I Think I Would Understand

Last night I received an email from someone I don’t know attacking me for the Salt Lake Tribune article published a few weeks ago. My initial response was defensive. I was going to write her back telling her that people like her are the reason people like me kill themselves. I was going to tell her that she was uneducated, uninformed, and extreme in her views. I was going to blast her for her hateful rhetoric and for her hypocrisy in attacking me. I was going to address each point she made and refute each one. Fortunately I waited till I calmed down the next morning to respond. Here’s what she wrote:

Dan and Michael,

While doing research on Same Sex Marriage and Same Gender attraction, I found an article about your art project in the Tribune. I feel great disappointment that you would take part in any activity that would bring shame on BYU, an institution which you joined knowing its moral stance on same-sex attraction, and which you exploited to promote ideals contrary to truth, while using tithing funds to subsidize your education.

I just wanted to voice my strongly felt opinion that if you “don’t feel comfortable at BYU”, you don’t need to be here. No one forced you to come to this church university, using church sanctioned funds, to use BYU as a venue to spread propoganda about gay rights.

It makes me so angry when people complain about BYU when hundreds and thousands of people are turned away every year, while ungrateful students like yourself stay here, absorb funding, and use your time and resources to fight against principles and doctrines which you knew and agreed to as part of your religion when you entered this institution.

How dare you try to fight this battle on this sacred ground. You can struggle with your gay tendancies all your life, but you will never find moral validation for that which is wrong. Shame on you for putting BYU in a negative light for not celebrating and highlighting your sexual struggles. Homosexuality is a fight of God against Satan.

As I engage my life and resources to fight with other faithful Mormons against such propoganda, I hope you find another venue to validate your misled ideas.

In the end, I realized that a defensive response would get me nowhere. It would only confirm my evilness to her. It would have perpetuated her belief that gays are contentious, argumentative, and Godless. She wouldn’t have recognized the logic had I refuted each of her mistaken claims. The only thing I could do was to frankly forgive her (not in a patronizing way), and then in what I hope was a friendly manner share with her a little bit about homosexuality as I have experienced it. Here’s what I wrote:

Dear ******,

Thank you for writing me and sharing your personal and strong feelings with me. Obviously I also have personal and strong feelings rooted in my experiences growing up both gay and Mormon. I value the opportunities I have to talk about this emotional topic.

I’m so happy that you are doing research on a topic that is so misunderstood in the LDS culture. If everyone researched the things that affect their brothers and sisters in such personal ways, I wonder how much better off we would be as people. I wonder how we would treat each other. Knowledge is power! I hope you won’t be offended if I give you some pointers on how to best understand homosexuality as I hope you continue to seek to understand it.

If someone was to research Mormonism, you wouldn’t direct them to anti-Mormon literature. Likewise, you wouldn’t have them base their research solely on the observations of friendly Non-Mormons. You would probably invite them to talk to actual Mormons and read material produced by the Church. My advice is the same. I invite you to learn about same sex attraction from those who experience same sex attractions. I would be more than happy to talk with you about it, if you’d like.

I would also recommend talking to Fred and Marilyn Matis. They are a sweet, friendly couple and are very active in the Church. Their son, Stuart, was gay and shot himself on the steps of his stake center. After their son’s suicide, Fred and Marilyn have opened their home to other gay Mormons to extend the love and support they wish their son had felt. They have associated themselves with literally hundreds of homosexuals through monthly family home evenings held for gay Latter-day Saints and the friends and family of gay Latter-day Saints. You are more than welcome to attend and see gay Mormons pray, sing, and talk. The information is here: http://northstarlds.org/matisfiresides.php They are always warm, spiritual experiences. There is so much love there. If you go on April 6, you will get to hear Sister Olson speak. She is amazing. She was my New Testament teacher here at BYU.

One last word of advice. Please don’t believe everything you read on the internet or even in books and newspapers. The tribune article that upset you did not reveal very much to you about who I am, what I do, or even what I believe. It is more of a reflection of the author than of me. He interviewed me, but the interview was long and he chose what to include in this article and what to leave out. Let me assure you that I in no way was attacking the Church or any of its members, nor did I intend to paint BYU in an exclusively negative light. Despite how I was quoted in the Tribune, I enjoy my time here. My friends are here, and I am supported by great faculty in the art department who love me and are helping me succeed in life. In the interview, I simply wanted to share my experiences and thereby reveal changes that could be made in policy that would save a lot of people from a lot of pain. I don’t believe that BYU maliciously hurt me, but the attitudes of so many BYU students have hurt me. Only by sharing true information (in this case my experiences) can we all grow closer to the Savior and treat each other with more charity.

