A 28-year-old gay Mormon took his own life in Utah on July 19, which outrages documentary filmmaker Reed Cowan, who made 8: The Mormon Proposition. On the blogosphere, it's been reported that the young man, Todd Ransom, was interviewed for the film, but Cowan says Ransom signed up for an interview and then inexplicably left before he could appear in front of the camera.
“We don't know why he left,” says Cowan, “but we had a lot of people who decided they couldn't go through with it.”
Cowan says there's been a “rash” of suicides among gay Mormons in recent weeks.
“In Mormon culture,” says Cowan, an ex-Mormon, “when one of these kids commits suicide, you never know at first if he's gay because his sexual orientation won't be in the obituary and families will sweep it under the rug. But you hear from friends that he is gay and that's why he killed himself.”
Cowan's documentary, 8:The Mormon Proposition, takes an in-depth look at how the Mormon Church helped pass Proposition 8 in California in 2008, which took away the existing right of gays and lesbians to legally marry in this state.
Proposition 8 has recently been the focus of a federal lawsuit in San Francisco, which seeks to overturn the law. A decision is expected from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker sometime soon.
Cowan held a day-long interview session in January, 2009, with gay Mormons in Salt Lake City, Utah, where people off the street could talk about their experiences. Ransom signed up, but left before he could be interviewed, Cowan says.
The filmmaker says there's extraordinary pressure on gay Mormons to conform to the church's teachings.
Once it's been revealed that someone is gay, says Cowan, a person is given three options by church leaders: marry someone of the opposite sex, live a celibate life, or be kicked out of the church.
If someone decides to be true to his or her sexual orientation, says Cowan, church leaders then say that God won't love that person anymore.
“Once you're caught,” says Cowan, “you're damned if you do, damned if you don't … It drives people to suicide.”
He adds, “There is a body count to the bigotry. It's real.”
Cowan says Ransom's suicide shows that “until the message changes, (gay) people should stop going to the church. It's not healthy for them, so stop going … It's time for the exodus. Get out. It's a deadly message.”
As for other gay Mormons who are contemplating suicide, Cowan says, “Move yourself to safe ground outside of religion…and know that God made you for a reason and loves you.”
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.