VOICES OF HOPE
Will grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and is the youngest of three. At 18 years old he came out as gay and spent a few years away from the Church, thinking he couldn’t be gay and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He moved to San Francisco with his boyfriend where he had a spiritual awakening that would forever alter the course of his life. Eventually, Will came back to Church and later served a two year, full-time mission in Alberta, Canada.
Soon after returning home, he served in various church callings including second counselor in an Elder’s Quorum Presidency, Elders Quorum President, Ward Mission Leader, and Temple Worker.
He graduated from the University of Utah, then took his adventures back to the state of California, to Los Angeles. Most recently he moved back to Salt Lake City and started a business that enables families to explore and preserve their own life stories. He is still writing his story with much more to come, but he is honored to share where he is at today (filmed in April 2018) through the Voices of Hope Project.
Watch Will share his story
OWNING MY OWN STORY
It isn’t easy to stand in your truth and fully represent your life experiences, but over the years I’ve learned that this is the only way to live. We each have our own journey filled with unique moments that shape us into who we are. It is my pleasure and responsibility to share part of my soul’s journey with you. I hope my story helps you have a deeper understanding of why I think, live, and make the decisions that I do. Also, If I can add one more drop into the ocean of understanding same-sex attraction, I would gladly contribute my part.
Early on in my childhood, I noticed I had attractions towards guys. I knew that I should be attracted to girls but the desire just wasn’t there. I also thought, at that time, I could never be gay. That lifestyle would mean I would have to leave my faith, friends, and family. I feared rejection from all three and I didn’t want that to happen. I just hoped that these feelings would go away. In passing through this internal conflict of being attracted to guys but not wanting to act upon it, I realized that I needed a deeper conviction from my faith to continue on in this path.
I was raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and tried to follow its teachings despite my weaknesses and inclinations. I understood that the Church taught that acting on my same-sex attraction was considered a sin. I realized at the age of 12 that the only way I would be capable of putting up a fight and resisting temptations would be if I knew that there was a purpose in doing so. I needed to know if the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were true.
I was taught that the Book of Mormon was the keystone of my faith. Meaning if the Book of Mormon is true, then indeed the Church’s claim to having the fullness of the gospel is also true. One evening, I decided to try to get an answer. I opened the Book of Mormon and started from the beginning: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…” I continued reading for several pages. While I was reading, my desire to find an answer increased. After a while, I got on my knees and offered up a prayer, asking God, “Is the Book of Mormon true?” I waited in silence for several minutes but no answer came. I started to doubt that I would receive an answer. However, at this same moment, I cast aside my doubts and regained my determination to find the truth. I needed this more than anything else. This answer would change my life! I opened up the Book of Mormon again. I read a few more pages and then got on my knees and asked, “Heavenly Father, is the Book of Mormon true?” Then, almost immediately I felt a warm, pleasant, and peaceful feeling enter into my heart. It was like pure energy was flowing throughout my entire body. This feeling continued to be with me for several minutes and then it went away. It was clear that something separate from myself had caused this to occur. I could not deny what I had just felt. God confirmed to me the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, therefore The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also true.
Although I gained a testimony that God lives and the teachings of the Church were true, I still had many struggles. Throughout my teenage years, there were a lot of ups and downs. There were times that my behavior reflected my beliefs and values and other times I would make choices that I knew were wrong. When I would make mistakes, I would turn back to God and repent of my sins. When I sincerely repented, I always felt relief from the guilt I felt. Understanding that I could repent when I made mistakes encouraged me to keep trying.
I didn’t really know how to deal with my same-sex attraction. I tried to pretend that it didn’t exist. I would date girls and mask any observable indication that I had those feelings. There were certain moments in my life that people confronted me, asking if I was gay. I would always play it off in a lighthearted way, ensuring them that I was straight. Deep inside though, I was disturbed that such accusations were made towards me. I would ask myself, “How do they know? Am I that obvious?” As the course of my teenage years progressed, I developed many good friends that helped me stay focused on righteous pursuits. Being around them encouraged me to date girls, which allowed me to develop many good relationships. I soon realized though that my attraction level towards girls was very different from my friends. In many ways, this was a good thing: it kept me out of trouble. When relationships would start to get serious, it would seem that I would always break up with them for no apparent reason.
During my senior year of High school, I began dating a girl. While we were dating, I started to feel greater temptation and curiosity to explore the gay lifestyle. As this desire grew I decided it would be best to break up with her so that I could figure things out.
During this phase of exploration, I started to meet many gay individuals who came from similar backgrounds as I did. Being around these people made me feel much more comfortable with the idea of being gay. Maybe I could make this whole alternative lifestyle work, I thought. Many of them would share their stories of how they grew up in the Church, had same-sex attraction, tried to ignore it, failed, and then decided to live the gay lifestyle. Many had even served missions. I would hear people tell me how they hoped that a mission or marriage or some sort of action would cure them of their same-sex attraction. But after being disappointed that the attractions were still there, they decided to start living the gay lifestyle. I would listen to these stories and think, “well that’s totally going to be me - so why even try?”
Historically, I had been very good at praying to God and reading the scriptures daily. I had a seminary teacher promise me that if I read the Book of Mormon every day, the powers of temptation would be diminished. I greatly desired that, so I took that challenge. I had read the Book of Mormon just about every day from that point on throughout my teenage years. I also prayed to God, asking for forgiveness when I made mistakes. At this time though, I decided that I would stop reading my scriptures and stop praying. In the past, I would be led to repent when I sinned. Now that I decided not to do those spiritual habits, I didn’t feel those same desires to repent.
Since I was a child I had always planned on serving a mission. This desire of mine kept me on the straight and narrow path. One of the key requirements to going on a mission is worthiness. As I was starting to engage in behavior that wasn’t worthy of going on a mission, I realized I needed to commit to one path or the other. Either I would repent and go on a mission, or I would go and live the gay lifestyle. One day I was in the shower thinking about what choice I was going to make. As I was pondering what I wanted to do, I finally just went ahead and made the decision. I am not going on a mission. I am gay. I’m going to live that lifestyle.
