What is the connection between suicide and religious or cultural norms? This is the question that Brandon Deyette answers in his newest LGBT-themed documentary, Latter-Day Glory. The 74-minute film draws attention to difficult topics like child abuse and social isolation, as well as how they relate to the LDS Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The director delves deep into the Mormon-centered beliefs, tenets and policies that have emerged over the last years, shedding light on heartbreaking stories that go unnoticed or are willfully dismissed.
In the last two decades alone, suicide rates have increased by 30 percent in the US, and queer adolescents are known to be at greater risk. Between the years of 2011 and 2015, Utah has witnessed a 141 percent increase in youth suicides. Deyette takes this statistic and places it in the context of LGBT persecution and maltreatment. Banking on this controversial correlation, the documentary explores some of the glaring religious practices and dogmas that affect mental health, but also the more subtle ways in which they hinder the development of healthy self-esteem. Collecting discussions with over fifty people (most of which are gay ex-Mormons), the film brings together tragic and heartfelt stories tied together by a common thread – a sense of identity crippled by Mormon doctrine.
The two main figures in the documentary are Jonathon Levi Powell and Terry Blas. The former is a well-known hairstylist and makeup artist who grew up in the LDS Church. Scarred by the bigoted convictions of Mormonism and the alienation he felt, the homosexual man pursued his creative passion to make it through his earlier years within the community. Now ready to look at it with a critical eye and renounce it, Powell wants to help others like him feel whole, safe and at peace with themselves despite being shunned and brought up to hate themselves. Blas also survived his childhood by feeding his artistic aspirations. Fascinated by drawings, comics, writing and cartoons, the gay man built a solid career as a comic book illustrator. Although successful and talented, he struggles to this day to feel worthy and overcome the shame instilled in him by Mormon dogma. Together, the two artists attend Queer Friends, a strong support network for LGBTQ individuals who are also members of the LDS Church.
The interviews are very personal and relatable, disclosing in-depth how homosexuality is portrayed as a sin within the religion, but also how this permanently impacts queer people. Emphasis is placed on how common myths surrounding LGBT orientations and gender identities are perpetuated through Mormon doctrine. Moreover, the conversations reveal how all of these beliefs strip away young followers of their self-worth and acceptance towards both themselves and others. One of the most interesting discussions is on the topic of the 2017 policy change regarding gay parents. The latter encouraged and pressured children who grew up in a gay home to move out and separate from their family. They would also only be able to be baptized at eighteen-years-old if they had denounced their parents’ sexual orientation.
Latter-Day Glory covers some heavy topics, but ultimately puts forth a hopeful message. It showcases the importance of Mormon LGBT youth having a supportive environment and how finding an accepting community can help individuals recover from chronic feelings of shame. Powell and Blas share their personal, heartrending stories, as well as their road to recovery and their film is a must-see for anyone who has been or currently is in their shoes.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Brandon Deyette