“It was the first time I had seen real-life not influenced by the [LDS] church. I realized that what makes someone good is not a checklist of expected behaviors, but whether someone is nice and kind. It was not whether or not they are Mormon but who they actually are as a person.” Lewis Stevens said as he recounted on his experience spending a summer in New York City; his first time outside of Utah by himself and not under the “umbrella of the church,” as he would say. Lewis is 22 years old and grew up in a very traditional LDS household in Spanish Fork Utah with his three brothers and parents. After graduating high school, he served an LDS mission in Jamaica, and upon returning he attending Utah State University. Lewis describes his life as “safe and secure” up to this point. He followed a strict set of rules and feared more than anything deviating from them. People assumed they knew who he was, and he worked as hard as he could to keep his mask on and keep fooling people into believing that he was an average, faithful LDS member.
Despite feeling safe and secure, Lewis also felt like he was drowning. He took a job during the summer of 2018 in Manhattan and said this was the first time he was finally able to figure out who he really was. Lewis seemed to light up when talking about Manhattan, he talked about it being the perfect place to blossom and figure out who he really was. He said it was the first taste of freedom he had experienced his entire life. This is where he learned to judge people based on their character and not on their standing with the church and realized that his character was also more than whether or not he followed the church’s rules. He met a bunch of coworkers who were from all over the world and had all sorts of gender identities and sexual orientation. This is the first time he felt free enough to start exploring a side of him he had only talked about with one person before in his entire life: his attraction to men. It seemed to him that he was finally genuinely seen by people for who he truly was and that he would not be “caught” for being himself. Lewis talked about his time that summer as though it were magical, loving his small taste of freedom.
Eventually, the summer ended and Lewis came back to Logan Utah; determined to figure everything out about himself. He still held it in for a few months upon returning, all the while exploring himself introspectively. Lewis said that he finally could not hold it in anymore and texted one of his friends in Logan telling her that he was bi-sexual. He said that just telling someone on his own will (he had been forced a couple of times beforehand) finally gave him this small breath of air. Although Lewis knew that he was not bi-sexual, he said this seemed an easier way to ease into letting people know. Lewis said that it was easier to share this piece of him with newer people he had met in his life because he had less to lose if they rejected that part of him. He said the scariest part was telling those closest to him, he said that he needed little bits of validation to give him the courage to tell the people who mattered the most to him.
Lewis slowly started telling more and more people up at Logan. He was living as his true self there. He would go to parties, drink coffee, talk about guys; but when he would go back to Spanish Fork he would pull his mask back out and pretend that he was the same person he had always been.
On June 2nd, Lewis drove down to the Pride Festival in Salt Lake City with a couple of friends who he felt actually knew him. Up until this point, Lewis had always been terrified to interact with the LGBTQ+ community because he was afraid it would bring out his true, gay self that he had been working so hard to hide. Lewis said that that the entire festival was amazing, but the thing that stuck out to him the most was a float in the parade called “Mormons Building Bridges.” He said that he saw a little girl in the back holding a flag with two rainbows on it that said “fresh courage take,” a small line from one of his favorite hymns he had grown up singing. As soon as he saw the flag, Lewis said that it felt like he had been electrocuted and heard a voice telling him that he had to be honest with everyone in his life. Lewis started crying, and he knew that he needed to be honest with some of the closest people in his life.
After going back to Logan, he drove to his best friend, Emma Winn, house and he said that she held him while he cried to her. Lewis was finally able to work up the courage to call his brother Matt and tell him the news. Matt responded in the best way Lewis said anyone could have responded like it was the good news that it was. He rejoiced with Lewis and told him how proud he was. Lewis talked about how most people respond with something along the lines of, “I will still love you no matter what your choices are,” and that it meant so much to treat it like it was good news. Lewis said, “If I were to tell someone that I had just gotten an A on my final exam, would they say, ‘Don’t worry I still love you’, or would they say, ‘Great job! I am so proud of you!’.” Having Matt respond in such a positive way gave him the strength and courage to open up to more people.
When asked about how the conversation with his main support system went, Lewis said that it was too painful to bring up again. All he really said about it was that it was very apparent how disappointed they were in him and how awful it made him feel.
The next week Lewis and Emma were sitting in a beautiful field, listening to “Ghost Town” by Kanye West. The last part of the song says, “Once again I am a child. I let it all go, of everything that I know … and nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free, we’re still the kids that we used to be … I put my hand on the stove to see if I still bleed ... and nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.” Once again, Lewis and Emma were brought to tears. He said listening to the song that it hit him that he was still the same person he had always been. He is still the same person he was as a child, but freer and able to breathe. This song was just what he needed to have the courage to move forward.
In October of 2019, Lewis posted on Instagram that he was gay. He said that what motivated him to come out publicly was a documentary he watched on Harvey Milk. He was the first openly gay public official in San Francisco in the 1970s and was assassinated because of it. Harvey had said that every gay has to come out, that it is the only way to end the stereotype and the bigotry. Lewis said it was scary to be out to everyone, all his mission companions, high school friends, etc. but that it was the final step to finally be above the water and breathing freely.
Now, Lewis talks about how much hope he has for the future. He is still struggling with some family members and with depression but is very optimistic that it will all get better. One of the things that is still hard, is the change in dynamic around getting married. This is really hard for Lewis, and he says that it seems odd that marriage is the MOST important thing in the LDS church, unless you are gay. If you are gay that is the worst possible thing that can happen, and it just does not make sense. Lewis grew up in the LDS church and it is hard for this part of him to be so completely rejected by something he had devoted his life to. Lewis is learning to not take this fear of people who do not understand personally and said that his main support system is making an effort to be more loving and accepting of his new lifestyle.