When I did this, I felt so much relief. It was like a huge weight had been lifted. I wasn’t in constant conflict with my beliefs and my behavior. Something had to give. I let my beliefs change so that my actions would be justified. Although I had a testimony that the Church was true, I no longer could hold on to that testimony and live the gay lifestyle, so I let it go.
Now that I had turned away from my faith, it was easier to accept the fact that I was gay.
I was more open to meeting people and even dating. However, I soon became aware of the challenge of finding a guy that I would like to be in a relationship with. At a time when I was especially frustrated with dating, I met a guy named Travis (name changed). We first met up at a coffee shop and it went very well. We both discovered that we had a lot in common. I thought to myself, “This is the guy I’ve been looking for!” We started dating, and we both developed strong feelings for each other. Beginning this relationship solidified my decision to live the gay lifestyle. Now, it just wasn’t about me being open about my personal life with others, It became about us and our need to be open about our love for each other. This propelled me to come out of the closet rather fast. In just a matter of a few months, most people in my life found out that I was gay.
After coming out and now being in a relationship, I would say I felt pretty happy and content with my life. However, even though things were going well, I realized there was something missing. I’ve always been a very spiritual person, so I knew I needed something to believe in and something to practice.
I had a friend introduce me to yoga, which helped fill that need. What I liked about yoga was the physical exertion it provided along with self-mastery and discipline. There are components to yoga that focus on the spiritual self as well. Since I had been lacking in that area it felt good to focus on my inner feelings and engage in meditation. This allowed me to keep my heart open to God. One day after a rigorous yoga session, I received an impression that I needed to go to San Francisco. I dismissed the impression at first but then I started to think of the possibility of moving there. Soon after, I visited San Francisco and received confirmation that the move needed to happen. When I came to this decision I knew I would have to have a very difficult conversation with Travis. I did not know what would happen to us and I didn’t know what he would say about it. All I knew was I needed to move to San Francisco. When I was able to sit him down to talk about it I said I would be going with or without him, but I really wanted him to come with me. He was pretty shocked by my proposition. He said he needed some time to think about it. He later got back to me, deciding that yes, he would be joining me.
Putting all of my fears aside, I quit my job, said goodbye to my friends and family, and we moved to San Francisco. Here we were, two people, in love, and in a new city. Soon after, Travis and I were both able to find jobs. What a risk we took on each other and in coming to a place where we didn’t have any family or friends. We lived simply, but we were happy. We were tuned out from the world for the most part because we didn’t have a television and we didn’t mind at all. One night we went shopping together for groceries at Safeway on Market Street. As we were heading back to our apartment we saw a crowd of thousands of people heading toward us. There were helicopters flying overhead. We heard shouting and whistling all around us. I had no idea what was going on. As the people walked past us we quickly understood what had happened. Proposition 8 just passed in California. These people were protesting this ban on gay marriage. Travis and I just stood there in amazement at what was proceeding in front of us. I quickly noticed some signs that were very disturbing to me. These signs were directly attacking the Church. I soon found out that members of the Church had been heavily involved in funding support for Proposition 8. It bothered me that the Church was at the forefront of this movement against gay marriage. I had left Utah to get away from the church and its influence. Now it was here in front of me again. I couldn’t believe it! Well, Travis and I couldn’t miss out on this historical march down Market Street. It was as if we were at the right place at the right time to join in and be a part of something that we wanted for ourselves. We had just left everything behind for each other and for this lifestyle. We sacrificed so much to be where we were that day. This was our cause and our fight! As we marched I was in tears, just thinking about how powerful this movement was and the love that I had for Travis. As we continued up the street we stopped and gathered at a park. It was pretty dark outside by then. We had traveled a great distance but it didn’t seem that far because of how excited I was. As we gathered around, more of the signs attacking the Church were noticeable, and I suddenly got a sick feeling in my stomach. There was some drumming that began from somewhere in the crowd and a feeling of darkness came over me. I tried to ignore this feeling and brush it aside.
After the protest, Travis and I talked about what we had experienced. I told him that this was one of the most amazing things I had ever witnessed. He agreed. The fact there was so many signs exhibiting negative sentiments toward the Church was brought up. We were both members of the faith but weren’t active anymore. He told me that he didn’t like the signs. He said even though he did not agree with what the Church was doing, he knew that the members were good. They didn’t deserve those kinds of attacks. I knew he was right. They didn’t deserve that. People I loved belonged to that church. I knew that they had no intentions to hurt others, just a strong conviction to do what they felt was right. I was surprised that Travis stood up for the Church like that. It got me thinking about my feelings toward the Church and its members. Later that week I found a flyer that said there was going to be a nationwide protest on Proposition 8 on November 15, 2008. I showed Travis the flyer. We both decided that we needed to be there.
It was on a Saturday when they had the nationwide protest against Proposition 8. We took time off of work so we could go. We saw this as a historic moment to proclaim our love for each other and to also stand for something we believed in. We headed down to the Civic Center where they would begin the march. There were hundreds of people gathered around listening to a speaker campaigning for our cause. While there, I again started to observe the crowd and the messages on the signs. I noticed they fit into two categories. The first group ridiculed religions, specifically The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while the second promoted love, equality, and redefining the family. As I continued to observe my surroundings, something happened that I will never be able to forget. A voice as clear as day and loud as thunder pierced my soul with these words: “WO UNTO THEM WHO CALL EVIL GOOD AND GOOD EVIL!”
The chilling effect of these words left me paralyzed. I stood there, frozen in disbelief at what had just happened. My face turned white and the hairs on the back of my head stood up. I started getting dizzy and feeling sick to my stomach. Did I really just hear that? NO, I DIDN’T WANT TO HEAR THAT! DON’T DO THIS TO ME, GOD! I WANT TO ENJOY THIS DAY, DON’T RUIN IT! That was literally my petition. I knew exactly the source of that prompting. I knew what God was telling me. I didn’t want this to be my experience. I told Travis I needed to sit down. I walked over frantically to the south side of the Civic Hall and sat down on a stone step. My head was spinning. I sat there wondering if what I had experienced was real. I looked to my right and there was a man who was outwardly expressing what I was feeling inside. His face was pale and he had long sweaty hair that his fingers were combing through. He was moving back and forth, muttering and literally looking like he was going to burst into tears. I asked him if he was alright and he just got up and left. I just started to breath deeply. Inhale and then exhale. I tried to collect myself. I looked directly out in front of me and a man wearing a long sleeve shirt with the numbers 666 on his left sleeve, 666 on his right sleeve, and 666 directly in the center of his chest stood there. I suddenly felt cold and my body got the chills. He was no further than ten feet away, looking directly at me. I thought to myself, WHAT IS GOING ON? He had no expression on his face he just stood there staring. Then, he turned around and walked away.
