Multiply and Replenish
Mormon Essays on Sex and Family
“The Abominable and Detestable Crime against Nature”
A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980
[p.123]At the outset of this essay I feel it is important that readers know of my agenda, since I do not subscribe to the theory of academic objectivity. First, I am Gay, and by that I mean that I participate politically, socially, and intellectually in a community of men-loving-men.1 Second, while I am academically trained as a historian, that is not a role with which I am comfortable. Rather, I consider myself a social activist, theorist, and poet. Third, I was raised a Mormon, completed an LDS mission, and married in the Salt Lake temple, but due to the homophobia and heterosexism I encountered in the church, I came to realize that for me the only viable solution was to explore spirituality on my own path.2 I was later officially excommunicated from the church for my stance in opposing the oppression of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people. Fourth, I am a liberationist: I do not seek “equal rights” for my people. I do not desire equal access to power. Rather, I actively explore different paradigms in which we can all move away from and forget “power relationships.”
[p.124]In the following essay I explore how Mormon leaders have confronted and tried to eradicate first sodomy and later homosexuality–and conversely how Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Mormons have responded to their religion and its doctrines. In doing so, it is apparent to me that Mormon women found that the intensity of female homosociality3 available in Mormon structures created a vital space in which they could explore passionate, romantic relationships with each other. At the same time I have uncovered some of the problematics of male homosociality—its power to arbitrarily defend or exile men accused of entering into erotic relationships with other men.
During the early 1840s Mormon founder Joseph Smith deified heterosexuality by making the god of Mormonism a male heterosexual, or as Mormon bishop T. Eugene Shoemaker recently posited: “The celestial abode of God is heterosexually formed.”4 At the same time Smith also eternalized heterosexuality by creating secret temple rituals which extended opposite-sex marriages (heterogamy) into “time and all eternity” and multiplied heterosexuality through polygamy. In fact, Smith’s own heterosexism is revealed when historian Richard S. Van Wagoner explains that Smith’s “emphasis on procreation became the basis for the Mormon concept of humanity’s progress to divinity. All of Smith’s … doctrinal innovations fell into place around this new teaching. Smith explained that God was an exalted man and that mortal existence was a testing ground for men to begin to progress toward exalted godhood. Salvation became a family affair revolving around a husband whose plural wives and children were sealed to him for eternity under the ‘new and everlasting covenant.'”5
Polygamy thus bound together all of Mormon theology and cosmology, while simultaneously defining early Mormon sexuality and setting Mormons off as a “peculiar people”—a separate and elite community of believers and practicants. This separatism—which the sexual deviance of polygamy created—was an effective means for Mormons to gain social and political power. However, while practicing their own sexual perversion (i.e., polygamy), Mormons disavowed other sexual perversities (such as sodomy)—especially if by doing so persecution could be deflected from themselves onto others.
I believe the Mormon temple ceremony offers a useful metaphor for exposing the ambiguities and problems inherent in Mormon [p.125]sexualities. During the endowment ritual men, cross-dressed in feminine-like attire, and women, dressed as brides, sit separately in two distinct, homosocial groups. The female homosociality of the endowment ceremony is only temporary, for every woman must eventually break from her all-female group and embrace a man (representing “God”).6 Thus women’s world is fractured while their sexuality is funnelled through men. However, men’s homosociality is only confirmed when at the close of the ceremony they embrace other men (again representing “God”) and reaffirm their procreative potential as part of the embrace.
Patriarchy at its core is homosocial. It is a society of men whose power exists solely at the expense of the authenticity of femaleness. In a patriarchy, and especially a religious patriarchy, men have social, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and political intercourse almost exclusively with other men. But sexual intercourse between men in a patriarchy is not allowed. In a world where sex is constructed to be power, men are internally and externally unable to have sex with anyone equal to themselves. Any man who dares enter into sexual relations with other men is sent off, exiled, excommunicated, stripped of priesthood authority and membership in the kingdom of white, heterosexual males.
“The Sisterhood of the Loving”: Mormon Polygamy, Sorority, and Lesbian Desire. In feminist Adrienne Rich’s ground-breaking 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” she describes her theory of a “lesbian continuum” on which she believes all women exist, whether they identify themselves as Lesbian or not. This continuum is “a range—through each woman’s life and throughout history—of woman-identified experience.” For Rich, this Lesbianism easily encompasses many forms of emotional “intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support.”7
This intense female bonding (or homosociality) was present in the parameters of Mormon polygamy. While some critics see polygamy as a form of male tyranny over women, I find that many Mormon women subversively reconstructed polygamy as a means of escaping male domination on many other levels, in what I call heroic acts of Lesbian resistance.
[p.126]The potential for female homosocial relationships is found among the polygamous “sister-wives” of Milford Shipp.8 His first wife, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, earned a medical degree at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1878. This was possible only because her sister-wives cared for her three children in Utah while she was studying back east, pooling their resources to pay her tuition. Her sister-wives also wrote her encouraging letters, while she described those from her husband as “harsh,” “bitter, and “sharp.” When Dr. Shipp returned to Salt Lake City, she set up a thriving medical practice and made enough money to send her other sister-wives through medical college or midwifery training. Indeed her biographer claims that her sister-wives’ “role in ensuring Ellis’s professional advancement stands as a moving testimony to the close relationships possible among Mormon plural wives.”9
Milford Shipp was almost entirely uninvolved in the lives of his wives. He gave them important marital status and fathered their children. Otherwise, “in polygamy the wives and children learned to fend for themselves.”10 Dr. Shipp recorded in her private journal, “How beautiful to contemplate the picture of a family where each one works for the interest, advancement, and well-being of all. Unity is strength.“11 Given that her husband only nominally participated in the lives of these women, I believe this quote must be interpreted in the context of Rich’s Lesbian continuum. Even more to the point is Ellis’s statement, also from her journal, about “how pure and heavenly is the relationship of sisters in the holy order of polygamy.” That these women not only shared a husband, but also surnames, lives, hopes, education, political views, economic status, child-rearing, etc., indicates a depth of homosocial and homophilic intercourse typifying the “Lesbian” relationships (in Rich’s definition) of Victorian Mormonism.
Despite the fact that Joseph Smith deified, eternalized, and pluralized heterosexuality through polygamy and temple ritual, early Mormon women found that their bodies, sensuality, and desires were neither tamed nor contained by obedience to the institution of polygamy. I believe that many women found creative, unique, and intensely meaningful ways to confess and express their desire for other women.
Feminist historian Carol Lasser has documented that Victorian [p.127]women in America, in order to formalize “Romantic Friendships” with other women, sometimes married brothers, becoming sisters-in-law and sharing a surname. She theorizes that marrying brothers “deepened their intimacy extending it in new directions, further complicating the intricate balance of emotional and material ties, and perhaps offering a symbolic consummation of their passion” for each other.12 Interestingly, Mormon women had the unique ability to take this one step further by marrying the same man and becoming sister-wives. Thus the unique arrangements of polygamous households provided a potential medium for Lesbian expression among women, who could easily (albeit covertly) eroticize each other’s bodies through the gaze of their shared husband.
Indeed at least one Mormon woman went so far as to request that her husband marry polygamously after she fell in love with another woman, so that the two women could openly live together. Sarah Louisa (Louie, the masculinized name she preferred) Bouton married Joseph Felt in 1866 as his first wife, but according to a 1919 biography, around 1874 she met and “fell in love with” a young Mormon woman in her local LDS congregation named Alma Elizabeth (Lizzie) Mineer.13 After discovering her intense passion for Lizzie, a childless Louie encouraged Joseph to marry the young woman as a plural wife, explaining “that some day they would be privileged to share their happiness with some little ones.” Joseph conceded in 1876. But Lizzie’s new responsibilities of bearing and raising children evidently proved too great a strain for her and Louie’s relationship. Five years later Louie fell in love with “another beautiful Latter-day Saint girl” named Lizzie Liddell, and again Joseph obligingly married her. Thus Louie “opened her home and shared her love” with this second Lizzie.14
In 1883 thirty-three-year-old Louie met nineteen-year-old May Anderson, and they also fell in love. This time, however, May did not marry Joseph. In 1889 May moved in with Louie, and Joseph permanently moved out of the house Louie had built and bought on her own.15 Thus began one of the most intense, stable, and productive same-sex love relationships in turn-of-the-century Mormonism. These two women lived together for almost forty years, and together presided over three of Mormonism’s most significant institutions: the [p.128]General Primary Association (for children), the Children’s Friend, and the Primary Children’s Hospital.16
Louie and May were fairly open about the romantic and passionate aspects of their relationship, as reported in their biographies published in several early issues of the LDS Children’s Friend. According to their recent biographer, Felt and Anderson’s relationship was a “symbiotic partnership with each compensating for the weaknesses and complementing the strengths of the other.” The 1919 Children’s Friend more bluntly declared that “the friendship which had started when Sister Felt and [May Anderson] met … ripened into love. Those who watched their devotion to each other declare that there never were more ardent lovers than these two.” The same biography also calls the beginning of their relationship a “time of love feasting,” and makes it clear that the two women shared the same bed.17 Twice in the Children’s Friend, Anderson and Felt were referred to as “the David and Jonathan” of the Primary, which, the magazine explained, was a common appellation for the two women. For centuries David and Jonathan had signified male-male desire and eroticism because their love for each other “surpassed the love of women.”18 That two women were described as David and Jonathan masculinizes their love while firmly encoding it within a homoerotic context.
While polygamy was instigated by Mormon men (but subsequently appropriated by their wives as a powerful source of homosociality), the women created structures and discourses of sorority on their own which allowed Lesbian expression. The all-female Relief Society and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, as well as other early expressions of Mormon feminism, are all examples of homosocial enclaves within the larger, male-dominated structures of power. In the papers of Mormon Lesbian poet Kate Thomas is the clipping of a poem that appears to have been printed in the Young Women’s Journal at the turn of the century. The poem, written by Sarah E. Pearson and entitled “Sister to Sister,” beautifully describes the intensity of homosocial sorority that Pearson encountered “in the sunlight of the Gospel of Christ.” For Pearson, Mormonism did not divide women against each other but made them sisters, “congenial, life-long friends with like, true aims to bind us;/ With a glimpse of a tender heart shown in compassionate feeling— / The bleeding scars from the smart of death’s pangs half revealing; / The comradeship of [p.129]the true, the sisterhood of the loving; / The voice of my heart to you and the cry my soul is giving.”19 Lillie T. Freeze, a fifty-year veteran of both the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association and Primary general boards, recalled in 1928 that “through these [all-female] agencies the women were seeking `the life more abundant,’ desiring to bless and comfort each other and to cultivate the longing for higher things than the social pleasures of the day could afford,” again recalling Rich’s definition of the Lesbian continuum.20
While Louie Felt and May Anderson apparently had no trouble reconciling their passionate relationship with their religion, other early Mormon women found it more difficult. For example, Kate Thomas, a prolific turn-of-the-century Mormon poet and playwright, withdrew somewhat from Mormonism while exploring her attraction to other women. Thomas, who never married, left Utah for New York City and Europe in 1901 but still maintained contact with Mormonism by writing lessons and poetry for the Relief Society and Young Women’s manuals and magazines while on her extended absences. However, some of her poetry from that period reflects growing disaffection with Mormonism.