I also want to make it clear that included in the tithes that supplement a BYU education are my tithes, the tithes of my parents and grandparents, the tithes of hundred of my friends who want me to be here, and even the tithes of the people I baptized on my mission. If you are upset about how your own personal tithes are being used, I know how you feel. I felt hurt that my tithes were used on proposition 8 propaganda. Though I know how you feel, let’s be honest, we both have given our money to the Church for them to spend as they see fit, and they saw fit to accept me at BYU. Please make the same assumptions about me that you would make about any student at BYU, and that is that I have the same yearly interviews for endorsement that they have. This means that BYU still wants me to be one of its students even given what was published in the Salt Lake Tribune. (Obviously me being gay isn’t a secret). This also means that I make tremendous sacrifices to be here.

You seem sincerely interested in discussing truth (as opposed to propaganda), so let’s talk truth. Let’s talk about what I have experienced and therefore what I know to be true.

I came to BYU because I believed BYU could make me straight. I have never been attracted to women in my life. I have always been attracted to guys. I always knew I was different from my peers, and I knew how I was different as early as 11. I didn’t want to be gay, though. I hated it! I was ashamed of it, as if I was a monster. I would literally beat myself up mentally over it. I read on the internet that BYU had therapy that would make it go away, and I wanted that. Church leaders, including Bishops and a Stake President also promised that my attractions for men could be replaced with attractions for women. This promise that the Church made me was recounted on my mission by Elder Oaks in a 2006 general conference. He admitted that same sex attractions would likely never go away in this life. This was after I had already been at BYU for a year.

That year had been destructive for me. After a year of therapy I was very depressed. One night I almost jumped off a bridge. I am so grateful that I didn’t kill myself. I believe the hand of God stopped me.

On my mission, I learned that I was a good person and I learned how to love myself. This made coming home from my mission after 2 years very hard. It was a rough transition, but through a lot of serious prayer and meditation, the Lord revealed his consistent love for me and I realized that I shouldn’t demand that He change my sexual orientation. I realized that it was ok that I was attracted to the same gender- it didn’t make me a monster. It simply was. A month later a gay BYU student and acquaintance of mine curled up next to his tail pipe with the garage door closed and took his own life. This was when I knew something had to change. Something has to change so that gay youth don’t kill themselves. I don’t know what that change is, but I do know what I can do to promote that change. I can share my story. I can tell people that God loves them and that I love them. I can share true information, because only true information can help informed people know what they should do.

If I am fighting for anything, (I don’t personally consider that article a fight), I am fighting for those people who are abused and feel worthless. I am fighting for them and for me for equal treatment. I believe that the we all should be treated equally. I’m not opposed to the principle of Chasity, I just want it applied equally. I’m not opposed to BYU, I just want it to promote love and information for all of it’s students rather than fear, backbiting, contention, and ignorance. It is my hope that we can all peacefully engage in meaningful dialog instead of persecuting each other. In that sense, I really don’t think you and I are that different from each other.

Thanks again for writing me, and I hope that you have a great day!


14 thoughts on “I Think I Would Understand

  1. Very nice. I would love to see the recipient as she reads this letter. I would hope that it be received in the spirit it was written, but as people get so entrenched in their views who knows what she will read into it. What does work, and this letter conveys excellently, is that this issue isn’t about an abstract idea but actual, living, feeling human beings.

  2. Dan, You are my hero. This person did not send this email to me, but thank you for responding in such a way that was both respectful and honest. It really has been a great experience having you do the project and becoming your friend. Good work, and keep it up!

  3. I am super impressed. That letter is a model of decorum and definately inspired. Thank you for having the courage to take the high road and act in a way that helps us all!

  4. Her words and your reply are the best examples I’ve ever seen of Proverbs 15:1:”A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”Congrats on a masterful reply and thanks for sharing it here!

  5. “How dare you try to fight this battle on this sacred ground.”Is this person kidding? She obviously doesn’t know that BYU is just like any other university except it has a higher population of RM’s and 18 year old brides. It really bothers me when people say that BYU is the “Lord’s University” or in this woman’s case “sacred ground”. Well, if she wants to claim BYU as sacred ground then I want to claim the GAP as sacred ground.I wish that people would just be more tolerant towards others. You don’t have to agree with some, but please don’t bash someone or something because you agree. Hatred is not the answer it only makes things worse. Heavenly Father loves all of His children. Why then do so many “righteous” members of the Church hate and bash others? I don’t have the answer, but I pray to understanding on their part and I hope we can one day meet on common ground.

  6. Thank you everyone for your comments! They mean a lot to me. Unfortunately she has not responded to me. I’m bummed cause I thought she would. Oh well, what can you do.(I saw on facebook that she was involved with the Southerland Institute. I guess that means it was a lost cause from the start)

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