By then the crowd had begun the march. They all headed down the street to protest. I had sunglasses on, which I was grateful for because my eyes were flowing with tears. This had turned out to be the worst day of my life. Travis and I joined the march with thousands of others. We walked on and on. I was dragging my feet, hating every minute of it. Travis was cheering and clapping. I could tell he was having the time of his life. I probably would have, too, if I didn’t receive that dreadful message.
As we were winding up and down the San Francisco streets I was literally feeling the pains of a damned soul. It felt like I had just been woken up to the reality of my situation, the path I was on wasn’t pleasing to God.
I knew this now directly from Him. I was shedding tears of deep sorrow for what I had done and what I was doing. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and had the wind knocked out of me and I couldn’t catch my breath. I started to offer a prayer to God. It had been a while since I had done this. I told Him that I had heard what He had said, now what did He want me to do? I had given up everything for this lifestyle, including my relationship with Him. Now what? I knew that my relationship with Travis had to end, but I had convinced him to come to San Francisco with me and we had just become more serious. I couldn’t just leave him! What was I going to do, return home and tell everyone that I’m no longer gay? I had spent the last year and a half establishing the fact that I was gay to all my friends and family. I just started feeling comfortable with it myself.
I was so confused by my experiences that day - but at the same time, it all made sense. I thought to myself, “why did God reach out to me?" Why did He send that message to me?” I then saw the image of my family and friends praying for me, flash through my mind. This was an answer to their prayers. I asked God again what He wanted me to do? Deep down I knew what I needed to do. I then prayed earnestly to Him, as I looked toward the heavens, “Okay God, I know what I need to do, but if I leave all of this behind, You need to make it worth it, okay?”
As we continued walking through the streets of San Francisco I was so disturbed and miserable that I could hardly take it. Then I witnessed something very revealing. I saw a man, a preacher, of some sort standing on a box with the Bible, preaching. He was respectful and dignified and simply preaching the gospel as he probably did every day. As our march approached him, I watched the crowd completely surround him. They were cursing, yelling, and intimidating him. He was completely overwhelmed and I think a little afraid. He then surrendered to the crowd and stumbled away having been defeated. Immediately the entire crowd cheered and clapped. Words could not describe the awe and horror I felt at that moment. Right then, I knew that this movement was directly attacking God and religion.
I told Travis that I had to leave and we went to a nearby restaurant. I got a sandwich there and just tried to relax for a moment. I could tell that Travis was excited and that he didn’t want to stop. He kept eyeing the window so as to not miss a moment of it. He asked me if there was anything wrong? I said, “yeah. I’m not feeling too good.” We joined the protest for a little longer and then finally it was all over and we headed back home. When we got to our apartment we both sat down being exhausted from the day. I could still see the excitement in Travis’ eyes. I didn’t want to be a downer and spoil his experience, but I tried to voice my concern as best I could. I told him that I had some things to work out, and it had to do with God and the Church. He was very understanding and told me that I could have some space to figure things out.
After that day, I wasn’t sure what the next step would be. I mean, I was in San Francisco with my boyfriend. I tried to pretend that the whole incident never happened, but something had changed within me. It was like something had been awakened inside. My experience with God that day reminded me of my previous testimony that I seemed to have forgotten. I already knew that God lives and the Church is true. God reminded me of the reality of this - in one of the most dramatic ways possible. I truly heard the voice of God.
After that life-changing experience, I tried to allow things to just go back to normal. I couldn’t deny what I had experienced but I was conflicted and unsure what I should do next. My family had planned a trip to go to Hawaii for Christmas. I was really looking forward to this and I really needed it. Travis would be staying behind though because my family wasn’t yet comfortable with the idea of me having a boyfriend. It was sad to be leaving him over Christmas, but he arranged for his mother to come to visit so he wasn’t alone.
While in Hawaii, my family and I really bonded. We spent our time at the beach, shopping, hiking, and we even swam with dolphins. We also traveled to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Temple in Oahu. As we were walking around the temple grounds, my sister pulled me aside from where everyone else was and said she had something important to tell me. She said she had received a prompting before we came on this trip to tell me that I should get my patriarchal blessing. This was something I had always wanted to get, but I never felt ready to receive it. I told my sister, that this was probably the one thing I would consider doing in the Church. She left it at that and we regrouped with the rest of my family. The remainder of the trip went very well and it was just so nice to be with them.
When I returned to San Francisco, I was greeted by Travis and his mother. She had always been very supportive of me, and I appreciated that. She left later that evening. As Travis and I spent some one-on-one time together I noticed that something seemed a little off. The next morning I tried talking to him about what was going on. He didn’t have much to say. I asked him why he was putting up walls and not communicating with me. He responded, “Do you really want to know?” I told him, “yes.“ Then he said it, “I cheated on you.”
That moment the sound seemed to hold still in the room. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. “Are you serious?” I asked him with tears in my eyes. All he could do was nod his head. Then I said, “You know we are through, it is over!” The silence of that moment made it definite. I guess he was fine with that. Then the anger poured out. “How could you ruin everything? Where are we supposed to go from here? Why would you choose to exit this relationship in such a hurtful way?” He didn’t have any answers. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had simply broken up with me but the fact that he did it this way, leaving daggers in my heart on his way out. This was someone I trusted. I understood the gay culture and how common it is for people to cheat, but I expected something different, something better from him. On top of all of this, he told me he would be staying with his new boyfriend for the next week or so while I sorted things out. I was stunned. One moment we were together, the next he had completely moved on. Was this really happening?