At the age of nineteen Thomas began keeping a private journal of “love poetry” while attending LDS Business College in Salt Lake City. This journal consists almost entirely of poems written to other women. When she moved to Greenwich Village (by then a homosexual mecca) in New York City in 1901 she explored not only Lesbian desire, but religious and spiritual traditions as diverse as Catholicism and Buddhism. Thomas also became an outspoken peace activist, anarchist, supporter of the League of Nations, and practitioner of Yoga.21
While having difficulties with her religion, it is clear that Thomas was able to reconcile her sexuality with her spirituality, and thus had no trouble asking God to bless her loving unions with other women. In the fall of 1901 Thomas wrote the following love poem to an unnamed woman:
This morning how I wished that I might be
A poet even for a little while
Just long enough to write one heart-felt rhyme
To one so near that she seems a part of me.
[p.130]But were I all the bards that ever sung
Turned into one transcendent immortelle
It seems to me I still would lack the tongue
To say how long I’d love her or how well!
May every blessing that God has in store
Fall on her daily doubled o’er and o’er
When world on world and worlds again shall roll
God grant that we two shall still stand soul to soul!22
In other poems written about the same time, I believe, she used the word “gay” as a double entendre to mean both happiness and same-sex desire. The following short poem is an example:
A scarlet West;
An East merged into eventide.
A brown plain
And by my side
The one–the one in all the world
I love the best!
Last night’s gay mask–
The outward wildness and the inward ache
I cast off forever; from her lips I take joy never-ceasing.
Brown plain and her kiss
Are all I ask.23
The word “gay” was used in the United States as early as 1868 to describe same-sex male desire.24 Five years after Thomas wrote this poem, American writer Gertrude Stein wrote “Miss Furr and Miss Skeen” in which she repeatedly used “gay” to signify same-sex female desire.25 I suspect that Kate Thomas discovered this underground meaning while she was living in Greenwich Village and used it throughout her poetry. That it meant homosexual desire to her is supported by the fact that the only time she used the word “gay” outside of poems written to other women was in a poem about “Gay Narcissus,” who has traditionally signified same-sex (especially male) desire.26 Another lengthy poem entitled “A Gay Musician” is about Thomas’s love for a woman named Illa. The following is a brief passage: “That dear white hand within my own I took / ‘Illa,’ I [p.131]whispered, ‘May I keep it so?’ / My eager blood my anxious cheek forsook, / Fearing my love that loved me might say no. … / She raised her eyes. There looking I beheld / The Sound of Music through the eyes of love.”27 One historian commented that in this poem “the poet is speaking in the voice of one female to another … and as in many others in the journal, makes clear the sensuality of fantasy and desire.”28
Cornelia (Cora) Kasius was another Mormon Lesbian who left Utah and ended up in Greenwich Village, where she could explore her sexuality. A prominent social worker from Ogden, Utah, Kasius was assistant general secretary to the LDS Relief Society as early as 1923.29 In 1928 she moved to New York and by 1930 was on the faculty of Barnard College. By 1945 she also served on the faculties of New York University, Colombia University, and New York School of Social Work.30 At that time she was appointed “Welfare Liaison Officer” to aid in the reconstruction of Holland after World War II. She later returned to Greenwich Village, where she remained until her death in the 1980s.31
These women found avenues for exploring passion between women within official Mormon structures such as the Relief Society. It thus comes as no surprise that the most radical discourse of Mormon sorority, that of early Mormon feminism, also created vital space in which women could desire other women romantically and sexually. Historian of Mormon feminism Maxine Hanks has recovered one of the most important early documents relating to Lesbianism in Victorian America: what appears to be the earliest published statement on Lesbianism. In the 1860s Mormon women began publishing an ecclesiastically-sanctioned feminist periodical called the Woman’s Exponent. The 15 April 1873 reprinted from a New York paper an article by the pseudonymous “Fanny Fern,” entitled “Women Lovers.”32 The essay comments on the current fashion of “smashing” without actually using the term.33 Smashing involved passionate, sometimes sexual, friendships between women before the turn of the century. To clarify the possibly confusing wording of the document, I should explain that two kinds of “women lovers” are being described: the innocent, victimized pursuer (called Araminta) and the manipulative, passive-aggressive pursued woman (called “the [p.132]other party” as well as the “conquering ‘she'”). The complete text of this remarkable article follows:
Perhaps you do not know it, but there are women who fall in love with each other. Woe be to the unfortunate she, who does the courting! All the cursedness of ingenuity peculiar to the sex is employed by “the other party” in tormenting her. She will flirt with women by the score who are brighter and handsomer than her victim. She will call on them oftener. She will praise their best bonnets and go into ecstasies over their dresses. She will write them more pink notes [love letters], and wear their “tin-types” [photographs], and when despair has culminated, and sore-hearted Araminta takes to her bed in consequence, then only will this conquering “she” step off her pedestal to pick up her dead and wounded. But then, women must keep their hand in. Practice makes perfect.34
This significant article colors the women of the Exponent, and indeed of the entire early Mormon feminist movement, a distinct shade of lavender. As Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn has pointed out, Louise L. Greene’s decision, as editor of Woman’s Exponent, to reprint this brief essay “indicates her assumption that `Women Lovers’ was of interest to Mormon women.”35 The language is casual but calculated. The author warns women to be careful when loving other women—not to be victimized by exploitive and destructive women. The closing statement “practice makes perfect” indicates that Lesbian desire is complete and perfect in and of itself, and is not a precursor to heterosexuality.
Sodomy, Faggotry, and Heterosexual Panic in Early Mormonism. One of the most dramatic events in the history of Mormonism and homosexuality occurred in the 1840s. John C. Bennett, a recent convert, arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois (then LDS headquarters), and immediately began his rise to ecclesiastical prominence.36 Within months of arriving, he became a chief advisor to Joseph Smith. After Sidney Rigdon’s refusal to allow his daughter to marry Smith polygamously, Bennett was given the title of Assistant President to the Church, placing him above either first counselor Rigdon or church patriarch Hyrum Smith. Bennett also became chancellor of the [p.133]University of Nauvoo, mayor of Nauvoo, and a general in the Nauvoo Legion. But Bennett had a mysterious past, for he had risen to high positions in other cities, other social circles, only to be cast out and forced to move on. Rumors of Bennett’s past soon began to circulate in Nauvoo. Men were sent by Joseph Smith to other towns where Bennett had lived, and they returned with sober news: Bennett also had a long history as a “homo-libertine,” according to Mormon historian Sam Taylor.37 When the news broke in the leading councils of the church, Bennett drank some poison in what appears to have been a carefully planned suicide attempt. Being a physician, he would have known exactly how much to take to get him sick but not to kill himself. This sham suicide quickly brought forgiveness and sympathy from both Joseph Smith and the church at large.
Soon, however, more rumors circulated of Bennett’s practices in Nauvoo: that he was courting several women simultaneously, that he had performed abortions on various Mormon women, that he frequented “the brothel on the hill,” and that he was giving out high-ranking positions in the Nauvoo Legion in return for sexual favors with men under his command. Rumors of sodomy even reached non-Mormons. Reverend W. M. King accused Nauvoo of being “as perfect a sink of debauchery and every species of abomination as ever was in Sodom and Nineveh.” Samuel Taylor felt that Bennett’s “sexual antics” with men in the Nauvoo Legion cast aspersions of sodomy on “hell knows how many revered pioneers.”38 However, another Mormon historian, T. Edgar Lyon, thought that Bennett could not have been homosexual since he was also accused of seducing women. “From my limited knowledge of homosexuals,” Lyon wrote, “it seems to be out of character of the man [Bennett] to be so deeply involved with girls and women in town and at the same time practicing homosexuality.”39
As Taylor speculated, Joseph Smith could overlook just about anything but disloyalty. And Bennett turned disloyal, publicly espousing plural marriage, arguably Mormonism’ best-kept secret during these years. Taylor also felt that Smith dared not use accusations of sodomy against Bennett for fear of destroying the reputations of the young men Bennett had seduced, as well as not wanting the public to know that their prophet had put a sodomite in a high position. Instead, Smith claimed that Bennett had tried to enlist the legion to [p.134]murder Smith during one of their musters. After his plot failed, Bennett was publicly humiliated and privately threatened, then given a chance to recant. Fearing for his life, he signed a statement saying that Smith had never taught or practiced polygamy, and left Nauvoo in May 1842. He was immediately released as Assistant President, excommunicated, and lost his university chancellery and mayorship. But Bennett went on to write one of Mormonism’s most scathing exposes, The History of the Saints.
In July 1842 Joseph’s younger brother, William Smith, editor of a Mormon newspaper, The Wasp, tried to silence Bennett’s accusations by sarcastically writing that Bennett only saw Joseph Smith as “a great philanthropist as long as Bennett could practice adultery, fornication, and—we were going to say, (Buggery,) without being exposed.”40 Two years later a slander suit brought against Joseph Smith by Francis Higbee implied that he and his brother, Chauncey, had been sexually involved with Bennett in the Nauvoo Legion where Higbee had been a colonel. During Higbee’s suit, Brigham Young testified that he had “told Dr. Bennett that one charge against him was leading young men into difficulty—he admitted it. If he had let young men and women alone it would have been better for him.” Hyrum Smith also testified that Higbee had been “seduced” by Bennett. Other testimony indicated that Bennett “led the youth that he had influence over to tread in his unhallowed steps.” Although deleted in the printed version, the original notes of Bennett’s church trial indicate that in addition to charges of sex with women, other testimony about Bennett was “too indelicate for the public eye and ear,” an allusion to the “unspeakable crime” of sodomy.41
Accusations of buggery or sodomy (and later of homosexuality) have been used throughout European and American history in religious and/or political attacks to malign one’s opponent. Bennett was vilified publicly as a bugger because he publicly admitted that Mormon leaders were practicing polygamy. This is an important factor in understanding Mormon sexuality and Mormon heterosexual panic, as I call it. As stated earlier, Joseph Smith had just begun to deify heterosexuality. Mormons found themselves in the ironic position of having to protect this deification, eternalization, and multiplication of heterosexuality by exposing Bennett’s acts of bug-[p.135]gery with men. This is not the only time accusations of homosexuality, whether true or not, were used by Mormons in their political battles.
In 1886 Mormon leaders used homosexual accusations to politically destroy the character of one of the own elite. Thomas Taylor, the wealthy polygamous bishop of Salt Lake City’s 14th Ward, was excommunicated for masturbating with several young men in southern Utah. Behind this accusation, however, lay years of conflict between Taylor and church leaders. Twenty years earlier Taylor had paid $15,000 to help bring a group of Mormons from Europe to Utah, with the understanding that the church would repay him. Brigham Young neglected to pay the sum back, and when Young died Taylor went to John Taylor (no relation) for payment. However, the new Mormon president judged Thomas Taylor’s claim to be invalid and asserted that Taylor had secured the money illegally in the first place. Thomas called this accusation libelous and through adjudication won payment of the money owed him. Then came accusations from Richard Williams of Parowan, brothers Simeon and William Simkins of Cedar City, and a fourth teenager who alleged that Thomas Taylor had on several occasions slept with them and during the night had used their hands to masturbate him.42 Taylor was immediately disfellowshipped from the church, and news of the proceedings reached the columns of the Salt Lake Tribune. The Tribune went so far as to accuse Taylor of being “guilty of a horrible and beastly sin” and interestingly reiterated that he “is a polygamist.” In another editorial the Tribune asked if Taylor should be “prosecuted in the courts? Or is there no law against sodomy, either, in this most lawless of Territories.”43 Here the anti-Mormon Tribune identifies Taylor’s “beastly sin” as sodomy (which same-sex masturbation technically was not) and then obliquely compares sodomy to the “lawlessness” of Mormon polygamy.44 In a letter to church president John Taylor on 22 September 1886, Thomas confessed his “sins” and asked to be reinstated into full fellowship in the church: “I am sending consent to day for my [first] wife to obtain a divorce, she never has appreciated the addition of [other] wives to my family, and now I have sinned, her patience is exhausted, and I fear for my children.
“I am ashamed to think that I have been so weak and I feel to cry God be merciful to me, and I want my brethren to be merciful to me I want to be humble and live so that I can purify my thoughts and [p.136]words and actions … Oh, help me to come back to [God’s] favor. I expect to have offended you greatly I humbly ask your forgiveness.
“I am suffering terribly. My nerves are unstrung I have such throbbings of the heart, and headache. I cannot sit still, nor sleep, when I doze off to sleep, I wake and see before me excommunicated, and my wife suffers almost if not quite as much as bad, and I feel for her because it is my doing and I ought to be alone the sufferer, and I will try to endure. I do not want to apostatize I want to return to my allegiance to God and his work and I pray you to grant me this favor as soon as you can in righteousness, and I will try to live so as to be worthy of so great a favor.”45 Despite this plea for forgiveness, none was forthcoming, for Thomas Taylor had committed two unspeakable crimes: he had challenged a church president and he had dared to desire other men.
Even lay Mormons accused members of their own families of sodomitical practices, ostensibly for political gain. In 1893 Lorenzo Hunsaker went through two ecclesiastical trials in Honeyville, Utah, for alledgedly having sexual relations with two younger half-brothers. Rudger Clawson, the local LDS stake president, fortunately left a verbatim account of these proceedings in his journal. Clawson recorded in 1894 that “One of the most extraordinary cases that ever arose in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was that of Peter and Weldon Hunsaker versus Lorenzo Hunsaker in the Honeyville Ward.”46 He then quotes for the next 150 pages from private conversations, letters, petitions, church court records, and personal testimonials.
Evidently just after October 1893 general conference Lorenzo Hunsaker told Clawson that “[recently] Peter and Weldon, his [half-]brothers had circulated a story in that Ward to the effect that [Lorenzo] had been guilty of sucking their penis . . . [for] a period of some two or three years. . . . The question, therefore, was what, under the circumstances had best be done.” Clawson said “that if I were in his place, I should treat the whole affair with silent contempt and gave as a reason that the charge was so monstrous and ridiculous that he would be degrading himself in the eyes of sensible people to follow it up. … My confidence in the purity of Lorenzo’s life and faithfulness as a Latter-day Saint,” Clawson confided, “was such that I felt it would [p.137]be an insult to ask him if he were guilty.”47 Had Clawson asked Hunsaker that question, events might have turned out differently.
Lorenzo did as suggested, ignoring the accusations, and found himself quickly excommunicated by the bishop of the Honeyville Ward. Lorenzo appealed the action to the stake presidency and high council. Eventually other half-brothers and male neighbors added their own accusations of attempted or accomplished oral and anal sex and masturbation with Lorenzo. But as Clawson indicated in his journal, Lorenzo was a Mormon in good standing: he was a polygamist, a full tithe-payer, a temple attender, a high priest, and close friend of local church leaders, while his accusers were known to swear occasionally, miss church services, or drink now and then. Thus the question came down to Lorenzo’s piety versus the impiety of some ten accusers. But behind all this lay the issue of the family inheritance.
Abraham Hunsaker, the patriarch of a family of some fifty children, had recently died but had made it clear that Lorenzo was to be the fiscal and spiritual head of the family even though he was not even close to being the oldest of Abraham’s sons. After Abraham’s death, there had been some petty bickering and power struggles, and the accusations of homosexuality against Lorenzo must be viewed in the context of that power struggle among Abraham’s heirs. While Peter, Weldon, and others probably used their accusations against Lorenzo to erode his familial power and social influence, it seems clear after reading all the testimonies that Lorenzo was engaging in sexual relations with his half-brothers and perhaps a neighbor or two. However, because of his standing in the church, Lorenzo eventually won readmission into the church and managed to have Peter and Weldon excommunicated for lying. The other accusers, when faced with similar action against them, recanted. During this period the local ward structure fell apart as people picked sides. A petition was circulated by the women of the ward, protesting the church’s action against Peter and Weldon, but when they presented it to Clawson, he curtly replied they “could do as they pleased, but if they wished to do right, they would invariably vote to sustain the propositions of the Priesthood.”48 Clawson eventually released all local ward leaders for disobedience and for “humiliating the Priesthood.”49 He then replaced them with men who would follow counsel [p.138]and withheld the sacrament from the ward for several months as punishment.
For Thomas Taylor, secular judicial proceedings and media attention were minimal, while for Lorenzo Hunsaker, no such exposure occured at all, suggesting that the church carefully controlled the public responses in both situations. In Taylor’s case, judicial proccedings were brought against him in the form of a grand jury investigation that took place several months after his excommunication. The grand jury uncharacteristically convened in southern Utah, where it predictably received a minimum of press coverage. Although the ecclesiastical investigation found enough evidence to excommuniate Taylor, the grand jury concluded that “there was no evidence of the crimes he was accused of” and dropped the case.50 It seems apparent that Mormon leaders wanted to humiliate Taylor, while avoiding a full-blown scandal that could damage the church’s image if all the details, notably Taylor’s business dealings with the church, became well publicized—especially when the eyes of the nation were turned to Mormonism during these tumultuous years of anti-polygamy sentiment.
The fear of yet more scandal perhaps helped keep Lorenzo Hunsaker out of the courtroom and media, as Hunsaker was a good Mormon polygamist like Thomas Taylor.51 If a male polygamist could be sexually active with men as well as women, then perhaps the hierarchy of gender would be blurred when the rigidity of Mormon gender structures was brought into question. Even acknowledging homosexual desire among church members was unthinkable. Little profit would have come from publicizing these cases in open court with the media filing sensationalized reports on an already battered church.
However, Mormon leaders could be ruthless when uncovering sodomy among non-Mormons, as occured when Private Frederick Jones was brought to trial in 1864 for raping a nine-year-old boy. According to accounts published in the Salt Lake Daily Telegraph and the Daily Union Vedette, in October 1864 Jones, stationed at what is now Fort Douglas, raped a boy named Monk (alledgedly at knife-point) in a ravine between downtown Salt Lake City and Fort Douglas. The boy then told his father, who pressed charges against Jones. A week later Jones was in the Salt Lake City jail awaiting trial for sodomy. [p.139]When he was examined by a justice of the peace, Jones pled not guilty. During the hearing a week later the justice determined that the “evidence was clear and conclusive against Jones,” went into recess to “examine the law on the subject,” but then discovered that Utah had no anti-sodomy law. When Jones appeared for sentencing, he was released. He set off on foot for Fort Douglas but only reached the corner of First South and State Street, where he was killed. Witnesses heard gun shots, saw the flash of pistol fire, and heard the sound of retreating footsteps, but no one reported to have actually witnessed the murder.52
Although the Jones suit actually dealt with violent pedophilia (an adult raping a pre-pubescent child), I include it because the judicial response shows that many Utahns only saw that perpetrator and victim were male and focused solely on the issue of sodomy. As Gay theorist Daniel Shellabarger recently commented, “The homophobia of Utah territorial judicial system is exposed in this case. How odd that the molestation or rape of a child was not even the primary question. The issue of sodomy between two males blocked their vision of the real crime.”53
Many Mormon felt little sorrow at the murder of Frederick Jones. Albert Carrington, editor of the Deseret News and future LDS apostle, editorialized that Jones’s murder “should prove a warning to all workers of abominations, for there is always the chance that some one will be impatient of the law’s delay in cases so outrageous and abominable.”54 As D. Michael Quinn has documented, even Brigham young responded to the outcome of the Jones trial, writing in November 1864 that Utah lacked an anti-sodomy law at that time because “our legislators, never having contemplated the possibility of such a crime being committed in our borders[,] had made no provision for its punishment.”55 Jones, society’s scapegoat, was not only a “sodomite” but a gentile as well. In essence, he represented everything Mormons feared: outside influences and challenges to their own sexual perversion. Carrington was unequivocal: Mormons could do nothing but murder Jones, first, to cleanse their community of God’s judgment on sodomy, and second, to atone for their own feelings of guilt for deviating from Victorian socio-sexual mores.
Sodomy, or “the crime against nature,” became illegal in Utah territory on 18 February 1876.56 It was then obliquely defined as heterosexual and homosexual anal intercourse. As a felony it was punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years. In 1907, the punishment was changed to three to twenty years imprisonment.57 In 1923 [p.140]heterosexual and homosexual oral sex was added to the sodomy statutes, thus criminalizing most sex acts regardless of the sexual orientation or gender of the people involved.58 Sodomy was reduced from a felony to a class B misdemeanor in 1953, while forcible sodomy (oral or anal rape) remained a felony.59
While Mormons reacted with various degress of intolerance when confronting sodomitical practices of both Mormon and non-Mormon men, there was still room in which many Mormon men could safely (and quite publicly) negotiate passionate relationships with other men without critical or punitive reactions from Mormon officials. In the 1850s Mormon converts Luke Carter and William Edwards constructed an intimate relationship without any apparent approbrium from church leaders. Carter, a forty-six-year-old convert, arrived in Liverpool in 1856 to emigrate to Utah with his daughter. He had been separated (probably divorced) from his wife for three years. While in Liverpool, he struck up a friendship with another recent convert, William Edwards, an unmarried man of thirty, who was emigrating with his younger sister.60 Once this group had crossed the ocean and ridden the train to Iowa City, they found themselves at least two months behind schedule. The 576 Mormons left Iowa City in poorly constructed handcarts on 26 July 1856, having been promised by a Mormon apostle that God would keep winter at bay so they could arrive in Zion safely. Within days, the earliest winter on record set in. Fatigue, cold, malnutrition, snow, and poorly built handcarts took their toll. One of the first adults to die was William Edwards.
Josiah Rogerson, a fellow immigrant, later published an account of this disastrous event in which one third of the immigrants died. Rogerson describes the intimate friendship between Edwards and Carter when recounting Edwards’s death: “About 10:30 this morning we passed Fort Keamey, and as one of the most singular deaths occurred on our journey at this time, I will give a brief and truthful narration of the incident.
“Two bachelors named Luke Carter, from the Clitheroe branch [of the church], Yorkshire, England, and William Edwards from [p.141]Manchester, England, each about 50 to 55 years of age, had pulled a covered cart together from Iowa City, Ia., to this point. They slept in the same tent, cooked and bunked together; but for several days previous unpleasant and cross words had passed between them.
“Edwards was a tall, loosely built and tender man physically, and Carter more stocky and sturdy. He had favored Edwards by letting the latter pull only what he could [walking between] the shafts [handles] for some time. This morning he grumbled and complained, still traveling, about being tired, and that he couldn’t go any further. Carter retorted: ‘Come on. Come on. You’ll be all right again when we get a bit of dinner at noon.’ But Edwards kept begging for him to stop the cart and let him lie down and ‘dee’ (die), Carter replying, ‘Well, get out and die, then.’
“The cart was instantly stopped. Carter raised the shafts of the cart. Edwards walked from under and to the south of the road a couple of rods, laid his body down on the level prairie, and in ten minutes he was a corpse.
“We waited (a few carts of us) a few minutes longer till the captain came up and closed Edwards’s eyes. A light-loaded open cart was unloaded. The body was put thereon, covered with a quilt, and the writer [Rogerson] pulled him to the noon camp, some five or six miles, where we dug his grave and buried him a short distance west of Fort Kearney, Neb.”61
Several details in this story seem to signify what I have called “faggotry.” Both Edwards and Carter were unmarried, which is especially significant in the context of polygamous Mormonism. Although sexual relations between men in England of that era were generally interclass affairs, this one was not, for both converts were from the lower class. However, their relationship was somewhat intergenerational—one was thirty years old, the other forty-six (not fifty to fifty-five, as Rogerson thought)—and that does have “class” overtones. And they not only shared a handcart and a tent, they cooked and “bunk[ed] together.” Coincidentally Carter died a short time after Edwards, even though he was the sturdy one, perhaps in grief from the loss of his companion. Rogerson, despite these “clues,” does not seem surprised by their intimate relationship. What is of note to him is that Edwards could will himself to die. Whether Edwards’s and Carter’s emotional and financial partnership ex-[p.142]tended to sexual attraction is ultimately unknown, but the image of two men pulling a handcart together, one nurturing the other, is fascinating, especially in juxtaposition to the traditional heterosexual scenes of Mormon iconography.
Edwards and Carter however were not the only Gay pioneers to migrate to Utah before the arrival of the train in 1869. Evan Stephens, Utah’s most prominent musical composer as well as conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1890 to 1916, is consistently rumored to have been “Gay.”62 Beyond oral tradition, there is contemporary circumstantial evidence to support this claim. Stephens, born in Wales and in 1867 migrating with his family to Utah, never married, which in polygamous Utah was a difficult status to maintain, especially for someone as prominent as Stephens became. Instead of marrying, he filled his life with his two great passions: “love of friendship and music.” Stephens’s friendships always centered on passionate love and desire for other, usually younger, men.
Stephens went so far as to publish his autobiography (basically a lengthy account of the development of his desire to bond passionately with other men) in a periodical for Mormon children–without any apparent reprisal from the church. In this lengthy autobiography written in the third person and published in the 1919 Children’s Friend, Stephens told Mormon children about his youth in Willard, Utah, where he discovered music through a local all-male ward choir (another instance of homosociality fostering same-sex desire). Stephens recounts that he “became the pet of the choir. The men among whom he sat seemed to take a delight in loving him. Timidly and blushingly he would be squeezed in between them, and kindly arms generally enfolded him much as if he had been a fair sweetheart of the big brawny young men. Oh, how he loved these men[;] too timid to be demonstrative in return he nevertheless enshrined in his inmost heart the forms and names of Tovey, Jardine, Williams, Jones and Ward.”63
John J. Ward, the son of the last mentioned man, was the same age as Stephens, and the two became friends. However, Evan’s and John’s friendship developed into something more profound, as Stephens’s autobiography attests. When the entire Mormon community in Willard (except for Ward’s family) was called to move to Malad, Idaho, twenty-year-old Evan chose to remain with his “chum [p.143]John.” In this same autobiography, Stephens calls Ward the first of his “life companions” with whom he shared his “home life.”64
While criticism of polygamy became something of a national pastime during the Victorian era, what I find fascinating about this anti-polygamy rhetoric is how similar it is to anti-Gay and Lesbian rhetoric employed later by the Mormon church and society at large. For example, a non-Mormon living in Nauvoo in the 1840s claimed that polygamy is “a system which, if exposed in its naked deformity, would make the virtuous mind revolt with horror; a system in the exercise of which lays prostrate all the dearest ties in our social relations—the glorious fabric upon which human happiness is based—ministers to the worst passions of our nature and throws us back into the benighted regions of the dark ages.” Again in an 1860 debate on the issue of polygamy, one Illinois congressman charged polygamy “to be a crying evil; sapping not only the physical constitution of the people practicing it, dwarfing their physical proportions and emasculating their energies, but at the same time perverting the social virtues, and vitiating the morals of its victims.”65 We need only substitute the word “sodomy” or “homosexuality” to see how Mormons and others took this rhetoric and in moments of heterosexual panic deflected it onto Lesbians and Gays.
During the 1860s and 1870s federal laws were passed outlawing polygamy. Believing this to be a violation of the separation of church and state, the First Presidency selected Mormon bigamist George Reynolds to be a test case. Reynolds was found guilty of polygamy, and the church appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January 1879, in the landmark Reynolds v. the United States case, the court ruled that anti-polygamy laws were not unconstitutional, for as the court wrote, “Laws are made for the government of actions and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.”66 This federal decision severely eroded not only the Mormon power base, but that of many other religions afterwards, as well. Ironically, this decision currently keeps pro-Gay religions (like Unitarian-Universalists, the Religious Society of Friends, and the Metropolitan Community Church) from legally performing same-sex marriages today (although many are performed illegally each year in the United States).
In the aftermath of Reynolds v. United States, Mormon polygamists [p.144]were disenfranchised, children by polygamous wives were disinherited, female suffrage in Utah was abolished, the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was dissolved, and all church properties (including the Salt Lake temple) were confiscated. Bowing to such intense coercion, in 1890 church president Wilford Woodruff issued his “Manifesto,” ostensibly ending the practice of polygamy in the Mormon church (although members of the hierarchy secretly sanctioned its continued practice for many years afterward).67
In the middle of this political strife England’s most famous sodomite, Oscar Wilde, arrived in Salt Lake City to deliver a lecture at the Salt Lake Opera House on “Art Decoration: Being the Practical Application of the Aesthetic Theory to Every-Day Home Life and Art Ornamentation.”68 On 10 April 1882 Wilde arrived by train from Sacramento and was greeted by a large crowd of the curious. After greeting his well-wishers, he went to the Walker House on Second South and Main Street, where he and his servant scandalously disappeared through the Ladies’ entrance. In honor of Wilde being known as the “Sunflower Apostle,” his bellboy wore a sunflower in his buttonhole.69 That afternoon Wilde visited LDS president John Taylor at Taylor’s residence, one of the finest mansions in the valley.
That night, with the Opera House filled to standing room only, Wilde was visibly disconcerted when he walked out on stage and found an array of young men in the front row, all adorned with enormous sunflowers and lilies, in homage to the controversial British dandy. Obviously, he was not expecting such adoration from Utahns.70 The Deseret News subsequently criticized his speech for being absurd and unoriginal, among other things. However, one historian believes that Mormons disapproved of his speech because of the “indecent morals” displayed in his writings.71
In 1895, five years after the Woodruff Manifesto “ended” polygamy, Wilde again entered the public eye in Utah, but this time because of his trial in England for sodomy. Wilde’s story made front page head-lines in twenty issues of the Deseret News as if to emphasize the dangers of such deviant practices.72 Contemporary Gay historian Richard Dellamora has observed that in the late nineteenth century “masculine privilege was sustained by male friendships within institutions like the public schools, the older universities, the clubs, and [p.145]the professions. Because, however, the continuing dominance of bourgeois males also required that they marry and produce offspring, the intensity and sufficiency of male bonding needed to be strictly controlled by homophobic mechanisms” such as public, anti-homosexual scandals–Wilde’s trial being an example. Dellamora also states that these anti-homosexual scandals in England in the 1890s “provide a point at which gender roles are publicly, even spectacularly, encoded and enforced.”73 This applies as well to the willingness of the Deseret News to publicize the details of Wilde’s trials. Because the United States placed so much negative attention on the sexual deviance of Mormon polygamy, Mormons returned the favor to Lesbian and Gay people with the assurance that their perversity was at least heterosexually (and procreatively) centered.
