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.