Speakers discuss opposing views on same-sex attraction, recount own journeys with sexuality

Campus Editor and Campus Editor

Kyle James Parker and Dan Mattson both found themselves attracted to men in the early years of their life.

The way the two addressed this attraction, though, was entirely different.

Parker embraced his sexuality, while Mattson embraced chastity and the Catholic church.

This divergence was at the heart of a discussion the two had in the Union ballroom on Wednesday evening. The event, called “Universal Love,” was the result of collaboration between a variety of student organizations, including Veritas, FORCE, VISION and Hillel.

Michael Brown, director of CRU and the SEARCH learning community, moderated the discussion. Brown acknowledged the “variety of perspectives” those in the audience of a few hundred had, but encouraged everyone to understand the views presented.

“Tonight’s discussions are incredibly important,” Brown said. “Lean in to hear and understand with empathy.”

Each speaker had roughly 40 minutes to relate their views and experiences.

Speaking first, Parker focused his talk on happiness and what it means to be a human being.

“We know we’re at least speaking from a shared human bond,” Parker said. “We all want this happiness.”

Part of this shared bond, Parker said, is the interdependence of people. To him, we can influence people in a positive or negative way.

“We’re constantly impacting each other,” Parker said. “We exist because of the love and kindness of others.”

Parker related his experience of being raised Roman Catholic. When he noticed his attraction to men at 12-years-old, he also noticed the church’s stance.

“There wasn’t a warm or positive vibe that was coming about being gay,” he said.

The church, he said, often characterized his sexuality as an “abomination” and a “disorder.”

“When you’re 12 years old and you’re hearing this wording, you start to apply it to yourself,” he said.

He struggled to “pray the gay away,” which ultimately proved ineffective. He said he felt ashamed of himself, and even turned his statue of Jesus away so he didn’t look on him.

“Nothing was changing but the self-esteem,” he said.

While Parker’s family was accepting of his sexuality, he knows for many, this is not the case. Further, the dialogue often focuses on negative stereotypes associated with the LGBT community, he said.

“We are not having the right conversation,” Parker said. “If we’re going to have these conversations, it has to come from a place of understanding,”

When Mattson took the stage, he related how his experience led to his conversion to the Catholic church, or, as he called it, a reversion.

He was baptized and raised in a religious family, but the challenge started when he noticed he was attracted to men in first grade.

He tried to come to terms with this attraction, as he still wanted the happiness his parents had: the “white picket fence” with marriage and a family. Like Parker, he also tried to “pray the gay away,” to no avail.

“I believed in a God that said ‘no’ to homosexuality,” Mattson said.

Throughout the years, he tried to date women, but never shook his attraction to men. He ended up losing his faith and got a boyfriend for a year. For a time, he struggled with an addiction to pornography.

But after 30 years, he returned to the Catholic church and embraced a life of chastity.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be in the Catholic church,” Mattson said. “I find hope and freedom in the Catholic church.”

He ended his talk by relating the Catholic church’s view on sexuality. The reproductive system, Mattson said, is the only thing you need another person for; everyone has half.

To Mattson, sex is not just for pleasure but has a function in nature.

The discussion ended with Brown asking the men questions posed by both members of the audience and those on Twitter. One Twitter question challenges Mattson on his claim that heterosexuality is rooted in nature, as many species are known to engage in homosexuality, such as dolphins and bats.

“We don’t look to the animal kingdom to say what is natural for man,” Mattson responded, emphasizing the greater intelligence humans have.

Brown ended the session by asking them to elaborate on one of few interests the men share: gardening. Both Parker and Mattson have a fondness for gardening.

“You both have demonstrated even in your differences how to find common ground,” Brown said.

Senior Allison Gaier, president of Veritas, said that all the organizations that came together to host this event wanted to promote open dialogue and respect.

“I really liked that it was more of a discussion,” Gaier said. “They kind of knew each other … that’s what made it successful.”