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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended March 02, 2000
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Letter Sent to Mormon-News: 06Mar00

Letter from: Shawn Holman

Re: Gay Mormon hoped suicide would help change church

The Consequences of Condemnation

When he took his own life by shooting himself in the head last week on the steps leading to his church, Stuart Matis also left this world with a hope in his heart. In his suicide note, he wrote, "Perhaps my death might become the catalyst for some good."

I did not know Stuart, but I can understand why he would want his death to bring about some such good. As a Mormon, he was raised to have faith in an idealistic future in which his people, the Latter-day Saints, would labor endlessly together in God's name to end all strife and ensure everlasting peace on Earth. Either Stuart had lost faith in his people by the time he reached those steps last week, or he believed the cold cement could be an altar on which he would sacrifice himself to hasten the day of reconciliation he dreamed of so desperately.

Stuart was gay and felt painfully betrayed by his religious leaders. His proof: the vigorous multi-million dollar campaign of the Latter-day Saint (LDS) Church over the past three years to bar gays and lesbians from securing the right to civil marriage in Hawaii, Alaska, and now California. In a letter he wrote sometime before his suicide, he told his cousin exactly how dejected he felt as a result of his church's efforts to block state recognition of gay and lesbian unions.

He wrote, "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 [CA Proposition 22, the Limit on Marriage 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." Now we grieve at hearing the news of his suicide, which seems to be a consequence of the LDS Church's anti-gay policies and campaign.

Having grown up gay in the LDS Church myself, I empathize with the feelings of betrayal Stuart described in his letter. He must have been taught as I was that Latter-day Saints are given the special charge to bless all the people of this world with God's perfect love, even in times of great adversity and strife. Stuart was probably quite familiar with a frequently recited scripture from the Book of Mormon that requires the faithful "to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" no matter who, no matter when. The question I share with Stuart is, what comfort is there in knowing our religious leaders willfully condemn gays and lesbians to inequality?

Gay and lesbian Mormons like Stuart often lead isolated lives tormented by the contradiction between the Church's doctrine of unconditional love and their express condemnation of gays and lesbians both within the church and in the public sector. Stuart wrote: "I simply refuse to acknowledge that God in any way desires that his gay children are marginalized.. I also can't imagine a Mormon who professes to love both God and his neighbor will allow himself or herself to believe that homosexuals should be treated as second-class citizens."

When ecclesiastical leaders profess to love the sinner while hating the sin, the indictment that we are 'sinners by nature' leaves so many gays and lesbians feeling helpless and hopeless. By describing as sinful even our most innocent impulses to love and be loved, to build families together, and to enjoy recognition of our commitments to each other by the churches in which we were raised, religious leaders give lip-service to the principle of unconditional love they preach from their pulpits. Love such as this is conditional at best and sanctimonious at worst. We are barred from participating in the cardinal rites of church and state that are available to our non-gay neighbors.

Gays and lesbians are, thus, presented with a false choice between the blessings of inclusion in a community of faith and the opportunity to give sincere expression to our loving natures. When abandoned by our churches to this social-limbo in which we enjoy neither religious acceptance nor civil equality, life itself can feel excruciatingly empty and meaningless. This, I imagine, is possibly close to the dismal emotional state Stuart was in when he decided that his life was no longer worth living.

The tragedy of Stuart's death is made especially poignant when considered in the context of the Mormon social history of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Latter-day Saint legacy is one of great suffering, persecution and even bloodshed by a traditionalistic majority that refused to recognize the Mormons' constitutional right to practice their religion freely. How bitter is the irony, then, that the LDS Church, which now enjoys unparalleled prosperity, is levying its wealth and resources against another minority engaged in the struggle for civil equality and freedom.

In the wake of Stuart's symbolic sacrifice, LDS Church leaders have a responsibility to reflect on the implications of their campaign and to acknowledge the consequences of their condemnation. They must question whether they are willing to risk the loss of even one more innocent life for the sake of their politics, and answer for themselves whether they are still justified in their crusade against same-sex marriage.

As with any suicide, we are left with several distressful unanswered questions. When Stuart arrived at his church doorstep, would he have gone through with his desperate act if the doors had been open rather than locked? What if he had found inside a throng of welcoming arms that embraced him no matter what pain, anguish, or love was in his heart? In his final words, Stuart voiced a simple, yet profound truth that should not be forgotten. "I am now free," he wrote, "I am no longer in pain." Would he have had to escape to another world in order to have the pain of his exclusion eased if his religious leaders had not forsaken him to chose between his love and his God?

-- frank morris susa is a writer living in New York City.

Assumptions / by Frank Morris Susa -

The above is an Op-Ed about the suicide of Stuart Matis in Los Altos, CA. The author, frank morris susa, is a queer activist and writer living in New York City. frank serves on the executive committee of Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons as a Director of Youth & Young Adult Resources.

Please circulate widely. Permission to publish this piece is granted to all publications and individuals who wish to do so. Please notify frank by email at or by phone at (212) 870 8936 if you print the piece. Feel free to contact him with any questions or responses, as well.

Copyright (c) frank morris susa, 2000.


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