Memorial held for gay Mormon who committed suicide in Los Altos

San Jose Mercury News/February 26, 2010

Ten years ago, Henry Stuart Matis walked up to the steps of a Mormon church in Los Altos with a note reading "Do not resuscitate" pinned to his shirt, and shot himself.

He was a 32-year-old gay man and devoted member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and after a lifetime spent struggling to reconcile the two, explained in a suicide note that "for the first time in over 20 years, I am free from my pains.

"As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay," he wrote. "Perhaps my death ... might become the catalyst for much good ... Your actions might help to save many young people's lives."

Early Thursday morning - the 10th anniversary of Matis' death - a group of local Mormons and others held a memorial vigil for Matis in Los Altos.

Starting at Cuesta Park with songs and brief speeches, about 20 people then walked up Grant Road, carrying roses and candles. They ended up on the sidewalk in front of the LDS stake center on Grant Road in Los Altos, where they set up a small memorial display with an image of Matis' tombstone and stories about his and other gay Mormons who have committed suicide.

Matis' body was found at the center, which serves as the headquarters for South Bay Mormon congregations, at about 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2000.

Robert Rees of the Santa Cruz stake, who served as a spiritual adviser to Matis, said the event was meant "to honor a good man who left life much earlier than he should have, whose passing was tragic but whose message was one of hope to other people."

According to a statement on its Web site, the Mormon church believes that acting on "same-gender attraction" is a sin and gay church members must remain celibate.

George Cole, a San Francisco resident who is gay and serves on the executive committee of Affirmation, a support and advocacy group for gay and lesbian current and former Mormons, said he didn't know Matis personally but has "lost too many very good friends to suicide.

"I know what it is like to seriously consider taking your life, he said.

Cole said he left the Mormon church in 2002.

"I chose happiness and fulfillment at the cost of not having the church in my own life," he said.

Matis died just a couple of weeks before Proposition 22, the anti-gay marriage measure in 2000 that preceded 2008's Proposition 8, went before voters, and his death was often portrayed as a political statement, though Matis did not mention the initiative in his suicide note.

In a statement posted on the Web site of North Star, an organization that aims to support Mormons dealing with issues of sexual identity, Matis' parents said they did not support the memorial. Fred and Marilyn Matis said they "do not condone use of Stuart's death for a political purpose of any kind.

"The best way to honor Stuart, and avoid causing further hurt and grief to his family, is to take the time and effort to understand the difficult struggle the men and women who deal with this issue are going through, one by one, one person at a time," they wrote. "As those who knew Stuart best, we can say with confidence that this is what Stuart would truly have wanted."

Laura Compton, a spokeswoman for the Mormons for Marriage and one of the event's organizers, said she has immense respect for the Matis family and the event's intent wasn't to push an agenda.

"We weren't there trying to say 'Here is our political poster boy,' " she said. "We're here because it's a horrible thing that someone's life was lost ... Let's come together and share our stories with ourselves and let other people know that they're not alone."

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