Love Wins

By June 29, 2015

Last Friday, the Supreme Court ruled that state restrictions on same sex marriage were unconstitutional. Their reasoning pointed to the importance of establishing a uniform understanding of marriage across the United States so that individuals who were legally married in one state would be assured their relationship would be recognized if they moved to another one. The reaction on my Facebook feed has been jubilant.

One friend wrote: SO MANY RAINBOWS. SO MUCH HAPPY.

Another posted a row of rainbow hearts.

And finally, a third posted a picture of her brother with his new husband, a marriage certificate, and the words: “Today brings joy to my heart. ?#?lovewins

The recent decision made today seem like a wonderful day to remember the LGTBQ history of Mormonism. As a result, I am outlining some of the work that historians have done to tell the history of gay men and lesbian women in the Intermountain West:

Connell O’Donovan describes the story of the Mormon playwright and poet Kate Thomas in his history of homosexuality within Mormonism. While she was attending the LDS Business College, Thomas began to write poetry in a journal, much of which explored her feelings for other women. When she moved to New York City, she was able to explore her desires openly and became “a peace activist, anarchist, support of the Controversial League of Nations, and practitioner of Yoga.”

In addition to outlining her life, O’Donovan also provides examples of her poetry:

“This morning how I wished that I might be
Just long enough to write one heart-felt rhyme
To one so near that she seems a part of me.
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!
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!

In Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans, D. Michael Quinn tells the story of Evan Stephens, the former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, to admit that he was a homosexual. According to Quinn, Stevens had engaged in homosexual relationships since he was a teen. As an adult, he frequently asked young men to accompany him on trips. One young man named Willard Christopherson initially accompanied Stephens on a trip to San Francisco with his father and brother, but then visited Yellowstone with him alone. In 1919, he publicly disclosed his relationships through an issue of the Children’s Friend, which described his relationship with young men and suggested that they had sometimes shared his bed. Quinn suggests that the meaning of these poems would have been well known even though they did not explicitly detail sexual activities.

And, finally, check out Kendall Wilcox’s oral history project to find contemporary stories of LGTBQ men and women living in Utah.

I am listing these stories, because it is important to remember at historic moments that the momentous shifts we encounter affect the lives of individual people. LGTBQ Mormon history is the story of Kate Thomas. It is the story of Evan Stephens. And, it is the story of people involved in Kendall Wilcox’s videos.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Thanks, Amanda. Readers may also be interested in Gary Bergera’s article on Patriarch Joseph F. Smith II, “Transgression in the Latter-day Saint Community: The Cases of Albert Carrington, Richard R. Lyman, and Joseph F. Smith. Part 3: Joseph F. Smith Gary James Bergera,” Journal of Mormon History 38, no. 1 (Winter2012): 98-130.

    Comment by J Stuart — June 29, 2015 @ 6:06 am

  2. Thanks, Amanda.

    I don’t know enough about the subject to offer my own reading, and it’s been a few years since I read Quinn, but from what I remember, his claims about Stephens’s sexuality (in particular) are highly disputed. Do you know if any subsequent work by scholars have borne out or further disputed his take on Stephens?

    (I hope my comment doesn’t detract from the larger message of your post–I agree that this is a little understood aspect of the Mormon past and would love to see more work on the subject moving forward.)

    Comment by Christopher — June 29, 2015 @ 8:57 am

  3. Thanks, Amanda. These are all new and interesting to me.

    Comment by Jeff T — June 29, 2015 @ 9:35 am

  4. Amanda. Thanks for these important stories, but having said that (as I have elsewhere), I respectfully dissent from Friday’s decision (and would read it from the bench if I have to). Setting aside my feelings about same-sex marriage, I believe the decision is incorrect for the same reason I felt the Affordable Care Act decisions from 2012 and Thursday were wrong. This decision (along with those) undermines two of the most central and important provisions of the Constitution. The first is the checks and balances between the three branches of the federal government and the second is the balance between the power of the States and the powers and responsibilities of the Federal government. The Affordable Care Act decisions blur the lines between the legislative and executive and the Obergefell does the same to the States. The Constitution has been the most successful political document in the history of the world precisely because it protects the rights of individuals by requiring these checks and balances. The more we accomplish through judicial fiat, as opposed to simply letting the people speak, the less our individual freedoms (including that to worship according to our own conscience) are protected from an activist government (whether conservative or liberal). I do not support gay marriage for religious and economic/historical reasons. Having said that, if a State legislature and Governor define marriage in a way I don’t approve, that is their prerogative as well as their responsibility to their populace. When the executive can say what the law means, even if contrary to what the legislature says, and if the federal government can override the State’s historical and constitutional powers (even if the federal action is not found within the boundaries of the Constitution) then our risks of losing fundamental rights to the government are increased. The argument can be made that the ends justify the means. The reason the Constitution has been successful is because in Constitutional Law, the means are as important (if not more important) than the ends. This was a happy day for those who want same-sex marriage and congratulations to them. It is a sad day for the Constitution and individual rights. To those who say that religious beliefs and churches won’t be next, I just say look at the last six years. Candidate Obama felt he had to lie about his views on same-sex marriage (see David Axelrod’s book). Now the White House is bathed in rainbow colors. #lovemaywin #Constitutionloses

    Comment by Terry H — June 29, 2015 @ 10:00 am

  5. Christopher – Unfortunately, I don’t. I haven’t read much, if anything, about Stephens beyond Quinn’s book. Anyone else?

    Comment by Amanda — June 29, 2015 @ 10:51 am

  6. A quick search reveals this article: http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/10/1/S00006-51b7586f9f5a86Mitton.pdf, which I assume is part of the controversy Christopher is referring to.

    Comment by Amanda — June 29, 2015 @ 10:58 am

  7. Thanks, Amanda. IIRC, Jeff Johnson (former Utah State Archivist and long-time Church Archives/CHL archivist) has been working on a paper arguing against Quinn’s claims. Johnson presented his research at MHA a few years back, but I’m not sure if it ever got published.

    Comment by David G. — June 29, 2015 @ 4:50 pm

  8. I apologize if my comment is out of tune with your post, but I will speak up and say that Quinn’s book is despicable, and his claims are unsupported and unworthy of a historian. I don’t know whether Stephens was gay (the evidence is sketchy at best); I do care very, very much that Quinn paints Stephens as a predator. The idea that Stephens came out in a children’s magazine is especially bizarre, and nothing in the articles in question justifies Quinn’s radical reading into the text something that exists only in Quinn’s twisted mind.

    The Children’s Friend is not yet online. I have transcribed all the Stephens articles, however, and will post them at Keepa if wanted — but comments need to come back here to JI.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 29, 2015 @ 5:26 pm

  9. Ardis, I’ve never seen those issues of the Children’s Friend. If you wanted to transcribe them, it would be helpful to people evaluating the evidence.

    Comment by Amanda — June 30, 2015 @ 7:05 am

  10. Thanks, Amanda. Here’s to hoping more of these stories will be told in the future.

    Comment by Saskia — July 1, 2015 @ 2:18 am

  11. If someone doesn’t particularly like most Evan Stephen’s hymns, does that make them a suspect homophobic bigot?

    Comment by Wally Bob — July 1, 2015 @ 3:52 pm


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