How should Church members respond to those who experience gender dysphoria, or who identify as transgender?

 

As disciples of Jesus Christ we are taught to have “compassion one of another” (1 Peter 3:8) and one of the central covenants we make at baptism is that we “are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9)—to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has noted, however, “Although I believe members are eager to extend compassion to those different from themselves, it is human nature that when confronted with a situation we don’t understand, we tend to withdraw,” thus compromising our covenant obligations. He went on to say, “Some members exclude from their circle of fellowship those who are different. When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail them—and the Lord. The Church is made stronger as we include every member and strengthen one another in service and love (see D&C 84:110).”

While Elder Holland’s words were shared in a different context, the principles can be applied specifically to gender dysphoria and transgenderism. He continued:

 

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Jeffrey R. HollandLet’s assume you are the family member or friend of someone with [gender dysphoria] who comes to you for help. What do you say? What do you do?

I’d begin by recognizing the courage that brought your son, daughter, sibling, or friend to you. I’d recognize the trust that person has extended. Discussing the issue with someone of trust is a healthy first step to dealing with confusing feelings, and it is imperative that these first steps be met with compassion.

Next, if you are a parent of one with [gender dysphoria], don’t assume you are the reason for those feelings. No one, including the one struggling, should try to shoulder blame. Nor should anyone place blame on another—including God. Walk by faith, and help your loved one deal the best he or she can with this challenge…

Above all, keep your lines of communication open. Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love, generously expressed, can transform family ties. But love for a family member does not extend to condoning unrighteous behavior. Your children are welcome to stay in your home, of course, but you have every right to exclude from your dwelling any behavior that offends the Spirit of the Lord” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland “Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October 2007.)

One of the hallmark witnesses of President Thomas S. Monson’s prophetic leadership has been the importance of personal, one-on-one ministry. Latter-day Saints must make sure “issues” never lose their human face. Elder Stephen L. Richards taught that while Jesus Christ brought the gospel to humanity, “it is our duty to bring humanity to the Gospel” (102nd Annual Conference of the Church, April 9, 1932). Members of the Church, who cannot all realistically be expected to master all the science behind the causes of and therapeutic and medical responses to gender dysphoria or the many faces of transgenderism, can nevertheless transform the shame and burden around this issue through the everyday practice of unfeigned love and compassion.

If we are to fulfill our covenant obligations or mourn and to comfort, and to bring “humanity to the Gospel,” it is important that we spend time with others, seeking to understand the depth of their humanity, to hear their stories. One of North Star’s hopes with our Journeys of Faith Project is that by giving gender dysphoria and transgenderism a human face through first-person narratives of real people with real feelings, members of the Church learn more about what it feels like to experience gender dysphoria firsthand, and thereby exhibit a greater sense of compassion and understanding. As Ty Mansfield noted in the introductory chapter of Voices of Hope,

“Not all issues surrounding mortality…are as clear-cut as we would like them to be. Even when we may not always agree with what others have to say we should not be afraid of sincerely opening our minds and hearts to simply listen—to understand the length and breadth of what it means to be human from the perspectives of others whose mortal experiences, challenges, or beliefs have been different from our own. We need not compromise revealed doctrines or inspired convictions in doing so. In fact, such explorations may provide us with opportunities to more fully discover the godly heart and divine nature—where we come to know more fully of the Savior’s infinite love for each of our Father’s children. The Savior had to come to people where they were. Often, those lost sheep were wandering, lost in the mountains. We, as His emissaries, must do the same. And we cannot find people until we know where they are.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf stated that of all qualities Latter-day Saints have the potential to be known for—from images of clean-cut missionaries to friendly and family-oriented neighbors who don’t smoke or drink—the most important is to be known as a community that embodies Divine love. “Because love is the great commandment,” he taught, “it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk” (“The Love of God,” Ensign, November 2009).

On another occasion, President Uchtdorf similarly counseled, “Unfortunately, from time to time we…hear of Church members who become discouraged and subsequently quit coming to and participating in our Church meetings because they think they don’t fit in…. I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient. Let us lift those around us. Let us extend a welcoming hand. Let us bestow upon our brothers and sisters in the Church a special measure of humanity, compassion, and charity so that they feel, at long last, they have finally found home…. I am not suggesting that we accept sin or overlook evil, in our personal life or in the world. Nevertheless, in our zeal, we sometimes confuse sin with sinner, and we condemn too quickly and with too little compassion. We know from modern revelation that ‘the worth of souls is great in the sight of God’ (D&C 18:10). We cannot gauge the worth of another soul any more than we can measure the span of the universe” (“‘You Are My Hands’,” Ensign, May 2010).

Consider the following questions, also from the introductory chapter of Voices of Hope:

“Suppose a [transitioning or transitioned person] were to walk into an LDS Church with the desire of learning and worshipping with everyone else. How would we respond to them? Would we tell them they are not welcome? Would we shy away from them and avoid interacting with them? Or would we recognize that everyone has eternal value and spiritual needs, regardless of where they are at in their personal journey back to our Heavenly Father? Would we reach out to them, talk with them, befriend them, sit with them, and let them know that they are welcome in our midst? Would we encourage them to live as many principles of the gospel as they are willing, encouraging them to learn and to grow and to seek the guidance of the Spirit in making important decisions about their lives?”

If we want to understand as Latter-day Saints how we are to respond to those who experience gender dysphoria, or who identify as transgender, we must understand that our first response should be to love and to welcome and to listen. While the majority of those who experience gender dysphoria will not transition, our response as Latter-day Saints should be the same either way. However an individual chooses to respond to their experience with incongruence or dysphoria, it is important that they know first that neither their feelings nor their choices, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate [them] from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)—and that, if we are to truly become the Lord’s “hands,” and to become like Him, neither their feelings nor their choices should be able to separate them from our love and friendship and ministry as well.

Additional Resources
Camille Fronk Olson, “A Church for All, a Gospel of Inclusion,” in Voices of Hope: Latter-day Saint Perspectives on Same-Gender Attraction—An Anthology of Gospel Teachings and Personal Essays (Deseret Book, 2011)
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “‘You Are My Hands’,” Ensign, May 2010
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign, November 2009
Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Concern for the One,” Ensign, November 2001
Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Great Commandment,” Ensign, November 2007
M. Russell Ballard, “Doctrine of Inclusion,” Ensign, November 2001
Gérald Caussé, “Ye Are No More Strangers,” Ensign, November 2014