Suicide Prevention & Awareness
The Consequences of Condemnation
by Frank Morris Susa
The following is an Op-Ed about the suicide of Stuart Matis in Los Altos, CA.
The author, Frank Morris Susa, is a writer living in New York City.
Copyright © Frank Morris Susa, 2000.
Studio 1000, 1230 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027
he took his own life by shooting himself in the head last week on the steps leading
to his church, Stuart Matis also left this world with a hope in his heart. In his suicide
note, he wrote, "Perhaps my death might become the catalyst for some good."
I did not know Stuart, but I can understand why he would want his death to bring about
some such good. As a Mormon, he was raised to have faith in an idealistic future in which
his people, the Latter-day Saints, would labor endlessly together in God's name to end all
strife and ensure everlasting peace on Earth. Either Stuart had lost faith in his people
by the time he reached those steps last week, or he believed the cold cement could be an
altar on which he would sacrifice himself to hasten the day of reconciliation he dreamed
of so desperately.
Stuart was gay and felt painfully betrayed by his religious leaders. His proof: the vigorous
multi-million dollar campaign of the Latter-day Saint (LDS) Church over the past three years
to bar gays and lesbians from securing the right to civil marriage in Hawaii, Alaska, and now
California. In a letter he wrote sometime before his suicide, he told his cousin exactly how
dejected he felt as a result of his church's efforts to block state recognition of gay and
He wrote, "I read online that the Church had instructed the Bishops to read a letter
imploring the members to give of their time and money to support [CA Proposition 22,
the Limit on Marriage Initiative]. I almost went into a panic attack. I cried for hours
in my room, and I could do very little to console the grief of hearing this news." Now we
grieve at hearing the news of his suicide, which seems to be a consequence of the LDS
Church's anti-gay policies and campaign.
Having grown up gay in the LDS Church myself, I empathize with the feelings of betrayal
Stuart described in his letter. He must have been taught as I was that Latter-day Saints
are given the special charge to bless all the people of this world with God's perfect love,
even in times of great adversity and strife. Stuart was probably quite familiar with a
frequently recited scripture from the Book of Mormon that requires the faithful "to mourn
with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort" no matter who, no
matter when. The question I share with Stuart is, what comfort is there in knowing our
religious leaders willfully condemn gays and lesbians to inequality?
Gay and lesbian Mormons like Stuart often lead isolated lives tormented by the
contradiction between the Church's doctrine of unconditional love and their express
condemnation of gays and lesbians both within the church and in the public sector. Stuart
wrote: "I simply refuse to acknowledge that God in any way desires that his gay children
are marginalized…. I also can't imagine a Mormon who professes to love both God and his
neighbor will allow himself or herself to believe that homosexuals should be treated as
When ecclesiastical leaders profess to love the sinner while hating the sin, the indictment
that we are sinners by nature leaves so many gays and lesbians feeling helpless and
hopeless. By describing as sinful even our most innocent impulses to love and be loved, to
build families together, and to enjoy recognition of our commitments to each other by the
churches in which we were raised, religious leaders give lip-service to the principle of
unconditional love they preach from their pulpits. Love such as this is conditional at
best and sanctimonious at worst. We are barred from participating in the cardinal rites
of church and state that are available to our non-gay neighbors.
Gays and lesbians are, thus, presented with a false choice between the blessings of
inclusion in a community of faith and the opportunity to give sincere expression to our
loving natures. When abandoned by our churches to this social-limbo in which we enjoy
neither religious acceptance nor civil equality, life itself can feel excruciatingly
empty and meaningless. This, I imagine, is possibly close to the dismal emotional state
Stuart was in when he decided that his life was no longer worth living.
The tragedy of Stuart's death is made especially poignant when considered in the
context of the Mormon social history of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Latter-day
Saint legacy is one of great suffering, persecution and even bloodshed by a traditionalistic
majority that refused to recognize the Mormons' constitutional right to practice their
religion freely. How bitter is the irony, then, that the LDS Church, which now enjoys
unparalleled prosperity, is levying its wealth and resources against another minority
engaged in the struggle for civil equality and freedom.
In the wake of Stuart's symbolic sacrifice, LDS Church leaders have a responsibility
to reflect on the implications of their campaign and to acknowledge the consequences of
their condemnation. They must question whether they are willing to risk the loss of even
one more innocent life for the sake of their politics, and answer for themselves whether
they are still justified in their crusade against same-sex marriage.
As with any suicide, we are left with several distressful unanswered questions. When Stuart
arrived at his church doorstep, would he have gone through with his desperate act if the
doors had been open rather than locked? What if he had found inside a throng of welcoming
arms that embraced him no matter what pain, anguish, or love was in his heart? In his final
words, Stuart voiced a simple, yet profound truth that should not be forgotten. "I am now
free," he wrote, "I am no longer in pain." Would he have had to escape to another world in
order to have the pain of his exclusion eased if his religious leaders had not forsaken
him to chose between his love and his God?