Sunday, January 12, 2014

Meet Adam. "Too Mormon to be Gay and Too Gay to be Mormon"

Written by Carole Thayne Warburton after interviewing Adam.

I met Adam a little over five years ago. We’d just moved into our new ward just a few miles from the ward we’d lived in for over fifteen years. Adam was the nice boy in a class of mostly disinterested and sometimes rowdy sixteen-year-olds in the sunday school class I taught. He was the one I called on for the answers when no one else would speak up, or when I didn’t know the answers. I remember saying, help me out here Adam. He’d smile and flip to the appropriate scripture, or come up with the answer. It was never boastful. His kindness permeated his countenance. A few months later, classes changed and I didn’t see much of him again, but he’d made a very positive impression on me. 

A few years later, I’d heard he’d come home early from his mission. Depression. I wondered how he was doing over the next year, but didn’t see him very much. Then a close friend who has a gay son sent me a message to be sure and watch the Adam Maughan video. To say I was shocked is not an exaggeration. I was moved beyond words and cried, then watched it again and again. I couldn’t believe that the young man with kindness in his countenance had been hiding a secret. I couldn’t believe that he’d felt that the secret was so shameful that his life wasn’t worth living. But, I rejoiced in the message of hope that we all deserve a happy life. If you haven’t watched it, before you read another word, or even if you don’t choose to read the rest of the story behind the video, watch it. 

Adam Maughan is a student at Utah State University, currently pursuing a degree in English with an emphasis in secondary education.  He also has interests in psychology, theater, and music.  He hopes to be able to teach in a juvenile detention center or similar facility, as he is particularly passionate about helping at risk or troubled youth.  In his free time, he enjoys writing books, piano improvisation, singing, going for bike rides, and spending time with his friends and family.Despite the occasional ups and downs that all of us have in life, Adam feels that his depression is finally under control.  He finds hope in the positive reactions that he has received since coming out, and feels that he has a strong support system that he can always turn to.  While balancing his sexual orientation and religious beliefs is often a struggle, Adam takes comfort in knowing that there is a loving God who is always in control.  “I firmly believe that God knows what He’s doing.  All the experiences we have, good and bad, are there to help us become the person He knows we can be.  Obviously there is still so much we don’t know surrounding this issue, but I have faith that God hasn’t forgotten or abandoned me.  He will lead me where I’m supposed to be.”

When Adam was in an 8th grade math class, a student who was at his same table told everyone around him that Adam was gay. To stop the boy, Adam kicked him under the table and the boy said, “The gay kid kicked me!” And another said, “You should burn your shoes.” Adam knew he wasn’t gay. He knew gay was a bad, evil thing to be, and he knew he wasn’t. It was a choice and he chose not to be that. But he started to wonder. Everyone says I am. He had a problem with pornography, so when he talked to his church leaders, he told them he had an addiction to pornography and that sometimes, he looked at pictures of guys. But he knew that if he prayed hard enough, if he read his scriptures, if he did everything he was supposed to, it would go away. He had fasted many times, sometimes for two days in a row…but he was the same. 

In high school the teasing continued. He was never shoved into the lockers, nothing physical, it was more subtle than that. Once he remembers walking down the D hall at Mountain Crest and one of the football players was on the opposite side with a couple of his friends. The guy winked at Adam, and said, “Hey cutie, how are you doing?” Then chortled with his friends. The emotional abuse bothered him. He distanced himself from anything that might be perceived as gay, even who he associated with. He loved drama, but  made sure he didn’t hang out with his drama friends, even though they were great people. He analyzed everything he did, how he walked, did he put his hands in his pockets, did he swing his arms too much like a gay person? I still knew I wasn’t gay, but I didn’t want anyone else to think I was either. 

He went to an addiction recovery group with his dad as his sponsor. He worked on his pornography problem for what seemed like forever trying to get rid of it so he could go on a mission. He reached a point where he had a girlfriend.“We planned for a month how we were going to first kiss. We had the perfect place sitting on a dock at Bear Lake. We held hands. And finally I kissed her, and the first thing I said was, well we made a bigger deal about that than it needed to be.” He’d hoped to feel fireworks and it freaked him out that he didn’t. He’d made her feel badly too. She must’ve wondered what was wrong with her. Even though, he had a huge emotional attachment to her, there wasn’t any physical attraction. 

He was called on an LDS mission to Indiana, the same as where his father had served. Even though he was at first disappointed that it was state-side, it ended up being the being the best place for him. The best place because he had a very understanding mission president. The depression came because the feelings that Adam had tried to stuff and pray into oblivion were not going away. He had lots of sexual dreams and always about guys. He felt like he must be the worst person in the entire world. “How could I be on a mission and preaching the gospel and yet still have these feelings completely against what I am teaching? And I remember thinking I don’t want to go to hell. I want so badly to do what God wants me to do. I believe in what I’m doing, but why do I feel this way? What did I do wrong? I’d tried my entire life to be perfect and    do the right things.”

