To Be Gay and Mormon: As a Pious Churchgoer, Stuart Matis Prayed and Worked to Change His Sexual Orientation. He Died Trying

By Miller, Mark | Newsweek, May 8, 2000 | Go to article overview
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To Be Gay and Mormon: As a Pious Churchgoer, Stuart Matis Prayed and Worked to Change His Sexual Orientation. He Died Trying


Miller, Mark, Newsweek


It had become an all too familiar sound. Late on the night of Feb. 24, Stuart Matis's mother lay awake in bed, listening to her 32-year-old son pacing his room, unable to sleep. She worried that his depression was worsening. A year earlier Matis had told his parents he was gay, and all three, as devout Mormons, had struggled to reconcile Matis's homosexuality with the teachings of their church. Matis found little comfort in Mormon doctrine, which regards homosexuality as an "abominable" sin. A church therapist instructed him to suppress his sexuality or to undergo "reparative therapy" to become a heterosexual. Matis was especially frustrated by the church's energetic efforts to pass Proposition 22, California's ballot measure banning same-sex marriage. The yes on prop 22 signs that dotted his Santa Clara neighborhood, many placed there by church members, were a reminder of his failure to find acceptance as a Mormon and gay man.

Matis concluded he could not be both. That night, his mother got out of bed and wrote a letter asking the church to reconsider its position on gay Mormons. Only later would she learn that her son had been up writing his own letter, to his family and friends, explaining why he couldn't continue to live. Early the next morning, 11 days before voters would overwhelmingly approve Prop 22, Matis drove to the local Mormon church headquarters, pinned a do not resuscitate note to his shirt and shot himself in the head.

Matis's death galvanized gay activists, who accused Prop 22 supporters of driving him to the grave. Friends and family agree that the church's active support of the measure contributed to his decision to end his life when--and where--he did. Clearly, they say, he was trying to make a statement.

But that is only part of the story. Though gays and lesbians enjoy more rights and protections than ever before--last week Vermont approved same-sex partnerships akin to marriage--gays in search of spiritual support often find their church, synagogue or mosque to be far less accepting. To Mormons, who adhere to a strict moral code of conduct, disapproval by the church can be especially devastating. For Stuart Matis, it apparently was too much to bear. (The Mormon Church declined to comment about Matis. "Suicide is a tragedy of great personal loss for family and community," said a spokesman. "We express our sympathy and have respect for the privacy of the families.")

Even as a young boy, friends recall, Matis cherished his Mormon identity and the church's moral demands. But at 7, Matis began harboring a terrifying secret: he realized he was attracted to boys. For the next 20 years he kept the secret from everyone he knew, and prayed fervently for God to make him heterosexual. He tried to make up for what he considered his shortcoming by being perfect in other areas of his life. He studied hard in school and attended every church function he could. Though he deeply loved his family, he showed little outward affection, fearing he would blurt out his secret in an avalanche of emotion. "He would punish himself if he had a [homosexual] thought," says his childhood friend Jenifer Mouritsen. "He wouldn't allow himself to go to a friend's birthday party or [wouldn't] watch his favorite TV program." Instead, he would sit in his room and read Scripture. He set goals for himself not to think about boys for a certain length of time.

In some ways, being a Mormon made it easy for Matis to conceal his homosexuality. The religion strictly forbids any intimate physical contact between men and women before marriage. As a teenager, Matis hung out with a group of boys and girls who went to parties and school dances together.

As he got older, it became more difficult to keep his feelings hidden.

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