Des: [You mentioned struggling with Prop 22]. Tell me about that.
Dave: Prop 22 was a proposition for defensive marriage. It came out, what…2000? In California. At the time, my wife and I were married. We didn't have kids, we were trying to get pregnant. We were going through fertility [treatment]. I was a counselor in the elders quorum of the Santa Clara ward. The elders quorum is a body of priests. It's just before the high priest. Basically, when you're a missionary, up until maybe you're fifty, you're an elder. I was in the presidency. I was a counselor. That's a leadership calling.
Prop 22 came up. The church was pressuring members to go door-to-door, pass out fliers and yard signs, to donate to it, work in the phone bank, and things like that. I was hugely conflicted about it. I had gay friends. I had gay friends at work. I think serving the mission in Sweden opened me up to a progressive social democracy, where I could see the benefits of it. It kind of converted me more than I converted them. At that time, I felt hugely conflicted, so we would just stay in the back of the church and avoid the people that were assigned to get people involved. This woman came up to us and basically gave us yard signs to put in our yard and give to our neighbors, and we had lesbians just down the street, but we felt forced to put a yard sign up and give them to our neighbors, so we weren't that... If we're going to be bigoted, we might as well have more people next to us who were bigoted.
I was at church midweek, doing something there on a church assignment, and the bishop came up to me. I was in the ward library, printing something out or something, and the bishop said, "Hey, the church really wants us to get involved with Prop 22 and they're asking for donations."
I said, "Oh, I feel really conflicted about this. This is a political cause. Why is the church getting involved with politics?"
He said, “No, it's not a political cause. It's a moral cause. It's different."
He said, "The church is advising people to pay 10% of what their yearly tithe would be," so if your yearly tithe was five grand, you would pay $500.
Because I was in a leadership position, and because the bishop asked me, we gave $500 to Prop 22. Then we went door-to-door one Saturday, me and the other sworn president. Everyone that was opposed to it was kind. They were sympathetic. They were like, "Hey, I disagree with what you're doing, but good luck!"
I was really nervous because I knew deep down inside, "I don't agree with this. I don't agree with this at all." We believe in celestial marriage. We believe in temple marriages. Only a very small percentage of heterosexual people get married in the temple. We don't even believe in traditional marriage, so why do we care who gets married and who doesn't?
The people who were for [Prop 22] were the most bigoted, angry, white trash people I've ever met in my life. They were like "Oh yeah, I hate fags! Yeah, don't vote for that!"
And we're like, "No, no, no, that's not what we're doing, that's not—"
They're like, "No, I can't stand them. I hate them queers." They're throwing every type of slang, and I started thinking, "What am I doing? I'm clearly on the wrong side of this issue."
Then you start looking at church history, like, "Okay, the church was wrong with blacks and the priests, they were wrong with the RA movement. They've been wrong on every freaking social issue there is. There’s been polygamy. They've been wrong on everything. Why would gay marriage be any different?”
During that time, I met a young man by the name of Stuart Matis, who lived in Santa Clara, who went to our meetinghouse. He was at a different ward. He was gay. He was a returned missionary. He could not reconcile his faith and being gay, because his faith told him, "You're like you were born with a disability. It sucks, but you're born with a disability—you have to be celibate the rest of your life. If you act out on this, you're excommunicated, or you're not obeying the church." He could not reconcile what he felt and what he saw the church doing to tear down the people who were like him, so one morning he drove to our stake center in Los Altos [and took his life].
It hit the news everywhere. It made national news. I knew his family, I knew people who knew him, and I felt like I had pushed him there. My involvement in something that I wasn't really behind had made him feel completely lost and alone in a culture that should have embraced and loved him. That was the most un-Christ-like thing I could have ever done, and I blamed myself. Even though I didn't push him to that, I felt I had played a part in that.
After that happened, that changed me. I said, "I will never do that again. I will never do that again. We don't know why people are born a certain way, but this is who they are. We have to love them. Don't just say, "You have to be celibate your whole life," because that’s bullshit. Even the old woman who never gets married still has a chance in Mormon theology because they believe she will be married in her next life. The gay person? No. They're shit out of luck."
That changed me, and that was back in 2000. When we moved to Oregon, I was glad that they didn't have anything on the ballot, and that the church wasn't involved because had it been, I would have been conflicted.
People who are outspoken for gay rights are generally ostracized, and now they're being disciplined. They're being openly either excommunicated or dis-fellowshipped if they post anything online that says they support gay rights and gay marriage, because that’s contrary to what the church says. People are doing screenshots of Facebook posts that members make, turning them in to the bishop and saying, "Look what this person said." That person is then brought into the bishop, and that person then loses their temple recommend. The Mormon church is going through a major purging right now. They're getting rid of really good, honest people who want to see the church improve. The whole Ordain Women movement, and gay rights movement, they're being open and honest about their history, and about things that they have white-washed over years, and they're being punished for it because it's basically just a bunch of rich, old, white men who run the church. It's a corporation, and they're afraid of losing power.
