AS THE SUN SET in Riverside, California, on Election Day 2008, Matthew Lawrence anxiously watched as the presidential election returns came in. Trying his best to relax, the 28-year-old Lawrence reclined on his second-story apartment balcony while numbing his nerves with cigarettes and screwdrivers. Time seemed to stand still until a reporter on his 52-inch TV panel delivered the news: the election had been called for Barack Obama, who would be the 44th president of the United States. “It was a beautiful and powerful moment,” he said.
Alas, Lawrence’s unadulterated joy was to be short-lived. He later learned that Proposition 8, which amended California’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, had passed in a close vote of 52 to 48 percent. But Prop 8’s success held an even deeper significance in Lawrence’s life. His father, Gary Lawrence, is a devout and deeply conservative Mormon who led the grassroots campaign in California to ensure the initiative’s success. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), whose members comprise only a small percentage of California voters, is estimated to have donated at least twenty million dollars to the Yes on 8 campaign. What’s more, the Mormon Church’s social and financial machinations against the gay community in California last year are only the most recent example of the church’s ongoing assault on the cause of GLBT equality. In the end, Prop 8 is but one chapter in the LDS persecution of the homosexual community.
For Matthew Lawrence’s part, the dichotomy between his sexual orientation and his Mormon upbringing proved to be a constant battle. Broadly speaking, the choice of living as a Mormon or as an honest gay man is a titanic struggle that every homosexual LDS member must confront. It is this struggle rather than the political battle in California that I want to explore in this essay. To elucidate the stringent socialization process of young Mormons and the crisis to which it inevitably gives rise when a youth discovers that he or she is gay, let me introduce several individuals who experienced this process and this crisis—and the painful response of the Mormon hierarchy when the person’s struggle came to light. To understand the mental, emotional, and physical struggle of an adolescent trying to come to terms with his or her sexual identify while also striving to live a Mormon life, one only needs to listen to the stories of those who have endured it.