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Lee Beckstead believes orthodox Mormons in the gay community hate him.
After all, the Salt Lake City clinical psychologist and former Latter-day Saint testified in a nationally recognized court case against so-called "reparative therapy" as a treatment for gays, angering some of the same-sex-attracted faithful trying to remain celibate or to alter their orientation.
Beckstead has written extensively about the dangers of such "change efforts," has pushed the American Psychological Association to condemn them, and has been associated with the out-and-proud approach as the healthiest way to be gay.
At his core, though, Beckstead is an open-minded researcher, so a few years ago he made a reach-across-the-chasm gesture, inviting faith-based therapists to join him in crafting a new survey for LDS and other religion-bred gays.
"I needed their buy-in so I could understand their perspective ... and feedback on bias," he says. "And I didn't want them to criticize it."
The result is his "4 Options Survey," which aims to find respondents along the spectrum of attraction, behavior and belief.
The four options include, it says, "those who experience (or have experienced) same-sex attractions and identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB), heterosexual, or with another sexual identity or reject a label."
The questions target those who are:
• Single and celibate.
• Single and not celibate.
• In a heterosexual/mixed-orientation relationship.
• In a same-sex relationship.
"Those in other types of relationship and single statuses are also invited to participate," the survey adds, "to expand our understanding of possible options."
The team hopes participants will share how they see themselves, where they fall on the sexual-orientation scale of attraction/aversion, how their faith intersects with or influences their attractions, what therapies have helped and which have harmed them.
The survey, which is underway and has been approved by Idaho State University, is not a scientific study using a random sample. Instead, it will employ what is known as "snowball sampling," in which one person participates and then recommends it to other people who meet the inclusion criteria. That means the results, though helpful and fascinating, cannot be seen as definitive or as reflective of the entire gay population.
Still, the study does have the "potential to significantly change how we address these issues," Beckstead says, "clinically, in research, personally, within families and communities."
It also might eliminate "the harms and polarization from past research and litigation," he explains. "If you join with your adversaries, you get to see more pieces of the puzzle ... to heal our divided community."
The two sides "are not enemies, we are friends," Beckstead says. "For too long, we have been talking at, about or past each other."
Staking out sides
The impetus for the survey came from Marybeth Raynes, a Salt Lake City-based marriage and family therapist who has worked for decades on gay Mormon issues.
Some 25 years ago, Raynes worked with Idaho State professor Ron Schow on one of the first books published on the topic, "Peculiar People: Mormons and Same-Sex Orientation." The pair was striving for a balanced approach that would reach an LDS audience, while describing real pain for Mormons with same-sex attraction.
Before long, two major "camps" within Mormonism emerged around this issue, Schow says. Ty Mansfield, co-founder and past president of North Star, a church-affirming organization, is the best-known individual on the side that supports celibacy or man-woman marriage for gays. Years ago, Mansfield wrote of his same-sex attractions and declared he would remain single for life. He eventually married a woman and now has four children with her.
The other side has been associated with Affirmation, an LDS group which takes a "big-tent approach," the Idaho teacher says, and celebrates options that include noncelibacy and same-sex relationships.
In the past four years, Beckstead and Raynes carved a middle-ground alternative known as the Reconciliation and Growth Project, made up of four LGBT-affirming and four church-affirming therapists. Mansfield is now a member of that group as well, which huddles every two weeks to hammer out statements on which both sides can agree.
Raynes has in her practice a large number of devout Mormons and thought it might be helpful to provide them with information about how others have dealt with mixed-orientation marriages, gay relationships or celibacy.
Were they satisfied with their choice? What made it work or not?
"We wanted to be able to say to clients, 'Here's what we know about this group or that,' " she recalls. "But we didn't have enough data."
Beckstead and Schow took it from there, while Raynes became a kind of unofficial adviser.
Her reaction to the first batch of replies?
Not enough women in the pool of participants and too many liberals.
Expanding the view
Before now, the best research on the experience of LGBT Mormons was done as a dissertation by John Dehlin, with the help of Utah State University's Renee Galliher. William Bradshaw, Brigham Young University emeritus biology professor and head of the pro-gay Family Fellowship, was a partner on the project.
More than 1,600 respondents filled out the 149-question study, also done by snowballing.
"I am unaware of any sample ever assembled in the entire LGBT scientific literature (Mormon or not) that is as large as ours, and where the researchers went to such effort to minimize sample bias," says Dehlin, who runs a popular podcast called "Mormon Stories" and was excommunicated two years ago by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for what amounted to apostasy.
The scholars, Dehlin said, made "explicit, additional efforts to recruit from the groups that reflected the opposite 'biases' of the investigators."
"We made special and extra invitations (including private phone calls and private meetings) to and with believing LDS support groups ... [that] explicitly supported reparative therapy at the time," he said. "In the end, a full one-third of our sample reported to still be active and believing LDS, which is a very large sample."
Dehlin said he welcomes any new data, but noted that his study has been published in seven peer-reviewed academic journals, giving it additional credibility.
Still, critics, including Mansfield, say that some of the questions' wording using the term "gay" or "lesbian," for instance, rather than the LDS Church's preferred "same-sex attracted" may have prompted more conservative participants to withdraw.
Dehlin says his survey used both terms, which he concedes was "off-putting" to both sides.
Sample size was not the issue for Jacob Hess, a believing Mormon mental-health professional in Utah, it was the investigators' "one-sided bias."
"Despite intentions otherwise, both Dehlin's conclusions and the way he has framed them publicly have heightened the tension in an already constrained, pressurized public conversation about otherwise sensitive, important questions," Hess writes in an online critique. "In particular, certain aspects of Dehlin's presentation potentially increase pressure on gay/SSA-identifying individuals to step decisively away from faith communities, marriages and personal commitments they had once cherished."
For example, when asking about "change efforts," Hess says in an interview, "how people define change affects the outcome."
Hess sees nothing onerous in Dehlin's choice of research partners, but leaving out faith-based scholars increased the likelihood of blind spots.
"We can't see what we can't see," he says. "That requires collaborating with people who don't share our views."
Involved but wary
Working with Beckstead, says Mansfield, a Provo family therapist, "is the first time I have taken a survey where I felt like my experience was represented. That is really important when you are trying to understand the diversity of experiences."
Christopher Rosik, a California psychologist and former president of the conservative NARTH, National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, also celebrates the partnership.
"It's pretty rare," says Rosik, who brings a religious perspective but is the only team member without a Mormon connection. "I am not aware of any studies where there's this kind of diversity."
In his state, change efforts for minors have been banned, he says. "I was involved on the losing side."
Rosik doesn't use "conversion therapy," which has been "demonized beyond recognition," he says. "But I am interested in giving an individual a choice in how to explore their sexual attractions. If you're in a mixed-orientation marriage and you want to increase your attractions to your wife, that may be possible."
Some conservative colleagues are "a little skeptical about his participation" with Beckstead, telling him, "you'll be burned eventually."
But Rosik says he's "operating under good faith," noting that the danger with any researchers, is that they can "project their own biography into the study."
Like Beckstead, he believes that won't happen this time.
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