Dialogue is proud to launch a new monthly podcast series on the dialoguejournal.com/topicpages, exploring key issues in the history of LDS scholarship. Join host Taylor Petrey, editor of Dialogue and associate professor of religion at Kalamazoo College as he studies LGBT Issues as viewed through the scholarship found within Dialogue’s pages.
Act 1: A New Topic
- “Solus,” Fall 1976.
- Val D. Hemming, “Warning: Labels Can Be Hazardous to Your Health,” Winter 1977.
- Duane Jeffery, “Intersexes in Humans: An Introductory Exploration,” Fall 1979.
Act 2: New Perspectives
- R. Jan Stout, “Sin and Sexuality: Psychobiology and the Development of Homosexuality,” Summer 1987.
- T. J. O’Brian, “You Are Not Alone: A Plea for Understanding the Homosexual Condition,” Fall 1993.
- D. Michael Quinn, “Male-Male Intimacy among Nineteenth-Century Mormons: A Case Study,” Winter 1995.
- Gary M. Watts, “The Logical Next Step: Affirming Same-Sex Relationships,” Fall 1998.
- Robert W. Reese, “‘In a Dark Time the Eye Begins to See’: Personal Reflections on Homosexuality Among the Mormons at the Beginning of a New Millennium,” Fall 2000.
Act 3: Same-Sex Marriage Politics
- D. Michael Quinn, “Prelude to the National ‘Defense of Marriage’ Campaign: Civil Discrimination Against Feared or Despised Minorities,” Fall 2000.
- Armand Mauss, “Reply to Quinn,” Fall 2000.
- Kendall White and Daryl White, “Ecclesiastical Policy and the Challenge of Homosexuality: Two Cases of Divergence with the Mormon Tradition,” Winter 2004.
- Mixed-Orientation Roundtable, Fall 2005.
- John Gustav-Wrathal, “Trial of Faith,” 2007.
- Randolph Mehlestein and Wayne Schow, “The Case For and Against Same-Sex Marriage,” Fall 2007.
- California Prop 8 Roundtable, Fall 2009.
Act 4: New Approaches
- Alan Michael Williams, “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads,” Spring 2011.
- Taylor G. Petrey, “Toward a Post-heterosexual Mormon Theology,” Winter 2011.
- Wilfried Decoo, “‘As Our Two Faiths Have Worked Together’: Catholicism and Mormonism on Human LIfe Ethics and Same-Sex Marriage,” 2013.
- Benjamin Knoll, “Suicide Rates and Mormon Religious Context: An Additional Empirical Analysis,” Summer 2016
- Michael Barker, Daniel Parkinson, and Benjamin Knoll, “The LGBTQ Mormon Crisis: Responding to the Empirical Research on Suicide,” Summer 2016
- Roni Jo Draper, “The Art of Queering Boundaries in LDS Communities,” Summer 2016.
- D. Christian Harrison, “In Our Lovely Oubliette: The Un/Intended Consequences of Boundary Making & Keeping from a Gay Mormon Perspective,” Summer 2016.
- Kimberly Anderson, “The Mama Dragon Story Project,” Summer 2016.
- Bryce Cook, “What Do We Know of God’s Will for His LGBT Children?: An Examination of the LDS Church’s Position on Homosexuality,” Summer 2017.
- Blaire Ostler, “Queer Polygamy,” Spring 2019.
- Blaire Ostler, “Hug a Queer Latter-day Saint,” Summer 2020.
- Kit Hermanson, “Archive of the Covenant: Reflections on Mormon Interactions with State and Body,” Winter 2020.
- Robert W. Rees and Bill Bradshaw, “LGBTQ Latter-day Saint Theology,” Online.
- Alex Griffin, “Queer Mormon Histories and the Politics of a Usable Past,” Spring 2021.
- M. David Huston, “The Theological Trajectory of ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Spring 2021.
- Taylor Kirby, “Variety of Perceptions of God Among Latter-day Saints,” Spring 2021.