I had to go into work that day so I quickly got ready and left. As I was walking toward work, I felt like someone just ripped open my heart. Waves of emotion hit me so hard I could hardly breathe. When I arrived at work, I soon realized I was an emotional mess. I broke down and immediately told my coworkers what happened. This just didn’t make sense. Why did I feel so good about coming to San Francisco with my boyfriend if this was how it would end?
Coming home from Hawaii was hell. My life felt like it completely unraveled all at once. The following day my boss said they were closing our branch due to lack of sufficient business. I would now have to find another job. Now, this was starting to get ridiculous! Could things get any worse? In the back of my mind I was thinking: God, are you doing this to me?
I came home from work on New Year’s Eve, realizing that I would be spending it all alone. On the kitchen counter, there was a note from Travis. He wished me a Happy New Years and left me a champagne bottle next to it. I did not appreciate the gesture - at all! Thanks, Travis, for ruining my San Francisco experience. Remember, I invited you to come to join me in San Francisco. If you didn’t want to be with me, why did you come and get us into this mess? I was so angry. I started looking more intently at the bottle of champagne. You know, I thought, I’m going to enjoy this night. To heck with him! I’m going to get completely wasted off this bottle and not worry about all of my problems. I’m also going to go down to Castro Street and get me a new boyfriend. He thinks he can get another boyfriend - well so can I. I left the apartment with the champagne bottle placed inside my backpack. I headed towards Castro Street determined to have a good New Years.
When I arrived, there was already a bustling crowd up and down the street. Everyone was going into the various bars and clubs. I wasn’t old enough to go into any of them at the time. I didn’t know what I was going to do. As I walked up and down the sidewalk I kept my eyes out for someone I could start talking to and hang out with that night. I don’t know what I was searching for, perhaps something or someone to make me feel better. I felt so empty inside. I had lost everything. I was alone. I stopped outside a club and thought to myself, maybe I can get in this one. I’m sure someone could sneak me in. I just hung around the outside of the entrance and there were several others outside as well. As I stood there, a guy started talking with me. After a little bit, he said, “You should come with me and we can go have a good night together.” I thought about it for a moment. I thought about the champagne bottle in my bag and how lonely and sad I was. I thought about how I just wanted to go do something fun on New Year’s Eve and forget all of my problems. As I contemplated this, I thought about my life and where it was headed. I had no idea now. What difference would it make if I just let myself go with this guy to who knows where? I stood there in silence trying to decide what I was going to do.
Then suddenly, I made up my mind and said, “No… I need to leave.” He looked at me in a strange way, and asked, “What’s wrong?” I said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t be here anymore.” I walked away. As I made my way up Castro towards where it intersects with Market Street, I thought about what came over me. It was as if I had plans to do something else, but I didn’t. I just felt like I needed to leave. Was someone guiding me? My steps were unsure at first, but now I seemed to move more intentionally. I know where I’ll go! I’ll go to the pier to watch the fireworks from there. It sounded like a great idea. I went to cross the street but noticed I needed to run across if I were to make it in time before the traffic light changed. I bolted to beat the light. As I did, my bottle of champagne slipped out of my bag and landed with a loud CRASH on the street. Everyone around just turned and looked at me. I didn’t know what to do. There went my fun for the night. I just continued walking, pretending I wasn’t hugely disappointed by what just happened. As I thought about what transpired with that guy and the champagne bottle, I wondered, was someone looking out for me? I made my way to the BART Station to hopefully make it to the pier in time for fireworks. I glanced back at the large rainbow flag waving in the wind, marking the gayest street in San Francisco. Tonight, I’m choosing to walk away.
I made it to the BART Station in time to catch the next train headed towards the pier. I sat down, amongst a bunch of other young, excited travelers that had a little too much to drink already that night.
I sat there pretending I wasn’t completely alone, but I was. I stared at my reflection in the window, pondering what I should do with my life.
When we arrived at our stop, the strangest thing happened. It was minutes away from midnight and the train doors would not open. We all just sat there frustrated, that for no apparent reason we would be spending New Year’s Eve on a train. With about a minute to spare, one of the teenagers decided he would pull the emergency exit handle. It worked and the doors were now open. Everyone poured out of the train, running up the stairs from the station so they wouldn’t miss the countdown. I made it to the street level with 10 seconds to spare. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1…. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Fireworks exploded before my eyes. Confetti was streaming in the air. Happy smiling faces were everywhere to be seen. I stood there, glad that I decided to come to the pier. I was proud of myself. I was happy I didn’t do something I would’ve regretted that night. I chose a better path. I observed the people around me. I saw couples hugging and kissing each other. I saw families embracing one another. I saw friends enjoying a glass of champagne together. I thought to myself, I chose to live the gay lifestyle so that I could be happy and to have companionship. However, the opposite was the outcome. I was miserable and lonely.
When the festivities started to die down I decided I would just go back to my apartment and call it a night. As I was walking back I felt something within me change. It was as if there was a seed of hope for my future buried deep within me. I did not know what was going to happen, but I felt like things would get better. Perhaps someone has a plan for me. I remember looking up at the sky and saying, “God, please take care of me.”
I had now found myself in a bit of a situation. Aside from the emotional stress that I was going through after the breakup, I now had financial concerns as well. When I decided to rent my apartment in San Francisco, I signed the papers in my name with my mom being the co-signer. I intended to have Travis also sign the contract when he came later, but we never got around to doing that. Now that things had taken a turn for the worse, I became worried that he would just leave and I would be stuck with a year lease on an apartment that I couldn’t afford. I didn’t know anyone well enough to have as a new roommate and I didn’t want to share a studio apartment with a stranger. If we both just decided to leave and end the contract, it would be my mother’s credit that would be impacted and I didn’t want to do that to her. So, I was caught in the middle. I had to try to keep Travis around until I figured out what I was going to do. I talked to him about this. He didn’t want to sign a contract but he said he would continue paying until we figured something out.
