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Before he committed suicide on February 25, Matis wrote a letter to his 18-year-old cousin, from which the following is excerpted.

So, you want my opinions regarding the Knight initiative? At the outset, I'll tell you that the events surrounding this initiative have been painfully difficult for me to endure. Last July, 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 this 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.

Furthermore, I read that the church had supported similar measures in Hawaii and in Alaska. In Alaska, the supporters of the measure had raised $600,000. Of this, $500,000 came from the church. Ads were aired on television describing the downfall of the Roman Empire and placing blame on Rome's tolerance of homosexuality. Its message was that a similar fate would occur to those who supported equality for gay Americans. ...

Apparently, the church has raised $1 million in support of this initiative. This is so disheartening because I feel that my own peers are attacking me. Caesar's Brutus comes to mind. In July, I realized that I was going to have to endure viewing millions of dollars of television ads designed with one intention in mind: to raise fear against gay and lesbian Californians. What's worse is that this fear campaign has been orchestrated by my own friends.

My mom is completely distraught over the issue. She told me that she is scared to read the papers or watch TV. When her bishop read another pro-Knight letter last Sunday, she wanted to cry. My gay friend [name removed by request] (I met him on my mission) has implored me never to mention anything regarding Knight in his presence. It causes him too much pain. He almost asked that his name be taken off the church records (indeed many have done just that).

I was at a party several months ago with about 15 gay men, and I mentioned to one that I was Mormon. Immediately, the room became deafeningly quiet. One guy looked at me and said, "Do you realize how hateful and destructive your church is?" The expression "By your fruits ye shall know them" is common in the church. Among gay men and women, the church's fruit is perceived as being hate. This is so unfortunate because many gay men and women become atheists when they are presented only with a God of hate.

Naturally, I have become very well-versed in the Knight initiative and the church's involvement. This is my world after all. I have met with my bishop to discuss the matter. He too disagrees with the Church's involvement in anti-gay politics. It's very disheartening for him as well, but his concurrence still does nothing to ease my pain. ...

Ironically, the church's positions on homosexuality have actually been anti-family. Several decades ago, it was church policy to advocate marriage as a cure for one's homosexuality. This inevitably resulted in many broken marriages and families. The church also postulated that men became gay because of a doting mother and an absent father. This inevitably cast blame on the grieving parents. The church's positions and outspoken frankness on this issue have nurtured a climate that is hostile to young gay Mormons. Kids have been thrown out of homes under the guise of Christian love. Brothers and sisters have broken off contact with their gay brothers and sisters....

Straight members have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up gay in this church. It is a life of constant torment, self-hatred, and internalized homophobia. Imagine the young gay boy frightened to death to divulge his secret pain to his dad because he witnesses his dad tromping around the neighborhood putting up Knight signs. Imagine the young gay girl who listens to her mother profess her love for her as she writes a check to oppose "those filthy homosexuals." Imagine any young gay kid who is desperate to scrape together a sliver of self-esteem as he or she hears daily the pejorative "faggot" and the word "gay" used as a negative adjective (as in "that was such a gay movie").

The church has no idea that as I type this letter, there are surely boys and girls on their calloused knees imploring God to free them from this pain. They hate themselves. They retire to bed with their finger pointed to their head in the form of a gun. Every waking moment of every day they must be on constant alert not to divulge any clues that will identify themselves to their peers. "Was my glance at that boy too long? Does he think I'm gay? Will he now publicize my secret and beat me up?" They are afraid of their parents. They are afraid of their bishop. They are afraid of their friends. They have nowhere to go but to lay on the floor curled in a ball and weep themselves to sleep. ...

Same-sex marriages are already not legal in the state of California. The Knight initiative just codifies the status quo into law. It is a worthless endeavor. I would rather see the church ask its members to raise a million dollars for battered-women's shelters or for free marital counseling. Instead of asking its members to engage in neighborhood campaigning, the church could ask all its members to spend several Saturdays working with Habitat for Humanity, building homes for low-income families. If the intent is to help families, why doesn't the church engage in a campaign to actually do something worthwhile for families? ...

I believe in a loving God. I believe in a God who sacrificed his own son for us. Therefore, I simply refuse to acknowledge that God in any way desires that his gay children are marginalized, treated as second-class citizens, and denied equal benefits simply because of a society-believed character flaw. 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 second-class citizens. ...

My world is so vastly different from that of my straight friends. For every person I meet, I am forced to quickly ascertain whether he or she is a friend or foe. I have to keep quiet at work about something that is so integral to my identity for fear of the repercussions. Most of my gay friends (and I) were suicidal at one time in our lives. I have friends who have swallowed pills, cut their wrists, burned their arms, placed bags over their heads. I have friends who have taken anti-depressant pills as if they were candy. Years of internalized homophobia have deeply scarred my friends and me. It is only after we began to accept our identity that we have been able to heal our minds.

Straight people have no idea what it is like to turn on the television and watch some angry demagogue spew hateful rhetoric and cast the blame for society's problems at our feet. They have no idea what it is like to have the Bible shoved in our faces and hear the love that stirs in our souls described as "repugnant," "disgusting," "immoral," "unnatural." They have no idea what it is like to live in a society that treats you like a second-class citizen and fights to keep you from having the same rights that all other citizens enjoy. They have no idea what it is like to hear people truly believe that we desire to terrorize children and that our mere existence is evidence of the eventual decline of our civilization.

Do I blame the church for society's homophobia? I know that I am quick to cast blame at the feet of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Gary Bauer. However is the Church any different? Did you know that Russell Hendersen, one of the two boys convicted of killing Matthew Shepard, was raised by his Mormon grandparents? The Church does not operate in a vacuum, and its message does plant seeds in people's hearts.

I realize that the Church is quick to point out that we should love gay people. However, this is usually a short caveat after a lengthy condemnation of our behavior. Our "behavior" is such an integral part of our identity that it's difficult for people to separate the two. To most members, the two are not mutually exclusive; they are joined at the hip. After spending several weekends knocking on doors supporting the Knight initiative, could anyone feel closer to and more love for gay people? Despite what the church says, the energy level devoted in the attack is significantly greater than the few sentences thrown into a talk to appease the church's critics. ...

The successful passage of the Knight initiative will do absolutely nothing (repeat: absolutely nothing) to protect marriages. Wives will still be battered. Children will still be abused. Spouses will still commit adultery. Marriages will still break up. Meanwhile, the church will have raised and spent a million dollars, and the members will have volunteered thousands of hours to support...nothing.

In the end, remember that we gay people are your family. We are your brothers and sisters. We are your sons and daughters. In your case, I am your cousin. You know from your 18-year life that I adore my family. I respect my family, I look up to them, and I love them. I would lose my life in order to protect them.

The entire premise of the church's argument, however, is that if I were to fulfill the measure of my creation, fall in love with a man, and desire to commit my love to him through marriage, then suddenly I become anti-family. My union somehow will weaken families. Which family? My family? Your family? Whose family am I supposed to destroy? When placed in this context, it seems so absurdly silly. However, this is exactly the intent of the Knight initiative. ...

Well, my fingers are blistered. By asking me your question, you poured water on my electrical wounds. So I apologize if my words were a bit strong. I hope that these words, however, give you a substantial alternative point of view and help you in your report.

On a more upbeat note, good luck preparing for your mission. I'll see you in the spring. Take care.



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