- John Gustav-Wrathall, “Excommunication and Finding Wholeness,” Spring 2021.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited from the podcast format. The I used in the text signifies Taylor Petrey and most of the historical narrative was written by him. Some extra context has been given where he worked from notes and may differ slightly from the podcast. This article should not be considered a scholarly or academic attempt at writing this history, but rather a public offering to encourage learning more about the topics discussed in Dialogue.
This month, we are looking at the his0tory of scholarship on LGBTQ issues. If you’re catching this in June when it is released, Happy Pride Month. I have to say that this is an incredibly interesting topic. As some of our listeners know, I’ve written about LGBTQ history in my book, Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism, which I am very happy to announce was just awarded the “Best Book” award from the Mormon History Association. Anyway, it’s fair to say that I know a bit about this history, and I will try to use that to contextualize some of what is going on, but I also want to say that I learned a lot in researching this episode. Hopefully, I can communicate some of the exciting history of scholarship and the pathos of so much of what is behind this scholarship.
There is another thing I want to point out. This wasn’t a topic that was central to the founding of Dialogue like so many of the other social issues around race and gender, or even some of the long-standing historical issues, but it has become central to its identity in the last thirty years. Dialogue is proud to be the premier place for the scholarship on this topic, the place where such scholarship has flourished, representing a wide variety of perspectives in true dialogue. Let’s get into it.
Act I: A New Topic
Latter-day Saint leaders begin to talk about “homosexuality” in the 1950s for the first time, moving away from the previous understanding of “sodomy.” The difference is more than just terminological—it represents a real paradigm shift. While sodomy was considered a set of acts that one might engage in, homosexuality referred to a broader set of practices, including desires but also other gendered behaviors. LDS leaders were borrowing these ideas from popular, mainstream psychological theories. The US in general was engaged in a broad, anti-homosexuality scare during the 50s and 60s. But a few things happened in the late 60s and early 70s—first, the gay rights movement, as it was then called, gained greater prominance and began to speak back, to make their voices heard over the medical community which had stigmatized them as patholgoical and abnormal. They were saying leave us alone, protect us from police brutality, and let us live our lives as normal citizens. The second thing that happened was the scientific abandonment of earlier theories of homosexual pathology, which was replaced by saying that such desires were rarer, but not abnormal, psychologically. Conservative institutions, however, were wary of both of these developments, including the LDS Church, which fought against legalization of homosexuality and fought to preserve psychological anti-homosexual theories. There is a wave of new manuals, programs, pamphlets and talks during this decade for the first time.
This is the context for the rise of a new discourse on this topic in LDS circles. “Solus,” Latin for alone, was written by an anonymous gay man in the fall 1976 issue and is the first entry on this topic in Dialogue. As far as I can tell, this is the first instance of an LGBTQ voice in any LDS publication. It marks the beginning of the modern LDS LGBTQ movement and it is a doozy. This five-page essay is part of an issue that is dedicated to issues in LDS sexuality—one of the classic important issues in the formative years of Dialogue. I won’t regale you with all the foundational articles in this issue, but suffice it to say that I think this whole issue makes a key moment in what I call the Mormon sexual revolution, the LDS response to the reformulation of sexual values in the 1960s.
