Vigil Planned in Wake of Suicide by 17-Year-Old
Gay Mormon

In the wake of another gay Mormon suicide, this time by a seventeen year-old boy in the town of Mountain Green, Utah, more than three hundred people are expected to attend a May 1 community speak-out and vigil against bullying and suicide at the Ogden, Utah amphitheater.  Sources are reporting seventeen year-old Jack Denton Reese ended his life on Sunday, April 22.  He had been bullied at school. After his death, students at his Ogden-area high school wore their Sunday best to school to remember him.

A local United Church of Christ is donating the candles for the vigil.  Organizer Marian Edmonds, pastor of City of Hope Church in Salt Lake City and organizer of the OUTReach resource center in Ogden, will staff a table at the event to recruit mentors to help work with LGBT young people to prevent suicide. And Mormons are volunteering to speak, including Bonnie Flint, an LDS mother and educator.  “It is especially important that member of the LDS faith stand up against discrimination and bigotry,” she writes. “Others are watching us.  In the most recent LDS General Conference, President Dieter Uchtdorf [of the LDS Church's First Presidency] reminded us that we are to love, forgive, and avoid judging others.  Like the family of Lehi in the Book of Mormon, we are each in our own wilderness, wandering and hoping to find the best path back to God.  We must all learn to love, support, and accept our brothers and sisters as they travel through their wildernesses.”

The vigil also comes at a moment when individual Mormons across the country are engaging in an increasingly robust discussion about how a faith that theologically prioritizes heterosexual marriage–in LDS temples, eternal marriage is the equivalent of a saving rite–should address LGBT youth and adults.  As the LDS Church appears to be backing away from committing the kind of institutional resources to state-level ballot initiatives on LGBT equality it did in California in 2008, individual Mormons in Maryland and Washington are gearing up both in support of and opposition to proposed statewide referenda against same-sex marriage. Gay Mormons and their allies have produced “It Gets Better” videos aimed to shine a light on welcoming and affirming attitudes among LDS people.  

Leaders of the SoulForce gay rights organization recently met with LDS Church PR representatives and lobbyists to present demands that the Church cut ties with reparative therapy methodologies (now discredited and renounced even by the author of the definitive scientific study used by reparative therapists) and offer employment-related protections for sexual orientation and gender expression for LDS Church employees.

It is a sensitive thing to write about gay Mormon suicides.  Surviving family members may not want the deceased outed, and LDS people in general dislike having sensitive matters publicized in an election year of unwanted scrutiny for the faith.  The May 1 vigil is as true a picture of Mormonism as any you’ll find in a time of sensationalized campaign-related media coverage:  aspects of Mormon doctrine and culture can create lethal circumstances for LGBT young people, and some Mormons are working hard to voice more affirming elements of the tradition.  The pace of change is slow.  Young people kill themselves.  Can a tradition that prides itself on taking care of its own muster the resources to take care of its LGBT youth?  How soon?

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Joanna Brooks is the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press / Simon & Schuster, 2012) and a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches.