Review: The History that Dares Speak Its Name J. Seth Anderson. LGBT Salt Lake

Gary James Bergera


Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. Please note that there may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and biographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.

Seth Anderson. LGBT Salt Lake. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2017. 96 pp. Paperback: $22.99. ISBN: 9781467125857.

Seth Anderson’s slim book, part of Arcadia Publishing’s multi-volume Images of Modern America photographic series, is much more than an important new contribution to Utah and LDS history. It is a revelation—a surprising, unexpected glimpse into a past that has too long been forgotten, discarded, and de-legitimized.

Anderson’s book contains six chapters plus an introduction. The chapters are ordered chronologically as follows: “A Queer Beginning (1847–1969),” “Gay Liberation in Utah (1969–83),” “Activism in the Time of AIDS (1983–92),” “Political Incorporation and Legal Advancements (1992–2006),” “Marriage Equality, Proposition 8, and Its Aftermath (2007–2010),” and “A Queer New World (2011–2016).” Each of the chapters begins with a one-page narrative history of the period of time treated followed by a multi-page portfolio of twenty to thirty photographs of people, places, and events.

Anderson’s brief histories are both surprisingly instructive and unexpectedly subversive. In each, Anderson manages to highlight some of the most significant events in Utah / LDS LGBT history as well as to recover portions of a shared past that underscore Faulkner’s timeless observation that “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.” Anderson’s work helps to redeem a history that speaks both to the present and to the future.

Not surprisingly, the most engaging sections of the book are the portfolios of photographs that accompany each of Anderson’s introductions. Here the past comes most alive. Some of the images may be familiar to many readers. However, I suspect that the bulk of the photographs will be new. They were to me. Among the standouts, for me, are the photographs of mid- to late-twentieth-century gay and gay-friendly bars, businesses, and advertisements; the front pages of an impressive run of LGBT-oriented periodicals; the photographs of protests and other manifestations of public activism; and, of course, the people: Mildred Berryman, Kristen Ries and Maggie Snyder, David Sharpton, Becky Moss, Mel Baker, Ben Barr, David Nelson, Michael Aaron, Ben Williams, Kelli Peterson, and many, many others.

For me, the most haunting image appears on page thirty-six: a Salt Lake Tribune photograph of Clair Harward, his shoulders and torso covered in Kaposi’s sarcoma. According to Anderson’s caption, Harward “confessed to his [LDS] bishop in 1985 that he was gay and dying from AIDS, the bishop excommunicated him and told him not to return to church for fear he would spread AIDS in the congregation.”

Of course, Anderson’s work only scratches the surface of the history of Utah / LDS LGBT experience, much of which remains to be excavated, chronicled, published, and digested. For example, a comprehensive history of the group Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families, and Friends (founded 1977) has yet to be undertaken. The same may be said of the Utah chapter of Queer Nation. Even so, Anderson joins the ranks of other pioneering historians of the Utah / LDS LGBT experience, including, but by no means limited to, E. Jay Bell, Connell O’Donovan, D. Michael Quinn, Douglas A. Winkler, and Ben Williams.

Anderson’s study is also an expression of the author’s own advocacy. In fact, one of the photographs is of Anderson and his spouse, Michael Ferguson, who were the first couple to marry when the legal ban on same-sex marriage was lifted in Utah in December 2013 (83). Ferguson was also a plaintiff in Ferguson v. JONAH (Jews Offering New Hope and Healing), filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which found in 2015 that JONAH’s claims for successful reparative therapy were “fraudulent and unconscionable.”

Some potential readers may be put off by Anderson’s activism and/or by the topic. For others, however, the book will serve as a revelatory introduction to a history that forms an integral part of the LDS and Utah experience.