Growing up gay in Abbotsford with a Baptist minister for a father, Matthew David waited a long time to come out.
The 27-year-old singer, who came out to his family earlier this year after deciding to release an autobiographical album, admits he was afraid he’d lose everything if he revealed his sexuality to those closest to him.
“If this was 10 or 15 years ago, I would’ve thought that my only option would be to put a gun to my head or run away and never come back,” David says.
“My whole world was Christian,” he explains. “My family, my extended family — my school was a private Christian school. For anyone to discover that I was gay would have been devastating.”
Homosexuality isn’t often talked about in his church, he notes, but it “is alluded to as the ultimate, triple X–rated sin. If you do it once, you’d be lost forever.”
Surrounded by Abbotsford’s tightly knit, conservative community, David felt like he was hiding a dirty secret. He even contacted Focus on the Family after learning of reparative therapy in one of their publications, before coming to the realization that this was something therapy couldn’t fix.
So far his family hasn’t rejected him for coming out. “They loved me in spite of it,” he says. “It’s working itself out very slowly.”
Last month, David took his coming-out journey to the next level. In a November profile published in the Abbotsford News, he revealed his struggle with his sexuality to a community he still considers one of the most conservative in the Lower Mainland.
“It’s places like this that make kids feel like they have no hope, which is how I felt as a teenager here,” he says. “That interview gave me a chance to address the people that made me feel that way.”
His family loved the article, he says. His mother even clipped it out and started a scrapbook. However, the story has also brought its share of controversy.
An online reprinting features both positive and negative reader feedback, including quotes from the Bible concerning David’s immoral lifestyle and a plea for him to be “happily married to a woman and a devout Christian.”
Backlash from his story has also manifested itself in other ways.
“Shortly after it was published, I received an anonymous phone call on my cell, a hate call,” David reluctantly admits. “I had to go back and call every place I could think of where my address or phone number might appear on a list — from old jobs to tanning salons — and ask them to remove it.”
Still, he thinks Abbotsford is becoming more liberal and tolerant as more people from Vancouver’s suburbs arrive in search of affordable housing. And he doesn’t regret coming out. Publicly outing himself has actually helped him and his career, he says.
“If you’re just a musician, it’s harder to find a niche and a way to stand out,” he notes. “I’ve incorporated and woven my story into my music and I’m sort of building a career out of the issue. Right now I’ve chosen to make this about helping people understand about being gay and reaching out to teens who may feel like they don’t have hope, like I did.”
Although he acknowledges that he sought the publicity surrounding his sexuality and his religion, he’s reluctant to see his six-song EP, Masquerade, labelled as Christian rock.
“Part of me feels like I don’t really want to be branded that way, but another part of me wants to be open and honest and genuine,” he says. “I am from Abbotsford. I am gay. I am Christian. I’m not hiding anything.”
He describes his debut album as spiritual: more of a pop documentation of his coming to terms with his faith and sexuality than hymns and gospel music. Standout tracks include the ballad “Look How I’ve Grown” and his cover of Madonna’s “Frozen.”
He’s careful to point out that “it’s not Jesus this and the cross that. Masquerade is very accessible to everybody.”
He may not be writing songs of divine praise, but being Christian remains an important part of David’s life. He still gives a weekly sermon at his church in Abbotsford and cautions that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality outright, even if some of its interpretations do.
Asked how he navigates the opposition from both sides — disliked by many Christians for being gay, and by many gays for being Christian — David pauses.
“Everyone knows that many Christians don’t tolerate homosexuality,” he says, “but many Christians never really get to see that the gay community also believes that you can’t be gay and Christian at the same time.”
He holds the Christians more responsible for the rift.
“I think the perpetuator of that great chasm is the church and the Christian side of things. It bothers me more that they are so condemning and judgmental,” he says.
“There’s a lot of closed mindedness on both sides,” he continues. “One side brags about being open-minded. They’re really not. But my priority is still the Christian side because they are the aggressors. The reconciliation of both communities is my ultimate goal.”
Still, he says, despite some backlash, he has received a lot of encouragement from his Christian community for coming out.
“It’s really good to know that there are people who accept me for who I am,” David says.