point, I’ve always believed that the Mormon God is much more removed from our lives than a lot of Mormons think s/he is. If one believes in any kind of deity at all, there is simply no other explanation for all of the things that happen here, including the immense cruelty we inflict upon each other on a daily basis.
As far as whether any of this spells doom for the church, I don’t think so. But I do think that a ton of young people are walking out the door and not coming back, which means the church in a generation or two will shrink substantially. But my experiences with religion tell me that the world will never really run out of overly zealous, rabid true believers, so the church will continue to exist in some form or another, but I think with a substantially reduced footprint. I do notice that young people are leaving not only because of LGBTQ issues or the patriarchy, etc., but also because of how infantilizing the church is. I’m facebook friends with a number of former missionaries from our area and once in a while, one of them will post that they’ve left the church and give a few reasons why. One reason I’m seeing more of lately has to do with how they felt that they outgrew the church. They don’t mean that they’ve become perfect like Christ and have no need for a church, they mean that the vastly oversimplified binaries that the church both assumes and employs as a way try to maintain its relevance (good vs. evil, “the world” vs. Zion, etc.) is no longer the lens through which they view the world. That reason may become an even bigger threat to the church than the LGBTQ issues, IMHO.
JCS, could you give me your source for the “proven tendency of GenZ to lie when taking these kinds of surveys”? If you don’t have “proven” evidence, then your comment is without validity.
JCS: ” Jana Riess has had to walk back part of her conclusions because of faulty data” I think you are mistaken about this. The Nationscape data is the more recent study; it was NOT done by Benjamin Knoll and Jana Reiss. Their data is from earlier, and is much lower than the number Nationscape found. Jana & Benjamin were asked to react to the shifts in the data, but the second survey was not theirs. They are both (perhaps rightly) skeptical of the huge increase between their results and the Nationscape data and have been from the start, but it wasn’t their work.
The Church needs and will some day find a Place for LGBTQ. AS LGBQT becomes more a part of everyday living you just can’t marginalize millions people . Today they think they can but that is not sustainable.
1. Hawkgirrl is correct that the survey in question was not Reiss and Knoll’s, so they did not “walk back” their own numbers.
2. Reiss discussed the Nationscape survey without initially examining the methodological problems with it, thereby giving it credibility that it does not deserve.
3. Reiss then “walked back” her initial failure and added some critical discussion of the Nationscape methodology, essentially reendorsing the original Reiss and Kroll numbers.in the process.
4. The methodological problems with the Nationscape survey have nothing to do with lying. Don’t waste your time speculating on why Gen Z is populated with liars. It is not.
5. We should be focusing the discussion on the original Reiss and Knoll numbers, which are not perfect, but are as good as we’re going to get for the time being. The Nationscape survey is a source of heat, not light.
“The Church needs and will some day find a Place for LGBTQ. AS LGBQT becomes more a part of everyday living you just can’t marginalize millions people . Today they think they can but that is not sustainable.”
That’s the lesson that Disney learned.
When they made their first moves to accept the reality of the gay population in the 90s they were met with loud opposition and boycotts from conservative religious groups. The company quickly changed gears and went back into nobody-here-is-gay mode in response. But so much of their creative team was gay and was essential that they discovered they’d simply need to deal with the anger and bad publicity. They could handle income reduced by a small percentage of the extremists much more easily than they could replace their means of producing income. Meanwhile, most of the US population didn’t care all that much. And I think the conservative religious have probably gotten over having to share Disney with the rest of America as well by this point..
Today we’ve got marriage equality. Finally! And it’s obvious that no one’s healthy marriages have fallen apart as threatened.
At 74 I’ll confess I’m as confused as anyone else about the full panoply of the gender spectrum that’s revealing itself. But none of it impinges on my ability to be cis gendered and straight. I’ve even had the experience of sharing a public bathroom with someone who was very obviously cross dressing. However, inside the privacy of the cubicle I was using it didn’t interfere with my ability to do my business. I wasn’t especially surprised because I think I’ve always been an ally but I was impressed with the calm environment that cross dressing person and the 5 or 6 cis gendered women present shared and confirmed in my theoretical beliefs.
Replying to every comment by JCS that I remember seeing:
Rockwell, I’m a boomer and I don’t feel represented by those attitudes in the least.
WHAT ARE IRISH NACHOS?
Thinly sliced Russet potatoes that are seasoned and baked to crispy perfection. They are then arranged on a a skillet pan or baking sheet and topped with cheddar cheese and large bacon pieces, and baked until the cheese is melted. You then top them with your favorite toppings like Pico de Gallo, Salsa, Guacamole, green onions, sour cream and cilantro.
cooking with curls.com
I’m a boomer, an early boomer (1945). Not all of us are Trump supporters.
I don’t care what the percentages are, the Church needs to do better. Ideally, complete acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community would be great. Apologies to all communities that we’ve harmed would be great, including Black, LGBTQ+, and Native American. The Church needs to repent.