Speaking the Unspeakable: The Later Development of Mormon Homophobic Discourse. Reynolds v. United States dealt a serious blow to the Mormon hierarchy. An 1885 article in the Salt Lake Tribune explored “a more basic opposition” to polygamy: “The essential principle of Mormonism is not polygamy at all, but the ambition of an ecclesiastical hierarchy to wield sovereignty to rule the souls and lives of its subjects with absolute authority.”74 In other words, what had separated Mormons as a distinct people—the sexual politics of polygamy—had collapsed, severely weakening male religious prerogative. In order to reconstruct its power, the hierarchy created a power-consolidating institution called “Priesthood Correlation” in 1908. Following the end of polygamy, the “gifts of the spirit” (speaking and singing in tongues, etc.) were frowned upon and eventually terminated. Women’s organizations became auxiliary to the “priesthood.” Women were commanded to stop performing healing and blessing rituals, which thereafter could only be performed by male priesthood holders. To set them off again as a “peculiar people,” Mormons emphasized strict enforcement of the Mormon “health code” (the Word of Wisdom), the development and maintenance of the Welfare Program, and renewed emphasis on the monogamous heterosexual family as the basic unit of society.
During the early part of the twentieth century, as Mormonism steadily grew, problematic issues surrounding isolationism versus universalism arose. Confrontation with homosexuality (which was itself becoming more publicized) was inevitable. In 1946 it was [p.146]discovered that Patriarch to the Church Joseph Fielding Smith III had had sexual relations with a young man. Church president George Albert Smith, after private conferences with those involved, their families, and the twelve apostles, decided to quietly release Smith from his calling.75 That October, Smith’s name was omitted from the roll of general authorities sustained in general conference. Later, when questioned why, the LDS First Presidency responded by having David O. McKay read a letter allegedly written by Smith himself, asking for his own release due to “an extended illness.”76 Interestingly the former patriarch was neither excommunicated nor disfellowshipped, although he was not allowed to perform any church duties.77 He was exiled by church order to Hawaii, accompanied by his wife and children. Eleven years later, Smith was reinstated into full participation in the church after he “confessed to his wife and wrote a full confession to the First Presidency.”78
In 1950 a music teacher at church-owned Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, was fired for sexual relations with several male students. When a Rexburg stake presidency counselor asked J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency whether the former teacher should be tried in a church court for his membership, Clark said no, because “thus far we had done no more than drop them [homosexuals] from positions they held,” indicating that church policy at that time did not consider homosexual activity an excommunicable offense.79
Two years later Clark became the first Mormon general authority to utter the words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in public. In a 1952 address entitled “Home, and the Building of Home Life,” which he delivered at the annual General Relief Society Conference, Clark pointed out that with regards to “the person who teaches or condones the crimes for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed–we have coined a softer name for them than came from old; we now speak of homosexuality, which, it is tragic to say, is found among both sexes. … Not without foundation is the contention of some that the homosexuals are today exercising great influence in shaping our arts, literature, music, and drama.”80 This was during the “McCarthy era,” in which anti-Gay rhetoric almost reached a national hysteria. As will be seen, Mormon attitudes concerning Gays and Lesbians typically came not by “revelation from God,” but by revelation from the popular press.
[p.147]In 1959 church president David O. McKay assigned apostles Spencer W. Kimball and Mark E. Peterson to help Mormon Lesbians and Gays overcome their “homosexual problems.”81 Apparently “quite a number of [Mormon] men were being arrested” for being “`peeping toms’, exhibitionists, homosexuals, and perverts in other areas.”82 That same year Kimball decided that the church needed “an extensive treatise on repentance” and began “jotting down scriptures for people to study … [and] developed some lists for recurring problems,” including homosexuality.83 These notes on homosexuality resulted in three major works (as well as numerous minor works or statements): A Counselling Problem in the Church (1964), “The Crime Against Nature” chapter in his The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), and New Hope for Transgressors (1970), which was revised and published as both New Horizons for Homosexuals (1971) and A Letter to a Friend (1978).84
The earliest of these three homophobic texts was originally a speech Kimball gave to a group of LDS psychiatrists. A few months later, on 10 July 1964, he delivered a similar speech to a conference of the LDS church’s seminary and Institute teachers assembled at Brigham Young University. Although dealing with various problems in Mormon society, the largest portion of A Counselling Problem in the Church dealt with homosexuality and became the basis for all subsequent homophobic discourse in the Mormon church.85
Kimball culled most of his information from popular tabloids and magazines, such as Life and Medical World News. Anti-Gay articles had appeared in both these magazines during the month before Kimball’s speech.86 As John D’Emilio documents, “The notion of homosexuality as mental illness was receiving greater dissemination during the early 1960s,” and for Gay radicals in larger cities like New York, this negative “medical model of homosexuality hung like a millstone around the [homosexual] movement’s neck.”87 Both Irving Bieber’s 1962 psychoanalytic study Homosexually and the New York Academy of Medicine’s 1964 report which argued that “homosexuality was an acquired illness susceptible to cure” received extensive publicity in the press, which in turn influenced Kimball’s teachings on homosexuality. (Kimball, for example, echoes the medical model when he writes that “we know such a disease is curable,” and briefly quotes from the statement made by the New York Academy of [p.148]Medicine.88) While these reports promulgated views built on “loose reasoning … poor research … [and] an examination of nonrepresentative samplings,” it broke the media’s and church’s silence on homosexual issues.89 Kimball’s ideas went on to influence fellow church leaders and hundreds of thousands of followers. Thus Kimball, like Mormon leaders before and since, was affected by mainstream homophobic views, which he then intensified through his ecclesiastical authority. It was also in this speech that Kimball first used the phrase which serves as title for this essay: “We are told that as far back as Henry the VIII, this vice was referred to as ‘THE ABOMINABLE AND DETESTABLE CRIME AGAINST NATURE,’ and some of our own statues [sic] have followed that wording.”90
On 5 January 1965 Kimball again spoke at BYU, this time to students, and condemned homosexuality in “Love versus Lust,” later published in BYU Speeches of the Year. This talk drew heavily from his speech of the previous year. The following is a brief quote from the address:
“Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere … denounce the practice as being unworthy of sons of God; and Christ’s Church denounces it and condemns it so long as men have bodies which can be defiled. This heinous homosexual sin is of the ages. Many cities and civilizations have gone out of existence because of it. It was present in Israel’s wandering days, tolerated by the Greeks, and found in the baths of corrupt Rome. In Exodus, the law required death for the culprit who committed incest, or the depraved one who had homosexual or other vicious practices.
“This is a most unpleasant subject to dwell upon, but I am pressed to speak it boldly so that no student in this University, nor youth in the Church, will ever have any question in his mind as to the illicit and diabolical nature of this perverse program. Again, Lucifer deceives and prompts logic and rationalization which will destroy men and make them servants of Satan forever. … Let it never be said that the Church avoided condemning this obnoxious practice nor that it has winked at this abominable sin. And I feel certain that this University will never knowingly enroll an unrepentant person who follows these practices nor tolerate on its campus anyone with these tendencies who fails to repent and put his or her life in order.”91
After ten years of preparation Kimball finally published in 1969 [p.149]his classic treatise on sin and repentance: The Miracle of Forgiveness. In the chapter “The Crime Against Nature,” he detailed his theory that masturbation caused homosexuality, which in turn often led to bestiality. He also claimed that “the sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery,” effectively placing homosexuality next to murder in the Mormon hierarchy of sins. Ironically, this “definitive” statement against homosexuality came out just as the “Gay liberation movement” gained national attention with the watershed “Stonewall Riots” in New York City beginning on 27 June 1969.
In 1970 the First Presidency sent a letter to the church-at-large, stating that “homosexuals can be assured that in spite of all they may have heard from other sources, they can overcome and can return to normal, happy living.”92 This was but a precursor to the more official (and ecclesiastically binding) First Presidency statement of 1973 which declared that “homosexuality in men and women runs counter to … divine objectives and, therefore, is to be avoided and forsaken.” Gays and Lesbians who refused to find their sexuality evil were promised “prompt Church court action.”93 Excommunication to faithful Mormons means eternal exclusion from the “celestial kingdom”—a hell in and of itself.
That same year LDS psychologist Allen E. Bergin of Brigham Young University and Victor L. Brown, Jr., of LDS Social Services wrote the twenty-page Homosexuality: Welfare Services Packet I for use in counseling Lesbians and Gay men. The packet indicated that “an essential part of repentance” was to disclose to church authorities the names of other homosexuals in order to “help save others.” It also stated that the Lesbian “needs to learn feminine behavior” while the Gay man “needs to learn … what a manly Priesthood leader and father does.” It also explained that “excommunication cleanses the Church. … There is no place in God’s Church for those who persist in vile behavior.”94 Ironically, church leaders concluded that the Packet was so “weakly” written that it could only be used on a limited basis.95
During the priesthood session of October LDS general conference in 1976 Apostle Boyd K. Packer gave a speech entitled “To Young Men Only” that discussed situations in which young men are “tempted to handle one another, to have contact with one another [p.150]in unusual ways.” He commented that “such practices are perversion. … Physical mischief with another man is forbidden.” Packer also essentially advocated anti-Gay violence when he recounted the story of a male missionary who “floored” his mission companion apparently for making sexual advances. Packer told the missionary, “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way.” “I am not recommending that course [of violence] to you,” Packer told his all-male audience, “but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself.”96 This speech was later made into a pamphlet and distributed worldwide for use in counseling young men.
In the late 1970s “born-again Christians” and Mormons, usually vociferous enemies, found themselves temporarily on friendly terms. National attention was turning toward Gay rights legislation in Florida in 1977, and Anita Bryant’s subsequent anti-Gay Christian crusade, “Save Our Children.” Barbara B. Smith, general president of the LDS Relief Society, sent a telegram to Bryant, saying, “On behalf of the one million members of the Relief Society … we commend you, for your courageous and effective efforts in combatting homosexuality and laws which would legitimize this insidious life style.”97 A month later Apostle Mark E. Peterson claimed that “every right-thinking person will sustain Miss Bryant, a prayerful, upright citizen, for her stand,” which Peterson hoped would “keep this evil from spreading, by legal acceptance, through our society.”98 That same year Spencer Kimball, now church president, told reporters that Bryant was “doing a great service” because church leaders felt that “the homosexual program is not a natural and normal way of life.”99
Also in 1977 Gay Mormons in Los Angeles founded a support group. Originally called the Gay Mormon Underground (GMU), it soon changed its name to Affirmation. Other GMU chapters were organized in both Salt Lake City and San Francisco within a year.
From July 1977 to July 1979 Apostle Peterson wrote six editorials for the Mormon Church News attacking the national Gay rights movement. For Peterson, homosexuality was “a menace to the population at large.” Also, according to Peterson, Lesbian and Gay pleas for tolerance and legal recourse for discrimination “should disgust every thinking person.”100 Peterson, like Kimball, drew “expert evi-[p.151]dence” from popular media sources such as Newsweek, Time, and the Sacramento Bee.