President Kimball, in leading the church and for two plus decades, had made conservative sexual morality, including opposition to homosexuality, one of his defining issues. But this essay opens up from a few years earlier at the 1973 priesthood session of General Conference under President Harold B. Lee, in which he spoke on marriage. The author then recounts why he never married and never will. He walks through several traumatic moments of childhood, from a childhood rape to bullying due to failures to perform masculinity. There was intense pressure to marry. “One Sunday,” he recalls, “I heard Elder Joseph Fielding Smith say that homosexuality was so filthy and important that he would rather see his sons dead than homosexual. In growing confusion I tried to analyze my problem. Was I forever lost?” This kind of extremely harsh rhetoric was commonplace from the fifties to early eighties, and one can see how it brutalized so many. Prayer. Blessings. Soul searching. He meets with a General Authority, seeking counsel, who told him that he should seek masculine activities in life, like playing basketball, and refers him to a therapist who practices some of the cure efforts the church was promoting at the time. Time passes into his mid-thirties, and he eventually stops trying to date women, remaining very active in his ward throughout, and finally comes to peace with the fact that he will never marry. But then President Lee spoke and the pressure campaign from friends and family ramped up again. More work with counselors. “In a lifetime of church activity I have yet to hear a single word of compassion or understanding for homosexuals spoken from the pulpit. We are more than a family oriented church. Our auxiliaries and priest in Palms presuppose marriage. A single, much less a homosexual, simply does not fit in…. Still, I have a strong testimony of the gospel. I know the church is true and I want to remain loyal and active. I can only hope that he who welcomed to his side sinners, publicans and harlots will grant the same grace to me — and that his church will also.”
It is a somber text from someone dedicated to the church but estranged from the church culture. And in retrospect, a damning report. The man was over 40 and never heard a single word of compassion. There are several letters to the editor responding, some expressing compassion, others were from gay men who resonated with the message. The letters to the editor in Dialogue became the first place were gay LDS members could communicate about the topic in print.
Solus and the early letters responding to it come just a few years before another foundational text in the early LDS gay rights movement, though it wasn’t published in Dialogue. An undergraduate at BYU, Cloy Jenkins self-published a 50+ page pamphlet that was a manifesto on why the church should accept homosexuality. Called Prologue, and also the Payne papers, it is a critique of the pscyhological theories that the church was relying on to condemn homosexuality and a deep dive into scriptural and historical arguments in favor of accepting homosexuality. It was the first of its kind, one that was quite different from the pained Solus—more strident and polemical about church doctrine, not just culture. And it marked an early split in the LDS LGBTQ response—reformers vs. revolutionaries. Around this same time, Affirmation was founded, an LDS advocacy organization that quickly grew chapters throughout the west. The revolutionaries were on the move.
Another early kind of literature in Dialogue in this period is LDS psychologists. Val D. MacMurray wrote a 2 page article in the fall 1977 issue, just a little more than a year after Solus. Titled, “Warning: Labels Can be Hazardous to Your Health,” he cautioned against people labelling themselves or others “homosexuals.” He argued that it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that it was an impediment to a cure. This would become a major theory of Elder Boyd K. Packer and others who instituted a cultural taboo on the term that lasted until the early 2000s when self-labelling became somewhat more tolerated. This doctrine has its roots in reparative therapy theories.
In the fall 1979 issue, LDS evolutionary biologist Duane Jeffery wrote a really important piece, ahead of its time in some ways, challenging the idea of binary gender in his article, “Intersexes in Humans: An Introductory Exploration.” He laid out the problem clearly—we can’t say that sex is binary by divine design when it is not binary in nature.
So, this early period actually shows an interesting diversity of approaches. LGBTQ LDS voices sharing their stories, often anonymously still, and pleading for a more compassionate approach. There are LDS psychologists buttressing church teachings that homosexuality can and should be changed. And there are biologists starting to weigh in. These scientific fights coupled with the empathetic persuasion of personal experience set the stage for much of what is coming.
Act II: New Perspectives
Culturally, this had become a major topic with the gay rights movement in the 1970s. The 1980s brought one step forward, and two steps back. The rise of the religious right and the Reagan era meant that the gay rights agenda was stalled out and democrats often walked away from the issue. Secondly, the AIDS epidemic in the 80s reprioritized the LGBT movement to survival and added even greater stigma to these identities. But the one step forward was that of psychologists.