I’m also a boomer. In the current atmosphere of acceptance and support of LGBTQ a folk I don’t think current policies of the church are sustainable. It presents a conundrum when the church was founded on prophecy and claims to be the only true church so it will continue to bleed and bleed. For myself any positive changes won’t be enough to keep me in because I no longer trust the foundation.
For anyone interested I found this article fascinating –
View at Medium.com
What would I do if I were in the red comfy seats in the conference center? Well, that happens to be my favorite question, despite the fact that I’ll probably be zapped for trying to steady the ark.
I would revert back to Joseph Smith’s early flexibility with the structure of the family. He once said “Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies, than we are ready to believe or receive.”
I would cite anything that causes contention or separates families as being from the adversary, including any and all divisions arising from LGBT intolerance.
I would emphasize personal revelation, respect for others, and immediately abandon all sin-focused, condescending, or non-inclusive language re:LGBT persons. There are several policies that need to be immediately updated. . I’d make room at the table for them in our faith community. And, I’d call Carol Lynn Pearson to a special calling to advise on all of it.
It would appear from reading these comments that the only possibility for change in the LDS church is top-down movement initiated by the guys in the big red chairs. Maybe in this case, unlike in economics, “trickle down” might work. Who knows for sure. There is no consideration for any sort of bottom-up discernment process. That may be the bigger problem facing the LDS church as it moves into the future.
I don’t know that a few percentage points either way matters in terms of the impact of the LGBTQ+ population in the Church.
There are enough inside and outside of the Church that it’s becoming inevitable that active Mormons have some kind of relationship with a gay person – whether it’s your kid or grandkid or niece or nephew or cousin or friend or friend’s kid or favorite teacher or whatever … the list goes on and on. And for many (sadly not all), having a close relationship with a gay person makes it very difficult to accept the Church’s position as reasonable or loving. And once you go down the path of honestly investigating the history of the Church’s teachings about homosexuality (hint – keeps changing so seems perhaps not particularly straight-from-God) and the fruits of those teachings (absolutely rotten), it’s pretty hard to come out the other side with a testimony intact.
My brother coming out was the beginning of the end of my orthodoxy (even though it was a ten-year process). Even though I was a raging feminist from birth I somehow always managed to reconcile women’s exclusion from the priesthood and even though I was bothered by the race-based priesthood and temple ban I was born after 1978 so that too was easy to ignore. But the treatment of LGBTQ+, the obvious lies used to justify that treatment, and the literal body-count left in its wake was too much to ignore. While there are serious harms resulting from other misguided Church teachings, dead kids are too big to ignore.
So my point with that is just to say that the Church’s position on homosexuality is in my the “gateway drug” for someone to being questioning EVERYTHING it teaches and the validity and utility of prophetic authority. One might begin with only that concern, precipitated by a loved one coming out. But it often ends with the total deconstruction of every other Church claim and teaching – which maybe a person would never have bothered questioning if they hadn’t started with the LGBTQ piece.
So yeah. If the Church wants to retain people, it needs to change. If the Church wants to keep people alive, it needs to change. If the Church wants to choose the right, it needs to change.
Forgive the typos! Phone commenting.
LGBT tolerance, pushback to the POX (policy of exclusion to children of LGBT parents), and women’s issues have been grassroots movements by the rank and file in the church. The fact of the matter is that common consent is a thing in Mormonism, it is the glue that ties us together whether ideas trickle down from the top or up from the bottom. The brethren in the red seats believe it is much more hierarchical and they decree all. The fact is, revelation has historically come from many places, and in the light of the day dawn breaking, we can all bask in the light. Their role is to make official pronouncements on behalf of the church regarding that shared light, not to control the light. It’s true that they can receive light in behalf of the church- to point out the dawn When we have yet to see it, but it doesn’t need to Be the exclusive route of enlightenment IMHO. Whether or not I’m right or wrong, you can’t get the saints to move together unless they feel that glue (common consent) and see the same light. So, it’s disturbing to me that the brethren keep downplaying it, ignoring it, and insisting on blind obedience.
When Elder Bednar said there were NO gay Latter day Saints, nobody questioned his sample size of the validity of his conclusions. The numbers may be incorrect, but the take home message is the same: there are too many non heterosexual members of the church for us to keep hand-waving the doctrine and saying “God will sort it all out on the other side.”
@Joni: Just out of curiosity, can you give a link to wherever Bednar said that? I wouldn’t put it past him to say something like that, but I’d like to read the quote myself. Thanks.
It was a comment to suggest we are not defined by our sexual orientation but are all sons and daughters of God. You can see most of it in this article.
@Pontius Python Elder Bednar’s comments were made during a Q&A fireside in South America. You can see the entire fireside on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIwXMHZWgik ). The question regarding homosexuality begins about minute 41.
Elder Bednar’s unfortunate clumsy remarks were not literally saying that no one in the Church is LGBT, just that we shouldn’t claim labels or identities beyond the broadest possible one that binds us all together (a child of God). While I don’t believe he had mal intent, it’s still incredibly problematic for someone who is a default human / privileged male white cishetero person to erase / diminish the importance of identity among those who do not also have the same amount of privilege. Instead, it comes across as erasing identity for people who already feel like they are being told they have no right to exist.