Also in 1978 the First Presidency issued a lengthy statement opposing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In part, the statement claimed that passage of the ERA would bring about an “encouragement of those who seek a unisex society, an increase in the practice of homosexual and lesbian activities, and other concepts which could alter the natural, God-given relationship of men and women.” These and other anti-Gay phobias were reiterated in subsequent anti-ERA propaganda published by the church in 1979 and 1980.101
This fear of a “unisex society” lies at the core of Mormon homophobia, for the hierarchy has a vested interest in keeping gender lines firmly drawn. Any blurring of those lines, any weakening of gendered activities, places Mormon men in a locus where they can only lose power. As the First Presidency wrote in 1991, “a correct understanding of the divinely appointed roles of men and women will fortify all against sinful practices” such as “homosexual and lesbian behavior.”102
Mormon men also fear the “homosexual within.” If church leaders believe that the world can “convert” to homosexuality as easily as to Mormonism, then they must include themselves in that conversion. Spencer Kimball, in New Horizons for Homosexuals, asked readers to “imagine, if you can, the total race skidding down in this practice … just one generation of gratification of lusts and the end.” Furthermore, “where would the world go if such a practice became general? The answer: To the same place other unbridled civilizations have gone.”103 Earlier, Kimball proclaimed that “if the abominable practice became universal it would depopulate the earth in a single generation.”104 Mormon bishop T. Eugene Shoemaker ironically denied that homosexuality is a “crime against nature,” going so far as to argue that “homosexuality is wrong, not because it is unnatural, but rather because it is too natural, and unless the human species changes utterly, men and women will continue to choose freely to do evil.”105
At the same time Mormon leaders are aware that homosociality is closely aligned to homosexuality. LDS therapist Victor L. Brown, Jr., told in 1977 of a “recent case of a man who with his wife came to Utah to get help in overcoming his homosexuality: there were times [p.152]when he felt so good, so fond of other men that he wanted to hug them to express it. He was repulsed by any suggestion of sexual involvement, however!” Brown explained that the general authorities of the church “so hugged each other at [general] conference, sometimes for rather long periods of time, that this was not homosexuality at all!! The man left, and his wife [was] very relieved and enlightened. Six months later [Brown] got a letter from them saying what a tremendous difference it had made to him to realize that these feelings of genuine love and rapport were normal and not homosexual! The man’s guilt burden had been totally lifted.”106
Brown, also addressing the church’s awareness of female homosociality, said that “it is fairly common to find women who are turned off by the male society, and who find friendship and companionship from another female, but between the pair there is absolutely no sexual situation at all, just companionship. The Church is aware and sensitive to this; the [definition] of homosexuality has been ‘carefully reworded’ to try to steer around this, the word ‘relations’ was changed to ‘relationships’ for this reason.” Brown indicated that the “gospel ideal” of the male gender role actually “has many feminine qualities” because a Mormon man “should be tender, loving, gentle, etc., [which] implies femininity.” Brown believed that a “male does not give up his masculinity when he behaves this way,” and society “must get rid of the idea that to be male, a male must be aggressive, brutal, pugnacious, possessive.”107
Private and Public Anti-Homosexual Policies at Brigham Young University, 1959-80. Meanwhile, problems had been brewing at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University because private policies developed during the late 1950s through the 1970’s began to receive public criticism from both students and the national press, influenced in part by the rise of the national Lesbian and Gay liberation movement. BYU’s response to homosexuality is important for several reasons: its large (and surprisingly open) Gay and Lesbian population; its semi-open bureaucracy which has allowed selected important documents concerning homosexuality to surface; and the tension created by religion and academics which provides interesting (and recently traumatic) dilemmas for the people who work, teach, and study there. Close examination of policies, practices, and attitudes regarding homosexuality at BYU reveals the homophobic mechanisms which [p.153]were created, reproduced, modified, and sustained (even when unethical and/or illegal) by church and university leaders, sometimes even at the expense of great criticism from external sources. BYU and church administrations have operated behind closed doors, carefully and deliberately attempting to eradicate “the Queer experience” without even once challenging the supposition that homosexuality (desire and/or practice) is an illness, abnormality, sin, or crime. Because Mormon apostles comprise BYU’s board of trustees (with only one or two exceptions), the attitudes of the church hierarchy have directly affected BYU’s policies. However, because BYU is also an academic institution where free inquiry is encouraged, at least in principle, the school’s policies on homosexuality have changed over time. Thus BYU has in turn influenced the church’s position on homosexuality like no other “outside” institution.
On 21 May 1959 BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson met with the executive committee of the board of trustees. He asked the committee “whether the Dean of Students should send questionnaires to bishops asking whether students had a propensity for stealing or immorality or anything of that kind,” effectively violating the confidentiality of the confessional; and wondered about “the growing problem in our society of homosexuality.”108 Wilkinson recorded that “these two problems interested the Brethren very, very much,” and that church president David O. McKay had recently voiced “his view [that] homosexuality was worse than immorality; that it is a filthy and unnatural habit.” Wilkinson was instructed that unless the homosexual student was “really repentant and immediately working out their problems,” the school “should suspend them.” Administrators then wondered if they should record on transcripts that the student had been expelled for homosexuality. The executive committee recommended avoiding the possibility of law suits. Wilkinson was also told to come up with a “better plan to find out from bishops the information requested by the Dean of Students.” Although progress on Wilkinson’s questionnaire was temporarily halted, he would eventually receive permission to implement it.
On 12 September 1962 Wilkinson met with the school’s general counsel, Clyde Sandgren, the new Dean of Students, Elliott Cameron, and apostles Spencer Kimball and Mark Peterson “on the question of homosexuals who might possibly be a part of our student body.” [p.154]They decided that the number of homosexuals on campus was “a very small percentage of the whole” and therefore administrators “ought not to dignify it by meeting with the men or women of the university [in a public setting] but handle each case on its own.” They then worked out a cooperative plan whereby Mormon general authorities and other church administrators would give BYU information they obtained about homosexuality on campus, and BYU would give church administrators information. They decided “as a general policy that no one will be admitted as a student at the B.Y.U. whom we have convincing evidence is a homosexual.”109
Apparently BYU found more homosexuals than initially anticipated. First, Apostle Kimball felt compelled to condemn homosexuality in his “Love versus Lust” address to the assembled student body on 5 January 1965. Then in the fall of that year Wilkinson went public with anti-Gay policies during an address to the student body. As part of the speech, Wilkinson indicated that BYU did not intend “to admit to our campus any homosexuals. If any of you have this tendency and have not completely abandoned it may I suggest that you leave the university immediately after this assembly and if you will be honest enough to let us know the reason, we will voluntarily refund your tuition. We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence.”110 By resorting to the metaphor of viral contagion, Wilkinson voiced his own—and presumably others’—fear of the “homosexual within.”
Finally in 1967 Wilkinson received permission to ask Mormon bishops at BYU to provide the BYU Standards Office with lists of students who were “inactive in the church” or who had confessed to “not living the standards of the church.” The number of students visiting the Standards Office subsequently rose dramatically. The first year of the new policy, Standards counselled seventy-two students who were “suspected of homosexual activity.”111 The discovery spurred the university into action in which security files were kept on suspected Gay students, student spying was encouraged,112 and suspensions/expulsions increased significantly. One student, suspended from the university on suspicion of homosexuality, was taken to court by BYU for trespassing when he was spotted on campus after his suspension.113 Even prospective teachers at the Language Training Mission on BYU campus had to be interviewed by a general [p.155]authority, because a “homosexual ring” had seemingly infiltrated the campus. Church leaders wanted to be assured that no Lesbians or Gay men were teaching missionaries at the language school.114
In 1969 the board of trustees ruled that Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual students “would not be admitted or retained at BYU without approval from the General Authorities.”115 Three years later Apostle Marvin J. Ashton was asked by trustees to help further define a policy on homosexuals at BYU because the new president of the university, Dallin Oaks, was concerned about what to do with students or school personnel who were not overtly homosexual.116 Six months later trustees ruled that those who were not “overt and active homosexuals” could remain at the university’s discretion and upon recommendation by the “ecclesiastical leader having jurisdiction over the case.” However, those who were “overt and active” would still be automatically expelled unless a general authority recommended otherwise.117 In early 1978, Gerald Dye, the chair of University Standards reported what the “set process” was for “homosexual students referred to Standards” for counseling:
* They are asked to a personal interview with Standards … to determine the depth or extent of involvement; previous involvement, if any, of offender; does the student understand the seriousness of the matter; if the branch president or bishop [is] aware.
* The individual’s branch president or home bishop is contacted.
* Standards is to determine if the offense is serious or not.
* serious: repetition; anal/oral intercourse.
* less serious: experimential [sic]; mutual masturbation.
* Action taken.
* If determined to be serious the student is expelled.
* If less serious, the student may remain at BYU on a probationary basis.
* Standards also acts as an intermediary between the student who remains and a counseling services. Students who remain are required to undergo therapy.118
Although therapy was required, Dye promised that “no student working through Standards will ever undergo aversion therapy.” Electroshock and vomiting aversion therapies were nonetheless used in special cases.119
Gay and Lesbian rights rhetoric finally reached BYU by the 1970s, [p.156]inducing some students to come out of the closet. In January 1975 administrators sent campus security officers to quash a “homosexual ring” on campus. Security officers descended en masse on the Harris Fine Arts Center and took all male drama and ballet students out of class to interrogate them in hallways.120 Some drama students involved in the “Purge of ’75” had T-shirts printed which read sarcastically, “I’m on the list—are you?”