He started seeing counselors on his mission, but the depression worsened. Eventually when it became clear that he would have to go home, his very loving mission president, who had someone close to him who was gay, responded only with love and concern for Adam. When the president talked to Adam’s parents, Adam’s mom pressed him for the reason Adam was depressed. What Adam didn’t know was that his mom had been educating herself on the issue and had prepared herself for the possibility. The mission president didn’t want to break confidentiality, but when Adam’s mother said, “I want to be able to help him. I’ve had my suspicions. Does he experience same-sex attraction?” The president, said yes, that is what he is dealing with. 

His mother paved the way for him to come home to a loving family by telling them what the root of Adam’s depression was. In a very real sense, she outed him to his immediate family and to some of his extended family. “By the time I came home there were about twenty people who knew and who still loved me anyway. That was a really great experience for me. I don’t think I would have had the guts to tell them. I already felt like such a failure.” He feels like his mother did him a favor. 

Even though, he had a loving family, that didn’t solve Adam’s depression. “I hadn’t lived up to everyone’s expectations. And I felt like God had abandoned me. The atonement is supposed to cover everything, every sin, everything, and yet He couldn’t change this about me. It made me question whether God was really there. I was extra worried because I had just come back from a mission and I felt like everyone thought I was questioning my testimony, so going to church was hard.” 

Adam had a friend who had been dealing with similar issues—he too—called it an addiction. Adam had been his example because he went on a mission and had written to his friend and had told him, he could beat this thing. When Adam came home from his mission, the two young men with similar trials developed a strong friendship. Adam felt like he was the only one who completely understood him, and the only one who really cared about him. Before long they fell in love with each other. Then, the young man rejected him. He told Adam, “I can’t see you ever again. I can’t talk to you ever gain.” He made it clear that he wanted to see Adam again very badly, but felt like he wouldn’t be able to reach his goals in life if Adam were to be a part of his it. Adam felt like this friend was the only person he could ever fall in love with and now he was out of his life—forever. I felt like a part of me had been killed too. I was stuck. Too Mormon to be gay, and too gay to be Mormon. 

Everything piled up. Had his whole life been a failure? There was no use in trying because nothing could go anywhere positive. With that in mind, he began looking up ways to kill himself on the Internet, trying to find the most painless way. “It scared me. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted to die.” He told his counselor about his plan to take all his meds at once and to end it all. The counselor asked him if he thought he could make it through the night. He said, he didn’t know. The counselor urged him to tell his parents. His mother did some research and he along with his parents and counselor decided to admit him to the University of Utah Neuropsychology Unit (for suicidal intent). There, he had intensive one on one therapy with psychologists, psychiatrists, group therapy, music therapy and met some great people. Even though his parents had told him they would love him no matter what, he still felt like it had to be conditional. They believed in the Mormon church wholeheartedly. He felt like they would only love him if he remained celibate or if he married a woman—the only options for a gay Mormon. He was still broke up over losing what felt like the love of his life. His immediate family came to the hospital for a frank discussion with Adam’s psychologist. When his mom learned that Adam felt like he could only be loved by the family if he walked that fine line, his mom burst into tears. She said, “Adam, I love you so much and it’s not conditional. If you have a partner, he will be welcome in our home.” His siblings were supportive too. His younger sister said, “If you end up with a boy, it will be weird at first, but it could become my new normal.” 

While in the hospital, Adam met people who endured unbelievable trials. The girl across the hall from him had been raped multiple times and had seen her mother killed right in front of her. Her kidneys were shutting down from all the pills she had taken to try to kill herself. For one devastating reason or another, everyone there had been suicidal. In the ten days he was there he learned to love them all so much. He wondered why he was even there. “All I am is gay.” He learned that everyone is just searching for happiness. Everyone just wants to be loved. Everyone just wants to find joy in their lives. 

The video idea came about only weeks before the one year anniversary of his admission into the hospital. By the time, he made the video, he’d already “come out” to his closest friends and his family all knew. He wanted to tell others not to commit suicide, but wasn’t sure about the best way to do it. He was so grateful for the hospital experience and wanted to commemorate that, do something to let people know he was ok with who he is, and share what happened. The idea of the video came through prayer and fasting. “It was the most spiritual prompting I’d felt since my mission.” He found the song he wanted to use and put it together using clips and photos from his journey. When he showed the powerful video to friends and family, every reaction was positive. “I never thought coming out would be a spiritual experience but it was.” 