This brings us to 1987, R. Jan Stout’s foundational article: “Sin and Sexuality: Psychobiology and the Development of Homosexuality.” It is a reminder of just how important psychology and psychologists were for mediating these early debates. I go more into depth on this history in my book, but here I want to point to Stout’s article as actually pretty transformative. It really was groundbreaking in LDS print media. He talks about how he believed and presented publicly theories on the cause and cure of homoseuxaity, following Freudian psychology in 1970. “Sixteen years later,” he states, “I can state that what I presented was wrong and simplistic. The evolving change in my views came by examining new research, gaining more clinical experience, and looking for alternative explanations to clarify some of the mystery surrounding the development of human sexuality and specifically homosexuality.” Stout’s overview provides a guide to the updated psychological research from the 1970s and 80s that overturned earlier consensus on the pathologization of homosexuality and on whether it can be cured. He tackles the ethical and moral issues with forced celibacy, but leaves the question as a mystery of paradox of how to proceed on the topic, warning against “extremes” on all sides.
In fall 1993, TJ O’Brian wrote, “You are Not Alone: A Plea for Understanding the Homosexual Condition.” O’Brian was a gay man and this esay addresses how church members should treat LGBT members. He points to Jan Stout’s article among other influential pieces that were beginning to soften LDS attitudes and change practices in the early 90s. But he also notes several examples of terrible things that LDS members were still saying and doing, not including an infamous homophobic rant from Orson Scott Card in Sunstone magazine in 1990. The early 90s is also the birth of Evergreen, a change therapy support group that lasted until the early 2010s, and O’Brian offers some reflections on them and other claims to having been “cured.”
Just as psychologists were starting to question these methods, testimonials from “ex-gay” men and women were aggressively marketed through various LDS and non-LDS ministries. This essay is really an important look at the culture of the 1990s—the kinds of stereotypes and popular assumptions LGBT members faced and a great overview of the science and culture wars up to that point. He spends a lot of time answering the idea that the standards for heterosexuals and homosexuals are the same. Rather than a cure, many liberal Mormons were promoting life-long celibacy as the solution. “How ironic,” he says, “that for years homosexuality was believed to be caused by a lack of affectionate bonding in childhood, and now the prescribed remedy is more of the cause—isolation. Does it not seem hypocritical for happily married heterosexual to insist that homosexual spend their lives on this earth devoid of the deep love and companionship so rewarding and treasured by heterosexuals?” He tells his own story of seeking a cure and its failure. Honestly, reading this sometimes felt a little dated—it is nearly 30 years old—but mostly it could have been written today. “I am not so naïve as to believe my words will put a stop to prejudice or ignorance: these will continue to surface. It will take time for many people to see in homosexuality much more than me or sexual involvement. My hope is that these observations may somehow serve the small percentage of our people who are dealing with sexual feelings natural to them but different from those of their peers. Perhaps the remarks of one who has dealt with such issues will help them face trials and conflicts which the world will, out of concern but with limited understanding, put on them.”
There are also new historical articles that are exploring this question that appear in the 1990s. D. Michael Quinn was a pioneer on this topic and in the Winter 1995 he published: “Male-Male Intimacy among Nineteenth-Century Mormons: A Case Study.” This was a prelude to his book-length treatment Same-Sex Dynamics in 19th C. America: A Mormon Example, that looked at “intimacy” broadly defined, before the rise of homophobia in the post-WWII period. It is a fascinating study of changing norms and practices that once allowed for a huge range of bonding practices between people of the same-sex. Quinn himself had come out in the course of researching this article and the book a few years before, and this work remains influential.
Okay, now there is an article here that I confess I just discovered last year, despite having worked and researched in this area for years and honestly it surprised me, though I’m not sure why in retrospect. This issue was bound to have been raised. In fall 1998 just a few years after the Family Proclamation, Gary Watts wrote, “The Logical Next Step: Affirming Same-Sex Relationships.” He notes the inner conflict that gay LDS members faced, having to choose between their desires to have a relaitonship and their desires to be in the church. It’s not a super rigorous study, but it draws a lot of personal experiences and conversation to assess the issues. And he proposes that affirming committed, monogamous same-sex relationships would not change doctrines about reserving sexual initimacy for marriage, but proposed that these relationhips would not be eligible for sealings.
