Suicide Prevention & Awareness
Gay Mormon Kills Self on Church Steps
California man had expressed anguish over anti-gay-marriage Proposition 22
By Dan Egan and Michael Vigh, Salt Lake Tribune
March 3, 2000
A gay California man's suicide on the steps of a Mormon church has come at the peak of a raging debate over gay civil rights in the nation's most populous state.
Police say Stuart Matis, 32, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Santa Clara, Calif., shot himself with a handgun on the steps of a Mormon church in Los Altos in the early hours of Feb. 25.
The suicide occurred less than two weeks before voters will decide on California's controversial Proposition 22, which states that only heterosexual marriages can be recognized legally in that state.
Matis' parents say their son's suicide had nothing to do with the fiercely debated initiative, which is supported by a number of religious organizations, including the LDS and Catholic Churches.
"Adding to the tragedy of the event, there are those who would create political ramifications from this," the family said in a statement. "The family sincerely requests that the exemplary life of this good and well-respected young man not become fodder for anyone's campaign forum."
Santa Clara police said a suicide note made no reference to either Matis' Mormon faith or the controversy around Proposition 22, but "he felt there was a conflict between Christianity and the gay lifestyle," said Santa Clara Police Sgt. Anton Morec. "He said he had been in pain for a number of years."
In the suicide note read at a Wednesday memorial service in California for Matis, he said he hoped some good would come from his death.
"I am now free," the San Francisco Examiner reported Matis wrote. "I am no longer in pain and I no longer hate myself. As it turns out, God never intended for me to be straight. Perhaps my death might become the catalyst for some good."
While Matis' parents say there is no connection between their son's death and Proposition 22, Matis staunchly opposed the initiative, writing recently to a family member about the pain he suffered because of the LDS Church's support. California church leaders have embarked on a campaign fund-raising drive, and letters have been read during Sunday services urging members to vote March 7 in favor of the proposition, also known as the Knight Initiative.
"On the night of March 7th, many California couples will retire to their beds thrilled that they helped pass the Knight Initiative," Matis wrote to a cousin. "What they don't realize is that in the next room, their son or daughter is lying in bed crying and could very well one day be the victim of society's homophobia. The Knight Initiative will certainly save no family. It is codified hatred. It is anti-family, anti-love and it is wrong."
On Feb. 22, three days before his suicide, Matis wrote a letter to the student newspaper at Brigham Young University, from which he graduated in 1994, urging students to harbor more tolerance toward gays.
"I am gay. I am also LDS. I realized the significance of my sexuality when I was around 13, and for the next two decades, I traveled down a tortuous path of internalized homophobia, immense self-hatred, depression and suicidal thoughts. Despite the calluses on my knees, frequent trips to the temple, fasts and devotion to my mission and church callings such as Elders' Quorum president, I continually failed to attenuate my homosexuality," Matis wrote. " . . . I read a recent letter to the editor with great regret. The author compared my friends and me to murderers, satanists, prostitutes and pedophiles. Imagine having to live with this rhetoric constantly being spewed at you."
It is this and other recent statements that have convinced anti-Proposition 22 activist Jeanie Mortensen-Besamo the issue "was just ripping him apart" during Matis' last days.
She said it wasn't necessarily the political campaign but a culture of homophobia that troubled Matis so much.
"It's been so predominant in California for several months. You can't go anywhere in California without seeing those stupid blue and yellow signs [in favor of Proposition 22]," said Mortensen-Besamo, who began corresponding with Matis about a month ago. "For him, it was paralyzing. He couldn't handle it anymore."
A spokesman for the Yes on 22 campaign declined comment other than to say, "It's a personal family matter."
LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy expressed condolences to the Matis family, and also stressed the suicide should not be exploited for political purposes.
"We are aware of the feelings and requests of the Matis family that their grief and personal tragedy not become a matter of public discussion or political posturing," said Purdy.
Gary Watts, co-chairman of Family Fellowship, a Utah support group for Mormon parents of gays and lesbians, called the suicide "very distressing" and said an anti-gay climate is a likely factor in Matis' death.
"There is little question that the environment in California has played a major role in his decision and his inability to cope with his homosexuality," said Watts.
Robert Rees, a family friend and spiritual counselor to Matis during the last year of his life, says the root of Matis' despair will remain a mystery.
"For somebody to make such an ultimate decision, no one can know what goes on in that person's mind," said Rees, a retired professor at the University of California Los Angeles.
Burial services for Matis are scheduled for today at 11 a.m. at the Orem City Cemetery.
© The Salt Lake Tribune