Adam hopes that people will get educated so that attitudes can change. In schools, bullying isn’t allowed. He would encourage young people to find someone they can trust to talk to. There are counselors at the schools. At USU they have an ally program where instructors and professors who would like to be, are trained. They put a sticker on their office doors so that the LGBTQ students know safe people to talk to. Adam wonders if public schools could adopt a similar program.  Adam thinks about his parents and their reaction to him. They are strong believers in the Mormon church, and yet they want to be there for him no matter what he does with his life. If bishops and other church leaders could have a similar attitude, it would be great. If the bishops could just say, if you want to stay in the church, or if you don’t, I still want to be here for you and be your friend. If leaders had that attitude, we’d see more choosing to stay involved in the church. There are so many groups for the Mormon gay person to be involved in for support—no matter what they believe in. There is Northstar, Affirmation, Mormons Building Bridges and others. 

Unfortunately, the message people are hearing no matter how much they are taught about love at church, is to love everyone as long as they fit the norm. There’s a lot of people who for some reason or another just don’t fit in. Everyone has something they aren’t super proud of, which is nevertheless a reality for their life. Or even if they are proud of it, that’s fine. The church should reinforce that we should love people no matter what. The church has made huge efforts. But the tone in the message is important. “I feel like the tone could be changed.” In an effort to reach as many people as possible, Adam worked to achieve the right tone with his video. 

Even though there are so many things about the church that Adam loves, he still has a really hard time attending. He has PTSD with church. Church can cause him to tremble and he just has to leave sometimes. It’s easier to attend his home ward with his family. But regardless, if he can ever feel the same way as he used to, his love and faith in God is the same. He used to really be bothered that the atonement couldn’t fix everything, but then he realized the atonement isn’t going to do anything that is against Gods will. So he’s learned to be okay with that. He’s come to recognize the blessings that have come to him and to his family through his being gay. “I thought my family was really strong before, but now we are so much stronger.” 


  1. Thanks for sharing, Carole & Adam! I loved the video, and really appreciate the extra thought-provoking personal story behind it--not to mention the bravery it took for Adam to share it.

    A few things really resonated with me here. OK, well, many, many things resonated with me, but three in particular:

    1) I love the comment that Adam felt too Mormon to be gay and too gay to be Mormon. That sums the feeling of so many people, including myself, up rather nicely! It's hard to be in the crux and not know which direction to head. For me personally, that meant having to learn to separate my religion from my spirituality. It became quite obvious shortly after I came out that I couldn't keep both. Some are able to & for that I applaud them; however, that was not my own experience. Trying to explain this odd and very deep feeling to close friends & family seems almost impossible. Yet, Adam's statement pretty much does it, and quite concisely. I love it!

    2) I think it's absolutely fantastic that USU professors have door stickers showing that they're a safe haven for the LGBTQ community. This may be old news to some, but I've never heard of that before. I think that's brilliant!

    3) It broke my heart to read about the lost love and painful loss of friendship that had to be behind Adam's experience with his friend. While I'm sure Adam's perspective on it is quite different now & I don't know where his relationship status stands today, I would say that from someone who thought it would be impossible to find love: it's not. Finding a true love in the gay community can be quite difficult. Heck, finding true love in any community can be hard, even if you're straight. But, because there are so fewer positive environments through which two gay people can connect (I'm sorry, but I don't consider gay clubs or bars to be positive environments that are conducive to finding the love of one's life), it really makes it difficult. Despite this, love is out there and I've no doubt Adam will find it.

    I happened to find it in the most random of ways and at the most unexpected of times. (I didn't believe it when people told me that's how it worked. Turns out, it is.) And I learned that what I have told my straight friends for years--to never settle and to only expect the very best--can be fulfilled in the gay world, too. I've learned that the gay community is no different than the dominant straight world. There is actually a large number of us who don't frequent the gay scene, who are just your average guys next door, who are complex and interesting people that just happen to be gay, and who want nothing other than to be happy with bursts of joy sprinkled into our existences.

    It's entirely possible and I hope Adam finds that meaningful relationship that brings even more brightness to his life and helps put some of the painful past even further behind him!

    1. Kade, your response sent chills up and down my entire body--the kind you only get when truth and honesty are shared. Thanks for your powerful testimony. I'm going to make sure Adam reads this. You are a dear. Adam is still really young, so has lots of time to find love.

  2. Beautiful. I would love to see that sticker implemented in Secondary schools. What a gift that would be to students

    1. I know! I had just heard about the ally program that universities have adopted, but high school kids are still often in the questioning phase, and where a lot of bullying takes place. This would be such a great idea.

    2. Josi, I'm a secondary school teacher. Not only do I have a sticker on my window, but so do MANY teachers at the school. I live in a pretty rural part of Wisconsin, too, so I imagine that in a big city the stickers are all over. :)

    3. That's great! As far as I know there are no such stickers in the schools here in Utah. There are definitely not any in the Northern Utah schools yet.

  3. Thank you so much Adam for sharing your story. Not only have you gained your life , you will help save many others and help to educate those around you especially of our (LDS) faith.

  4. Thank you Adam for your courage to share your story. IT will help so many others.