The next essay I want to address in this category comes from our own Bob Rees, former editor at Dialogue, and a long-time activist and advocate on this issue. His fall 2000 artice is titled ““In a Dark Time the Eye Begins to See”: Personal Reflections on Homosexuality among the Mormons at the Beginning of a New Millennium.” A straight man and local LDS leader, Rees shares his own experience counseling with LGBTQ members and their struggles, from “gay bashing” violence, most famoulsy the murder of Matthew Shephard, to prejudice and more. Rees talks about his own changed perspective on this issue that started when he was a singles ward bishop in LA in the 1980s and shares what he had learned along the way. In rereading this essay, I noticed something I hadn’t known before—Rees referred to his friend Stuart Matis, then an active gay man who was willing to work with others about mainting their faith and sexuality. “Bishop Rees,” Matis reportedly said, “the reason I don’t like the word homosexual is that the sexuality part is not the most important part of what I want. I want an intimate, loving relationship like my mother and father have.” For those who know, Stuart Matis tragically took his life on the steps of an LDS chapel in Los Angelses in February 2000 in protest to the church’s political efforts against same-sex marrage in California. Rees calls for a number of steps and changes as a body of the church to improve these conditions. Dark times indeed.
In this same issue, Hugo Oliaz intervews two important figures in LDS LGBTQ organzing, a former diretor of Affirmation and the founder of Gay LDS Youth, a group that briefly flourished in the early 2000s, but I’m not sure what happened to it after that. A great resource for learning more about about LDS LGBTQ organizing in this period.
So, we can see that among the changing ideas during this period was an increase of what I call pastoral efforts to soften attitudes, encourage more understanding and acceptance, and make new options for life within the faith besides therapy and change. But these were coming alongside changes in the psychological literature as well. From the 1980s to the early 2000s, we see this emergent push back that came from empathetic recognition of the harms, including the loss of lives.
Act III: Same-sex Marriage Politics
Internal doctrinal issues and pastoral concerns weren’t all that was going on. Politics was a major battleground for homosexuality, which affected a lot more than just church members. So, in the mid-90s the LDS church became deeply invovled in leading anti-same-sex ballot measures in states like Hawaii, Alaska, and elsewhere. But this prize was California, and the results paid off in an early 2000 ballot measure known as the Knight Initiative or Prop 22. LDS leaders had collaborated with Catholics during that decade in their campaign to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage around the country. The church also began to heavily emphasize this to its own membership as well, in documents like “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and other public preaching that aligned the church with the religious right.
In that same fall 2000 issue that we discussed before, there is an article by D. Michael Quinn: “Prelude to the National ‘Defense of Marriage’ Campaign: Civil Discrimination Against Feared or Despised Minorities.” This is an important early 50+ page article documenting LDS political activity in the 1990s on same-sex marriage, culminating in Prop 22. Quinn’s explanation was that homophobia provided the best explanation for LDS prejudice against same-sex relationships. He set these efforts in historical context of restricting marriage rights of other, what he called “despised minorities.” He answers many of the common objections to same-sex marriage that people used and argued that it was a civil right. He offered hope for an alternative vision of a more tolerant and inclusive LDS theology. Just a quick note that up on the DiaBLOGue we’ve put up a tribute to Quinn’s many contributions to Dialogue over the years and we add to the mourning from his passing.
In a reply to Quinn’s article in the same issue, Armand Mauss questioned whether the church was motivated by homophobia or a more benevolent force. Letters to the editor in Fall/Winter 2001 responded to Quinn. Others supported Mauss’s reply, which suggested homophobia is not necessarily the reason church leaders oppose same-sex marriage.
Sexual ethics scholarship was an important area where this came up. Fall 2004 Wayne Schow, “Sexuality Morality Revisited” offered a four-part discussion focuses on important aspects of sexuality/morality underdiscussed by Latter-day Saints: (1) the nature of the sexual moral codes we live by, their origins, justifications, and deficiencies; (2) our sexual nature, its centrality, its power, and the implications that re- sult; (3) several controversial issues, including the morality of homosexual- ity and the morality of erotic art and literature; and (4) the impact of religious moral restraint on individual sexuality. There is a fascinating response in a letter to the editor (Winter 2007), “Celestial Sex?”, reflecting on many of the problems in LDS sexual theology.
