The Story of My Life
By Leandro Valdés, Director of Affirmation Gran Valparaíso, Chile
When I was 18, two LDS missionaries arrived at my home—Elder Smith and Elder Evans. My mom invited them in—out of curiosity, I think, to know who those two "gringos" were. After receiving the discussions, my whole family and some friends were baptized. My mom went to church only once, but my sister and I stayed active. I liked the church's teaching and found them logical. I grew up spiritually in the Paso-Hondo Ward, Quilpué Stake, in my city of Quilpué, Chile.
I left my non-Mormon friends behind and made many new friends in the Church. We were a ward with many young people—around 25 of us. We had many activities and I served as the president for the Young Adults in my ward. At age 20 I went on a mission to Concepción, in the south of Chile. Leaving for a mission wasn't easy. My dad didn't support my decision to go, but my ward helped me a lot. I was the first missionary to leave from my ward, and everyone was very proud of me.
My mission was the best time of my life—at least until now. Most of my companions were good, as well as my mission president. I met some wonderful people and served as district leader. My return home was tough—my parents had divorced and my family had fallen on hard times. Fortunately a member of my ward helped me find a job at a school. I felt lonely, but Marco, a good friend of mine who was also gay and LDS, gave me his friendship and support. Then Marco left on his mission.
María, a young girl from my ward, returned from her mission shortly after me. Everybody thought she and I would make a perfect match. I was confused about my feelings and the things that my ward, my bishop, and my leaders were telling me. Once I asked María to be my girlfriend, but she declined. It was a great relief. I continued to attend my ward, but it wasn't the same. I felt I was different.
When Marco returned from his mission, he got a job at a resort where he met some gay people. When Marco first told me he had gone to a gay disco, I reprimanded him and told him that wasn't right for him to do. But I ended up by asking him to take me with him. Meeting other gay people gave me a great sense of freedom and belonging. I started to live a double life—going to gay discos on Saturday night and being a good Mormon boy on Sunday.
When I was 25 I got involved with a co-worker who was a married, bisexual man. I prayed a lot to my Heavenly Father, cried a lot, and concluded that it was time to decide whether I was going to stay with the Church or embrace my orientation. I decided to embrace my orientation and never went back to church.
Some time after that, my bishop, who also happened to be my friend, came home to visit me and ask me why I was no longer attending church. I told him the truth. I told him I was gay. I told him that I had already made up my mind and couldn't live a double life. He looked me in the eye and said, "Look, Leandro, I cannot tell you whether what you're doing is right, but I do know that God loves you for what you are. If you believe you're going to be happy like this, go ahead. I hope you'll find a man who will love you and value you for who you are." I get emotional when I remember those words. I think he was speaking as a man of God. I completely embraced my gay identity but ended the relationship with my co-worker.
My bishop said, "Look, Leandro, I cannot tell you whether what you're doing is right, but I do know that God loves you for what you are. If you believe you're going to be happy like this, go ahead. I hope you'll find a man who will love you and value you for who you are."
Then I met José. He was my first serious relationship, and we were together for two years. I have sweet memories of my time with him. I decided to stop going to gay discos. I met other guys, but they were short-term relationships. Then one day as I was surfing the net I ran into Affirmation. I got the phone number of Brus, the President of Affirmation Chile. I called him over the phone. I took my friend Marco to visit him. Since then I haven't stop participating in the group. In Affirmation I found true friends and, even more important, I reencountered God and the gospel.
Today I'm the president of Affirmation Gran Valparaíso. We are a small group, but we are united, and we are close friends. That's the story of my life. My sisters today know that I'm gay, and so do many of my friends. They respect me not because of my orientation but because of my worth as a person.