ILLUMINATING ESSENCE Exhibit – Portraits of Courage
The Heroes’ Journey!
On November 5, 2015, The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints – The Mormons, officially declared that gay families and their children will not be allowed to enter Zion. I feel discouraged and saddened by this and compelled to share my perspective. Especially since, the suicide rate for Adolescent LGBTQ Mormons has skyrocketed since the declaration. Additionally, as a portrait artist, known for capturing the essence of those I paint, I am sharing portraits of LGBTQ Mormons, proud enought to stand and declare themselves Mormon and gay,
Having grown up Mormon in the 1970’s, I firmly believed that homosexuality was an abomination unto the Lord. Decades later I had a complete change of mind due to events I witnessed beginning in the late 1980’s. Now, I hope to illuminate the hearts and minds of those heretofore unenlightened by raising awareness through my artwork: to eliminate shame pollution born of ignorance.
ILLUMINATING ESSENCE is a series that shines a light on different aspects of humanity. We create a living documentation of the dignity and the beauty that is within each one of us. By sharing the stories of these subjects and bringing them all together, we create a powerful statement of unity.
In the late 1980’s, young gay men were beginning to disappear due to “the grid”, later known as AIDS. In 1994 I attended open meetings at a LGBT club. Though not a drinker nor gay, I was lonely, struggling with chronic fatigue and these “sinners” welcomed me with love and acceptance. Daily I witnessed the candid stories of those affected by AIDS. They already knew that many friends and family didn’t understand their “choice” to be gay. Turns out being gay was anything but fun and easy. Furthermore, every few days, someone was missing, often dead. I felt the sobering strength of those who knew that life is short and unpredictable. Those who knew that every decision is precious because ultimately it is a matter of life and death. One thing for sure, I felt moved by the presence of God, or a Higher Power. It was nearly tangible in those rooms. It was so powerful and different than how I felt at church that each day I became a little more changed.
In 2014, I found out my longtime friend, Doug, was in the late stages of ALS. I had lost contact with him again and truly missed him. I was surprised when a series of coincidences revealed he was in hospice care 2 blocks way. When I finally saw him, he was in terrible pain, his body twisted and emaciated. He could barely communicate but his eyes were bright and clear. When I told him I would do his portrait, his tears welled and rolled.
His life was a gift to me but not for the reasons either one of us would have guessed. It wasn’t his education, his image or anything material. Instead for thirty years I watched him struggle with being truly gay and being Mormon. Those two things never found resolution within his heart. Only someone who was naturally homosexual and a true lover of Mormonism would pay the prices he paid. With his passing I would begin to comprehend the truth of his innate wholeness. This went against all I had been taught as a child but couldn’t deny my heart was genuinely touched with humility and compassion – as never before.
Within the past 2 years I have frequently attended the Mormon church and have been heartened to see gay couples in attendance. And learn their stories. I came with an open mind and curiosity. Mormonism may be the fastest growing religion in North America but it has never been popular nor political correct and its doctrine is very clear about how we must express sexuality in this life. When I met A.Celeste she told me that while The Church would always be home to her, that trying not to be gay hadn’t work either. Others gays shared that the church had reexamined its “conversion therapy” when a startling number of “cured” saints committed suicide. Many gays have been welcomed by conventional Mormons with love and some skepticism, but criticism, much more so now, to the point of shunning, with the recent pronouncement by headquarters in Salt Lake City. Yet even before this latest un-Christlike and obtuse declaration, A. Celeste and others have been challenged with judgement in ways I know I would not have the courage to endure.
“We often pray for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. This project is designed to help open the eyes, ears and hearts of those who wish to better understand their LGBT brothers and sisters.”
— MITCH MAYNE
There are many ways for you to support this series. From monetary contribution to using your voice, all forms are welcome and it’s really the goal of this series to create community and relate to one another.