Let me mention here a Winter 2004 article by Kendall and Daryl White, “Ecclesiastical Polity and the Challenge of Homosexuality: Two Cases of Divergence with the Mormon Tradition.” This article compares the Community of Christ to the LDS church. In the early 2000s, the Community of Christ began to publicly reassess its policies on ordination and acceptance of homosexuality and opened the issue up for deliberation and discussion among various governing bodies. It was a more democratic, congregational polity than the LDS, top down, authoritarian theocratic model. This article sets these two governing traditions in Christian context and offers some history of LDS and Community of Christ doctrines on homosexuality.
In fall 2005, there is a really interesting roundtable on mixed-orientation marriages from some who were in them and from therapist Marybeth Raynes and long-time activist Ron Schow.
In 2007 there is a really lovely essay by John Gustav-Wrathal, a man who was excommunicated in 1986 and remains in a relationship, now married to his long-time partner. But he is also deeply committed to the church, ttending regularly, after having left for other spiritual communities. His essay “Trial of Faith” is a memoir through the history of LDS teachings and his own changing understanding. A spiritual tour de force, I highly recommend this piece. A sampling: “The only way any of us can remain committed under these circumstances, I believe, is through an intimate relationship with God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The only reason I have entered into this path is because the Spirit drew me into it. My ongoing relationship with the Spirit reassures me of God’s infinite love for me, of my infinite value to God, and of the unique role I have to play in the unfolding of God’s kingdom, even if that role is not understood by my heterosexual brothers and sisters.”
As we know now, the issue of same-sex marriage didn’t go away. In 2004 Massachutttes had legalized it. Then the Republican platform advocated a US constitutional amendment against it and ballot measures opposed it all over the US. This issue helped propel George W. Bush to reelection. The church signed onto these efforts which became more acute as other states were moving toward legalization. LDS members were paying more and more attention and opinions were splitting more and more as well. Two important articles in Fall 2007 are worth mentioning: “The Case For and Against Same-Sex Marriage”, Randolph Muhlestein and Wayne Schow. . These were about legal arguments. The case against argued that marriage was already tenuous and allowing same-sex marriage would doom it, suggesting that people would become homosexuals if same-sex marriage were an option. But the follow up letters to the editor are equally worth reading in Fall 2008, mostly challenging the objections to same-sex marriage: “The logic used by Randolph Muhlestein…left me baffled.”
I’m going to end this section with a Fall 2009 Roundtable on Prop 8 in California. After Prop 22 passed, it was overturned by the courts as a violation of the equal protection clause of the CA constitution. Opponents of same-sex marriage devised a new proposition to amend the CA constitution to ban same-sex marriage and the LDS church announced its public support and activism for the measure in the summer of 2008 before the November election. It was a deeply contentious issue bringing national attention to the church whose members provided the bulk of the funding for its passage, nearly $40m. The issue was a breaking point for many in the church and the roundtable attempts to offer a variety of legal and religious arguments for and against the measure.
So we can see how much the decade of the 2000s was really litigating the political issues around same-sex marriage. We were still seeing people pushing for tolerance, but the church’s public policy efforts were a big deal.
Act IV: New Approaches
In this final section I am going to bring things up to the present. There are a few interesting developments. The first is the arrival of queer theory in Mormon Studies. Queer theory dates to the 1990s, and in the 2000s it starts to show up in a few papers in Mormon Studies. It describes a diverse set of approaches, different from LGBTQ history, that is more theoretical.
In spring 2011 Alan Michael Williams publishes, “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads.” This essay explores conflicting messages within LDS teaching on LGBT rights, when it both opposed same-sex marriage and in the wake of Prop 8 also came out in support of other LGBT rights that display both wrath and mercy. It explores a theory of LDS teachings on homosexuality along these lines, as well as the context of shifting norms around sexual identity.