Not all Lesbian and Gay students could respond to this situation with humor. As the purge continued into 1976, BYU security sent officers and volunteers to Gay bars in Salt Lake City to record license plate numbers of cars with BYU parking stickers on them. One student attempted suicide. When taken to the hospital, medical personnel reported him to BYU security who in turn informed his bishop and his wife of his situation. In a joint effort between Utah County sheriff’s officers and BYU security during March 1976, fourteen men were arraigned in Pleasant Grove (near BYU) on charges of “lewdness and sodomy” at two freeway rest stops. One of these men shot himself two days after his arrest. During surveillance of these rest stops, officers documented more than 100 men, many of whom were from BYU, who were “believed to engage in homosexual activity” there.121 Gay journalist and former LDS missionary Robert McQueen recounted the stories of five Gay men he had known at BYU who were caught in this “purge,” coerced into aversive therapies, expelled from BYU, exposed by church officials, and excommunicated. Each one of the five killed himself rather than face the oppression and bigotry of family, church, and society.122
BYU and church officials grew so alarmed that in 1976 they established an Institute for Studies in Values and Human Behavior on campus, with psychology professor Allen Bergin as director.123 The institute was to produce a manuscript “which would set forth significant empirical evidence in support of the Church’s position on homosexuality.”124 A book, funded by the church, would be written for a “New York Times type of audience” by Bergin and Victor L. Brown, Jr., approved of by at least one general authority, published by a popular eastern press, and made to appear as though it had no tie to the church. The resulting book would then be available as “secular evidence” to back up the church’s anti-Gay stance.125
Other institute goals included: (1) reviewing “the means by which [p.157]the [homosexual] ‘opposition’ attempts to indoctrinate our people,” (2) explaining “the developmental pattern of sexual deviance,” (3) creating “an LDS book on human behavior after the manner of the Articles of Faith,” (4) creating “a political action kit for use of member-Citizens in local [anti-Gay] legislative efforts,” (5) preparing other kinds of anti-Gay papers and rebuttals, (6) supporting academic and scientific research that would vindicate the church’s homophobic position, and (7) recommending to the First Presidency “specific steps the Church might take in combating homosexuality and other sexual misconduct.”126 Anti-Gay papers and research conducted, sponsored, or supported by the institute included Elizabeth C. James’s 1976 Ph.D. dissertation, “Treatment of Homosexuality: A Reanalysis and Synthesis Outcome Studies,” Bergin’s 1979 paper, “Bringing the Restoration to the Academic World: Clinical Psychology as a Test Case,” Ed D. Lauritzen’s 1979 paper, “The Role of the Father in Male Homosexuality,” and possibly Max Ford McBride’s 1976 dissertation at BYU, “Effect of Visual Stimuli in Electric Aversion Therapy.” McBride used fourteen Gay male subjects to determine if using photographs of nude men and women from Playgirl- and Playboy-type magazines was helpful in electroshock therapy.
Ultimately, the institute’s greatest challenge came from an unexpected quarter: BYU student Cloy Jenkins. About June 1977, after attending an anti-Gay lecture by BYU psychology professor I. Reed Payne (a member of the institute), Jenkins, a Gay student, prepared a thoughtful anonymous response to Payne’s lecture, calling for a “well-reasoned dialogue on these issues.” After getting help from two friends in editing his response (now published as Prologue) Jenkins had copies of it mailed to various church officials.127 The paper was soon circulating among faculty and administration at both BYU and Ricks College, as well as television and radio stations, and newspapers throughout Utah and Idaho.128
The church’s reaction was immediate. According to a social services counselor at BYU, Jenkins’s paper caused “a real stir at BYU and in the Church—officials in both places are very touchy over it.”129 Allen Bergin was directed by LDS Social Services and the BYU Comprehensive Clinic to prepare a rebuttal. This proved to be difficult, however, because Jenkins had made several “really good and undisputable points,” his figures on the numbers of Gays at BYU were [p.158]accurate, and, according to BYU’s executive committee, he had used a “rather sophisticated pro-homosexuality platform.”130 Bergin finished his response on 22 August 1977 and titled it “A Reply to Unfounded Assertions Regarding Homosexuality.” BYU’s executive committee hailed it as “an excellent piece refuting [Jenkins’s] major claims.”131 Despite this initial optimism, one BYU professor said it was so poorly written that “it was an embarrassment to all involved.”132 Word went out that “all copies be returned [to Bergin] as he hopes to rewrite his reply”133 Apparently, Bergin tried to rework his response, without much success. Bergin’s colleague, Victor L. Brown, Jr., also tried to rebut Prologue, but his response was never released to the public.134
When it became apparent that no authoritative response was forthcoming from the Values Institute, the church hierarchy decided to intervene personally. President Spencer Kimball asked Apostle Boyd K. Packer to “specifically address the local problem of homosexuality and to offer solutions” to BYU students. Packer at first declined, but when pressed again by Kimball decided to speak to students in early March 1978. At the same time a national Gay magazine was also preparing to publish excerpts from Jenkins’s paper. About three weeks prior to its 22 February publication, the magazine sent out press packets to newspaper agencies across the United States. The religion editor of a newspaper in Oregon sent a copy of the release to a Mormon friend, who forwarded it to Dallin Oaks. Oaks then drafted a letter to Packer, warning that “in view of this national publication, and the accusations it makes … your [upcoming] remarks are likely to get wide newspaper coverage and to be viewed by many against the background of this article and these charges.”135
On 5 March 1978 Packer went ahead and delivered his now-famous “To the One” speech during a twelve-stake fireside at BYU. Although the entire speech dealt with homosexuality, Packer used the word “homosexual” only once because he felt that “We can very foolishly cause things we are trying to prevent by talking too much about them.” This was not Packer’s only theory about the causes of homosexuality—and causation was vital, because, for Packer, finding the cause was an “essential step in developing a cure.” Packer theorized that the cause “will turn out to be a very typical form of [p.159]selfishness.”136 Two weeks after Packer’s speech, a BYU counselor commented that Packer’s “spiritual” approach to homosexulaity had actually originated with the director of LDS Social Services who “was in charge of working with homosexuals.”137
Response to Packer by members of the Utah Gay community was quick. Bob Waldrop, the Gay pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Salt Lake City (and an ex-Mormon), termed the speech “very offensive and highly inaccurate” and demanded that the PBS television station KBYU, which had broadcast Packer’s sermon, give him equal air time. Bruce Christensen, KBYU general manager, denied Waldrop’s request and told the media that KBYU recognizes its “responsibility to cover all aspects of the Gay rights issue and we believe we have done that with fairness.”138
A BYU student in attendance at Packer’s speech quickly wrote a rebuttal, which was published anonymously in the local Gay newspaper, Salt Lake Open Door. The student criticized Packer’s approach as “some kind of pseudo-psycho-spiritual counsel which close analysis will prove to be a substantial assemblage of a profound lack of reason and education.” However, he warned that Packer “is clever. Packer’s treatise on ‘selfishness’ zeros right in on the desperate attempt many have made in trying to attribute their sexuality to some personality characteristic or quality which is causing their homosexuality. If this quality can be changed (and it is usually some malleable trait—like selfishness), then the homosexuality will disappear. This approach also has the therapeutic return of displacing guilt (A burden of guilt encouraged by the heterosexual moralist-theologian). The homosexual is thereby informed that he should be feeling guilty for being selfish—not for being homosexual. This helps ease his anguish and he experiences an instantaneous relief. He is well on his way to escaping into health, to optimistically denying his authentic nature, to psychological swindle. Even when he fails (which is inevitable), he comes back to focusing on his selfishness and not on his sexuality. It is much easier warring against an attribute like selfishness than challenging one’s sexuality.”
Packer’s assertion that “the cure” is something which “finally has to take place in the spiritual realm” was the most serious flaw in his theory, this student felt, because then “we don’t have to talk about the realities here of sexual impulses when we can focus on the [p.160]transcendent sacred dimension out there. When the [Gay] subject fails, then [Packer] simply declares … that the subject is somewhere in transgression of spiritual matters.” In conclusion, he reiterated that “as appalling as [Packer’s] talk was, I am encouraged by it. It is miles ahead of President Kimball. … At least the subject [of homosexuality] seems to have finally come out of the closet–too bad Packer has dressed it in rags.”139
In the meantime, church and BYU administrators were trying to locate the anonymous author of Prologue to bring suit against him for “the misleading representations in this publication [as] a violation of the postal laws and regulations.” In a November 1978 report to LDS church commissioner of education Jeffrey R. Holland, Oaks summarized BYU’s unsuccessful attempts to track down the author and recommended that “it would be best for us now to let this matter drop” because “any direct action by the University against the publishers would be counterproductive, arousing greater public attention and resentment [than] any benefit to be gained.”140
By late 1979 the Institute for Studies in Values and Human Behavior had not succeeded in achieving its goals. Bergin and Brown had not rebutted Jenkins’s paper; Bergin’s “scholarly objectivity” was challenged during professional conferences and his professional standing was being questioned; and President Oaks was annoyed at what he perceived to be an undermining of his own authority. On 13 September 1979 Oaks wrote to Apostle Thomas Monson to explain the problems associated with the “Bergin-Brown Book on Values” and to inform church officials that school administrators had become persuaded “that we cannot achieve the original objectives to the extent hoped” by having the book appear through an “independent popular publisher.”141
By 1980 the institute had spent almost $150,000 in church funds trying to produce an anti-Gay manuscript. According to Oaks, general authorities were getting “squeamish” about the project. Pressure on the institute became too great for Bergin, who resigned as chair. Soon the manuscript project was scrapped and the institute was disbanded.142
Mormonism and Homosexuality Today. I have not dealt with the period after 1980 because AIDS, which first appeared in the United States around that year, has radically changed the face of Gay and [p.161]Lesbian issues nationally. The juxtaposition of sex, death, morality, and politics (embodied in AIDS) has been such a complex and painful landscape for both the Gay community and the Mormon church to negotiate that it requires its own analysis.
Suffice it to say that Mormon homophobic discourse has currently “softened,” resorting to the cliched epigram of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But I find this as difficult to believe as if I were to say that I love all Mormons, while hating Mormonism. Personally I cannot divorce who a person is from what a person believes or does. Despite attempts at “compassionate” response, anti-Gay rhetoric abounds in Mormonism as never before. The church unofficially supports the Evergreen Foundation and its claim of success in “reorientation therapy.”143 In 1992 the church published the homophobic Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems, without realizing that homophobia and heterosexism are the only “homosexual problems.”144 The following year Apostle Boyd Packer made it clear that the three greatest “dangers” to the modern church are “the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and the ever present challenge from the so-called scholars.”145 Purges of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals at BYU and elsewhere in the church continue unabated. These are not acts of love, but of fear.