I used to wish Mormonism was broad enough to be more like Judaism. They have orthodox, and they have more progressive. With Mormonism, it's all or nothing. Your experience is limited to location, your address determines where you go. You can't say, "Oh, this congregation across town has a nice bishop. I think I'll go there!" No, you're limited to location. You have to go where you live.
Stuart Matis's death changed me. Affirmation.org is a website for gay and lesbian Mormons, and they have a section of people who have [died by] suicide, like a memory board. He's there. You'll see his picture, you'll see his letters that he wrote, you'll see that he struggled with it. He couldn't live and be who he wanted, so he killed himself. That changed me.
When Prop 8 came around in 2008... I didn't leave Mormonism because of Prop 8, but it played a part. Being a progressive in the faith of something that is so orthodox and so conservative... being a democrat, you're ostracized. We had people say, "Hey, you're voting for a baby killer." I worked for the Obama [campaign]. I was a volunteer there. People did not like that. We kept our politics to ourselves, but that and the culmination of my mental state and instability of suicide... that's why November 2nd. It was the Sunday before the election, and that was the last day.
It was a fast and testimony meeting. I had already lost faith in God. I was just going through the motions. The fast and testimony meeting, it's one Sunday a month where people fast, and it's basically open mic, where a member can get up and say what their convictions are—prepare their testimony. The whole meeting was political. It was all politically motivated. People were coming up weeping because they were worried about a black person becoming president. They didn't say that, but they were crying, saying, "I'm so worried about this country. I'm worried about what could happen to this country.” You know, like, "God loves this country, and this country is going to go down the wrong path." You know exactly what they're saying, but that was the message.
I remember thinking to myself, "If it wasn't for the fact that we were all Mormon, I would not be friends with any of these people. We have absolutely nothing in common. We are so different politically minded, we don't have anything in common." Then, when you do some soul searching, you realize that Glenn Beck and I share the same faith. You're like, "What the hell? How is that possible?" Then you kind of realize, "If I don't believe in God, what am I doing?"
I went to my bishop after sacrament reading and I said, "I'd like a release. I want to be released from my call, I want for my wife to be released, and I want to be left alone."
He looked at me and kind of laughed, then said, "What do you hope that achieves?"
I said, "Clarity. Right now it's just a big headache. Sundays are three hours, and the worst day of my life.” Three hours was the worst. Three hours of church with two kids who are autistic and one who is nonverbal, and you're outside most of the time because you're disrupting the spirit of the meeting. It was hell trying to do that.
No one really liked us. No one knew what to say to us. People used to come up to me and ask, "Hey, did you get a job?"
I'd be like, "No, not yet."
They would be shocked, like, "What the fuck is wrong with you?" But they wouldn't say that to you, they would just look at you like, "Wow, that's not how it's supposed to work."
After a while, that kind of wears on your soul.
Every time I had an interview, I would call and let my parents know, and they would be like, "Oh, we put your name in this temple and this temple and this temple to have your name prayed upon." As if having your name prayed upon by complete strangers in a Mormon temple is somehow better than just having someone do the prayer themselves. But they kept on doing that. I would have to call them later and say I didn't get the job, and they were floored like, "How is that possible?" It came down to the point where my own bishop was the hiring manager for a position that I interviewed for and I didn't get the job, so it was kind of like, "Wow, God really hates me!" That's where my mental state was.
But that was Stuart Matis. Look him up. That’s a really, really heartbreaking story. The missionaries in that area were supposed to have a meeting the morning that they found his body. They cleaned it up real quick because they were worried how it would make the church look. The bishop of the ward at the time knew the family. They have since left the church because they were so insulted about how his death was just brushed under the carpet, how it was like, "Oh, he was just depressed. It had nothing to do with Prop 22. It had nothing to do with it. He was just a depressed, gay kid who killed himself, which is unfortunate, but it had nothing to do with the church's involvement in Prop 22,” which is utter bullshit.
That's where anger comes in. You realize, "I was on the other team. I gave $500. I was guilted and shamed by a vision on church property into giving money to a cause I did not believe in." We get conservative mailers in the mail, still, to this day, because we gave that donation 14 years ago. I got put on a list because they knew I gave money at one time, and that's something I'm ashamed of. That's not me today, but it makes me realize how far I’ve come. I was a complete idiot.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you don't like the phone, check out Lifeline Crisis Chat or you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting START to 741741. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.