Later that same year, in the Winter 2011 issue, my own article, “Toward a Post-heterosexual Mormon Theology” appeared. This was actually the first major article I ever published. I did not know what to expect, but it ended up being a widely discussed piece, accessed tens of thousands of times. To this day I still receive notes of appreciation for this article. There have also been a number of responses and challenges to the project that I laid out. Now, I will let you all be the first to know that in the Winter 2021 issue of Dialogue, I’ve got an essay coming out called “After a Post-heterosexual Mormon Theology: A Ten-year Retrospective.” There are going to be a lot of details about the origins and aftermath of the article that I’ve never told before. I’m not going to spoil them here, but I’ll say a few things. One was my own frurstration with the pastoral approach to the topic or focus on the “causes” of homosexuality…not that it wasn’t important and it is probably more effective than my own, but I had other theolgoical questions that I felt were unanswered so I set out to examine the link between Mormon theology, reproduction, kinship, and gender to see whether non-heterosexual sealings might be possible. All of my arguments were an attempt to lay out problems that needed to be solved no matter the answers, and to propose possible solutions to those problems. I wanted to be clear that I was not advocating that my solutions were correct, nor that church leaders or members should follow my arguments. Rather, I wanted to raise critical questions about the best arguments that stood in the way of theologically affirming same-sex sealing and explore their strengths and weaknesses.
There are some other articles from this period that are working on setting LDS ideas in broader context. Wilfried Decoo writes in 2013 “‘As Our Two Faiths Have Worked Together’: Catholicism and Mormonism on Human Life Ethics and Same-Sex Marriage.” This is a fascinating comparison and he explains, “I analyze a number of factors that could ease the way for the Mormon Church to withdraw its opposition to same-sex marriage, at least as it concerns civil society, while the Catholic Church is unlikely to budge.”
The summer 2016 issue deserves special consideration. It is dedicated more than half to this topic, the first time in Dialogue’s 50 year history up to that point with that much content on one issue. There are two scholarly articles on the empirical research on LGBTQ suicide in LDS contexts. This is less than a year after a November 2015 policy that raised the sanctions on LDS individuals who entered into same-sex marriages. Here is what they say: “When we put these data together, it is impossible to know exactly how many suicides there are among Mormon youth and how many of these are related to LGBTQ issues. In large part this is because data collected by the government on deaths, including suicides, do not generally indicate the sexual orientation of the deceased. Despite this fact, we have described above some compelling evidence that allows us to conclude that there is a significant problem and make some reasonable inferences. The direct empirical evidence alone is enough to merit a public health response.” It further noted that family acceptance or rejection was the single largest factor contributing to mental and emotional health.
There is a really great photo essay by Kimberly Anderson, “The Mama Dragon Story Project.” The Mama Dragons were a support and advocacy group of LDS mothers of LGBTQ children. Each gorgeous photo is of one of the Mama Dragons with a brief story of why they got involved with the group. Anderson photographed more than 80 members, and a selection of those are presented in this essay.
The next really important article in this vein is Bryce Cook’s Summer 2017 article, “What do We know of God’s Will for his LGBT Children?: An Examination of the LDS church’s position on homosexuality.” It divides it up into a “doctrinal, moral, and empirical perspective.” Cook’s goal is to understand, to encourage empathy, and to encourage people to see current teachings on homosexuality as incomplete. In this way, it has a lot in common with the pastoral approaches we have seen before. The analysis here is strong, and this division is a version of other theological traditions of reasoning from scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. This essay asks some great questions and raises some pretty serious critiques about the problems with contemporary LDS teachings and practices. “The longer this change takes,” he writes, “the more we will lose gay people, their family members, their friends, and other sympathetic Church members, particularly younger people who do not see same-sex marriage as a threat to society or a sin against God.”.
