For a long time I’ve had a quote from gay Mormon Stuart Matis hanging on my facebook wall. Stuart wrote an insightful 12-page letter to his cousin in February 2000 about California anti-marriage equality Prop 22, also called the Knight Initiative, and about his life as a gay Mormon. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since last week when a Mormon-owned newspaper refused an advertisement for an LGBT Suicide Memorial.
Please go to the link to read the whole thing. It’s remarkably relevant nearly a decade later as we continue to fight the same battles against the same opponents, but today I want to focus on Stuart’s observations about the effect of being gay in an anti-gay church. Below are a few excerpts.
Apparently, the Church has raised $1 million in support of this initiative. This is so disheartening because I feel that my own peers are attacking me. Caesar’s Brutes comes to mind. In July, I realized that I was going to have to endure viewing millions of dollars of television ads designed with one intention in mind: raise fear against gay and lesbian Californians. What’s worse is that this fear campaign has been orchestrated by my own friends.
Straight members have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up gay in this Church. It is a life of constant torment, self-hatred and internalized homophobia. Imagine the young gay boy frightened to death to divulge his secret pain to his dad because he witnesses his dad tromping around the neighbor placing up Knight signs. Imagine the young gay girl who listens to her mother profess her love for her as she writes a check to oppose “those filthy homosexuals”. Imagine any young gay kid who is desperate to scrape together a sliver of self-esteem as he or she daily hears the pejorative “faggot” and the word “gay” used as a negative adjective (as in “that was such a gay movie”).
The Church has no idea that as I type this letter, there are surely boys and girls on their calloused knees imploring God to free them from this pain. They hate themselves. They retire to bed with their finger pointed to their head in the form of a gun. Every waking moment of every day they must be on constant alert to not divulge any clues that will identify themselves to their peers. “Was my glance at that boy too long? Does he think I’m gay? Will he now publicize my secret and beat me up?” They are afraid of their parents. They are afraid of their bishop. They are afraid of their friends. They have nowhere to go but to lay on their floors curled in a ball and weep themselves to sleep.
Straight people have no idea what it is like to turn on the television and watch some angry demagogue spew hateful rhetoric and cast the blame for society’s problems at our feet. They have no idea what it is like to have the Bible shoved in our faces and hear the love that stirs in our souls described as “repugnant”, “disgusting”, “immoral”, “unnatural”. They have no idea what it is like to live in a society that treats you like a second-class citizen and fights to keep you from having the same rights that all other citizens enjoy. They have no idea what it is like to hear people truly believe that we desire to terrorize children and that our mere existence is evident of the eventual decline of our civilization.
I realize that the Church is quick to point out that we should love gay people. However, this is usually a short caveat after a lengthy condemnation of our behavior. Our “behavior” is such an integral part of our identity that it’s difficult for people to separate the two. To most members, the two are not mutually exclusive; they are joined at the hip. After spending several weekends knocking on doors supporting the Knight Initiative, could anyone feel closer and more love towards gay people? Despite what the Church says, the energy level devoted in the attack is significantly greater than the few sentences thrown in a talk to appease the Church’s critics.
The Church’s actions are completely contrary to the message found in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The rule of law has transcended the rule of love. Fear has transcended compassion and understanding. It’s a travesty, Clay. It’s a travesty. And it’s one that has caused (and will continue to cause) me immeasurable pain.
Just days after writing this letter, Stuart Matis stood on the steps of his Los Altos, California church, pinned a DNR to his shirt, took out a gun, and shot himself in the head. He was 32 years old.
If you are struggling with depression or have thoughts of suicide, please call the Trevor Helpline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). You are not alone.