Remembering Stuart

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?”

Elder Marlin K. Jensen told PBS:

“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.



Comments
16 Responses to “Remembering Stuart”
  1. Sheri says:

    I am so happy that this is being organized. Ive often wondered why more attention hasn’t been drawn to Stuart’s story. I will not be able to attend in person but will be there in spirit with you all.

    Blessings
    Sheri

  2. So happy to hear this. thank you so much for remembering him. A man who was led astray by the lies of the Mormon Church.

  3. Jason says:

    Suicide is always sad and this story is no different.

    I agree with Prop 8 but not with the church’s involvement. I always supported the church’s apolitical stance on controversial issues and only giving guidance to vote with the spirit.

    I would be lying if this whole experience has not tried my testimony.

  4. Carole says:

    This is a very tragic story. I’m glad to know of the memorial. Blessings to all who have been touched by similar tragedies.

  5. Don says:

    I wholeheartedly agree that suicide is tragic and especially one that is based on expectations. I can only relate a story about how a young friend of mine took his life based on his parents expectations of him living a moral life. He left his unborn child without a father and his parents and girlfriend of course, were devastated. Not to cloud the current issue here, but my point is there needs to be tolerant attitudes in every aspect of our lives. It’s cavalier to assume that the LDS church is responsible for every death that occurs due to the standards that they uphold.

  6. fiona64 says:

    Don, I would respectfully request that you look at the link to Stuart Matis’ story, which is right on this site: http://mormonsformarriage.com/?page_id=22

    I’m sorry to have to say it, but the responsibility for Stuart Matis’ death lies squarely on the Church of LDS. :-(

    Quote: The final straw that drove Stuart to suicide was the intense distress he felt around the politics of California’s “Protection of Marriage” initiative, Proposition 22, for which the Mormon Church was perhaps the leading proponent. The time of his suicide–two weeks before the voters went to the polls–and the place of his suicide–the steps of a Mormon building in which he had worshiped for years–give a clear indication that he hoped his death would bring attention to the issues about which he felt so passionate and so helpless.

  7. Sheri says:

    Fiona, every time I think about this conecpt, I think of you because I believe it was you that brought it to light for me: Those who want to continue their mistreatment of the GLBT community do so by objectifying them, making them less than human in order to justify their intolerant views. It continues to hurt and infuriate me that some people are so unwilling to look at this issue through rational and compassionate eyes because of the fear they have been programmed with. With my work for PFLAG I have come to know many wonderful people in this community and I know beyond any doubt THEY ARE JUST LIKE US in every way except their gender preference. Their sexuality does not define them, but those opposed to gay marriage perpetuate the myth that all gay people do is have sex and recruit heterosexuals into their life style. IT’S JUST NOT TRUE!

  8. fiona64 says:

    Hi, Sheri. You are so right. When people make a given group “other,” it’s far easier to justify their inhumane behavior. I have often asked an opponent of marriage equality whether his or her marriage is just about sex. Inevitably, they tell me no … and then I ask why they think that gay couples’ relationships are so very different? It is really a sad commentary on how small-minded some people can be that they only focus on intercourse/procreation and not on love.

  9. Laura says:

    Not long after Stuart took his own life, a friend wrote about the suicide.

    “I feel Stuart had both a great need for love and a great capacity for love. This was evidenced by the extreme concern he had for young Latter-day Saint homosexuals. He spoke often of the teenage boys and girls who were beginning to face their homosexuality. He anguished over their loneliness. He despaired over the realization that many of them would go through the same cycle he had gone through. He wanted to save them from experiencing the anguish of soul he had suffered.

    “Stuart intended that the ultimate act of his life would somehow help these young people. In his letter to his family, he wrote, ‘Perhaps my death … might become the catalyst for much good. I’m sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders regarding the true nature of homosexuality. My life was actually killed many years ago. Your actions might help to save many young people’s lives.’ “

  10. Sheri says:

    How the church could have been aware of this letter — these poignant words — and yet continue to push their anti-gay agenda under the guise of “protecting marriage” simply amazes me. It’s why I left the church. It’s what gave me the strength to face two Mormon missionaires who came to my door on Saturday and tell them the injustice I feel the church has done toward loving and precious brothers and sisters. I did so lovingly, but with conviction. I bore my testimony to them of the unltruthfullness of this anti-gay legislation, and the unloving actions by many within the church towards God’s children. I hope I planted a seed, and I hope it blossoms into full flower of the truth of this hurtful perpetuation of untruths.
    Sheri

  11. Laura says:

    Affirmation has information about other GLBT suicide victims with ties to the LDS church here.

  12. Bryck says:

    I feel it is important to let the Matis’s feelings be known here:
    ———————-

    As published on North Star’s Northern Lights blog, the following statement has been made available by North Star at the request of Fred and Marilyn Matis.

    We have recently learned that a day-long event is planned outside the Los Altos, California Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on February 25th to commemorate the unfortunate death of our son, Stuart Matis. Without wishing to suggest that those involved in this event have anything but the best motives and utmost concern for Stuart Matis and the rest of our family, we wish to state unequivocally that we do not support or endorse this event in any way. We further state that we do not condone use of Stuart’s death for a political purpose of any kind.