Meanwhile, I was looking for a new job. I applied all around the city. One day I met a really nice guy who managed a small market shop. He told me he was not hiring at the moment but the other location in the city was. It just so happened that the manager of the other location was right there in the store and I was able to meet her. We arranged to have an interview, and about a week later I had a job. I would now be able to support myself financially, which was a huge relief. It felt good to become more stable and now I could focus on some other areas in my life that needed attention.
Until now, I had stored away the experience I had back in November with God. With all the events that had transpired since then, I remember thinking, “was this all part of God’s plan? Did He prepare me back in November so when all hell broke loose in December I would be ready to come back to Him?” These events were either coincidentally happening at the same time to make my life awfully hard, or maybe God was playing a role in all of this to bring me back to Him.
My Mom kept telling me that I should start praying again. I started listening to her. At this time in my life, I was desperate. I needed all the help I could get. If that meant turning to God, I was all for it.
I got on my knees beside my bed one night and poured out my soul to Him. I told Him about everything I had gone through with coming out of the closet, moving to San Francisco, being in a relationship, and then having my heart broken. I expressed the loneliness I felt and the depression I was experiencing. I wanted Him to know that I desired to turn back to Him but I just didn’t know how. I asked Him to be part of my life again. Opening myself up to God was not easy for me. I had a hard time confronting God because I had broken His commandments. I felt like I had let God down with all of the poor decisions I made in the past few years. I felt like I had abandoned God. However, as I prayed to Him I did not feel the guilt or condemnation that I expected to feel. Instead, I felt His love for me and His desire to be part of my life again. It was as if His arms were wide open waiting for me to be embraced in His love. I felt better that night than I had in a long time. I felt hope for the future, that God had a plan for me, and that everything would work out. With tears streaming down my face, I expressed to Him my desire to go where He wanted to take me.
My sister and I had stayed pretty close throughout this time, and she called one day to follow up on my desire to get a patriarchal blessing. She suggested that I add the LDS Bishop in that area as a friend on Facebook, so I did. After that, I soon received a message from the Bishop. He suggested that we meet to discuss the possibility of getting my patriarchal blessing. I agreed to meet with him and I was actually looking forward to it. I had felt pretty lost in my life and I really needed some direction especially from a divine source. Meeting with the Bishop just seemed like the right thing to do. I set up an appointment and about a week later we met at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chapel in the heart of San Francisco. I told him about my situation and the things that I had done. I asked him what I would need to do to get a patriarchal blessing. He said I would need to go through the repentance process. He explained that it is important that my spirit is in good standing with God to be receptive to what He wants to share with me.
He suggested that I continue meeting with him, attend church weekly, pray, and read the scriptures. I decided I would try each of those things to see if it made a difference. It was shocking to me that I was so willing to consider doing all of this. Perhaps it was because God had been preparing my heart to reestablish a relationship with Him. Now that Travis was out of the picture, it was a lot easier to do so. As I turned myself to God, I Immediately started feeling better. I had a lot of baggage that I had carried over the years. Things that I didn’t realize had affected me negatively. But as I searched through my thoughts and feelings it all started to come to the surface. I consistently prayed to God asking for His forgiveness. I felt it was working because I felt happier, lighter, and more free to choose the things that I wanted to do in my life. I really started to notice some big changes within myself.
One night, as I was talking with my sister on the phone, I addressed some concerns to her about coming back to church. I told her that I didn’t want to go to church because people would judge me. My sister rebutted my reasoning by saying, “No they won’t! Everyone has something they are dealing with. People are more understanding than you think.” I considered her response and I didn’t let it bother me again. I went to church the following Sunday. I sat in the back row and I was very nervous. I was one of the few single guys there. Everyone else had their families with them. Almost immediately though, people came over to where I was sitting and greeted me. I really appreciated that. It made me feel welcome and that I belonged there.
I continued to study the gospel, meet with the Bishop, and attend church. I was feeling really good about things and I could feel the presence of the Holy Ghost back in my life. I began to wonder what else I needed to do in order to be fully forgiven for my sins. I had gone through the repentance process in the past and it had taken a period of time to get the healing that I needed. Now, since I was dealing with much more serious sins, I assumed it would take longer. The next time I met with the Bishop I asked him, how do I know I’ve been forgiven for all the things that I’ve done? My bishop sat in silence for a moment looking down at his desk. Then he looked up at me, directly in the eyes. He said, “God wants me to tell you, He has forgiven you for your sins.” I immediately felt a rush of relief and warmth enter my body. It was as though I could truly feel the weight of my sins lifted off of my shoulders. It was an amazing feeling! I left his office feeling so at peace, so good, so pure. All my sins washed away! I had been given a new start. I was free!
I told my sister this and she was very happy for me. We continued to talk about my future and where I was headed. I told her I wanted to continue going to church and follow the gospel. I did not know what this would mean, but I was okay with it because I had found peace and true happiness. I could sacrifice everything else for what I was feeling now in my life. I was 19 at the time and I completely ruled out going on a mission. I believed my previous mistakes would keep me from going. I felt like I could not get married to a woman, after what I experienced and my lack of attraction towards girls. I concluded that I was completely happy with being a single guy, living a chaste life, and remaining active in the gospel. I would do things like listen to talks from church leaders, listen to music from the Tabernacle Choir, and read the scriptures in my free time. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy. I truly had discovered a new life!
So much had happened in such a short time. In a matter of months, I had completely transformed my life through the power of God. I was discovering who I truly was as a Son of God. I am a person not dictated by my natural inclinations, but completely in control of my actions and my life. I was so full of gratitude towards God for teaching me so much and helping me learn and grow in these enormous ways.
