The Mormon in me doesn’t want to say that it was “just coincidence” that my travels brought me within an easy distance of the Los Altos chapel where, ten years ago today, Stuart Matis took his life after three decades of struggling to reconcile his homosexuality with his devout faith in the LDS church. After seeing on Twitter that there was a memorial going on, I skipped out of a meeting, grabbed the rental car and a bunch of flowers, and made my way over.
When I reached the chapel, the first thing I noticed was that the parking lot was blocked off with orange cones. Not exactly an impassable barrier, but a clear message that today, the “Visitors Welcome” etched on the front of the building translated to “Bugger Off.” This chapel is in an upscale residential neighbourhood, and there is no lack of street parking that would cause those in the area to park at the church unless they were visiting the church. I was saddened that the Los Altos Stake felt it was necessary to wall off its parking lot, telling those who came by to leave good wishes that they were unwelcome.
I was told by the few people at the vigil that they had informed the local church leaders that they intended to do the vigil, but that they had not asked to do it on church property. I was ashamed to hear that church leaders would not openly welcome a memorial for a beloved friend, brother, and faithful church member, and sad to see that the cards and flowers left for Stuart had to sit on a strip of dirt by the side of the road. Not many people were there, and there were far fewer flowers than I would have hoped. But I wasn’t surprised. This was not a bishop-endorsed activity, and lack of endorsement is silent disapproval. I doubt the Relief Society would mobilize to commemorate the suicide of a gay man, however loved he was, without the bishop’s blessing. Could it have really hurt, I wondered, for the Bishop to invite them to set up on the lawn, with the chapel doors open to those who wished to mourn the loss of a human life and hope for a little more love in the world?
It was a forlorn little vigil, all too representative of how the church treats gays and lesbians. A massive, heavy building on a grassy rise, with enormous, grave doors that are locked to those sitting on a strip of dirt by the wayside. The cops weren’t there run them off, but they certainly didn’t look very welcome. Despite this, there was sunshine and a nice breeze, and pink roses, photos, and memories faced out to the world for passers-by to see.
You will be remembered, Stuart, and I know your legacy will be greater than that. I never knew you, but if I had, I would have been your friend.