leaving salt lake

The Mormon Church Couldn’t Cure Justin Utley. So He Packed Up His Guitar and Left

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At age 24, Utah-born musician Justin Utley had never kissed anyone. He’d never tasted alcohol, or for that matter, coffee or tea. He’d lived his whole life as a devout Mormon—regularly attending temple, serving on a two-year mission, and playing “firesides” up and down the West Coast. He hoped his devotion would put an end to those impure thoughts. Those impure, gay thoughts. But when the college roommate he had fooled around with came out, Utley panicked. And on the advice of his Bishop, he enrolled into Evergreen, a program for curing “same-sex attraction.”

Utley initially felt relieved to find help among others like himself — until he realized Evergreen was actually the perfect closeted Mormon cruising ground. Between their weekly group sessions, attendees would jerk-off together. The program treats homosexuality like a mental illness, and over time Utley’s program-appointed therapist convinced him that he’d been molested as a child (something Utley says never happened). Finally, after a year at Evergreen, he met his first boyfriend, Brent, and left Evergreen forever, en route to happily ever after.

Six months later, Brent died of a heart attack.

Back to his Bishop for comfort, Utley was told God had allowed Brent to die because He disapproved of same-sex relationships. And at that moment, Utley, who’d spent his entire life serving and defending his faith, realized the church would never do the same for him. He submitted a formal resignation asking for his name to be removed from every church roster, roll book, and attendance sheet. This place didn’t deserve his name.