One evening, as I was working at the café, I stood there all by myself preparing food for the following day. I started to offer up a silent prayer to God. I told Him, I was so grateful for the new life He had given me. Also, I apologized for taking my life into my own hands and almost destroying it. I told Him that I’m sick of being in charge of my life and I turn myself completely over to Him. I then asked Him: “what would You have me do…?” Immediately after I said those words, I heard a distinct voice speak to my mind say: “GO ON A MISSION!” I immediately gasped, not expecting a response like that. I was in complete awe that I had received such a powerful and direct answer to my prayer. Then, questioning what I had just experienced and seeking clarification, I asked God, wait, what did you say? A second time I heard: “GO ON A MISSION!” A tingling sensation flooded my body. This was real. This just happened. God just told me to go on a mission! I hurried and finished what I needed to do for my shift. I walked home in amazement. I thought I couldn’t go on a mission? Can I? As I was walking I prayed to God, saying: “Okay, I know You told me twice, but God, if You really want me to go on a mission I need to know one more time that this is what You want me to do.” I arrived at my apartment, feeling a bit overwhelmed but excited about what I had experienced. I got on my knees and immediately started to pray. Please God, let me know one more time. I will do whatever You say but please confirm it again for me. I had the thought to go read my scriptures. When I opened them up, I decided I would just start reading from where I had left off. I opened the Doctrine and Covenants and I turned to the page where my bookmark was located. This is what I read:
Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work. (D&C 4:1-3)
After reading the 3rd verse I was completely stunned. I was filled with the Spirit and dropped my scriptures on the floor. I fell to my knees. I had just read the missionary section in the Doctrine and Covenants! With tears flowing down my face. I said, I can’t believe this, I’m going on a mission! I AM GOING ON A MISSION!
Soon after, I decided I would break the news to my family. No one besides my sister had any idea I was even going to church. I called home and my dad answered. We talked for a short moment. Then I suddenly burst out these words: “DAD, IM GOING ON A MISSION!”
It was silent on the other side of the phone. I could hear my dad sniffling. “Are you serious?” He said with a shaky voice. “YES! I’m going on a mission! I’ve been going back to church and meeting with the bishop. I know that’s what God wants me to do!” Words could not describe the joy that was felt on both sides of the phone that night. My parent’s prayers had been answered.
SALT LAKE CITY
Now I knew that God wanted me to go on a mission, but I had no idea how this would happen. I prayed to God asking Him to lead me every step of the way. I knew He would. I also still needed to receive my patriarchal blessing. There’s supposed to be a Patriarch in every stake but the one assigned to our stake was out of town for a while. Meanwhile, Travis and I were both ready to end our roommate situation as soon as possible. It had been four months since the breakup so we were ready to move on.
Rather than try and make things work out in San Francisco I started thinking about the possibility of moving back to Salt Lake City. I asked Travis if he and his boyfriend would like to take over the apartment if I left. He said that would actually work perfectly. I was so happy to hear that! It made sense and felt right to go back to Salt Lake City. That’s where my family lived and it would be a great environment to prepare for my mission. I could get my patriarchal blessing sooner in Salt Lake City because it was going to be a while before the patriarch in San Francisco would be available. So, I went forward with my decision.
Arriving home to Salt Lake City was oh so sweet. My family warmly awaited my arrival and welcomed me home with big hugs. This was an especially wonderful reunion because so much had changed since we were last together in Hawaii.
I began attending the Young Single Adult ward in Salt Lake City. Immediately I met with the Bishop feeling confident in my goals and ambitions. I told him that I wanted to go on a mission and that I had been working with my previous Bishop to getting prepared for my patriarchal blessing. I mentioned how it would be good for him to speak with my previous bishop about things so we were all on the same page.
When I met with my Bishop again, he had a different tone about the whole mission thing. He was completely honest with me. He had never dealt with this issue before and he was not sure that I would be able to go on a mission. I assured him that I was going, but it just needed to take some time. He approached the whole situation pretty cautiously though. Not that he was opposed to me going, he just didn’t want my application to be denied by the missionary department. He wanted to make sure that we did it the right way.
In the meantime, I decided it would be wise to meet with a therapist to help me work through some of the major transitions I was going through in my life. My parents helped me find one that could help me work towards going on a mission. I felt strongly that I needed to meet with him once a month until I left. I still wanted to get my patriarchal blessing, which is why I started coming back to the church to begin with. We arranged to have a patriarch in my stake give me the blessing. I went over to his apartment in the Avenues neighborhood of Salt Lake City, UT. He was an older man who had kind eyes and a warm smile. He began our visit explaining to me the importance of a patriarchal blessing. He told me how it is will be a guide and a compass for the rest of my life. He asked me very simple questions about myself and then we began. As soon as he placed his hands on my head I felt a rush of warmth pour over my entire body. It was as if pure light was flowing from his hands. He spoke with clarity and precision. He did not stutter or stop to think about what he was going to say. The blessing was one continuous message to me. When it was over he stopped and said, “WOW!” I felt tingly all over and I had tears in my eyes. He helped me up from off the chair and gave me the biggest hug. As I left the apartment I felt so wonderful and excited about my future. I knew that God had some wonderful plans in store for me.
About a year and a half had passed since I moved back to Salt Lake. I was unsure about the timing of when I would go on a mission I just knew that I would. This made it challenging to pursue my education and other pursuits because I knew that this was what God wanted me to do, but I didn’t know when.
At this time, I met with my bishop again and he thought it would be best to meet with a counselor from the missionary department before we submit my mission papers. I met with a counselor the following week. I sat down with him, feeling confident that it would all work out. I held nothing back and told him the whole story. He asked lots of questions. I left feeling good. He also wanted to meet with me one other time before he submitted a report. A few weeks later I checked in with my bishop to see if he had heard anything. He said yes, and that the counselor said I was not fit to serve a mission. He flat out denied me. I was completely devastated! Was I crazy or did God really want me to go on a mission? I felt my faith really being tested at that time. I had committed to this 100%. Was I not supposed to go? Was God just testing my desire to serve a mission? I was so confused. I pulled myself together though and pressed forward knowing that God did want me to serve a mission.
Thankfully, I was still meeting with my therapist and I hoped that we could use a recommendation from him to help me still be able to go. I felt like my therapist believed in me. I was happy I had been meeting with him a long time and had developed a strong relationship of trust so that he was confident in my abilities to serve.
