By: Carol Lynn Pearson
(Printed in the Salt Lake Tribune, August 17, 2008 Op-ed)
Reading the various reviews of the new LDS Church-authorized book, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, prompts me to stand as witness for another tragic killing of a group of people in our community for which--when we have the benefit of history--we will be deeply ashamed.
The insidious thing about this killing is that we manage--though it would break our hearts to know it--to get the unfortunate ones to pick up the gun and kill themselves. I speak of the suicides of our LDS gay brothers (occasionally sisters), in a number that far exceeds the 120 members of the Fancher party. Each victim at Mountain Meadows had walking beside him a man poised to raise his gun and shoot. History will show that the gay men of whom I speak had walking beside them a dark shadow impersonating God, a shadow that gave them misinformation about who they were, misinformation that most of us now acknowledge was both dead wrong and deadly: “Homosexuality is often caused by masturbation...may lead to bestiality...caused by selfishness...electric shock will set you right...a good woman ...reparative therapy...fasting and prayer...you would be better off at the bottom of the Great Salt Lake with a millstone around your neck...”
Our current discussion of this issue reflects better science and a more generous spirit, but too many deaths continue. Gay youth attempt suicide three times more often than their straight peers. According to an article in the Deseret Morning News of April 23, 2006, Utah leads the nation in suicides of men age 15-24. I recently received an email (quoted with permission) from a woman in Utah who said, “I'm in agony over the suicide death two months ago of my youngest son, Marshall, age 25, a gay student who was a senior in chemical engineering at the U of U. He knew all about spreading love, but didn't feel enough in return to keep him going...On my refrigerator I have a package of flower seeds marked, in his writing: 5/1. That was the day he was going to plant them. He didn't make it that long, so I'll plant them for him--next spring.”
The stories keep coming–--a woman in my ward just told me of two gay nephews who both took their lives–--a woman in the airport recently told me of three LDS gay boys who killed themselves in her neighborhood in Bountiful. The dozens of stories I personally know are the tip of the awful iceberg. I think of Stuart Matis, an LDS celibate gay man who shot himself on the steps of the stake center in Los Altos as a direct result of the intense religious rhetoric around a “protection of marriage” initiative similar to the one proposed in California today.
One of the historians of Mountain Meadows, Ron Walker, says that he’s “come to see the massacre as a cautionary tale in making judgments about those who are different,” and that the story “is a case-study in how not to apply religion and how one should apply true religion in one's own life.”
I believe, with these historians, that we LDS people are hungry for the truth and that we want to apply true religion in our lives. I believe with Anne Frank that people are really good at heart and I know that there is no better heart than the Mormon heart, leader and member alike.
I believe that if the rider had reached Salt Lake in time, Brigham Young would have done what he could to avert the massacre in southern Utah. Many messengers today, of which I am one, have ridden in with reports and pleas for help regarding the ongoing self-slaughter of so many of our best and beautiful young men. For many it is too late. For others--if you and I care enough--we can change history.
[Carol Lynn Pearson is a native Utahan who lives in California. She is the author of the stage play, “Facing East,” the story of an LDS couple dealing with the suicide of their gay son. Her most recent book is No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around Our Gay Loved Ones.]
This morning I read your article in the Salt Lake Tribune. As a 22 year-old gay Mormon I have spent many years questioning if suicide would be the best option. Your article beautifully articulated an issue I ponder on every day. I was grateful that there are those that know how to tactfully represent the LDS gay issues. I pray that the publishing of your article will have an impact on the LDS community. If not officially in the very least, culturally.
Thank you for the work you do on my behalf, and the thousands of my silent struggling comrades. It is painful to sit in church every Sunday, too insecure to voice my concern on the subject.
Very dear N,
Thanks so much for this beautiful appreciation. You are precisely why I wrote that editorial, and why I have spent so much of my life addressing this difficult question. Of course the future will be more welcoming for our gay brothers and sisters than our past has been, but it is inexcusable that we are moving so slowly. That you should feel such pain is so very wrong. I encourage you to do what you feel you can to move the conversation along. You might send in a letter to the editor saying essentially what you wrote below. You can even sign it something like--Hoping for the Day I Will Not Have to be Anonymous.mailto:email@example.com
We need you here. No more thoughts of not sticking around. There are many people rooting for you. Including me–and all the angels.
(From the comments on the article, printed online:)
Thank you Carol Lynn for being such an amazing heroine in this new pioneer journey. You saved my life from suicide many years ago and I honor you once again for standing so tall and strong to be a witness on behalf of the misunderstood, the hated, the feared of our society. This article made me weep tears of sorrow for those who have fallen, tears of relief that I made it through the wilderness, and tears of hope for all my LGBT brothers and sisters in the LDS Church who continue to struggle to be loved, heard, understood, accepted, and celebrated for the many gifts they bring to the table. I stand with you in speaking Truth to Power. Bless you!
Love you tons, you know!!
Suicide and Sodomy: Public Forum Letter
Regarding Carol Lynn Pearson's "We can change history for gay LDS" (Opinion, Aug. 17), we should certainly intervene whenever possible to help people avoid the awful choice of suicide. But Pearson's implication for Mormons seems to be: We must sanction individuals indulging in sodomy without guilt or consequence; otherwise, they're going to commit suicide and their deaths will be on our heads. That sounds like blackmail to me, and I don't accept it.
Within Mormonism, we're all responsible for upholding the standards of the gospel. I consider it our responsibility to accept, love and fellowship same-sex-attracted people who want to work on resisting their temptation and stay in harmony with Mormonism. However, we're under no obligation, moral or otherwise, to embrace those who expect Mormons to repent of our alleged bigotry and change the doctrine and commandments to accommodate sodomy.
(Printed a few days later:)
I believe there is something that may not be well understood by Brother Bigelow and perhaps many others. The work that needs to be done on behalf of our gay brothers and sisters pertains to all of them, no matter what decision they may make regarding their sexuality. Think of a tree. One branch represents those who choose celibacy and maintain LDS Church requirements. Another branch is those who decide to enter into a gay partnership. Another is those who make the decision to marry someone of the opposite sex. But all of these branches share the same trunk, and I believe it’s clear that in general we do a terrible job of helping these young people through the experience of confronting their homosexual feelings, no matter which branch they ultimately choose. Kind language in pamphlets is barely a beginning in counteracting a religious culture in which the very air we breathe is charged with condemnation and revulsion on this subject, and which makes many young people feel, “I would rather die than see the look on my parents’ faces if I tell them I’m one of those.” The suicide statistics tell us that, sadly, many of our dear young gay people do prefer death.
Carol Lynn Pearson
Walnut Creek, CA