I next want to note that Blaire Ostler has written a number of pieces, from personal essays and poetry to articles that are worth noting. Her article, “Queer Polygamy,” is an innovating mashup that looks beyond monogamy as the only authorizing type of same-sex relationships—it really pushes the boundaries of what queer scholarship had done. Drawing on contemporary polyamory to critique the limitations of heterosexual monogamy, and putting that into conversation with the LDS tradition of plural marriage, Ostler imagines a new type of polygamy, queer polygamy, that sheds the patriarchal baggage of the 19th century version and its continuation in fundamentalist Mormonism, as well as thinking beyond its presumed heterosexulity.
Winter 2020 has an essay that I believe is a first, written by Kit Hermanson about their experience as trans. Now, Dialogue has published other trans authors both before and after transitioning and we hope to see more, but this is a powerful exploration of some really key issues in how the documents participate in a bio-disciplinary political project. One of the most interesting essays on blood, biology, bodies, and religious ritual I’ve read in a while, this one should not be missed. Richly informed by practice theory and more than a personal essay, this article makes connections to LDS history, literature, theology, genealogy and more by looking at birth certificates, baptism documents, marriage and death certificates, and more. “Documentation that supports the heteropatriarchal structure of both the Church and state enforces its power and persuades us to work toward reform, recategorization, and recognition rather than disruption. The family tree, birth certificate, temple recommend, marriage certificate, and death certificate are all part of this cycle. And surely we can all, regardless of identity, find ourselves and stories like ours in the archive if we work hard enough. The theological and political question that is then posed to us is: how should we use the archive as we construct our own worlds around us? As queer people, what do we fight for?”
I’ll also call your attention to a co-written piece by Bob Rees and Bill Bradshaw who wrote a long survey article hosted on the Dialogue website, “LGBTQ Latter-day Saint Theology.” It’s a great overview of the main issues and history of scholarship.
The spring 2021 issue, the most recent one as of the recording of this podcast, has five important pieces that I want to discuss.
The first is Alex Griffin’s “Queer Mormon Histories and the Politics of a Usable Past.” This is about vernacular history or popular historical tales, rather than professional histories. It looks at all kinds of fun material from instagram accounts to brand advertisements to see how these stories retell the past in order to comment on the present. A usable past.
Another article in this issue, “The Theological Trajectory of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” by M. David Huston argues that we should interpret that text in its historical context and glean from it new possibilities. Drawing on feminist interpretive strategies, Huston reads for the “theological trajectory,” rather than the plain meaning, to discern principles that might endure beyond a narrowly heterosexual nuclear family.
Taylor Kirby has an article too on “Variety of Perceptions of God Among Latter-day Saints” that includes some analysis of LDS LGBTQ perceptions of God. Fascinating data here.
Finally, John Gustav-Wrathall, who we met before, writes a really powerful piece: “Excommunication and Finding Wholeness.” Wow. I love this piece for its ministry to those who are excommunicated by the church and who still believe. He tells his own heartbreaking story of excommunication in 1986 and his journey since then. “There have been times when my excommunicated status has felt burdensome and when I have yearned to be able to be baptized and partake of the bread and water each week at sacrament. However, I firmly believe that I am currently where the Lord wants me to be, and I have felt reassurances through the Spirit that eventually all will work out so long as I remain faithful and attentive to its promptings.”
So, we are really seeing some new directions in the scholarship. We seem to be done litigating some of the issues, like psychology and biology from before, and instead expanding the kind of scholarship we saw in the past. History, yes, but also more theology. We are also hearing from more queer voices, no longer writing anonymous as Solus once did some 40 years ago. And there are all kinds of experiences, from mixed-orientation marriage to trans voices and more that are coming into this space.
What’s missing? You may have noticed that these conversations have been, until pretty recently, dominated by men. Not exclusively, but largely. Further, lesbian histories are really absent in the scholarship which focuses on gay men and the organizations they have largely controlled, like Affirmation. That’s changing, but there is much more to be done here.
So that’s it. I’m so proud, if I may say so this Pride month, of Dialogue’s rich history in tackling this central issue in contemporary religious ethics.