I met with my bishop once again hoping to be able to move forward this time. However, when I met with him he looked a little sad and worried. He told me that he was getting released in a few weeks. He said he wanted to see me through this whole process but there was no way we could do it all in a few weeks. I told him that I had been thinking about going back to my family ward, so I guess that’s what I needed to do. He also thought that would be a good thing for me to do. Soon after switching to my family ward, I was hanging out with my friends from high school. One of my friends who I hadn’t seen in a while was there. He asked me how I was doing. I told him I was still planning on going on a mission but I had no idea when. He told me that I needed to talk to his dad. I knew that his dad was a General Authority in the church, but I didn’t know where he was serving. My friend mentioned that his dad was heavily involved in the missionary department. Right then he called his dad and handed me the phone. I had not spoken to his dad since high school, so it was good chatting with him again. I told him briefly, my situation and he said that he would be able to meet with me sometime the following week.
On the day of the interview, I checked in at the main lobby in the Church Office Building. They sent me to the third floor where the missionary department was located. I sat down in the waiting area. I was a little nervous. I prayed and asked God to bless me to know what to say, and that if I was supposed to go on a mission that I would receive approval. I greeted my friend’s dad, Elder Evans. It was great to see him again. We talked for quite a bit. I relayed my whole story and I shared my testimony with him. He told me that he felt good about sending me on a mission. I left that interview feeling really hopeful about my chances to serve. He told me that he would suggest my name to be discussed by the other leaders in the missionary committee and they would decide to move my application forward or to deny it.
About a week later I met with my Stake President. He wanted to move forward with my application so he arranged another meeting with a General Authority in the missionary committee. We had a great interview and he mentioned that we could move forward with my application after he meets with the missionary committee to make a final decision on my application. About a week later I received word that I could begin filling out my papers. This meant that I had made it to the final process where they would consider all aspects of my application to know if I should go or not, and if so, where?
I completed everything for my missionary application in about a week’s time, including my missionary physical. I submitted my application along with my letter of recommendation from my therapist. In approximately a week I would know if I passed the final review. My bishop and I were anxiously awaiting a phone call to tell us one way or another. My bishop called me later that week. He said, “Guess what, Will? YOU’RE GOING ON A MISSION!” I couldn’t believe it! I was so relieved. I could not hold back the tears. God had told me to serve a mission and He made it happen! I was so happy to know I was not crazy. God really did speak to me in San Francisco! Two weeks later I would receive my call in the mail.
Two and a half weeks later I received a letter in the mail with the address from church headquarters. This was the moment I had been waiting for. I called my siblings on the phone with my mom and dad present, as I read the words: “You are called to serve in the Canada Edmonton Mission!” I was shocked and thrilled at the same time. I finally knew where the Lord wanted me to go and I was so excited to serve the people of Canada. I would be leaving in a month, which was the perfect amount of time because I was beyond ready to go.
The mission was an incredible experience. I was able to stay close to the Spirit during this time and my testimony grew exponentially. I had many wonderful experiences of teaching people and serving them. I developed great friendships with people I served and other missionaries. I had leadership opportunities, which allowed me to grow in unique ways. The members out there really taught me a lot as well. Looking back on those two years, some of the most important life lessons that I learned was how to recognize and follow the Spirit and the importance of exact obedience. I was known as one of the most obedient missionaries on my mission. Why did I care so much about following the mission rules? Because I knew that obedience led to power. I understood that I desperately needed all of the help I could get from God if I were to be a successful missionary. I just wanted to please Him and be the missionary He wanted me to be. So I felt like He needed me to set an example of obedience, so I did that. I don’t think I was very popular because of this, but I wasn’t on a mission for anyone else but God. There were many times throughout my mission that I felt the favor of God because of my sacrifices to be obedient and my deep desire to serve Him.
There was a time on my mission that I felt severe darkness and loneliness though. This was very alarming because I never thought I would have experienced this while I was serving God.
At this time, I felt influences that tried to convince me that I was the worst missionary ever, no one liked me, and I was doing everything wrong. I could still feel the companionship of the Holy Ghost encourage me to keep going, so I pushed through these feelings and remained true to what I knew. Those feelings did eventually pass. But what was interesting was after this experience I was called to be a Zone Leader and one transfer later, Assistant to the President. I never cared for these titles but it was evident to me that the Lord did, in fact, trust me and I was a good missionary despite those adversarial claims. Interesting enough, leading up to my mission and on my mission I had no real temptations with my attractions towards the same gender. This I believe was due to the closeness I felt to the spirit at this time. This relationship with the spirit is what I feel was one of the big takeaways I needed to learn in going on a mission. There was an actual spiritual breakthrough that occurred, that allowed me to feel and discern the spirit on a deeper level. This has become one of my greatest strengths and blessings that literally guides my life every day. I’m so grateful for God’s infinite wisdom in giving us the experiences we need to have so we can be successful in life and learn the lessons we need to.
Although my path led me to go on a mission, I don’t think that the act of going on a mission is the important takeaway here. I know many who didn’t go on a mission and who aren’t able to serve for a variety of reasons. What I believe matters most is that we submit our life to God’s will and let him guide our path, whatever it may be. For me, that was a mission but everyone’s course will look different. We just need to trust in Him.
After my mission, I had many opportunities to keep that same spiritual strength that I gained as a missionary through serving others. Within months of returning home, I was called to be in the Elders Quorum Presidency. About a year later I was called to be the Elders Quorum President and a year after that I was the Ward Mission Leader.
These callings kept me focused on the gospel, on others, and on my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I also utilized the power of the Temple by going as often as I could, aiming for once a week.
In my various callings and church assignments, I sometimes wondered if I was capable of doing them, especially considering who I am and what I had done in my past. God helped me debunk all of that, and He utilized me in ways I never thought were possible.
I was open to my Bishops and Stake Presidents about experiencing same-sex attraction and the associated challenges. I found this to be helpful and also it felt good that my experience with those things didn’t prevent me from participating fully as a member of the church.
