In the pre-dawn hours of February 25, 2000, gay Mormon Henry Stuart Matis made his way to the LDS Los Altos Stake Center on Grant Road. Stuart had a gun in his hand and a “Do Not Resuscitate” note to pin onto his gray sweatshirt. Police found his body on the steps of the church building at 7:30 a.m. where the sun dawned on a new morning of mourning, first for family and friends and then for a much larger community as Stuart’s story spread in the days before California’s first referendum on banning gay marriage – a ban supported and funded by Stuart’s fellow Mormons.
While some would try to separate Stuart’s suicide from his religion and its involvement in same-sex politics, Stuart threw himself into that spotlight by choosing a symbolic location for his death, writing that he could not choose between his life and his church. That location at that time became a rallying point for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. And it very publicly raised the bar in a problem that continues to hurt the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On February 25, 2010 we will gather in the pre-dawn darkness at 6:30 a.m. to remember Stuart. With members of the Foundation for Reconciliation and several other organizations, we will remind one another of the importance of each light in the darkness. With the light of a new day we will walk together in solidarity and support to the building where Stuart’s body was found that 10 years ago. There we will take a moment to look forward to a new dawn, one made brighter by the lights of thousands who would reach out and bring in the cold, the tired, the weary, the forsaken and forlorn. One made brighter by each of us, striving to bring warmth to those who feel they struggle alone.
Our vigil at the building (1300 Grant Road, at the corner of Portland Ave. in Los Altos) will continue throughout the day, giving as many as possible the opportunity to come and pay their respects and remember Stuart in their own personal ways. May we all walk away inspired to improve our corners of the world.
When black members could not attend the temple and when black men could not hold the priesthood, they did not commit suicide. The angst of women searching for equal treatment at the hands of LDS leaders did not lead them to the gates of death. Only the specter of a life lived in quiet desperation – a life of struggling to balance church policies with the reality of same-sex attraction – this alone has driven more young LDS men (and LDS women) to commit suicide, both physical and spiritual.
It is time to stop the bleeding, the loss of life. It is time to, as Carol Lynn Pearson so aptly wrote, circle the wagons around our gay loved ones.
In memorializing and remembering Stuart, we are taking a step back from politics and rancor and debate and prejudice so we can ask ourselves, “How can I make my part of the world better, safer, more welcoming, for all of God’s children?”
“If you’re going to live your life within the framework of the Gospel, within the framework of our doctrine, then you’ve got to choose to marry someone of the opposite sex, and if you can’t do that honestly, then your choice has to be to live a celibate life. That is a very difficult choice for the parents, for the young man, the young woman, for whoever’s making that choice, and my heart goes out to them. I think we’re asking a tremendous amount of them.
“And yes, some people argue sometimes, well, for the gay person or the lesbian person, we’re not asking more of them than we’re asking of the single woman who never marries. But I long ago found in talking to them that we do ask for something different: In the case of the gay person, they really have no hope. A single woman, a single man who is heterosexual in their thinking always has the hope, always has the expectation that tomorrow they’re going to meet someone and fall in love and that it can be sanctioned by the church. But a gay person who truly is committed to that way of life in his heart and mind doesn’t have that hope. And to live life without hope on such a core issue, I think, is a very difficult thing.”
What can we do, here and now, to make a difference? Historian D. Michael Quinn posed some suggestions which the church as an institution could put into effect quite easily. The Oakland Stake began discussions for each of its wards by giving gay members and their families opportunities to share their life stories, concerns and needs in a series of special meetings and firesides. Those conversations continue today.
As individuals, we can be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We can extend a hand of friendship. We can denounce fearmongering, name-calling and prejudicial pigeonholing whenever we encounter it. We can share our stories and the stories of our gay friends and family members.
To RSVP for the event, or to volunteer to join the Honor Guard, please see our FB event page.
Memorial Ceremony – Feb. 25, 2010, 6:30 a.m. Cuesta Park, Mountain View, near the parking lot at the corner of Grant and Cuesta. Join us for a candlelight ceremony of prayer, song and inspirational thoughts before we walk to the church building.
Walk to the Building – Around 6:50 a.m. we’ll leave the park and head South along Grant Road to the LDS Church building where Stuart’s body was found 10 years ago. The walk is about 3/4 of a mile. Flowers, candles, pictures, stories, poems, etc. are welcome to be added to a memorial in front of the church building. If you’d like to carry a sign, please make sure the message is one of hope, love, and support – this is not a protest or a picketing demonstration.
After an inspirational benediction, individuals will have time to linger or leave the memorial at their leisure.
Vigil – Will continue throughout the day until 8:30 p.m., or as long as we have honor guards in place at the memorial.
If you cannot join us on February 25th, please feel free to share your stories about Stuart and how his and others’ suicides have affected your life and your commitment to make life better for the GLBT community and their families. Like the graffiti hands? Find it on stuff here.