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For week ended March 05, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 03Mar00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Gay Mormon hoped suicide would help change church
San Francisco Examiner 2Mar00 N1
By Carol Ness: Examiner Staff

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA -- Faithful LDS Church member Stuart Matis was found dead on Friday evening, February 25th, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound outside an LDS stake center on Grant Avenue in Los Altos, California. Matis, a returned missionary who was gay but who had never acted on his feelings and was in full fellowship in the LDS Church, left a suicide note blaming the suicide on the conflict between his religion and his sexual orientation, a conflict that was accentuated by the battle over California's proposition 22, according to a letter he wrote that is available on the Internet.

Matis, who would have turned 33 Thursday, was remembered in a memorial Wednesday night in the Santa Clara ward in which he lived with his parents. Those in attendance report that the chapel and cultural hall were packed with mourners remembering him.

Matis wrote in his suicide note, which was read at the memorial, that he first realized he was gay at age 7. He spent most of his life praying and trying to change, but eventually gave up hope, "I am now free," he wrote. "I am no longer in pain and I no longer hate myself. As it turns out, God never intended for me to be straight. Perhaps my death might become the catalyst for some good."

Matis came out to his parents about a year ago and spent much of that time counseling with Church leaders and others about his feelings. During that time his parents have been supportive and he reportedly had the support of his bishop. Matis also counselled with former bishop Robert Rees, who lead a San Francisco-area singles ward for five years.

In the note Matis urges his parents to use his death to teach other church members and church leaders "the true nature of homosexuality." Two other letters he wrote, one to the Daily Universe and another to a friend who has made it available on the Internet, also make poignant pleas for understanding homosexuality,

"I implore the students at BYU to re-assess their homophobic feelings. Seek to understand first before you make comments. We have the same needs as you. We desire to love and be loved. We desire to live our lives with happiness. We are not a threat to you or your families. We are your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and most importantly, we are all children of God," he wrote in the letter to the Daily Universe.

While Matis' note didn't mention Proposition 22, some Mormons who oppose the measure blamed the Church's involvement in the issue for his suicide. And Matis makes clear in his letters that the proposition troubled him, "Last July, I read online that the Church had instructed the Bishops to read a letter imploring the members to give of their time and money to support this initiative. I almost went into a panic attack. I cried for hours in my room, and I could do very little to console the grief of hearing this news," he wrote in the letter to a friend.

He went on to tell of his parent's feelings about the issue, "My mom is completely distraught over the issue. She told me that she is scared to read the papers or watch TV. When her bishop read another pro-Knight letter last Sunday, she wanted to cry." He later added "The church's involvement in the Knight initiative will only add to the great pain suffered by . . . gay Mormons."

Still, his parents and former bishop Rees caution against connecting Matis' suicide to Proposition 22, "Anyone's suicide is so complex and so personal that no one can attach any responsibility to any one person or event," Rees said. "To attach blame to the church or Prop. 22 is fruitless. No one can know the private deep inner workings of anyone's soul."

Matis' parents have released a statement requesting that no one use his death for political purposes, "Adding to the tragedy of the event, there are those who would create political ramifications from this," the statement said. "The family sincerely requests that the exemplar life of this good and well-respected young man not become fodder for anyone's campaign or forum."

Yet some activists are bound to use the death, either in ignorance of the family's request or regardless of their feelings. Simi Valley LDS Church member Jeanie Mortensen-Besamo, the friend to whom Matis wrote, and who has put his letter on the Internet, told the San Francisco Examiner in an e-mail message on Wednesday, "Stuart Matis was indeed a casualty of Prop. 22." Mortensen-Besamo is seeking rebaptism after being excommunicated for living with the man who later became her husband.

Matis' letter was posted on the Internet by Mortensen-Besamo, who was thrown out of the church for living with the man who became her husband and is now on her way to rejoining.

But in spite of the political environment around the suicide, Matis was universally praised at the memorial service. Former bishop Rees called him "one of the most outstanding men that I've met in my life. He was a person of unusual personal integrity and strength of character." "I have been very despondent because it's such a loss," said Rees, also a professor of literature at UC-Santa Cruz.

Rees blamed the suicide on the conflict between Matis' LDS beliefs and his gay orientation, "I think there's no question that he was deeply conflicted, as many people are, between his identity and his faith," Rees said. "I think the conflict for Stuart became too exquisite."

A second service for Matis was to be held Thursday in Orem, Utah, where he was to be buried.


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