For unmarried heterosexual Mormons and for Gays and Lesbians who choose celibacy to remain in the Mormon church, heterogamy is still compulsory. In 1993 an unmarried Mormon over thirty from Minnesota wrote to the church, questioning its current policy of not allowing older single people to “serve as ordinance workers” in Mormon temples. Apostle Russell M. Ballard replied, “It is not a policy set forth because of concern for improper sexual behavior by those over age thirty.” Ballard counseled that rather than desiring to officiate in the temple, “perhaps it would be more wise that those who have not married and over the age of thirty, should seek to establish for themselves the full blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ” by getting married. Ballard continued that heterogamy “is so paramount in the life of each individual member of the Church that every effort should be made by individuals to appropriately and according to their own wisdom find a companion wherewith they may receive the joys and blessings of an eternal family unit.”146
While emphasizing the importance of marriage and family, Mor-[p.162]mon leaders can only sanction heterogamy and a family unit with a heterosexual couple as parents (following the paradigm of the divine, heterosexual couple whom Mormons view as the Father and Mother in Heaven). This places Gay and Lesbian Mormons in a no-win situation where they are commanded to marry for eternal salvation but are unable to marry the person of their choice. Furthermore, Mormon leaders move beyond the realm of theology and into the political by mandating that any alternative to the heterosexist family structure requires immediate societal and legal condemnation. A First Presidency statement issued to the church in 1994 explained that “the principles of the gospel and the sacred responsibilities given” to Mormons require that the church “oppose any efforts to give legal authorization to marriage between persons of the same gender.” The First Presidency further encouraged “members to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender.”147
Consequently Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Mormons have responded to their religion’s teachings on sexuality in three ways: (1) remain “closeted” to conform to Mormon demands in appearance; (2) come out of the closet while remaining loyal to Mormonism in order to struggle for a voice in the church; or (3) leave the church. For those who are closeted and trying to remain in Mormonism, their path is fraught with profound isolation and guilt—especially if they have started families which further causes them to assume roles for which they were not meant.
For Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Mormons who continue to struggle for a voice in the church, there are several organizations available for support. Affirmation now has an international network of some twenty chapters. There are also organizations for Gay BYU alumni and Gay returned missionaries which allow members to explore and find consolation in common experiences. Periodicals, pamphlets, books, and symposia are also media through which the views of these people have recently been expressed. Others, like me, find Mormonism too rigid, too oppressive to remain in its structures and continue their journey elsewhere. However, the common bond all Lesbian and [p.163]Gay Mormons share is the questioning of our lives in Mormonism—the values we learned from and the time and energy we devoted to it. We all struggle to make meaning out of the pain we feel at the realization that because of the intensity and authenticity of our desire to love and be loved by someone of our own sex, to “multiple and replenish” heterosexually is not a realistic imperative for us. Our bruised and battered bodies, lying at the feet of the church, demand at least a thoughtful, inclusive, and loving response.
ROCKY O’DONOVAN, founding director of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Utah, is a freelance writer and activist living in southern Utah. “‘The Abominable and Detestable Crime Against Nature’: A Brief History of Homosexuality and Mormonism, 1840-1980,” is published here for the first time.
1. Throughout this essay, unless quoting others, I capitalize Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual as a way of affirming my belief that we have constructed an ethnic identity: a social and cultural system which includes but is not limited to a history, a language, and a political sensibility, and which drastically differs in many ways from the identity of the Straight (heterosexual) community.
Gay legislation, “reorientation” therapies, or passive, but debilitating, silence.
3. By homosocial, I mean the dynamic of groups of people of the same gender who socialize together. “Male bonding” is a form of homosociality. Other aspects of this “homo-continuum” include the homopolitical, homospiritual, homointellectual, homophysical, homoemotional, homophilic, homoerotic, and ultimately homosexual.
4. T. Eugene Shoemaker, “Human Sexuality in Mormonism: Reflections from the Bishop’s Couch; an Essay on Understanding,” no date, in Sunstone Papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
16. While Aurelia Spencer Rogers actually founded the first Primary organization, Louie Felt organized the second branch a month later in September 1879. On 19 June 1880 Felt became the first general president of the Primary and in 1890 called May Anderson to be general secretary. Anderson first suggested in 1893 that the Primary have its own church-sponsored publication, and in 1901 the Primary General Board received permission to begin publishing the Children’s Friend, with Anderson as editor. Felt and Anderson together conceived of the idea for the Primary Children’s Hospital after seeing a disabled boy on the streets of Salt Lake City. In 1925, when Felt was released as the Primary general president, Anderson succeeded her. For further details on the relationship and accomplishments of these two women, see their biographies in the following issues of the Children’s Friend: “Louie B. Felt,” 18 (18 Dec. 1919): 404-17; “Mary and May,” 18 (18 Dec. 1919): 418-22; “The New Presidency,” 24 (Nov. 1925): 21-23; “Louie B. Felt: A Tribute,” 24 (Nov. 1925): 422-25; and “A Friend of the Children,” 39 (Apr. 1940): 146-52; as well as Susan Staker Oman, “Nurturing LDS Primaries: Louie Felt and May Anderson, 1880-1940,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 49, 3:262-75.
18. See 1 Sam. 18:1-4; 2 Sam. 2:25-27. For discussions of David and Jonathan as historical signifiers of male-male desire, see John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 105, 238-39, 252, and 299; and Richard Dellamora, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 221.
21. For biographical information on Thomas, see “Biographical Notes” accompanying the register for the Thomas Papers, donated to the Utah State Historical Society by her brother, U.S. senator Elbert Thomas (D-Utah). Included in the Thomas Papers is another biography written by LeNae Peavey entitled “Kate Thomas (1871-1950).”
24. See commentary on the 1868 song, “Gay Young Clerk in the Dry Goods Store” in Jonathan Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (Cambridge, MA: Harper and Row, 1983), 315. Male dry goods clerks were considered by Victorian America to be effeminate and suspected of being homosexual.
32. D. Michael Quinn, basing his information in part on Maxine Hanks, has identified Fanny Fern as non-Mormon feminist Grata P. Willis Eldredge Parton and claims that her brief essay was originally published in the New York Ledger (see D. Michael Quinn, “Same-sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-century Mormons: A Social Context,” privately circulated, 29 and n81). Coincidentally, “Fern” is an archaic, somewhat derogatory word for a Gay man, similar to “pansy” or “fairy.”
33. See the 31 December 1877 letter from Alice Blackwell to her sister-in-law Kitty Blackwell for an almost identical description of the painfulness of manipulative “smashing” at an eastern women’s college, in Katz, Almanac, 176. For another description of “smashing,” see Yale University student newspaper of 1873, quoted in Nancy Salhi, “Smashing: Women’s Relationships Before the Fall,” Chrysalis 8 (1979): 21.
44. For Taylor’s “excommunication” notice, see Deseret News, 28 Aug. 1886. For rumors published in the newspaper, see “City and Neighborhood” column of the Salt Lake Tribune, 22, 24, 29 Aug., 2 Sept. 1886.
51. Taylor had three wives, and Hunsaker had two. Both lost plural wives in divorce proceedings immeidately following revelations of their sexual contact with other men. Christopher Cramer, Salt Lake’s “Pioneer Florist,” was another homosexual polygamist, or “queer,” as one informant called him in an interview I conducted with her. As mentioned, while rumors of Taylor’s excommunication were published in the papers, they appeared only in the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune, which even then merely referred to Taylor’s “sexual vice.”
52. For accounts of the Jones trial and aftermath, see Salt Lake Daily Telegraph, “A Heavy Case,” 27 Oct. 1864; “That Case,” 28 Oct. 1864; “The Death of a Sodomite,” 31 Oct. 1864; Daily Union Vedette, 1 Nov. 1864; and Deseret News, 2 Nov. 1864.
55. Brigham Young to Daniel H. Wells and Brigham Young, Jr., 18 Nov. 1864, in “Correspondence,” Latter-day Saints Millennial Star 27 (7 Jan. 1865): 14, as quoted in Quinn, “Same-sex Dynamics,” 92 and note.
60. For biographical information, see passenger lists for the Mormon emigrant ship Horizon (microfilm no. 025,691), International Genealogical Index entries for Lancashire, England (for Carter), and Sussex, England (for [p.167]Edwards), and Family Group Sheets for their families, all at Family History Library, Salt Lake City.
75. George Albert Smith diary, 10 July and 16 Sept. 1946; Joseph F. Smith diary, 10 July 1946; J. Reuben Clark office diary, 30 July, 16 Sept. 1946; typescripts in my possession. George Albert Smith’s journal indicates that Joseph F. Smith’s partner may have been A******** R***** B*******, who was Gay and a neighbor of Joseph F. Smith for several years. On the other hand, records dating from the 1950s in the First Presidency files indicate that the young man was B**** D** B*******, who was still alive at the time of this essay. To complicate matters further, Eldred G. Smith, who replaced Joseph F. Smith as Patriarch to the Church, claimed that the young man was named N******* S******.
82. Spencer W. Kimball, “A Counselling Problem in the Church,” 10 July 1964, archives, historical department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter LDS archives). For arrests of homosexuals published in newspapers at that time, see “Suspect Held in Boys Morals Ring,” Salt Lake Tribune, 13 Feb. 1958, and “Police Nab 23 in 27-Day Morals Drive,” Salt Lake Tribune, 29 May 1958.
84. Spencer W. Kimball, “A Counselling Problem in the Church”; The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1969), Chapter Six, “The Crime Against Nature”; New Hope for Transgressors (1970); New Horizons for Homosexuals (1971); and A Letter to a Friend (1978), all published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Minor works and speeches include “Love versus Lust,” 5 Jan. 1965, LDS archives; “Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future,” Ensign 1 (June 1971); “God Will Not Be Mocked,” Ensign 4 (Nov. 1974); “The Foundations of Righteousness,” Ensign 7 (Nov. 1977); and “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Ensign 10 (Nov. 1980).
100. “Unnatural, without excuse,” 9 July 1977; “The strong delusions,” 14 Jan. 1978; “On the safe side,” 4 Feb. 1978; “Calling the kettle clean,” 18 Mar. 1978; “Sin is not excuse,” 16 Dec. 1978; and “Is it a menace?” 29 July 1979, all in “Church News” section of Deseret News.
101. Why Mormon Women Oppose the ERA (Salt Lake City: Relief Society, 1979), n.p.; and The Church and the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Moral Issue (Salt Lake City: Ensign Magazine, 1980), 9 and 22.
125. Oaks to Monson, 13 Sept. 1979; Victor L. Brown, Jr., to Robert K. Thomas, 14 Nov. 1978; Dallin H. Oaks to J. Richard Clarke, 7 Mar. 1979; and Victor L. Brown, Jr., to Robert K. Thomas, 11 Sept. 1979; copies of all in my possession.
127. Minutes, BYU Executive Committee, 15 Sept. 1977, copy in my possession; Prologue: An Examination of Mormon Attitudes Towards Homosexuality (n.c.: Prometheus Enterprises, 1978), reprinted by Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons.
136. Boyd K. Packer, To the One (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 5 Mar. 1978. Apparently, Packer was unaware that Plato had theorized: “Thus whenever it is accepted that it is shameful to value same-sex lovers, this is due to malice in the legislators, selfishness in the rulers, and cowardice in the governed” (Plato, Symposium, 182-1, my translation).