Dean Snelling: Diary of a (gay) Latter-day Saint
On December 30th, 2022, I received emails, Facebook messages, and ultimately a phone call from Dean Snelling to let me know that he had just published his autobiography, Dean Snelling: Diary of a (gay) Latter-day Saint, just a few days earlier. He was eager for Affirmation to share his story.
Dean shared that his story was different from what you’d find on the shelves of Deseret Book. His story was of an excommunicated member of the Church, married to a same-sex spouse, and still believed. This isn’t a story that fits within the narrative of what’s acceptable for gay, lesbian, or bisexual members of the Church. He’s quick to say that stories within that narrative are important and valuable. But his story is different.
In 559 pages, Snelling takes you on his over-six-decade journey of self-discovery, faith, sacrifice, loss, and affirmation, blending his memory with excerpts from letters, church talks, and other materials. You’ll travel with him from his beginnings in Ohio to his youth in New Mexico, his introduction to the Church on a visit to Salt Lake City, his college studies in Idaho and Utah, his mission in Canada, and his teaching career that seemingly was a never-ending saga of placements in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland.
Snelling recounts diving into investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and being baptized as a member of the Church at the age of sixteen after missionaries secured his parents’ approval. His conversion experience and testimony clearly center him in his faith throughout his life, even as the counsel he receives from the Church as a gay man struggling to be a good husband to his wives, father to his children, son to his parents, and church member falls short, opening dark, dangerous, paths for the exploration of his sexuality. Dean lives a double life, where, on the surface, he is a beloved teacher, family man, and worthy priesthood holder serving in various callings. However, below that surface is a man desperately struggling to hold it all together, seeking satisfaction in dark places and not understanding why this struggle was not being taken from him.
This is an intimate story, as Snelling lets you into the conversations and letters between him and his family and friends. Laid bare on the pages are arguments, and pain, within his marriages. His first wife was taken by cancer. His second marriage ended in divorce. His love, hopes, and dreams for his children are also a significant part of his story, even celebrating their continued faith and activity as Latter-day Saints as he eventually finds himself excommunicated.
Dean’s story is unique, but his experiences mirror those of men in the Church prior to 1984 who were counseled to bury their sexuality, serve faithfully in the Church, and marry unsuspecting women to overcome their homosexuality. Eventually finding his way to Affirmation, Snelling met many other men who were Latter-day Saints, gay, fathers, church leaders, BYU teachers, and so on. Most divorced. All that he met were no longer members. He writes, “So much talent wasted. So many broken homes because of the Church’s former policy that encouraged young men to marry, telling them that they would be able to change.”
Ultimately, Snelling happily finds himself able to fulfill his hope of finding a man to marry and have a monogamous relationship with, feeling “purer” than he had ever felt before. Dean and his husband David were among the first same-sex couples to marry in North America after it became legal in British Columbia, Canada.
Dean Snelling: Diary of a (gay) Latter-day Saint is exactly what the title tells you it is. It’s available to read for yourself on Amazon.
This article was submitted by an Affirmation community member. The opinions expressed are wholly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Affirmation, our leadership, or our staff. Affirmation welcomes the submission of articles by community members in accordance with our mission, which includes promoting the understanding, acceptance, and self-determination of individuals of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and our vision for Affirmation to be a refuge to land, heal, share, and be authentic.
What an incredible history – thank you for sharing this story, I’m excited to check out the book!!