    We understand the event organizers’ concern for LDS Church members and others to have a better understanding of the difficulties associated with same-gender attraction.

    Since Stuart’s death, we have tried to honor his love and memory through inviting men and women struggling with this issue, individually and as families, into our home, and by holding regular firesides that testify of the Lord’s love for all of His children. We’ve also seen his name honored as leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ have made greater efforts to extend their reach in a more compassionate effort to let all people affected by this issue know that that are loved of God, even as they affirm and encourage them to maintain their covenants….

    [We'd encourage everyone to read the full text of the Matises' comments at the Northern Lights blog. (It's our policy not to copy full blog posts from other sites here.) The letter is important to read, and in the interest of respectful conversations which we've tried to foster here, we are happy that Fred and Marilyn have a supportive place to share their concerns.]

  13. Laura says:

    We recognize that the Matises “do not condone use of Stuart’s death for a political purpose of any kind” and that they prefer non-public work to public work. Indeed, they have done fabulous work reaching out to gay Mormons in small groups and on a personal level, as have the groups organizing this week’s memorial. Sometimes, though, no matter how hard we work with small groups and individuals, there are those who slip through the cracks and don’t hear the message that they are not alone. And sometimes those who work alone in the dark need to come together to fill one another’s lamps and to find solace in the company of others.

    I guess one could ask whether a memorial is a political purpose. For us as organizers, we have no agenda or goals to pursue directly related to the memorial except to provide a forum where those of us who knew Stuart can come together and remember his life and recognize the many changes that have come about within our community that did not exist 10 years ago, tools and community which might provide a safety net for others like Stuart. If our public actions tell just one young man he is loved or just one young woman that she is needed and wanted as part of a religious community, then our memorial will have been a magnificent success. If our public actions provide a community for even one family who has suffered alone and in silence, then we have met our goals.

    By all accounts, Stuart was a dedicated, faithful, loving, religious Mormon supported totally by his family. His struggles were very personal and very private, yet there was his death – uncomfortably violent and public. Stuart’s funeral 10 years ago was a beautiful memorial to him and the building was filled with members and non-members there to mourn his passing and support his family in their time of loss. Because his death was so public, and because his story has continued to surface in the intervening years, forever tied to politics, there are many who have heard of him and who mourn him, even though they didn’t know him.

    Fred and Marilyn write, “Stuart’s last and tragically public act was a plea for understanding, and those who knew him noticed how much he was hurt and affected by the increasingly prominent and bitter political and religious debates that were roiling the community.”

    Stuart’s act did thrust the family into a rather bright (and political, and sometimes scary) spotlight. Right when they were trying to come to grips with the confusion and pain that is left after a suicide, the media circus jumped in and wrote its own meaning onto Stuart’s death. How could the media resist the thought of a gay Mormon killing himself on the steps of an LDS chapel in the midst of a political debate on gay marriage to which many LDS members donated their time and money? The media easily and quickly made Stuart into a martyr for gay rights and activism, something his family vehemently and rightfully denies.

    And yet, Stuart’s very public death does mean something to our community as a whole. Many who comment here both publicly and privately note that Stuart’s suicide was what moved them to take action: To stop being complacent, to stop being silent in their quiet support of those whose struggles are similar to Stuart and his family’s. Many began asking if quiet was support was enough to put an end to quiet desperation. And many decided silence and voting their consciences at the ballot box alone was not enough, and so they were spurred on to action – sometimes religious, sometimes political, sometimes both.

    The purpose we’ve envisioned for the memorial is to reach out to those same people the Matises are trying to reach, those “individuals who may be suffering, isolated, or in despair. To give hope, encouragement, and faith to them. To inspire them and lift them up.” Our pleas are the same as Stuart’s – we are seeking understanding and an end to knee-jerk reactions. We are seeking to broaden the community to include everyone, even if they feel inside that they are not worthy or deserving of God’s love.

    We’ve worked very hard to make this event a memorial, not a protest or rally. It is not a time for sending disrespectful messages to the LDS church or to us, its members.

    We encourage anyone considering attending the pre-dawn memorial service to take into full consideration all points of view and decide for themselves the best way to remember Stuart’s legacy in their lives. Those wishing to do so reverently and publicly are welcome to join us. Those wishing to do so privately will do so on their own terms. Those wishing to write about the positive moments Stuart’s life (or death) brought into their lives are welcome to share them in comments here. Those wishing to contact the Matises with messages of support, thanks or condolence may do so via questions@northstarlds.org.

  14. Randy B. says:

    Thank you for doing this Laura. My prayers are with you, and with the Matises, this morning.

  15. Sheri says:

    Laura,

    It saddens me that your efforts to honor Stuart would be seen as anything other than loving, compassionate and supportive for others who find themselves in the same situation Stuart did 10 years ago. I hope and pray hearts are opened and your true intentions are recognized.

    Warmes Blessings,

    Sheri