Rich Brown (as a non-LDS person) points out something that is an assumption among LDS members that bears scrutiny. Specifically, how does change happen in the Church, a topic that is a staple of online Mormon discussions. If you include an outside perspective, there are a few alternatives to explain it:
1) All “change” comes as a result of new information leaders glean from insititutional revelation, top down (with a divine origin at the top). This is the party line.
2) Leaders only receive the revelation they are able to receive or they are asking for, and the asking can be driven as leaders themselves become more educated or progressive on topics which can originate from the membership.
3) Leaders follow grassroots / societal trends as the status quo becomes untenable and *pretend* it is due to revelation when it’s just political savvy with a practical eye toward maintaining the organization’s viability and influence.
4) Basically #3 but leaders believe it’s #1 or #2 because their self-perception depends on it.
Regardless, as Mortimer describes, #2-4 all consist of a form of “common consent,” which is a foundational Mormon principle that has apparently been cast aside by some of our more authoritarian leaders. One strong example of this is when Robinson claimed in an address (in Idaho?) that lay leaders don’t represent the members to the leaders, but only the leaders to the members; everything flows top-down. It is an incredibly disturbing trend. I don’t know when or why that changed (I suspect maybe the 50s/60s), but change from the membership is not always progressive; the Word of Wisdom was adopted when members wanted it (perhaps due to temperance as a way to improve their neighbors’ behavior).
I believe Angela’s breakdown of how change is perceived in the church is useful and accurate, but it may be a bit outdated. That has been the prevailing model, but it goes out the window when, as is happening now, you find that young people will simply leave if they’re given a set of proscribed behaviors with which they strongly disagree. For a while, leaders who see the church as the source of truth will continue to believe that change and insight flow from the top, and they’ll be flummoxed when people respond with, “Okay, bye.”
Jaredsbrother: “it goes out the window when, as is happening now, you find that young people will simply leave” Perhaps, but I don’t think the institution is quite there yet. If it were, we’d hear a lot less authoritarian language in lessons and talks.
Me: trying to not get angry and simply ignore JCS’s very orthodox and predictable “any generation, gender, sexual identity, religion, news/media (particularly the entire movie industry) or otherwise that doesn’t align completely with my, I mean the church’s views is obviously too lazy, stupid, wants to sin, and/or is depraved, is clearly on their way off the covenant path down the slippery slope to the everlasting inferno of Hell, and I’m happy about it, Sinners REPENT, or get out of my way, I mean the church!”.
Also Me: Opens wheatandtears.org with glee to see what JCS has for us today, as well as the ensuing responses. Seriously JCS, you make W&T interesting, I give you two lazy-learner thumbs up =).
Back to reality, I see the church loosing the social battleground on LGBTQ+ issues just as it did with polygamy and the racist temple ban. The evangelical bandwagon the church has been trying to hitch to is loosing as well, but rather than accepting it as most organizations are (including the NFL), the church appears to be retrenching ever further away from being able to address the inevitable train wreck of Doctrinal, oops I mean Policy change. The most recent news of restricting local leaders from civilly marrying couples not in their respective areas, or non-member couples, appears to be another move away or guard against the inevitable social pressure for the church to not only accept LGBTQ+ marriages, but to perform them. The church may move away from performing civil marriages altogether as a way to prevent having to perform LGBTQ+ marriages at all. But it doesn’t matter what I think, what JCS thinks, or what the current leadership think. Notwithstanding the leadership’s most strenuous of efforts, the upcoming generations of Mormons (at least the better part of them) don’t hold to those antiquated and frankly bigoted viewpoints and won’t stand to either be in an organization with those viewpoints, be silent, or let them continue if they have a say in it. The social caravan continues marching on to better enlightenment and treatment of those on the margins regardless, and perhaps in spite of, religious zealots. The church will eventually change, and if not, it will lead to significant disaffections and decline in church memberships, though likely never reaching zero with all the untold wealth the church sits on as well as a seemingly never ending supply of religious zealots ready to replace the current ones. The church looks very different than it did 30 years ago, and it will look very different in 30 years, perhaps not only accepting LBGTQ+ marriages, but performing them. And why not? We already throw our hands up in the air when asked about what complex marriages and sealings will look like in the eternities and claim God will sort it out in the end. Why can’t we accept loving LGBTQ+ relationships now and say God will sort it out in the end, because the leadership certainly doesn’t understand it currently, and we are doing damage to too many families. Let love and acceptance be the answer, then let God sort it out.
DTHamilton: I imagine there’s a very low chance that JCS is expressing his own views. He is a master of trolling performance art.
JCS has not recently maligned Bon Jovi music, thankfully.
@hawkgrrrl, there is a potential scientific explanation to your subversive idea that god is sending more LGB children to Mormon families: there appears to be some correlation between fraternal birth order and male sexual orientation. The likelihood of a male child being gay increases as he has more older brothers from the same mother; since Mormons tend to have larger families than the rest of society, it stands to reason that the incidence of homosexual children born into Mormon families would be at least slightly higher than the rest of American society.