Although I was able to interact and serve people from all walks of life and experiences I started to see a pattern in my ministry of service, that God would lead me to others who dealt with same-sex attraction. There seemed to be a magnetic pull that would often draw them to me or me to them in so many situations. For a little while, I had been resistant to these interactions not wanting to be detected as being gay among my church friends. You see, because I formed a new identity since coming back to the church, hardly anyone knew about my past or my story. I didn’t know how to and if it was wise to bring it up, especially if I would be considering dating women. With a select few individuals, I would share a little bit of my history, but only with a specific intention to help and give hope. There came a point though that I felt isolated and I realized that I didn’t really have deep connections with the people around me. This left me feeling pretty lonely. One night as I was searching online for resources for LDS people who are gay, I stumbled across the Voices of Hope video series. Touched by these messages and longing for connection I reached out to a few individuals there. I was eventually led to the North Star Facebook group, which I joined. This opened a door for me to meet many individuals that have come to be a great support in my life and I have formed strong friendships with them.
It was important for me to find people I could really connect with and talk about the day to day struggles, thoughts, and feelings I was going through. It helped immensely when they understood where I was coming from as well.
I also found great joy in being able to help and lift others who needed it based on what my life experiences had been and the insight I had gained along the way. In many ways, I was able to see how my experience with same-sex attraction has become a blessing for me because of the relationship I’ve been able to form with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, my increased knowledge of the Atonement, and the unique opportunities to associate with and support others.
As I continue to be more open about my story and making friends and connections with people in the SSA/LDS world, I was given the opportunity to speak in the 2015 North Star Conference. This was a big moment for me because I hadn’t shared my story in a public way up to that point. The timing felt right and I went for it.
After that experience, I was more open to sharing on a broader level. I was approached by the church’s PR department that they would be interested in sharing my story for the Mormons and Gays website. I quickly wrote up a very lengthy version of my story (longer than this one) and submitted it for them to review. I felt strongly that my story needed to be shared a certain way, including my pivotal experience at the Proposition 8 protest. However, this was during the time that gay marriage had just passed and there was a lot of contention around this issue. In sharing my story, I knew that not everyone would like it, but I was willing to do it if the Lord required it of me. The Church’s PR department ended up not moving forward with my story. They said they were looking for a different type of message.
Feeling like I was guided to write up my essay and to share my story, yet it not moving forward, made me question the time and effort I was putting towards the SSA/LDS community. So, I shifted my focus on finishing my education and my own personal development.
After graduating from college, I started to think about returning to California to be near my sister and getting involved with the wellness and tech industries. A door opened and I was able to land the perfect job for what I wanted to do. When I first moved there I thought to myself, you know, maybe it’s time to just put the whole gay thing behind me. I knew marriage and a family would eventually happen, so perhaps this was the time to turn the page and focus on that.
Well…things turned out differently than I anticipated. Almost immediately, I felt the adversaries influence try hard to tempt me and bring me down. I felt loneliness, darkness, and confusion. With all of that being said, the Lord didn’t abandon me but He gave me the tools I needed to press forward and be successful.
Some of the tools that I developed came from attending a few men’s retreat weekends: Journey into Manhood and Journey Beyond. At both of these events, I came to understand my attraction towards men better, how to meet my needs in a healthy way, and the development of life skills that would be helpful in any context.
Other tools came through revelation. I kept having the word “Authenticity” come to my mind when I moved out to California. People would ask me, “What’s your story?” or, “How are you doing?” Before I might have given them a pretty superficial response, but now in a conscious effort to be more authentic, I learned to be real with people and share my true feelings and experiences. All of it. From telling people, “Yes, I’m attracted to guys and I’m also LDS” to “Yeah, I’m actually really going through a hard time right now.” I chose to be authentic in my interactions with everybody. This I believe has helped me approach my challenges in a more humble, genuine, and helpful way.
This pattern of seeking authenticity eventually led me in 2017, to share my experience in a sacrament meeting dedicated to the LGBT theme. This opportunity was the next level for me because I had never been so open among my LDS brothers and sisters who didn’t experience SSA. This was also challenging because these attendees were my potential dating pool (in California the options are more limited). Once again though, I felt it was right so I had to trust that feeling and go for it. The acceptance and love that I felt from others after sharing my story was so wonderful to witness. I felt like I had finally merged my two worlds together: church life and personal life. This was long overdue.
Having this positive experience made it easier to again, get involved with the LDS/SSA community and speak for the second time at the North Star Conference in 2018 and share my story through the Voices of Hope project.
Most recently, I’ve been doing a lot of praying to God, asking Him how I can be successful and how others walking this path can be successful as well. A new word has risen to the surface, it is “fulfillment.” The things that bring me the most fulfillment, is what I need to invest my efforts in. Here’s what I’ve discovered those things to be:
First and foremost, true fulfillment comes from a deep relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Doing things like reading scriptures, going to church, praying, attending the temple, keeping the commandments, and remembering Christ throughout the day are great ways that I’ve been able to feel close to Him and be supported through His spirit. This relationship brings me the greatest contentment and peace in my life. When I am good with God, everything else falls into place.
Secondly, fulfillment can come from developing loving and meaningful relationships with others. As a person who experiences same-sex attraction and desires to be chaste, it can seem like this path may be lonely and lacking in love. But I don’t think it needs to be that way, because love doesn’t need sex to be fulfilling. There are limitless ways to express love without breaking the Law of Chastity. In fact, we read that the highest type of love is charity, which is the pure love of Christ. In the Bible and Book of Mormon, we read how Jesus showed us the way to love others in this way by inviting them to spend time with Him, conversing, sharing gifts, serving, and we even have the record of John the beloved resting his head on Christ’s bosom. Perhaps our cultural norms on how we view and express love within our friendships can be challenged and deepened. Maybe for some of us, especially those who are gay or single we can find deeper meaning in the relationships with those around us.
Third, fulfillment can also be found in creating a legacy to leave this world a better place. This can come in many different forms, but ultimately it comes down to finding something that you’re passionate about and being able to contribute to it, in a meaningful way. There is so much good that can be done in this world. We have enough causes to fill up every idle life out there. Become engaged and live with purpose.
These are the things I’ve decided to focus on in my life. I feel great about it and I feel like it is a formula for happiness and fulfillment. Although much of my life story is yet to be written I’m glad I’ve recognized that my story is worth being told. There’s so much I’ve learned from the 29 years of being on this earth. I’m looking forward to the wisdom and knowledge yet to be attained by every moment moving forward.