Alone in the fold: Many LDS gays struggle to cling to faith despite their yearnings
In February 2000, California voters were a month away from deciding whether to place a prohibition on recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. Despite agreeing with the LDS Church's organized support for Proposition 22, political heat was touching Fred and Marilyn Matis personally in a way not felt by most of their fellow ward members particularly those who used Sunday meetings as a platform to promote more drastic measures: all homosexuals should be loaded onto a ship, sailed out to the Pacific Ocean and sunk, a member said one Sunday standing among the congregation.
The political rhetoric stung the Matis family, particularly 32-year-old Stuart. As they suffered in silence, another panic attack hit Stuart, and his mother returned home from another church meeting in tears.
She told her husband they needed a break, and the couple decided to visit their daughter in Colorado for a week. They invited Stuart, but he said he couldn't go. They returned home on a Monday, and the following day were preparing to go to the temple when Stuart told them he had a gun hidden away in a safe place. He knew about hiding, and after 20 years of hiding his feelings, and another year of talking with parents, church leaders and friends, Stuart's hope of changing his orientation through prayer and religious devotion had evaporated.
After a sacred experience Fred says he had in the temple in the hours following their conversation with Stuart, he and his wife prayed together there and "turned Stuart over to Heavenly Father." The details are too personal to recount, but a certain peace came to them, they said.
Three days later they found the note on Stuart's bed, recounting how "throughout my life, despite all the pain I endured, I always trusted in God and hoped for the best. This hope fed my desire to live. Now, however, I have become convinced that my anxieties will never be resolved. . . . As I am incapable of resolving them myself, I have decided to end them in the only way I know will work. I must remove the chains of my mortality."
Stuart's body was found outside an LDS stake center later that day, a gun lying next to him. Until Feb. 25, 2000, his secret had been kept. With a gunshot, his story became national news just days before the vote in California, spotlighting a subject that has been whispered about but not widely discussed among the ranks of ordinary Latter-day Saints.
In their living room, the Matises have hung a rendering of a young man who represents their son, dressed in a collared shirt with sleeves rolled up, moving up a stairway toward heaven and reaching back to other young men with outstretched arms. Other figures above him reach out as well, looking to draw the anguished to a place of peace.
The couple hopes their effort to reach out to the many who are as tormented as their son will be seen for what it is: a willing embrace of those who are shunned or are isolated by fear that they will be found out. In February, they invited Ty Mansfield and his friends to celebrate the book's publication at their home. More than half of the 65 young men who showed up were gay Latter-day Saints.
"We had dinner for them. Even after Ty left, they didn't want to go," Marilyn remembers. The group found the family piano and began singing LDS hymns "with the sweetest spirit."
"If people could just have been here seeing them sing together with tears in their eyes. I got e-mails and calls afterward saying they had felt loved. That's really all they want."
After the gathering, one young man approached Fred and asked, "Do you do this often? I would like to come here more."
"They felt relaxed, like people were not looking at them in any critical way," Fred remembers.
Following their son's death, they were contacted by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, who asked to meet with them. They spent two hours talking about Stuart's experience and what they have learned since. They have also talked at length with Elder Cecil Samuelson of the Quorums of the Seventy, who serves as president of BYU. "Several of these young men have gone to him and he has given them time," they said, adding they believe top church leaders have great compassion for those who struggle.